The Chicago Syndicate: Natale Richichi
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Showing posts with label Natale Richichi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Natale Richichi. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Las Vegas Godfathers to Get Mob Museum

Friends of ours: Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Jimmy Chagra, Nick Civella, Vinny Ferrara, Meyer Lansky, Natale Richichi, Nicky Scarfo
Friends of mine: Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal

Las Vegas' mayor gained fame and fortune defending mob titans. Now he wants a museum celebrating their role in building Sin City.

flamboyant, gin-sipping, sports-gambling, showgirl-squiring Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman gives a thumbs up to a Mob MuseumMayor Oscar Goodman, the flamboyant, gin-sipping, sports-gambling, showgirl-squiring executive of Sin City, is caught in a contradiction. For years he had told the world, "There is no mob." That was when he was a defense lawyer who represented mobsters and even had a cameo playing himself in Martin Scorsese's "Casino." Goodman said there were no mobsters--just alleged mobsters. Now, as mayor, he wants to take a National Historic Landmark, the old federal courthouse where he tried his first case, and turn it into a mob museum--and there's no alleged about it.

Many of Goodman's constituents and some former FBI agents are appalled by the idea, but Goodman insists he's just recognizing Vegas' founding fathers. Or godfathers. "The mob founded us, and I never apologized for them because I represented them, and they made me a rich man," he said.

Goodman, 67, who recalled representing an alleged mobster at Chicago's criminal courts complex known as "26th and Cal," is winning all verdicts in the political arena these days. He was re-elected in 2003 to a second term as mayor of Las Vegas with more than 85 percent of the vote.

If Goodman wants it, he gets it. And he wants a mob museum. "As long as I'm mayor," Goodman asserted, "we're going to keep on smiling at ourselves at how the mob founded us."

One of the most prominent founders was Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a maverick underworld mastermind who was the boss of West Coast gambling for the crime syndicate and who opened the Flamingo hotel in 1946 on a forlorn patch of highway that eventually became known famously as the Strip.

Some wonder whether the museum will end up as a monument to Goodman's legal career and his extensive list of old clients: Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro of Chicago, Jimmy Chagra, Nick Civella, Vinny Ferrara, Frank Rosenthal, Meyer Lansky, Natale Richichi and Nicky Scarfo.

That compilation was made by author and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, who wrote a book about Goodman, including how he despised mob snitches, in "Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas."

"Oscar's client list would fill any mob museum," said Smith, 46. "You know, he has represented members of various organized crime families literally from coast to coast. He's most known locally and in Chicago, of course, for his representation of Tony Spilotro."

Spilotro allegedly crushed the skull of one victim in a vise and later turned up dead in an Indiana cornfield in 1986. "Most locals here know him as a killer, but [Goodman] says he was a gentleman. . . . Of course Oscar never went on any long rides with Tony Spilotro, or he wouldn't have come back," Smith said.

The notion of a mob museum annoys the FBI agents who were Goodman's legal adversaries. "In my estimation, his purpose would be to glorify them," said Joe Yablonsky, 77, who retired as agent in charge of the FBI's Las Vegas office in 1984. "The only reason that he gets away with this is that he's in Vegas. If he was in some normal American city, he'd never make it."

Yablonsky, who spent the last four years of his FBI career in Las Vegas and now lives in Lady Lake, Fla., said many Vegas residents don't remember the violent days of mob-influenced casinos because most of them weren't living there then. The population of Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County is 1.8million, four times what it was in 1980. "If it were told truthfully, it would be OK, how we ridded the place of them and what they were really like," Yablonsky said. "They milked the place for all these dollars they took in the skim and . . . Spilotro was a hit guy, and we figured him for 22 whacks and that was supposed to be his role as enforcer. How is [Goodman] going to make him look good?"

The museum, which doesn't have a formal name yet, would be housed downtown across the street from City Hall in the old federal courthouse and post office, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, said Deputy City Manager Betsy Fretwell.

The city awarded a $7.5 million contract this month for an architect to design temporary and permanent galleries. The museum and cultural center is expected to cost $30 million.

City officials have yet to decide how the museum, which would open in 2008, will depict the Mafia, but Fretwell said it will be entertaining enough to hold its own against the stiff competition for which Vegas attractions are renowned.

Logo125x125buttonCity officials now refer to the building as the POST Modern, a word play on how they want a modern use for the old post office, which opened in 1933. The building's sole courtroom is perhaps best known as one of the sites used in 1950 for the U.S. Senate's televised Kefauver hearings, in which suspected crime figures were interrogated.

Because the museum is to address the history of organized crime in Las Vegas, exhibits could very well bear upon the mayor's career as a defense lawyer. "The mayor has a rich history as an attorney and may have things to contribute in terms of collections or oral history," Fretwell said.

An advisory board including local media members, a former chief of the Las Vegas FBI office and tourism officials has been formed, and a panel of historians also is being assembled, Fretwell said.

While a recent city-commissioned survey showed that out-of-town visitors preferred a mob museum in the old courthouse, locals more often preferred a museum devoted to "vintage Vegas," its architecture and entertainment evolution.

One resident, Wayne Haag, 45, a garbage collection driver, thought the mayor's idea cast a negative light on Las Vegas. "A Mafia museum--in a way, he's related to it. It's an old post office. Why [a Mafia museum]? To me, it's m-o-n-e-y," Haag said.

Thanks to Michael Martinez


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