Showing posts with label Bugsy Siegel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bugsy Siegel. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Official Sneak Preview of #MobCity on TNT




The epic battle between a determined police chief and a dangerous mobster inflames 1940s Los Angeles in TNT's eagerly anticipated television event Mob City (formerly known as Lost Angels). This powerful drama comes to TNT from Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead), who wrote and directed the pilot and serves as executive producer on the series.

Based on the critically acclaimed book L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City, by John Buntin, Mob City opens in post-war Los Angeles, home to glamorous movie stars, powerful studio heads and returning war heroes. But it's also a city caught between a powerful and corrupt police force and an even more dangerous criminal network determined to make L.A. its West Coast base.

Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker (Neal McDonough -- Captain America, Desperate Housewives)) has made it his mission to free the city of criminals like Ben "Bugsy" Siegel (Ed Burns -- Entourage) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke -- Don Jon), the ruthless king of the Los Angeles underworld. Parker also won't hesitate to go after anyone from his own police force who sells out honor and duty for the sake of a big payout. To carry out his sweep of organized crime, Parker sets up a new mob task force within the LAPD. Headed by Det. Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn -- The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption), the task force includes Det. Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal -- The Walking Dead), an ex-Marine who holds his cards close to his chest.

Mob City's exceptional ensemble cast also includes Gregory Itzin (24), Robert Knepper (Prison Break), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes) and Alexa Davalos (Clash of the Titans, The Mist).

Mob City is produced by TNT Originals, with Darabont, Michael De Luca (The Social Network) and Elliot Webb (Alpha House) serving as executive producers.

Premieres Wednesday, December 4 at 10/9c on TNT.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Las Vegas Mob Museum Covers American Jewish History

In the mid-20th century, a cadre of tough Jews, shedding the bookish bearing of exile, went forth to create a new society in a forbidding desert. Armed to the teeth, they lived outside the law and built their outpost by any means necessary. Against all odds, despite implacable enemies, the desert bloomed.

Think you already know this history? Think again. This is an American tale told by the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, in downtown Las Vegas. Open since February, and already better known as “The Mob Museum,” it is essentially an American Jewish history museum by another name.

The museum tells the story of American organized crime, from its birth in the ethnic slums of established cities like Boston, New York and Chicago to the city the mafia itself begot, the Mojave metropolis of Las Vegas. The institution is the brainchild of Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant Philadelphia-born mafia attorney whose clients included Meyer Lansky, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein. Goodman went on to serve as mayor of Las Vegas from 1999 until 2011.

While the exhibit only breaks the code of omertà about Jewishness at the beginning of its chronological display — noting the Jewish immigration wave alongside the Irish and Italian — as visitors move through the 20th century they see a pantheon of mosaic Murder Inc. veterans, including Moe Dalitz, Gus Greenbaum and Moe Sedway, on a progression from street toughs to casino magnates to pillars of the community. The museum doesn’t pussyfoot around the brutality of Jewish mobsters’ methods; indeed, one 1930s photo shows the brutalized body of a Catskills resort slot machine operator on a gurney after he had been caught skimming profits. But it treats the mafia as an institution of immigrant social mobility, a shortcut to the American Dream.

The presentation makes it hard not to sympathize with Prohibition-era “Boys From Brooklyn” (as the Jewish goodfellas called themselves) as they are hounded by bigoted G-men and hard-drinking hypocrites in Congress. A 1939 FBI “Wanted” poster seeking fugitive Murder Inc. boss Louis Buchalter notes his “Jewish characteristics — nose large… eyes alert and shifty — has habit of passing change from one hand to another.”

Bootlegger Dalitz is celebrated for getting the best of a congressional anti-mafia probe with zingers like, “If you people wouldn’t have drunk it, I wouldn’t have bootlegged it.” And when asked about his illicit moonshine fortune, he said, “Well, I didn’t inherit any money, Senator.”

By the end of the exhibit, having built a world-famous city from scratch with their underworld capital, Sedway is receiving letters from Jewish establishment figures saluting his fundraising efforts for United Jewish Appeal, Dalitz is being presented with the key to the City of Las Vegas and Lansky is living the life of a retired real estate magnate in Miami Beach. Buchalter, for his part, has been sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing (an object that is also part of the collection). But even his death has a Horatio Alger twist: He set the record for the richest man ever executed in America.

The museum’s official slogan is, “There are two sides to every story,” and the feds are given their due. The former special agent in charge of the Las Vegas office of the FBI, Ellen Knowlton, outranks even Goodman on the museum’s board of directors. As in real life, though, it is the glamour of gangster glitter — like Benjamin Siegel’s glitzy watch, labeled “Bugsy’s Bling” — that catches the eye. Beyond a reasonable doubt, the goodfellas steal the show.

Not everyone is thrilled with such laudatory portrayals of the Jewish criminals the museum dubs “the other people who built America.” Jenna Weissman Joselit, Forward columnist, director of the program in Judaic studies at George Washington University and author of “Our Gang : Jewish Crime and the New York Jewish Community, 1900-1940,” (Indiana University Press, 1983) thinks the temptation to glamorize the mob ought to be resisted. Museum curators, she said via email, should “attend to America’s abiding fascination with crime with the same rigor and discernment that’s applied to other cultural and historical phenomena.” But Rich Cohen, author of “Tough Jews : Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams” (Simon & Schuster, 1998), understands the appeal of Jewish mobsters — especially when contrasted with the loathsome, privileged Jewish criminals of today, like Bernard Madoff. “These were people who grew up in certain neighborhoods where [the mob] was one way to get ahead,” Cohen said via telephone from Hollywood, where he’s advising “Magic City,” a new TV drama about 1950s Miami mobsters. “These were very tough guys in a very tough world, in a time when Jews were being beaten up and even killed — and they weren’t taking s–t from anybody.”

Cohen is unperturbed by the museum’s family-friendly marketing efforts, which include offering discounted admission to children as young as 5. “I have little kids, and I try to teach them right from wrong,” Cohen said. “I don’t think there’s a danger of people coming out of a museum and it making them gangsters.”

As a whole, American Jews are probably more conflicted than Cohen about the community’s historic mob ties. When Cohen told his grandmother he was working on a book about Murder Inc., her response bespoke this communal schizophrenia. “A Jew should never be a gangster. It’s a shande,” she told him, using the Yiddish word for “a disgrace.” “But, if a Jew should be a gangster, let him be the best gangster!”

For his part, booster-in-chief Goodman, who bequeathed to the museum his “gelt bag”— a large briefcase in which his clients, wary of having their bank accounts frozen by the Feds, paid him in cash — zealously defends the institution’s unconventional take on the history of his city and his people. “These are our founding fathers,” Goodman said of Meyer, Bugsy and the gang. “We [Las Vegans] come from the mob.”

But even Goodman recalls that when he first proposed the museum a decade ago, he faced some pushback from constituents who complained that it would stereotype a particular ethnic group. “Apparently they meant the Italians,” Goodman offered, with his perennial grin and Borscht Belt timing. “I thought they were talking about the Jews!”

Thanks to Daniel Brook

Friday, March 30, 2012

5 West Coast Mob Travel Spots

With a roster of names like Jimmy the Weasel, Tony the Ant, and Flipper Milano, you might think of characters from a kids cartoon. Well, fuhgeddaboudit. They're all West Coast mobsters. And, while cement shoes and "made men" are typically associated with New Jersey, New York and Chicago, plenty of Cosa Nostra action went down in the West. Here are five hideouts where you can get a piece of the "family" business.

1. The Mob Museum, Las Vegas
Located in the former federal courthouse where mobsters such as Tony Spilotro and Lefty Rosenthal were prosecuted, this museum tells the story of organized crime and the authorities who tried to shut it down. Listen to wire-taps of mobsters, join a police lineup and wince at graphic photos of mob hits. 300 Stewart Ave., (702) 229-2734, www.themobmuseum.org.

2. Romolo's Cannoli, San Mateo
After icing Paulie in "The Godfather," Peter Clemenza turns to Rocco and says, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." Drop in and bump off a couple of these rich Sicilian pastries. Filled with bourbon vanilla bean ice cream, or ricotta cream blended with sugar and spice, this is an offer you can't refuse. Closed Monday and Tuesday. 81 37th Ave., (650) 574-0625, www.romolosfactory.com.

3. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood
When Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was suspected of skimming money from the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, his East Coast pals gave him the Moe Green Special - death by bullet in the eye - at his girlfriend's Beverly Hills home. Come pay your respects at the tomb where Bugsy is taking a permanent "dirt nap"; the inscription reads "In loving memory from the family." 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 469-1181, www.hollywoodforever.com.

4. Capo's, Las Vegas
Knock on the door; a peephole pops open, and a heavy Italian accent asks if "You gotta reservashun?" With blood-red booths, chandeliers dripping crystals, and live Sinatra music daily, this "luxury mafia-chic" restaurant is the perfect spot for a couple of goodfellas and their molls to grab a bite. 5675 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 364-2276, www.caposrestaurant.com.

5. Cal Neva Resort, Crystal Bay, Nevada
Looking to hide out? Head for the tunnels below Cal Neva, the first legal casino in the United States. When Frank Sinatra owned this pad in the '60s, he dug tunnels from the casino to private cottages, so he and his favorite guys and dolls - including Marilyn Monroe, Joe Kennedy and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana - could move about discreetly. Tour the tunnels Tue.-Sun. 2 Stateline Road, (800) 233-5551, www.calnevaresort.com.

Thanks to Diane Susan Petty

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Reputed Mob Associate Tapped to Build FBI Headquarters


He is the man who helped build a greater part of Las Vegas with millions of dollars from Jimmy Hoffa’s mobbed-up Teamsters’ pension fund. Along with his close friend and business partner, the legendary Moe Dalitz, an early associate of Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang — high school dropouts who built their fortune on murder, hijacking, and rum-running during Prohibition — he built Paradise Development, a firm that prospered mightly during the heyday of the Vegas mob. Now he is working for the FBI. His name is Irwin Molasky.

