Showing posts with label Nick Civella. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nick Civella. Show all posts

Monday, May 08, 2017

All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops

This book tells the remarkable true stories of America’s most infamous Public-Enemy-Number-1 gangsters. Based on exhaustive documented research, Bill Friedman chronicles the true history of illegal gambling, rum-running, organized crime, and the politics of law enforcement during the Prohibition era.

Based on crime-scene eyewitness accounts, state’s witnesses harborers’ accounts, and historical records, Friedman paints exciting portraits of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson and other luminaries of the underworld—and documents how surprisingly different that world was from the way Hollywood portrays it. Like great literary characters, history’s gangsters and bank robbers were complex and fraught with contradiction.

Captivating tales of criminal daring are balanced with shocking political exposés revealing how complicity and incompetence hindered the effectiveness of law enforcement. Written in fast-moving prose that’s sure to entertain, All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops, is a must-read for anyone who loves classic American ‘cops and robbers’ stories. Friedman’s historical accounts are as exciting and dramatic as any genre fiction, while ringing with the power of truth and authenticity.

All Against The Law: The Criminal Activities of the Depression Era Bank Robbers, Mafia, FBI, Politicians, & Cops” covers U.S. major crime in the Great Depression era. It is the incredible stories of daring prison escapes and breathtaking police pursuits by the Great Depression’s four successive Public Enemies Number One - John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Alvin Karpis with the Barker brothers. These were the most aggressive and dangerous killers ever. When fleeing from pursuing lawmen, every one of these bank robbers either whirled their cars around and floored their accelerator towards their pursuers, or they ran in the open, charging pursuers while relentlessly blasting away with machineguns. All these ferocious counterattacks made them dreadfully successful at killing the most policemen and FBI agents of any American outlaws. This is the first complete history because the newspaper accounts and trial testimonies by both their criminal cohorts and the harborers during their long fugitive manhunts are included.

Against these fierce killers, Congress assigned a fledgling Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an accounting agency of government money made up of politically-appointed accountants and attorneys with no police experience. Headed by J. Edgar Hoover, a librarian, he failed to teach his agents any of the fundamentals of police and detective work or instruct them to respect individual liberties and rights. Thus, his courageous but ill-prepared early agents conducted one amateurish and failed raid after another that occasionally caused disastrous results for both his agents and innocent civilian bystanders caught up in the lines of fire.

Hoover’s leadership and management of the FBI has been thoroughly discredited by contemporary exposé articles and scholarly historical biographies. This book penetrates the veil much further in presenting how politically-conservative Hoover failed to prosecute serious criminals, used underhanded illegal tactics against critics; occasionally fought to survive his malfeasance in office; and blackmailed errant Congressmen to further his own political agenda. All this made him an unaccountable malevolent fourth branch of the federal government totally outside the brilliantly-conceived Constitutional checks-and-balances system.

To disprove that the FBI’s chief suspect, Pretty Boy Floyd, was involved in the Kansas City Massacre that slaughtered four lawmen, and to finally reveal the actual perpetrators and their motives, the forty-year reign of that town’s unique political-power structure is laid bare. The town’s political kingmaker Jim Pendergast chose as his lieutenant the city’s Mafia leader, and this Mafioso selected the chief of police and his detectives. The state legislature tried to stop this affront to justice by having the governor appoint a Police Commission to control the city’s departmental hirings. This action just led Kansas City’s Mafia chieftain to expand his political sphere of influence across the state to elect puppet governors who appointed Commissioners of his choosing.

These Kansas City political leaders stuffed ballot boxes in every election of politically-progressive Harry Truman, who later became the only president to sell out to organized crime because of his long political ties to the Kansas City Mafia. The entire last chapter strictly covers the many interactions Truman had from the White House with this Mafioso. Their mutual political hijinks, conflicts, and intrigue are astonishing. As tensions mounted this Mafioso was murdered, and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress directly accused the President of ordering his political henchmen to kill him. This whole period in the White House is beyond mind-boggling.

