Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicago Outfit and New York Families Stretch their Connections Beyond Las Vegas to San Diego

On August 31, the Union-Tribune printed an obituary on the death of Allard Roen, one of the original developers of Carlsbad’s La Costa Resort and Spa. He was living there when he died August 28 at age 87.

The U-T’s obituary was a typical, dutiful encomium. It did not mention the background of one of Roen’s major partners in La Costa and other projects, Moe Dalitz. He was among the 20th Century’s most notorious gangsters, as the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known as the Kefauver Committee, pointed out in 1950 and 1951. In fact, a book that is now a best seller, T.J. English’s Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution, notes that Dalitz, then 47, attended the famed Havana Conference at Cuba’s Hotel Nacional in late December 1946. According to English, a select group of 22 dignitaries caucused to strategize the American mob’s plan to make Cuba a Western Hemisphere vice haven. The group included Giuseppe (Joe Bananas) Bonanno, Vito (Don Vito) Genovese, Meyer Lansky of Murder Inc. and the Bugs and Meyer Mob, Charles (Lucky) Luciano, Luciano’s sidekick and “Prime Minister of the Underworld” Frank Costello, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante Jr., Joe Adonis, and Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo, former bodyguard for Al (Scarface) Capone and later head of the Chicago mob. The book points out that Dalitz had been a partner with Lansky in the Molaska Corporation.

Timothy L. O’Brien, author of Bad Bet : The Inside Story of the Glamour, Glitz, and Danger of America's Gambling Industry, writes that Dalitz had run “the Cleveland branch of Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Meyer Lansky’s nascent Mafia.” Decades later, Dalitz was known as the caretaker “of underworld investments in Las Vegas.”

A Federal Bureau of Investigation official said in 1978, “The individual who oversees the operations of the La Cosa Nostra families in Las Vegas is Moe Dalitz,” according to James Neff’s Mobbed Up: Jackie Presser's High-Wire Life in the Teamsters, the Mafia, and the FBI.

After Prohibition’s repeal knocked out his bootlegging business, Dalitz went into the illegal casino business in southern Ohio and Kentucky. He then became the Big Boss in Vegas, arranging casino financing from the mob-tainted Teamsters Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund and keeping track of the books at such spas as the Desert Inn, where Roen was also a key figure. In the late 1940s, Dalitz resurrected crooner Frank Sinatra’s sagging career by giving him gigs at the Desert Inn.

Roen, who in the 1960s pleaded guilty in the United Dye and Chemical securities fraud, joined with Dalitz, Irwin Molasky, and Merv Adelson to build Las Vegas’s Sunrise Hospital with Teamster funds. They tapped Teamster funds for other investments. That Central States fund was essentially a piggy bank controlled by Jimmy Hoffa.

The fund played a key role in San Diego. It loaned $100 million to San Diego’s Irvin J. Kahn, a mobbed-up financier who used the money to develop Peñasquitos. He also got a concealed loan of $800,000 from a tiny Swiss bank named the Cosmos Bank, which made other mob-related loans before being closed up by joint action of the United States and Switzerland in the 1970s.

But the Central States Teamster fund’s big investment was La Costa. The interim loans were made by U.S. National Bank, controlled by C. Arnholt Smith, named “Mr. San Diego” by the Downtown Rotary Club and “Mr. San Diego of the Century” by a reporter for the San Diego Union. Following the interim loans, the Teamster fund would assume the U.S. National loans. There was a cozy relationship. Frank Fitzsimmons, who became head of the Teamsters after Jimmy Hoffa was exterminated, used to come down to watch the Smith-owned minor-league Padres play. And Fitzsimmons would play golf in San Diego with politician Richard Nixon.

The Union-Tribune’s recent panegyric to Roen mentioned that in 1975 Penthouse magazine ran an article charging that La Costa was a hangout for mobsters, and the founders sued for libel. Here’s how the U-T summed up the result: “A 10-year court battled ensued until La Costa accepted a written apology from the magazine.” This is a rank distortion. A joke.

“San Diego leadership has a tendency to fall in love with people with big bucks who come into town,” says Mike Aguirre, city attorney. The La Costa founders “were one of the first big-bucks boys who rode into town, and the welcome wagon was driven by C. Arnholt Smith.” The U-T then, and to this day, protects the roughriders who bring their sacks of money to San Diego.

Aguirre was one attorney representing Penthouse in the suit. He and his colleagues parsed every sentence in the article. The Penthouse trial lawyer rattled off to the jury the names of those who had shown up at La Costa, including Hoffa, Dalitz, Lansky, and many other hoods. And here is the key: the jury exonerated the magazine, agreeing that it had proved that everything it said was true.

It turned out that the judge, Kenneth Gale, had formerly been a lawyer for Jimmy “the Weasel” Fratianno, a notorious mob hit man who had begun cooperating with the government. Fratianno was to testify for Penthouse about the mobsters who habituated La Costa. Gale wouldn’t let the magazine’s lawyer question Fratianno. Judge Gale had also previously represented an infamous union racketeer, as related by Matt Potter in a 1999 Reader story.

After Gale threw out Penthouse’s victory, the magazine thought it could win a retrial, but after ten years and $8 million in legal expenses, Penthouse issued an innocuous statement, saying that it “did not mean to imply nor did it intend for its readers to believe that Messrs. Adelson and Molasky are or were members of organized crime or criminals” (italics mine). Note that Dalitz and Roen were not included in that statement. The magazine praised Dalitz and Roen for their “civic and philanthropic activities.”

Then La Costa owners lauded Penthouse for its “personal and professional awards.” It was a détente sans sincerity.

Dalitz died in 1989 at age 89, leaving a daughter in Rancho Santa Fe. She is involved in many peace and politically progressive activities. Her attorney was once San Diego’s James T. Waring, who didn’t last long as Mayor Jerry Sanders’s real estate czar.

The information on Waring ran in detail in the Reader in early 2006. San Diego’s leaders, always friendly to moneybags, didn’t appreciate the story.

Thanks to Don Bauder

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