“Dalitz was one of the most illustrious figures in the annals of crime,” wrote attorney Roy Grutman in his 1990 memoir, Lawyers and Thieves. “Able to trace his mob ties back to such underworld icons as Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel, he even had the distinction of having been chased out of Cleveland in the 1940s by the city’s celebrated public safety director, Elliot Ness.”

In 1962, Dalitz, Molasky, Paradise, and two partners, Merv Adelson and Allard Roen, would snap up a total of 5000 acres outside the tiny San Diego County beach town of Carlsbad. There, with funds loaned by the Teamsters and C. Arnholt Smith’s US National Bank, they built Rancho La Costa, the posh resort that became synonymous with America’s mid-century wave of organized crime, murder, and political corruption.

Today, at the age of 84, according to a signed declaration filed under penalty of perjury, Molasky is sick and infirm, requiring a cane to move about a room. He is in the painful last stages of a rare form of incurable bone-marrow cancer and is in urgent need of taking care of business now rather than later.

Once worshipped as the financial genius of the Las Vegas Strip, he has been forced to watch as his trusted elder son Steven declared bankruptcy, with $55.4 million of unsecured debts during the financial meltdown of 2008.

His son-in-law, Kenneth Collin Cornell, who pled guilty to fraud charges resulting from a telemarketing boiler-room swindle in 1994, is being sued for breach of contract in a case arising from a Mission Beach condominium project he developed with his wife, Molasky’s daughter Beth. But despite the maelstrom of his later years, Molasky has vowed to complete one project above all: a new San Diego headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Incredible as it seems to some old bureau hands, Molasky, loyal friend and associate of Moe Dalitz and a litany of other gamblers and bookies, has won a 20-year, $223.4-million lease from the U.S. General Services Administration to construct a 248,882-square-foot field office and campus overlooking Interstate 805 on Vista Sorrento Parkway in Sorrento Mesa.

The financing method the government is using to construct the project is itself controversial. By agreeing to lease the building from Molasky at $11.2 million a year, rather than paying $100 million up front to build it, critics say taxpayers will end up paying more than double.

The project was announced to the public this January as a fait accompli. But since then, a major complication has arisen. Molasky does not yet actually own the property, and he can’t obtain a loan with which to buy or build on it. A neighboring landowner filed suit against him in March, charging that the old Las Vegas hand, true to form, is trying to strong-arm his way to the capstone of a legendary career.

In a May 4 filing, lawyers for SN Investment Properties LLC, a Portland, Oregon–based development firm that owns the property adjoining the FBI site, charged that Molasky and his companies “are some of the largest real-estate developers in Las Vegas, Nevada” that “believe they can utilize their significant wealth and power to do whatever they want, wherever they want.”

At issue is a vehicle-access easement, granted in 1984, that runs across the land Molasky wants to use for the project. Molasky and his fellow defendants allegedly “knew months before the contract was awarded by the GSA, and even while they were bidding the contract and seeking approvals from the City of San Diego to develop the project, that the proposed FBI Building was to be built directly on top of an express deeded easement owned by SNI and running over the site of the FBI Building.”

“The current effort to expedite the trial date, despite the fact that Defendants have known since August 2010 of SNl’s easement,” the May filing says, “is just one further part of their strong-arm tactics.”

For their part, Molasky and his lawyers insist that the Portland firm is trying to waylay the FBI building for selfish financial gain at the expense of the public. “Upon learning that the tenant would be the FBI, Plaintiff began protesting that the development and construction of the FBI project would allegedly ‘diminish the value’ of Plaintiff’s property,” according to a response by Molasky and company filed May 4.

The filing added that Molasky had obtained documents showing that the strategy of its foe was “simply to stall and thereby obstruct the development of the FBI project in its entirety or receive a large payment from the Molasky Defendants.”

Any delay in San Diego would be costly, Molasky’s attorneys say. “The Molasky Defendants are currently developing three other FBI office projects for the GSA in Minneapolis, Portland, and Cincinnati, and this existing relationship could be damaged solely because the adjacent property owner claims it would like a different tenant, when in fact Plaintiff simply wants a huge payday for a long abandoned and never used 1984 easement. In addition, the Molasky Defendants have built up goodwill and a relationship of trust with the GSA, the FBI, builders and lenders, all of which is likewise threatened by Plaintiff’s attempt to belatedly assert rights that remained dormant for 26 years.”

Molasky himself filed a personal declaration, dated April 29, implying that, because his days were numbered, the court should hasten to hear the easement case: “I have…Waldenström’s Disease. This disease is a rare form of cancer that affects the bone marrow space in the human body. That disease is treated by chemotherapy and a drug called Rituxan. This disease was diagnosed approximately 15 years ago and I have been treated since that time.

“There is no cure for Waldenström’s Disease. I am in stage 4 of this disease, which is the last stage of the disease. I have received numerous chemotherapy treatments over the years and I am being treated by Dr. Allan Saven at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California. Because of my age and health issues, the importance of this case being quickly tried, and the importance of this new FBI project to the City of San Diego, I request that this Court set the earliest possible trial date.”

Molasky’s lawyers have argued that he has the public interest at heart, claiming that the fight over the easement threatens “to thwart years of work by the federal government to create a new FBI building in San Diego. In such an event, the federal government will likely have to start the process all over again — resulting in the delay of much needed space to the FBI and much needed economic stimulus to the City of San Diego and its citizens. The City of San Diego will lose the immediate value of 700 new construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs, new revenue from property taxes, additional protection and security from the FBI facility and a new office development in Mira Mesa/Sorrento Valley area.” They add that “prominent members of the City Council of San Diego are fully behind the project as it directly impacts the citizens in this City.”

In order to build that support, Molasky — no stranger to the uses of politics and politicians — has launched an all-out blitz on San Diego’s city hall, quietly retaining Paul Robinson, the high-priced dean of the city’s lobbying corps, a former aide to GOP mayor Pete Wilson, informal advisor and fundraiser for current mayor Jerry Sanders, and a member of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board. Robinson has deep ties to some of the city’s most sacred institutions, including county Republicans and San Diego State University. Through the first quarter of this year, Molasky has paid Robinson’s law firm a total of $63,000 for its services, according to disclosure documents on file at city hall.

An appointment calendar on the website of city councilwoman Marti Emerald shows that Robinson sat down with her on April 15 to lobby the FBI project with Molasky executive Rich Worthington. Campaign records show that Robinson contributed $270 to Democrat Emerald in January 2009, having previously backed April Boling, Emerald’s failed Republican foe, the year before. On April 25, Robinson and Worthington also paid a visit to first district councilwoman Sherri Lightner, according to her official calendar posted online.

According to his disclosure filings, last year Robinson and associate Neil Hyytinen lobbied city councilman Carl DeMaio; Sanders assistant Phil Rath; city development services division director Kelly Broughton; assistant director of development services Cecilia Gallardo; and assistant city attorney Donald Worley about the Molasky project, and the Robinson law firm was paid a total of $9000. During the first quarter of this year, his firm received $54,000 from Molasky; it lobbied Worley, DeMaio, Broughton, Sanders chief of staff Julie Dubick, and deputy city attorney Debra Bevier, among other city staffers.

According to a source familiar with the project, the Molasky forces want the city to condemn the disputed easement, claiming that public safety demands that the FBI field office be expedited.

On Monday of this week, a source in the office of Councilman DeMaio said that an internal memo from Mayor Jerry Sanders was expected to be sent to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith requesting that condemnation be undertaken by the city.

Will it happen? Molasky’s alliance with the government is astonishing to many who know his history. But to others, it is not unsurprising, given the rise of the national power and influence of Las Vegas over the last 30 years. One of Molasky’s favored politicians, Democrat Harry Reid — once city attorney of dusty Henderson, Nevada, and ex-chairman of the state’s Gaming Control Board — is now majority leader of the United States Senate, where he controls a vast network of campaign contributions and federal patronage.

“In an America so widely dominated by corporate and individual wealth, the Strip’s once disreputable Mob ethic of exploitation and greed has become in large measure a national ethic,” wrote Sally Denton and Roger Morris in The Money and the Power, their 2001 history of post-war Las Vegas. “To chart its rise is far less a walk on the dark and aberrant side of American life than a way to see the larger history of the nation more completely, and without illusion.”

The Molasky File

Irwin Molasky was born in St. Louis in 1927 and grew up Dayton, Ohio. He put in a year at Ohio State University before heading to Los Angeles, where, according to testimony he gave in January 1982, he helped his parents build and run a small hotel on Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. At the age of 20, he said, he built a five-unit apartment house in Westwood. He later moved to Las Vegas and started building small houses, as well as the 18-room Pyramids Motel on the Vegas Strip.

His uncle, William Molasky, of St. Louis, had been indicted by a federal grand jury for tax fraud in August 1939, along with millionaire Moses “Moe” Annenberg, publisher of the Philadelphia Enquirer and owner of Consensus Publishing Company, tied to Pioneer News, a racing wire primarily patronized by St. Louis bookies. In November 1940, William, president of Consensus, pled guilty to a single charge of evading $57,800 in personal income taxes. He was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.

When William testified before the organized-crime investigating committee of Senator Estes Kefauver in June 1950, he issued a statement: “I have never engaged in bookmaking or in any commercial gambling. I have never had a financial interest in any gaming establishment; and my personal and business associates do not include bookmakers or professional gamblers…There are no gangsters, mobsters, racketeers, or other persons of questionable character connected with, interested in, or employed by Pioneer News.” William was represented before the committee by St. Louis attorney Morris Shenker, once referred to by Life Magazine as the “foremost lawyer for the mob in the U.S.,” whose most prominent client was to be Jimmy Hoffa.

Irwin Molasky ended up in Las Vegas in the early 1950s, he later recalled, where he met future business partner Merv Adelson, a Beverly Hills grocer’s son who was then-owner of Market Town, a 24-hour-a-day supermarket on Las Vegas Boulevard. Among their other ventures was the Colonial House, a bistro that enjoyed an edgy reputation as a haunt for high-class hookers, recounted Ovid Demaris and Ed Reid in 1965’s The Green Felt Jungle.

They soon linked up with Moe Dalitz, who had become one of the richest and most powerful denizens of the underworld after expanding the base of his hometown Detroit empire of gambling and other assorted rackets to Cleveland. Dalitz, it’s been said by some, first arrived in Las Vegas in the late 1940s, on a mission for the East Coast mob to keep track of Bugsy Siegel and the construction of his over-budget Flamingo hotel.

An example of how Dalitz did business is recounted by Michael Newton in his 2009 Dalitz biography, Mr. Mob. In September 1947, four men carrying submachine guns held up the Mounds Club casino outside of Cleveland, fleeing with between $250,000 and $500,000 in cash and jewelry. Another heist followed at the Continental Club. Cops took no action, but, according to Newton, “Moe Dalitz used his influence to learn the bandits’ names. A trial of sorts was held, sentence was passed, and manhunters hit the ground running. By March 1948, it is said, every one of the robbers was tracked down and killed.”

Molasky testified in January 1982 that he was introduced to Dalitz by Allard Roen, a Dalitz protégé, general manager of the Desert Inn, and convicted stock manipulator who was the son of notorious Cleveland gambler and bookie Frank Rosen. Molasky said Dalitz wanted him to build houses on the new golf course at the Desert Inn, which Dalitz controlled.

Shortly after that, according to Molasky, he and Adelson began building the for-profit Sunrise Hospital on Maryland Parkway. Its construction had been financed by loans from a savings and loan, but “we ran out of money and had to take in some investors,” Newton quoted Molasky as saying. When the deal was finally worked out, Molasky later testified, he and Adelson owned 45 percent of the stock, another 45 percent was held by Dalitz and Roen, and the remaining 10 percent by a doctor who put up the original $40,000 to help get Molasky and Adelson off the ground.

The first 62 beds of the hospital opened on December 15, 1958. Senator-elect Howard Cannon, cozy with Dalitz and his friends, cut the ribbon. Another prominent financier of the project remained low profile: Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union pension fund, which had advanced a million dollars at 6 percent interest in a complicated deal that obscured the origin of the money.

The loan was just the beginning of an exceedingly profitable relationship between the Teamsters, Dalitz, Molasky, and their partners. To guarantee patients, Hoffa ordered that all members of the Teamsters’ and Culinary Unions’ medical plan be forced to use Sunrise if they required hospitalization. It was “an early form of managed care,” Molasky later said.

The Teamsters also loaned $1.2 million to Dalitz, Roen, Adelson, and Molasky, along with fifth partner, Bernie Rothkopf, to build the Stardust Golf Course and Country Club and the nearby Paradise Palms housing development. “If Moe told them to make a loan,” said one observer quoted by Sally Denton and Roger Morris, authors of 2001’s The Money and the Power, “they made the loan.”

All along the way, FBI agents dogged virtually every movement of Dalitz, Molasky, and their associates, taking copious notes and filing voluminous reports. According to Newton, in February 1961 G-men wanted to charge Dalitz with “bribery, labor racketeering, and Mann Act violations (transporting women across state lines for ‘immoral purposes’),” but bureau director J. Edgar Hoover killed the idea.

In February 1962, writes Newton, the FBI followed Dalitz and his friend, entertainer Phil Harris, to San Diego, where they had “quite a party” with unidentified women before heading for Mexico in Dalitz’s yacht. The same month, Dalitz and New York mob kingpin Meyer Lansky were listed by FBI agents as being among ten mobsters “marked for ‘intensified investigations.’”

Somehow, though, charges were never filed. Then along came the flamboyant publisher of a glossy skin magazine to do what federal authorities never had. Bob Guccione, the owner of Penthouse, was in the midst of taking on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy for the pinnacle of the nation’s men’s publishing business, and the Brooklyn-born Guccione was ready to get down to some serious muckraking.

“I first met Bob Guccione at the London Penthouse Club in 1970,” wrote attorney Roy Grutman. “Dressed in a white suit and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and sporting an array of gold chains, he looked like a psychedelic Beau Brummel.”

“After years of selling soft-focus crotch shots, Guccione wanted to do something more important, something Hugh Hefner would never try,” added Grutman. “If the Washington Post could bring down Richard Nixon, he would go after something even bigger.” The target was La Costa.

Headlined “La Costa: The Hundred-Million-Dollar Resort with Criminal Clientele,” the story ran in March 1975. “The primary founders of La Costa were syndicate ‘bluebloods,’” Penthouse charged. “La Costa has been controlled by the Moe Dalitz mob, which includes Dalitz, Allard Roen, Merv Adelson, and Irwin Molasky.… It was Dalitz who persuaded then-president of the Teamsters Union, James Riddle Hoffa, to finance Las Vegas casinos, starting with [Dalitz’s] Desert Inn and related properties, with Teamsters retirement cash.”

That May, Dalitz and his partners filed a $630 million libel suit against Guccione and his magazine.

By coincidence, Grutman, who handled the case for Guccione, had earlier been a guest at La Costa: “A vast complex of white motel buildings and a golf course that looked like a semi-arid cemetery, it reminded me of Las Vegas. There were fountains, doormen who looked like ex-boxers, and many peculiar guests. I realized how peculiar when the tennis pro arranged a doubles match for me, and one member of the foursome was a recently convicted recipient of bribes, former New York state senator Bert Podell.”

The libel case dragged on for seven years before it finally reached a jury. By then, “Roen and Dalitz dropped out as plaintiffs when it was decided they were public figures and could not prove malice against Penthouse,” wrote Grutman.

“In my opening statement, I told the jury we would prove La Costa was built and maintained for the benefit of the mob,” he recalled. “I explained how the resort was designed as a safe haven for criminals on working vacations. Since Mafia members prefer to conduct their business in person rather than over the telephone or by mail, La Costa, far from the cops and other cares of the world, was the perfect place to relax and make deals.

“‘People who are the heads of rackets not only go [to La Costa] but are given the run of the place,’ I said.

“The resort provided complimentary accommodations to mobsters of all persuasions, from Louis ‘the Tailor’ Rosanova...to the legendary Meyer Lansky, who explained in a deposition that he had gone to La Costa only twice to take walks and visit a sick acquaintance.”

Of Penthouse’s publisher, Lansky opined, “I’d rather be counted a pal of Moe Dalitz than that fucking Guccione, who peddles slime and pornography to the youth of the country.”

“In court,” said Grutman, “both Molasky and Adelson denied that Dalitz had opened the door to the Teamsters’ pension fund. The evidence showed otherwise. Since the two had begun a business relationship with Dalitz and Roen, the fourway partnership had been one of the pension fund’s best customers, accounting for millions of dollars in loans and additional millions in equity deals. As part of its loan agreement with La Costa, the Teamsters bought 15 percent of the resort at a bargain price, and later sold the same shares for a profit of millions.

“Not surprisingly, the Teamsters’ loan came with strings attached. The union demanded the right to appoint three members to the La Costa board of directors. One of them was Teamsters’ consultant Allen Dorfman, later indicted for accepting kickbacks. Adelson testified that all he really knew about Dorfman was that he was a decorated war veteran. Dorfman was murdered in Chicago in a gangland-style execution in 1983.”

The trial featured a sworn affidavit on behalf of Molasky and his partners by their friend, San Diego sheriff John Duffy, who maintained that “no evidence of criminal activity by La Costa or the management of La Costa…has ever been detected.” It later came to light that Duffy had privately expressed his own doubts about Dalitz and company and had received campaign contributions from La Costa and three of its principals, including Molasky, but not Dalitz.

There was also testimony on behalf of Penthouse by Mafia hit man Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, who was barred by the judge from telling the jury about a meeting Fratianno claimed he’d had at La Costa with Chicago mob boss Sam “Momo” Giancana and San Diego hit man Frank “the Bomp” Bompensiero to plot the murder of TV star Desi Arnaz. To discredit Fratianno, La Costa’s attorneys dug up a deposition from six years earlier in which he said he’d never been to the resort. Fratianno responded that he’d lied “maybe 100 times” in the sworn affidavit, of which he said 90 percent “are [sic] lies.”

In May 1982, after 15 days of deliberation, the jury decided in favor of Penthouse, but Judge Kenneth Gale quickly overturned the verdict, ordering a new trial. Grutman discovered that Gale had once been Fratianno’s lawyer and eventually got the judge removed from the case. More than three years later, in December 1985, just as a second trial was to finally begin, the exhausted litigants announced a settlement. Only words, not money, changed hands.

Guccione and his magazine were praised by Molasky and partners for their “many personal and professional awards and distinctions.” For his part, Guccione said, “Penthouse…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.

“Penthouse acknowledges that all of the individual plaintiffs, including Messrs. Dalitz and Roen, have been extremely active in commendable civic and philanthropic activities which have earned them recognition from many estimable people. Furthermore, Penthouse acknowledges that among plaintiffs’ successful business activities is the La Costa resort itself, one of the outstanding resort complexes of the world.”

Molasky — who did not respond to a request for an interview for this story relayed through Richard Worthington, president and chief operating officer of Molasky’s Paradise Development Company — survived and prospered. Today he remains one of only two La Costa case principals still standing. Moe Dalitz died in August 1989 at 89. Allard Roen died in 2008, age 87. Guccione succumbed last year at 79. Besides Molasky, only Merv Adelson, who was once married to TV news personality Barbara Walters, lives on at 81.

“Shored up by the Teamster underwriting at Sunrise and eased by governmental concessions and favorable contracts at every turn, the trio’s Paradise Development Company shaped the emerging commercial and residential map of the city,” Denton and Morris wrote of Molasky, Dalitz, and Adelson in 2001.

As the years went by Molasky built Nevada’s first enclosed shopping mall, the first high-rise office building in Las Vegas, and its first high-rise luxury condominium complex. He was hailed as one of the town’s biggest philanthropists, with gifts of acreage for the University of Nevada and construction of the Nathan Adelson Hospice, named in honor of Merv Adelson’s father.

He became a close friend of Jerry Tarkanian, whom he helped recruit from Long Beach State with a big-money contract to become head basketball coach at UNLV in 1973. “It would have taken 50 years for the university to become the Harvard of the West,” Molasky told the New York Times in July 1991. “We felt it would be a lot easier to achieve it by getting a renowned basketball program and then gradually going into the academics.”

The first chairman of the UNLV Foundation, Molasky skirted controversy in May 1990, when the Washington Post reported he had bet on college football, pro football, and baseball games in the 1980s in partnership with Las Vegas physician and bookie Ivan Mindlin, leader of a national sports betting operation.

Mindlin was indicted in January 1990 after the FBI shut down his computerized betting operation in a nationwide raid on the eve of the Super Bowl, January 19, 1985. Molasky testified before the federal grand jury that indicted Mindlin and avoided being charged in the case. In 1992, in a major embarrassment for the FBI and U.S. prosecutors, the defendants were acquitted in federal court in Las Vegas.

Later, in April of 2002, federal prosecutors in Chicago accused Mindlin of attempting to hire a lieutenant in the Chicago mob’s Elmwood Park street crew to wipe out a former gambling partner. Defense attorneys for a Chicago cop, alleged to have been the go-between in the plot, denied that it had happened, according to an Associated Press report.

As his power over Las Vegas grew, Molasky and his wife Susan became heavy donors to Democratic causes, including, in the 1990s, the Searchlight Leadership Fund of Senator Harry Reid, which Reid used to distribute campaign contributions to curry favor among Reid’s Senate allies, with the aim of ultimately electing him majority leader.

In May 2007, Molasky was an honored guest at a lavish tribute to Reid; that November Molasky was named to the Nevada Business Leadership Council of then–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Molasky’s most recent federal contribution was $500 this May 12 to Democratic congressional candidate Kate Marshall.)

During the same period, Molasky began an aggressive push into the financing, construction, and leasing of office buildings for the federal government. The deficit was growing out of control, and officials wanted to push capital expenditures into future years in the form of lease payments, rather than pay for buildings up front, a much cheaper alternative in the long run.

With close ties to Reid and other Democratic and Republican power brokers, Molasky was well positioned to take advantage of the trend. Ironically, sources say, Molasky’s many contacts with federal law enforcement agencies over the years also may have put him on the inside track to build a series of FBI and IRS regional headquarters.

“The competitive landscape was changing. The returns from our traditional line of work were less, so there was a conscious decision to diversify our focus,” Richard Worthington, Molasky’s right-hand man, told the Las Vegas Business Press in June 2005.

Molasky has also successfully leveraged his political relationships with local governments; in Las Vegas, the redevelopment agency gave him a bargain on downtown land. “Three years ago, Molasky responded to a request-for-proposal for a new Internal Revenue Service headquarters in the region,” the Business Press reported. “He beat out six competitors by securing a five-acre parcel of city-owned land in downtown Las Vegas for $2,000. The property has been valued at $2 million.”

“It’s outrageous,” an anonymous Las Vegas developer told the paper. “I can fully understand the need for economic development and the need to generate jobs and redevelopment for downtown. But when you’re doing a build-to-suit and the land is donated, it eliminates all the risk. How can anyone else compete?”

“Public-private partnerships make-up 10 to 15 percent of our overall portfolio, but it’s growing. And we want it to play a larger role,” Worthington was quoted as saying at the time. “These projects are all about the economics. But whenever there is a leap of faith, there is an advantage if you’re a proven commodity. And when you’ve been in town for as long as we have, there’s credibility.”

Today Molasky is counting on many of the same factors to give him an edge in the fight over San Diego’s FBI project. As Molasky’s legal battle with his Sorrento Valley neighbor approaches an early trial next month, Worthington said in a telephone interview last week, ongoing settlement negotiations have proved fruitless.

Worthington wouldn’t provide any further details, saying the case was still being litigated, but other sources say that Molasky has been vigorously lobbying both the FBI and the city of San Diego to condemn the disputed easement and turn it over to Molasky on the grounds that prompt completion of the new FBI building is vital to public safety. That would require hearings by the city council, which might shed new light on Molasky’s operations here.

What the FBI’s options are if its deal with Molasky unravels aren’t known. Neither the General Services Administration nor the FBI responded to requests for comment regarding the situation. What is almost certain, based on his sworn declaration last month, is that the FBI project, just a few miles down I-5 from the legendary La Costa resort where the Mafia came to play, is Irwin Molasky’s last hurrah.

Thanks to Matt Potter

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peter Bart's "Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)"

He was a tall, silver-haired man, square-jawed with a military bearing, always impeccably attired in a dark blue suit. It was only a few weeks into my Paramount job when I came to understand that His visits were a daily occurrence, but did not linger or chat with anyone other than (Paramount head of production) Bob Evans, nor did anyone on staff ever refer to him or acknowledge his visits. Korshak was the ghost who was always there but never there.

Evans had talked earlier about him once or twice, always in a manner that betrayed not only respect but near-reverence. Sidney Korshak was not so much his personal attorney (he never paid him) or even his mentor as he was his consigliere. And when Korshak arrived for an Evans audience, all other plans would be set aside. Whoever happened to be in the reception room would have to wait until the big man had come and gone from Evans' sanctum sanctorum. And this procedure was replicated by other power players at other offices in town, as I was to learn.

Sidney Korshak, it seemed to me, was the man who knew everything -- the big corporate deals as well as the personal peccadilloes. It was some time before I also realized that Korshak was the man who knew too much.

It was Korshak's role in life to dwell simultaneously in two separate and distinct worlds which, in his grand design, would remain hermetically sealed against each other. There was his celebrity world -- he liked to drop names like Kirk Douglas or Dinah Shore or Debbie Reynolds, or to casually mention that he'd just had dinner with Sinatra in Las Vegas, or with Nancy and Ronnie Reagan in Beverly Hills. But he would never mention his other friends, like Tony Accardo or Sam Giancana from the Chicago mob or Jimmy Hoffa from the Teamsters or Moe Dalitz from Vegas.

Korshak would allude to the corporate deals he made on behalf of Lew Wasserman or Howard Hughes, but he never confided what he knew about Bugsy Siegel's murder or Hoffa's disappearance.

Korshak's life was built around a web of secrecy, and he was convinced that he would always be able to move effortlessly from one world to the next. It was only later in his life that he, too, found himself trapped. As the dangers in his nether life became more ominous, Korshak was unable to extricate himself from his underworld bonds. The celebrities would continue to decorate his life, like glitzy toys, but the bad boys would always be hovering out there with their furtive demands and threats. …

Over the years my relationship with Korshak remained distanced but cordial. He never directly asked anything from me nor subjected me to his power games. When his son, Harry, began to produce movies at Paramount -- I never figured out precisely how this deal came about -- Korshak said to me he would "appreciate it" if I were to "look out" for Harry and provide advice if he began to stray. But when young Harry's career did not go well, Korshak was the first to inform his son that he would do well to pursue other career possibilities.In observing Korshak's superbly surreptitious maneuverings over time, I began to accept a reality none of us wanted to openly address. Sidney Korshak was a gangster, albeit a very civil and well-groomed gangster. The bad boys had achieved major clout in the entertainment industry, and Korshak, despite all his secrecy, represented the embodiment of that clout.

Ironically, while Korshak yearned for the trappings of "respectability," his pals in Hollywood venerated him, not for his cool or his great wardrobe or even for his lawyering skills, but rather for his fabled underworld ties. …Bob Evans, for one, had always romanticized the lore of the gangster -- hence his lifelong ambition to make the movie about the mythic, mobster-owned Cotton Club, which ultimately came to haunt him. Charlie Bluhdorn,founder of Gulf + Western, which owned Par, had a longstanding flirtation with the shadow world out of fringe financiers in Europe and ended up doing deals that resulted in prison sentences for his partners and almost for himself. (Paramount president) Frank Yablans subscribed to mobster mythology to such a degree that he even agreed to play the role of an underworld thug in a movie titled "Mikey and Nicky." He was in rehearsal on the film before an apoplectic Bluhdorn vetoed his participation (even the often reckless Bluhdhorn realized the potential jeopardy to his corporate image).

Thanks to Peter Bart

Monday, April 04, 2011

Entertainment and Family History Mixed at Las Vegas Mob Experience

Mobster Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, infamous for his brutality, once reportedly squeezed a man's head in a vice until his eyes popped out of their sockets.But when he wasn't carrying out brutal interrogations or fulfilling contract killings -- duties required of him as a made man for the mob -- he was playing the role of dutiful father.

Spilotro and other mobsters with a Las Vegas connection all had softer, gentler sides that have rarely been acknowledged, says Jay Bloom, founder and managing partner of the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana.

Bloom hopes the new attraction changes that by showing publicly the soft guy side that Spilotro, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Sam Giancana, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky possessed.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience celebrated its grand opening Wednesday. It is not to be confused with the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, popularly known as the Mob Museum, which is scheduled to open later this year in downtown Las Vegas.

The Mob Museum will concentrate more on the law enforcement perspective, says Michael Unger, chief executive officer of Eagle Group Holdings, the parent company of the Mob Experience, while "we will focus on the bad guys."

The "show-seum is a little bit entertainment, a little bit excitement and a little bit history all rolled together," Unger says. "We expose the human side of these men, if you will. Siegel was a great father. Same thing with Spilotro. They were good family men."

Several family members of the infamous men, including Millicent Siegel Rosen, daughter of Siegel; Spilotro's son, Vincent, and his widow, Nancy; Meyer Lansky II and Cythina Duncan, grandchildren of Lansky; and Giancana's grandson, Carl Manno, donated or loaned more than 1,500 artifacts to be displayed. Among them are Spilotro's baby shoes and his handguns; Siegel's home movies, furniture and love letters; and Lansky's golf clubs and personal diaries.

"It's quite a showcase," says 80-year-old Rosen. "People have been after me for years to do something about my father, but I never wanted to get involved in anything. But when I met Jay, his ideas were different. I was very impressed with the way he treated my father."

Visitors to the attraction will get to watch home movies shot by Siegel while learning about how he built the Flamingo and helped popularize Las Vegas as a vacation destination. He wouldn't like today's Vegas, Rosen adds. It would be much too corporate for his tastes.

Don't go in expecting to hear the whole story of the mob, though. The Mob Experience covers prohibition and gaming apart from the family history.

"The narrative they're telling seems to have some problems," says David Schwartz, director of University of Nevada, Las Vegas' gaming studies. "It seems to skip over some of the stuff organized crime did in America."

And though the artifacts may have historical value, it may be difficult to understand why, because many of them are out of context, Schwartz adds.

Attraction organizers chose to focus strictly on mob figures who played a role in the rise and spread of casinos, Unger says.

In addition to the artifacts, the Mob Experience offers a pseudo-mob "experience" in which guests can become a made man, a snitch, get whacked or have a shootout. At the ticket counter, guests give their names and some personal information in exchange for a mob nickname and a badge embedded with radio frequency identification, or RFID.

The Mob Experience is divided into three acts: the immigration of the mob figures, the rise of the mob, and the decline and fall of the mob. A three-dimensional guide accompanies visitors through, offering facts and helping to navigate the mob. As a guest enters each area, computers sense the RFID badge and greet each person by his or her mob nickname.

Actors portraying various mob characters are situated throughout the 26,000-square-foot attraction and interact with guests. Your response to each character plays a role in your fate at the end, Bloom says.

Thanks to Sonya Padgett

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mafia Princess Dethroned in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Mob Experience is pleased to announce that Carl Manno, grandson of infamous Chicago crime boss, Sam Giancana, and son of the self proclaimed Mafia Princess, Antoinette Giancana, has joined the project as a consultant representing the Giancana family.

Last week, the Las Vegas Mob Experience terminated its consulting agreement with Antoinette Giancana, daughter of Sam Giancana, citing her gross misconduct and breach of contract. Problems with the Princess however, were brewing for months before she was finally given the boot.

Ms. Giancana alienated all of the other "family" members involved in the project, as well as the operational staff, to the point that several months ago, being deemed too difficult to work with, she was instructed not to return to the company's corporate headquarters.

According to Jay Bloom, Managing Partner of the Mob Experience, "Ms. Giancana was always resentful of the fact that The Las Vegas Mob Experience highlighted numerous famous individuals related to the history of organized crime and the role they had in the building of Sin City. She wanted this attraction to be the Sam Giancana show, with her as the spokesperson and shining star."

Bloom went on to explain that the attraction is not about one person, "We are privileged to have the involvement of the family members of many relevant historical figures including Meyer Lansky, Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel, Tony 'The Ant' Spilotro, Al Sachs, Jimmy 'Blue Eyes' Alo and Allen Smiley."

Mr. Manno, when asked about his mother's conduct stated "I have spent my life apologizing for my mother's erratic and unpredictable behavior, and I find myself having to do it again here."

Mr. Manno went on to say that he is "Excited to be a part of this extraordinary project at Tropicana Las Vegas, joining the other family members in bringing additional artifacts and personal stories about my grandfather."

They say, that in the Mob, one should never assume their status is secure because there is always someone waiting to take the place of the fallen.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience opened its doors to the public for previews on March 1, 2011, with its formal Grand Opening scheduled for March 29, 2011.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Growing Up the Son of Tony Spilotro

The only son of Tony Spilotro talks about what it was like growing up in the shadow of one of Chicago's most notorious mob bosses.

When Anthony "Ant" Spilotro walked into a room, he caused hearts to race and sometimes stop. At only 5'5", Spilotro's power wasn't from muscle; it was from an ability to intimidate and an unpredictable temper.

Hollywood tried to chronicle Spilotro's life in the movie "Casino." Now, his own family videos and an interview with his son offer a different take on these blood relatives.

This is what most people remember about Tony Spilotro's life -- it ended in a midnight grave. It was June 1986. After a horrific beating, vengeful mob bosses drove Spilotro and his brother Michael to an Indiana cornfield where they were buried.

"I just want people to understand that he wasn't this monster," Spilotro's only son Vince told the I-Team.

Vince Spilotro knows that rewriting his late father's life story will be difficult. His father was arrested 13 times before age 20; he was initiated as a full Chicago Outfit member at age 25 after authorities believe he committed his trademark torture killing, putting a victim's head in a vice until his eyeballs popped out. From 1971 to 1986, Tony Spilotro ruled Chicago Mob rackets in Las Vegas.

"I just wanted it to come out that he was a man, he did have family, just the human side of him, just tell the truth about it. Even if you're going to tell something bad, tell the truth about it. You know what I mean? You don't have to make up a whole bunch of stuff, " Vince Spilotro said.

It is unclear how many people Spilotro killed during his Outfit career because he was never convicted of murder, but Outfit investigators put the number at between 12 and 20.

"I mean, I take this home with me every night. I mean, I've been taking this home for 20 years," said Vince Spilotro.

Now he is sharing it with the I-Team, and soon Vince Spilotro will be sharing it with the paying public.

Opening next month at the Tropicana Hotel, in the city limits his father once ruled, the interactive Mob Experience will feature Spilotro family memorabilia including baby shoes and pictures -- and guns and bullets.

"I knew what he did," said said Vince Spilotro. "He was just, you know, just a loving father."

And Spilotro family videos that show Tony "Ant" as Tony "Santa." At family parties, including Vincent's birthday's as a boy, where sometimes tony and the boys would play cards off to the side. On family trips to Disneyland, where even a budding Outfit boss waited in line.

GOUDIE: "Do you think your father saw you as someone who would eventually replace him?
SPILOTRO: No, not at all. Here's what happened. In the beginning he didn't, it was all school, you have to do this, you have to do that. In the end he was, he had quadruple bypass, he was getting tired. He was sharing more. I don't know if that's grooming me, but it was still, school, school, school."

When museum plans were unveiled last summer, Tony Spilotro's reclusive widow Nancy was also in attendance. Their family treasures will be on display with some from Chicago boss Sam Giancana and Vegas founder Bugsy Seigel.

GOUDIE: "What would your father think about you selling family memorabilia for a profit.
SPILOTRO: He wouldn't like it. It's a two-way street. I think he'd like that I'm telling the truth, selling it for a profit sounds a little seedy...These people are going to protect it, they're going to display it a little more classy than if someone bought it on eBay."

For the Spilotro family, it is a chance to tell inside stories about the days growing up in their Las Vegas home as the son of a Mob boss.

Spilotro said, "I helped when I was a kid, at 18 years old, helped design this room, at our house, it was a place called the 'Security room.' There was a steel door, which was covered with wallpaper, you never knew it was steel. A solid door with the frame. The walls were all insulated with concrete and stuff. I mean, you couldn't get in that room."

And after almost 25 years, the museum and this interview, are a chance to come to terms with the past.

"I just like to tell everybody that he's just a man that grew up, raised a family and got caught up in some things that maybe he shouldn't have, but he lived it the way he lived it," said Spilotro.

The founder of the Mob Experience museum says he isn't setting out to glorify the Chicago Outfit. He says that showing the living contradictions that were Chicago Mob bosses is aimed at giving the public new insight about a significant American criminal group.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mafia Memorabilia War Heats Up

There is a Chicago mob war underway, but it is unlikely to result in bloodshed. But the fight is actually 1,800 miles away from Chicago.

From 1955, when the reign of Mayor Richard J. Daley began, through today with his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago has shunned any official recognition of the city's gangland past. But Las Vegas -- for decades controlled by the Chicago Outfit -- is embracing its rich organized crime history.

With not one but two Mob museums planning to open this year, a fight for Chicago Mob memorabilia is now on.

On one end of the famous Las Vegas strip will be the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, also known as the Mob museum. It is Mayor Oscar Goodman's $50 million pet project in a former federal building, much of it funded by tax money. After countless delays, the official Mob museum is set to open late this year.

At the other end of the strip -- and in direct competition -- is the privately owned and operated Mob Experience. It will fire the first shot with preview parties next week and a grand opening in early March, with interactive holograms of Hollywood Mob figures leading tourists through the exhibits.

"We are not setting out to glorify the Mob by any mean, and nobody in Las Vegas is looking to glorify the mob. But at the same time we are not looking to vilify these people either. I think in the process of collecting these artifacts and being exposed to the stories of the family members, we've been given the greatest Mob story never told," said Jay Bloom, Mob Experience partner.

The late Chicago Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana is among those depicted in exhibits. His daughter Antoniette is among the family members of major Mob figures hired as paid contributors to the Mob Experience. And she is happy to deliver her father's glory days in Vegas.

"It was glorious. I wished he were here now. We were treated like kings, queens and princesses and princes. There was nothing that Sam needed or wanted in this town, it was given to him gladly with love and respect," said Antionette Giancana, Mafia princess.

The Mob Experience will feature memorabilia from the Giancana family along with personal mementos from Bugsy Seigel, Meyer Lansky and others, including Chicago's long-time Mob emissary to Las Vegas Anthony "Tony Ant" Spilotro.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, January 03, 2011

Las Vegas Mob Moss, Davie Berman, Started in North Dakota

The mob boss of the Las Vegas syndicate, who built the city into the gambling capital of the U.S., grew up in North Dakota.

Davie Berman learned how to be tough and enterprising at his father’s farm near Ashley when he reasoned that he would need to become the primary breadwinner for the family because his father’s farming venture failed.

Berman ran the Las Vegas gambling enterprises for the mob from 1947 until his death in 1957. Most of the people who knew him at the casinos liked him and thought of Berman as a very successful businessman. After Berman died, it was said that he had “the largest funeral Las Vegas had ever seen.”

Donald “Davie” Berman was born Jan. 16, 1903, to David and Clara Berman in Odessa, Russia. In 1905, David Berman was threatened with conscription into the Russian army and fled to America. After working at a laundry in Manhattan, he learned that a special fund had been set up to help young Jews get land grants in North Dakota. He sent for his wife and three young children.

In the winter of 1907, the family arrived at Ashley. for? It looks like Siberia.” On Dec. 26, 1907, the Bermans took possession of their 160 acres between Ashley and Wishek. David Berman knew nothing about farming, and it seemed like everything he tried had failed.

Davie Berman excelled in school but was frequently in trouble because of fights. In January 1910, their house burned down, and the Bermans sold their farm for one dollar and moved to Ashley. David Berman got a job at the creamery, but the family continued to live in poverty. Davie Berman said they should move to Sioux City, Iowa, because he had learned that young boys could sell newspapers. In 1912, the family packed their belongings into a buggy and moved to Iowa where they hoped to make a new beginning.

Davie Berman got a job as a newsboy and, to increase his earnings, slept in the print shop of the Sioux City Journal so that he could get an early start hawking newspapers. He organized the Jewish boys selling papers so that they could keep other boys from selling papers in their territory.

At the time, Sioux City was called Little Chicago because “gangsters from Chicago used to move there when the heat was on at home.” Davie Berman soon noticed that gamblers had a lot of money, and he became friendly with them. He helped talk people into participating in card games and learned how to cheat with marked cards and loaded dice. By the age of 14, he organized a group of young people to beat up individuals who did not cover their losses at gambling.

With Prohibition, Berman got into bootlegging. He drove his car north on Highway 75, now I-75, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and loaded up with whiskey. On his return south, Berman would make deliveries in Minnesota and the Dakotas. By the age of 16, “he was the biggest bootlegger in all of Iowa.” He also hired people to make home brew on which he slapped fake labels for resale.

While still a teen, Berman turned to robbing banks. He moved his operation from Sioux City to Chicago and then to New York City. In 1927, Berman was arrested for a post office robbery in Wisconsin. He refused to name any of those involved in plotting the heist and was sentenced to 7 ½ years in Sing Sing Prison.

When he was released from prison, Berman was called to a meeting with gangsters Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Moe Sedway and Lucky Luciano. In appreciation for keeping quiet, Berman was offered $1 million. He turned the offer down and instead said he wanted permission “to run Minneapolis.” His request was granted.

By the mid-1930s, Prohibition was abolished, and Berman focused his attention on bookmaking and other forms of gambling. The top mob boss of Minneapolis, when Berman arrived, was Kid Cann. As his operation grew, Berman eclipsed Cann. When World War II broke out, Berman tried to enlist but was turned down because of his criminal background. He then traveled to Winnipeg and enlisted with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons regiment. At the conclusion of the war, Berman returned to Minneapolis to resume his gambling operation.

In 1945, Hubert Humphrey was elected mayor with a pledge to break up the rackets. Berman knew where he wanted to move next. In 1940, he had made a trip to Las Vegas and saw that it held great potential for gambling. In 1945, Berman purchased three downtown clubs — the El Cortez, the Las Vegas Club, and the El Dorado (later called the Horseshoe).

He was also working with Bugsy Siegel to build the new, elegant Flamingo. After the Flamingo opened, the mob suspected that Siegel was skimming off the top. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was assassinated at the Beverly Hills home of his mistress, Virginia Hill. The murder was never solved. The next day, Berman and his associates walked into the Flamingo and took over operation of the club. Later, Berman sold the Flamingo and purchased the Riviera.

On June 18, 1957, while on the operating table at a Las Vegas hospital for a glandular operation, Berman suffered a heart attack and died.

Thanks to Curt Eriksmoen

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Las Vegas Mobster Presentation at the Far West Popular Culture and American Culture Association Annual Conference

Organized crime and Las Vegas have a long, complex history that is well-known. But the extent of the mob’s actual involvement in the conception and development of the city is debatable.

This month, a professor and a graduate of Missouri University of Science and Technology will present their research on the subject at a popular culture conference that just happens to take place in “Sin City” itself.

Dr. Larry Gragg, chair and Curators’ Teaching Professor of history and political science at Missouri S&T, and Amanda Kamps, a 2009 history graduate of the university, will present papers at the Far West Popular Culture and American Culture Associations’ annual conference, which will be held from Friday, March 12, to Sunday, March 14, in Las Vegas.

“This will be our first opportunity to present at a popular culture conference,” says Gragg. “Our papers are certainly relevant to the conference’s location.”

Kamps is looking forward to the conference. “I have spent the last two years writing about mobsters in Las Vegas,” she says. “This will be my first chance to actually visit ‘Sin City’ and see the places I’ve detailed in my work.”

Gragg has had a longtime interest in the connections between organized crime and Las Vegas. “My paper, ‘Film Depictions of Organized Crime in Las Vegas,’ deals with the ways motion pictures contributed to the general beliefs Americans had about the mob’s role in the development of Las Vegas after World War II,” he says. He is also writing a book on the subject.

Kamps’ paper, “Exploiting Stereotypes: Benjamin Siegel’s Reliance Upon Reputation in Las Vegas,” focuses on the notorious mobster, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

“Amanda’s paper highlights the ways that Siegel was able to use his various personae to open his Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 1946-1947,” says Gragg.

Kamps says her study of Siegel offers a great insight into the interactions between the community of Las Vegas and the mobsters who descended upon the frontier town. “My paper focuses on Siegel’s use of his reputation as a brutal killer to accomplish his business goals,” she says. “This not only demonstrates Bugsy’s own deviousness, but also sheds light on how the perception of mobsters was perpetuated.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Mafia Princess Plans for Grand Opening of The Las Vegas Mob Exhibition

Plans for a Mafia exhibit in Las Vegas would include artifacts that lift the veil on how Mafia bosses really lived -- down to their favorite chairs, fancy china and shotguns.

The Las Vegas Mob Exhibition could find a home at a fancy hotel on the Strip as soon as next year, says Antoinette "The Mafia Princess" Giancana, the project spokeswoman and daughter of notorious Chicago Outfit boss, Sam "Momo" Giancana.

"We've got my father's things. All the living room furniture from when my mom and dad were married in 1933," she said. "Crystal and flatware. We've got a slot machine and one of his rifles. He used to hunt."

Similar artifacts that belonged to Bugsy Siegel and Meyer "the Mob's Accountant" Lansky also will be on display, Giancana said.

Of course, the exhibit will face competition from the government. Las Vegas mayor, former high-profile mob lawyer Oscar Goodman, has his city backing a $50 million mob museum in the works called the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.

Giancana said she's not worried about competition.

"That place will be more documentary and police-oriented," she said. "Our exhibit will be more about family."

Thanks to Mark J. Konkol

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mob Mug Shot Collection Exceeds 10,000 Photos

When mobster Lucky Luciano was being photographed by New York City police in 1936, he probably had no idea his mug shot would one day be sought after like a Babe Ruth baseball card. But to collectors like John Binder of River Forest, that's a valuable piece of... art?

These unglamorous shots and lineup photos are being accepted as art with more than just collectors seeking them. Binder said when the photos were taken, there was some consideration of composition and lighting, and the pictures were developed on photographic paper before police departments started using Polaroids and later digital cameras. Thus, he said, the art world has become more accepting of these photos as art, and there have been exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York.

"The art world has expanded dramatically in the last few years," Binder said. "The early ones used much better photography."

Binder, author of The Chicago Outfit, has amassed more than 10,000 mug shots and lineup photos of a range of crooks, from everyday petty criminals to mob bosses. Some get displayed in galleries, some get sold or traded, some never leave his collection, which includes some of the most infamous organized crime figures in history: Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegal, Sam Giancana, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, and Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti.

His interest in mug shots and lineup photos began in the 1990s, when he started researching who the other people were in a photograph of Al Capone. It led to more research into the world of organized crime in Chicago and New York, which led to him purchasing crime photos.

"It's just a general interest in history," he said. "The photographs are interesting in their own right."

He started his collection with the purchase of 10,000 photos from a collectibles dealer, who bought them from a retired police officer's family. Binder has added to the collection with one or two photos at a time from various sources. He has one of the biggest collections of its kind in the United States.

He admits it's an esoteric collection. It's not like someone can just walk into a shop and say, "I'm looking for a mug shot of a ruthless criminal."

Binder said collectors of crime photos rely on word of mouth and, if they're lucky, someone will let them dig through their old photos. Sometimes police departments will have stored old mug shots and lineup photos, and put them up for sale on Ebay.

Binder sold an original 1927 Bugsy Siegal mug shot for well over $1,000, and has sold several photos of lesser-known criminals to cops and attorneys who want to use them to decorate their bars or offices.

"There is a price for most of what I have," he said. "But, some of the good stuff I keep for my own private collection."

But, he doesn't have everybody.

Wanted: An original Al Capone mug shot.

Thanks to J.T. Morand

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mob Museum Taking Some Hits

Las Vegas’ proposed mob museum has taken some hits of its own in recent weeks, targeted on late-night talk shows and Capitol Hill as an absurd showcase for the likes of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro.

Museum backers say the critics don’t get it. This won’t be some sideshow exhibit celebrating the mob’s role as a storied part of Las Vegas’ past. Rather, it will offer a serious examination of organized crime and law enforcement’s efforts to combat it.

During this episode, the underlying message received by those planning the museum was clear: As they move forward, they need to be ever careful about the museum’s image.

“We want it to be serious and we want it to be balanced, but we need it to have appeal,” said Dale Erquiaga, a museum board member. “It’s always on our minds as planners that we stay right on that line,” said Erquiaga, formerly an advertising strategist with R&R Partners. “It’s in every conversation we have.”

Most cities, it’s fair to say, would have cringed at the contemptuous national attention the mob museum received. Stand-up comedian Lewis Black said on “The Daily Show” on Jan. 14: “A mob museum? I thought Las Vegas already was a mob museum!”

And yet, the museum may have been aided by the dust-up, which Mayor Oscar Goodman and other museum proponents boasted likely resulted in more than $7 million worth of free publicity.

Several of the 13 board members of the 300 Stewart Avenue Corp., the nonprofit group working with the city on the project, likewise said in recent interviews that they are pleased with the museum’s progress, in terms of fundraising, collecting exhibits, and simply raising awareness of the museum’s mission.

A big part of that awareness-raising, as several board members pointed out, is making sure the public knows that the museum will be going out of its way not to glorify the Mafia.

“You have a very significant number of people in town who don’t want to glorify the mob. I count myself among them,” said board member Alan Feldman, senior vice president of pubic affairs for MGM Mirage. “There isn’t a sympathizer, if you will, among us,” he said, including fellow board member Goodman, a former attorney who zealously defended several vicious local figures.

According to Feldman and other board members, the marketers for the museum are doing everything they can to straddle the line between avoiding the mob’s glorification and keeping the museum and its exhibits interesting and entertaining. That struggle was reflected in a rough-draft museum brochure, which will be used to raise funds, garner exhibits or both, Feldman said.

On one page, the words “City Planner or Gangster?” were superimposed over a large black-and-white photo of mobster Bugsy Siegel. On another, “Tax Revenue or Skim?” is written over a photo of a spinning roulette wheel with gamblers in the background.

Feldman said that struggle was also reflected in the museum’s naming, which was finalized last spring at a meeting in City Hall.

After a long debate, consensus was reached on both a brand name — the mob museum — as well as the longer, more complete institutional name — The Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — which was to show that the museum’s purpose was equally to tell the story of the police and G-men who chased, and ultimately brought down, the mob.

“My motivation for volunteering on this project was to ensure that law enforcement, in particular the FBI, would be fairly and accurately represented,” said Ellen Knowlton, head of the 300 Stewart Avenue Corp., and the former special agent in charge of the local FBI field office, in a statement. “I also wanted to make sure that the lifestyle of those involved with organized crime would be accurately depicted and not ‘glamorized.’ ”

Though Goodman said that he wanted as much federal stimulus money as he could get for the museum, plans for the project shouldn’t be altered if none is forthcoming, officials say.

According to city officials, the museum has raised about $15 million so far, including $3.6 million in federal grants and another $3.5 million in state and local grants.

The museum has a $50 million price tag. Ultimately, according to a museum fact sheet, that will include $7 million in grants and $8 million in city funds, with the remaining $35 million to come from bonds from the city’s redevelopment agency.

Construction on the interior of the city-owned museum building — the old three-story post office and federal courthouse building downtown — is set to kick off this spring. The city is hoping for an opening date of sometime in 2010.

Looking at some of the exhibits the museum has lined up, it’s difficult to say whether preventing the mob’s glorification will be something easily achieved.

At a charity auction in June at Christie’s in New York, a mob-museum-contracted designer spent $12,450 to purchase four artifacts from the blockbuster HBO series “The Sopranos.”

Included among the items was the black leather jacket, knit shirt and black slacks Tony Soprano wore in one of the series’ final episodes, “The Blue Comet.”

In the episode, actor James Gandolfini wore the outfit as he went to sleep clutching an AR-15 machine gun that his brother-in-law, Bobby, who had just been shot to death, gave him as a birthday present.

Thanks to Sam Skolnik

Friday, December 21, 2007

Las Vegas Museum to be Mobster Lite?

Where's the respect?

Las Vegas, the flamingo city of lights, has the gumption to be planning a mob museum. But since Las Vegas is the town where the mob tried to go straight, this proposed museum will probably be more like Mobster Lite.

Imagine: Chicago -- the town run by Al Capone, where the St. Valentine's Day Massacre became the iconic event of the Era of the Mobster, where John Dillinger was welcomed with a hail of bullets outside the Biograph Theater, where police and judges raked in bribes by the tens of millions during Prohibition -- being upstaged by upstart Las Vegas.

Where do they get the ego? Even the most famous Las Vegas mob hit -- of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel -- took place in Los Angeles.

Chicago, New York and maybe Cleveland were home to the real gang activity of the teens and '20s. Hundreds of larger and lesser mobsters in those towns met their violent rewards on the streets, in barber chairs and at quiet restaurants with checkered tablecloths.

Las Vegas was the Johnny-come-lately spot with only a few mob hits as the violence waned and the old crime families withered on their way to going straight.

The FBI thinks the museum is a good idea.

The feds, of course, want good local billing in it. They certainly were more successful in cleaning up Las Vegas than they were in Chicago (but far more credit in Las Vegas goes to the Nevada Gaming Commission).

At such a museum there probably is money to be raked in. They better just hope New York and Chicago mob families don't demand a cut.

Many think America's old mobsters looked like James Cagney, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and George Raft rather than Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano or syphilis-marked Capone.

Still, menacing gangsters behind glass in an air-conditioned museum would be more palatable than on the doorstep in the morning, demanding protection money as you open your mom-and-pop sundry store.Shop the Morgan Mint.com for fine collectible coins

Give Las Vegas three bars on a slot machine for coming up with another tourist draw. But this museum sounds like it might be to the old mob what fine cabernet is to bathtub gin.

Thanks to TCH

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Brief History of the Mafia

Half the guys I know can't remember anything that happened before lunch, and worse, they have no idea about their roots. They think that anyone over 50 is a dinosaur and lived in a different world. It was a different world for the older generation, but the rules of the game haven't changed much. Anyone who wants to take charge needs to understand the history of the mafia; otherwise he'll end up making the same mistakes and looking like twice the stronzo for his ignorance.

Wise guys didn't just spring out of the earth. Guys who practice the trade today are only the latest of a long tradition, and they offer the same primary service that the first guys did back in the middle ages: Protection from the real criminals -- the government. The men who started this racket didn't open up a strip club and kick their feet up. They were regular Sicilians who saw their country falling into disarray and decided that they weren't going to allow that to happen without having something to say about it.

Roots in Palermo and SicilyCharles Tyrwhitt
Sicily and Palermo became the cradle of the Mafia. They were outlaws then as much as they are today, but in Palermo their means of making money differed from modern times. Rather than run drugs or guns, they borrowed other people's cattle and stood guard over property -- unglamorous property, like lemon orchards. Not exactly the bling we think of in 2007. The point of it all was to help the weak persevere over the strong, to form a group that had greater loyalty than that of the godless state that threatened the little man and even the wealthy.

In the 1700s, the Sicilian Mafia delivered images of a "Black Hand" to families, which might be thought of as an invoice for continued protection. Households that received the Black Hand either had to pay a tax for continued protection against invaders or they themselves became enemies of the Mafia.

Ranks and religion
In Italy they invented the rules, the initiation rights and the methods of doing business that still work today. They knew how to toe the line and follow the orders of their bosses. The Cosa Nostra has maintained its ranks for several hundred years, but it wasn't until the 19th century that they became a force within greater Italy and the United States.

They kept their religion close to them as well. The Sicilians in particular remained more faithful to the Pope, rejecting the new order of Italy, the government power that put the church in a secondary role. Because the nation posed a threat to the common people, the early Mafia turned their focus to the church as their common bond and rallying point.

Working in the cracks
The weaknesses and failures of the powers-that-be always provide cracks for motivated men to score some dough. After the formation of Italy, the outlaws quickly became organized and started staking out territory. The corruption in the Italian government officials aided the Mafia in getting a foothold in power, since bribes and threats managed to turn the loyalty of many lowly-paid bureaucrats away from their state job. Compared to wise guys in the United States, the Italian Mafia took a more active approach to changing government to work in their favor -- and they still do this today, always jumping into the cleavage of the government to get a handful.

Expanding the business
Hard times can lead to new opportunities. The Italian-American immigrants saw great opportunity in the new world for making money, particularly through prostitution, gambling and alcohol. The Mafia set up shop in every American city and started plying the trade of the old world.

One man in particular made the Mafia in the United States what it is today. Lucky Luciano is at the root of the history of the Mafia, as he murdered his way to the top of the organization and owned New York for most of his life. He was the “king pimp” of the city and ruled the Mafia during the era of prohibition -- a virtual gift from the U.S. government that allowed guys like Luciano and Al Capone to become extremely wealthy. This was the golden era of the Mafia in the United States, with all of the kingpins at play. There was Dutch Schultz, a Bronx bootlegger who later set up shop in New Jersey; Bugsy Siegel, a hit man who became one of the founders of Las Vegas; Meyer Lansky, a businessman who set up gambling operations all over the world long before globalization was even a word; and, of course, Al Capone, who whacked his way to the top and then ran Chicago's extremely profitable bootlegging business.

Working with the enemy
In desperate times, even the boss has to bend his rules. But a good boss will only do it when there is an incentive for the organization beneath him. The Cosa Nostra quieted during the period leading up to World War II. However, during the war they provided assistance to the United States and the Allies, since Lucky Luciano struck a deal with the U.S. Navy, such that he would give the Allies intelligence about Sicily and Italy if he could avoid going to prison. The Italian mob ran the ports and hated Mussolini, so Luciano's deal was music to both sides.

Re-organize after a war
Luciano came to be known as the "Boss of Bosses," not only because he put the fear of God into people but also for the way he managed the system. After the bloody Castellammarese War, a mob turf fight, Luciano called the five families of New York together to look at ways to keep their squabbles out of the media. He invented The Commission, which was a gathering of leaders of the families. This coordination of the families made the whole stronger.

After World War II, the Mafia in Italy returned to its previous state -- rather than running from Mussolini, they were running businesses. A new commodity became a moneymaker for the Cosa Nostra in the U.S.: Drugs, particularly heroin, made their way to the States via ships from Turkey, Vietnam and other places where the poppies grew.

In the years since, the families have risen and fallen in New York. The most recent one to make waves was the “Teflon Don,” John Gotti, a guy who the Feds could never nail with a crime. Over the course of his time as boss of the Gambino family, he was accused of not paying taxes, murder, racketeering, obstructing justice, loan sharking, illegal gambling, and more loan sharking.

Learning from your past
Along the way, the mob has grown in income and respect, owing to guys who knew when and how to take risks, as well as how to keep their mouths shut. If there is one thing that the government will never have over the Mafia, it's loyalty. This is mainly because when it comes to getting screwed, the beat cop is always over a barrel by both sides. A regular Joe six-pack cop will take a pass on going head-to-head with wise guys since he usually has a family at home that he wants to live another day for. The Mafia doesn't want to run the country, but they are always ready to make sure the owners of the country always remain afraid of the streets. And that's a brief history of the Mafia.Charles Tyrwhitt

Thanks to Mr. Mafioso.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mafia Legends

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel

Biography Presents Mafia Legends is an iffy grab bag of Biography profiles on three of organized crime's most notorious gangsters: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Bugsy Siegel. A bonus fourth disc, Mob Hitman comes from A&E's American Justice series. Quickly edited, with a nice selection of archival footage and stills, these glossy but essentially superficial bios certainly move well enough, and hit the highlights of these infamous mobsters. But there's a certain nagging sense of romanticism to two of the bios which makes this collection a questionable purchase.

There are quite a few genuine historians out there who have nothing but contempt for channels like The History Channel, A&E, and The Biography Channel – as I find out every time I praise one of their DVD box set releases. But I would imagine that most viewers of those channels and their programs understand that, as with all historical studies, interpretation of facts – and the crucial omission or inclusion of certain facts – largely determines the worth or value of such an exploration. Unlike the studied historians who may occasionally email me, chiding me for recommending series like Lost Worlds or Dogfights when even the tiniest factual errors are found, most viewers of Biography documentaries such as Biography Presents Mafia Legends understand that these are entertainments first, meant to gather an audience, and serious education second.

That being said, there still appears to be a slightly disingenuous slant to two of the docs presented here – Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel – that make them less-than-stellar inclusions for this themed box set. Not being a big fan of romanticized tales of real-life thugs, criminals and murderers, the tone of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel left a somewhat bad taste in my mouth. It's not that the documentaries go out of their way to re-write history and say these psychotics were in reality good guys, but there's a persuasive feeling of almost grudging hero-worship, if you will, that illustrates a sloppy (and dishonest) approach to the filmmakers' (or the network who may have had final cut) vision.

While each documentary chronicles in full a wistful, almost fatalistic approach to these two vicious criminals, they spend almost no serious time chronicling their ugly crimes. Watching Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob, one might get the notion that Lucky Luciano was really nothing more than a patriotic American businessman who helped keep the New York docks free of sabotage during WWII, and who gave the Army instructions on how to invade Italy safely – only to be "stabbed in the back" by the ungrateful U.S. government who deported him. Expert after expert testify to his brilliance and genius, while the documentary ends on a sad note, with Lucky's final, lonely days in exile in his fabulous Italian penthouse. The filmmakers even pull out a picture of Lucky with his dog to tug at your heartstrings – I guess if he was good to his dog, he was an okay guy, right? But almost no time is spent on the early part of his life, where he earned convictions for pimping, extortions, theft, and almost nothing is said about his role in numerous murders. As well, the dubious notion that Luciano "loved" this country above all else is put forth without any serious questions, such as perhaps, as some theorists believe, Luciano and the mob were behind the dock sabotages in the first place during WWII, and they used it as extortion against the government. As with almost any philanthropic endeavor that Luciano supported, it was usually to cover his illegal activities.

Watching Bugsy Siegel, the same kind of romanticized approach is used, with Siegel coming off as some kind of starry-eyed dreamer who should be remembered as the "inventor" of Las Vegas, and not for the psychotic killer who terrified those around him. Again, almost no time is spent documenting the actual crimes that Siegel committed, including murder, extortion, white slavery, and assault, that earned him his place in organized crime. But plenty of time is spent discussing his sartorial splendor, his charm, his good looks, his Hollywood connections, his "epic" love affair with Virginia Hill, and of course, his dream of the Flamingo Hotel out in the desert. For all purposes, Bugsy Siegel may as well be a documentary on a movie star, and not a real-life vicious thug and criminal.

The other two documentaries fare much better here in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set. Al Capone: Scarface is brought in straight down the middle. It's factual, and dispassionate in showing not only the fame that came to Capone, but also the unrelenting violence and murderous impulses that led to his downfall. It doesn't sugar coat his life, and it certainly doesn't glamorize or romanticize it. Capone is portrayed as he was: a well-organized criminal who murdered and extorted his way to the top of an empire, and who died insane from the aftereffects of syphilis, contracted from one of the many prostitutes he frequented. It's a sobering, insightful look at a criminal who's received far more "fame" than he deserves – and almost all of that fame for the wrong reasons (the final shots of a gift store in Chicago, which has an audiotronic Al Capone, speaking like one of the Presidents in Disneyland's Hall of Presidents, is pretty mind-blowing after seeing what the guy was all about).

Even more gritty and deglamorized, Mob Hitmen, the final bonus disc in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set, comes from the frequently compelling A&E series American Justice, hosted by Bill Kurtis. Featuring interviews with real mob killers, and using archival surveillance footage and audio samples, Mob Hitmen plays like a junior-league Donnie Brasco, and it's a welcome, if minor note contribution to this DVD box set. While it's an intriguing documentary, it's scope is somewhat narrow in conjunction with the oversized subjects of the previous three docs, so its inclusion is not the best fit here in Biography Presents Mafia Legends. If a bonus doc was needed with a more modern slant, perhaps one discussing a major mob figure from more recent days, such as John Giotti, would have been more appropriate. Still, the always professional, low-key, and most importantly serious delivery of host Bill Kurtis is a most welcome relief from the totally inappropriate, jovial, smiling smarminess of host Jack Perkins, who hosts the other three documentaries ("Bugsy, as he was known, liked to kill people!").

Here are the 4, one hour documentaries included in the four disc box set, Biography Presents Mafia Legends, as described on their hardshell cases:

Al Capone: Scarface
In the thrilling underworld of speakeasies, Tommy guns, and turf wars, Al Capone was the undisputed emperor of 1920s Chicago. "Scarface" -- a nickname born from the consequences of a violent encounter in his youth -- was many things to many people: a ruthless and vindictive murderer, a generous patron, and a glamorous impresario. Capone's legacy, however, will forever be marked by his role as the most notorious gangster in American history. In this in-depth biography, follow Capone's journey from the immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth to the glittering circles of Chicago's powerful elite, and finally to his years of imprisonment and his death at the age of 48. Al Capone: Scarface reveals rare photographs and exclusive interviews to paint an extraordinary portrait of the rise and fall of America's ultimate anti-hero.

Biography - Bugsy Siegel (A&E DVD Archives)
He was handsome. He was glamorous. And in a seedy underworld of ruthless murderers, he was the most vicious of them all. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel first made his mark as a hitman on the gang-run streets of Brooklyn, New York. Yet, his fame was solidified amid the Hollywood hills where his unique gangster/playboy image made him a legend. In this fascinating portrait, see rare footage of the dapper mobster and witness exclusive interviews with acquaintances and enemies alike. Examine Siegel's greatest legacy as the founding father of glittering Las Vegas, Nevada, and listen as mob insiders reveal the details of Siegel's ultimate betrayal at the hands of his best friend.

Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob
He wrote his name in blood and made himself the Boss of Bosses. Arriving in America at the age of nine and embarking upon a life of crime at 14, Charles "Lucky" Luciano rose through the ranks of the New York Mafia like a shot. By 34, Lucky ran the Sicilian mob like a major corporation: diversifying rackets, organizing gangs, and running his own political candidates. Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob investigates Lucky's 30-year career as the CEO of Murder, Inc. through rare interviews and extensive archival footage. Listen as mob insiders reminisce about meetings held in Luciano's Waldorf-Astoria headquarters and witness the top-secret war efforts that earned Lucky parole from a 50-year sentence.

Mob Hitmen
They are the most feared figures in the business of organized crime -- the triggermen whose job it is to eliminate contentious witnesses, rivals, and fellow mobsters in accordance with their bosses' orders. Today, the modern mob hitman – or woman -- is a different breed than the Tommy-gun-toting stereotype of popular Hollywood gangster films. He or she may wear several different hats in the organization, killing when ordered, but performing more mundane tasks in the interim. In this chilling expose, American Justice ventures inside the bloody mob wars that have scarred Philadelphia over the past decade. In addition to interviews with some of the mob's most notorious triggermen and women, Mob Hitman features footage and news accounts of the city's recent brutal mob hits, and introduces viewers to the police and prosecutors who have devoted their lives to catching these shadowy killers.

Thanks to Paul Mavis

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