A number of the gangsters in this book had ties to the early Nevada gambling industry, where the author spent his whole career. The action opens in that state, when Reno was its largest city, and Bill Graham and Jim McKay were the biggest casino operators both before and after gambling was legalized in 1931. Prior to Baby Face Nelson going into bank robbing, he was their doorman/bouncer. Graham and McKay operated the most popular casino in the state’s largest hotel, the Golden, and they developed an effective but very illegal tourist-marketing program to bring in high-rollers during the Great Depression. They offered an emporium of services for criminals who stole money through armed robbery, kidnapping, or by con. This drew financial criminals in large numbers from across the country. One service was to hide fugitives on the run in this isolated town and protect them from police interference. In the weeks to months before the FBI took down Dillinger, Nelson, Floyd, Karpis, and Fred Barker, all enjoyed the safe haven provided by Reno’s casino operators.

Before Ben Siegel began construction of his Fabulous Flamingo gambling resort, Kansas City Mafioso Charles Binaggio, who was shot to death under President Truman’s portrait, had planned to become a major investor in the Thunderbird Hotel & Casino on the Strip. A number of other links between the Kansas City Mafia and the Nevada casino industry during this era are presented. This book closes with the career of Kansas City’s fifth Mafia leader, Nick Civella. As the original pioneer gangsters, who had built the Las Vegas Strip from their Prohibition fortunes, retired and sold out, Civella financed a new wave of hidden underworld casino owners through the Teamsters Union Pension Fund, as was fictionally presented in the 1995 movie Casino.

This book is based on 47 years of research, and it has an enormous amount of new information. It details the major crimes of that era, and it exposes major corruption by politicians, police detectives, prosecutors, and judges. Justice eventually prevailed as the vast majority were imprisoned.

Every word comes from the victims, eyewitnesses, local police officials, or the pursuing FBI agents' official internal reports, as documented in 34 pages of 326 endnotes. the subject Index is 14-pages of double-columns.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Was Lefty Rosenthal a Double Agent for the FBI and the Chicago Mob?

Retired FBI agent and author Gary Magnesen has changed his mind.

He no longer believes the late U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne was leaking materials from FBI search warrant affidavits to the mob in the early 1980s, as he wrote in his 2010 book, "Straw Men: A Former Agent Recounts how the FBI Crushed the Mob in Las Vegas."

He thinks Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal was a double agent, providing information to the FBI, then turning around and telling the Chicago mob what agents would be doing.

That way the good guys and the bad guys ended up protecting him while he played them.

In Magnesen's opinion, "Oscar Goodman, The Outfit and the FBI were all duped by the master oddsmaker and manipulator, Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal." Goodman was Rosenthal's attorney.

One example of Rosenthal's double agent role came to be known as "the Cookie Caper" and proved to be a huge embarrassment to the FBI in January 1982 during an investigation into skimming at the Stardust.

Rosenthal, as a top echelon informant, provided information to the FBI about how millions of dollars were skimmed and transported from the Stardust when businessman Allen Glick owned four Las Vegas hotels between 1974 and 1979, but Rosenthal actually ran them. The ownership changed, but the skimming continued until the Boyd Gaming Group bought the hotels in 1985. Glick was just a front, a straw man, for the mob. But he testified against the mob in the Kansas City trials in 1985, portraying himself as an unwitting victim.

Rosenthal neither testified against the mob nor was indicted in the skimming investigations.

Rosenthal told the FBI how the money was moved from the Stardust to the Chicago mob.

Magnesen detailed how agents watched as Stardust casino manager Bobby Stella carried a grocery bag from the casino on Tuesday afternoons and met Phil Ponto, another Stardust employee, and gave him the paper bag, which he took to his apartment. On Sundays, agents watched as Ponto would put the bag in his car trunk and drive to church. Afterward, he traveled to another store parking lot and met Joe Talerico, a Teamster, who put the bag in his trunk.

Talerico then flew to Chicago via Los Angeles and met with mob boss Joseph Aiuppa in a restaurant. After dinner, the much traveled bag landed in Aiuppa's trunk.

Mob money on the move wasn't enough to build a case. The FBI applied for a search warrant for Talerico's car, and Claiborne gave his approval. Magnesen now believes Rosenthal tipped the mobsters about the upcoming search. In January 1982, agents moved in, only to find cookies and a bottle of wine. No cash. Plenty of embarrassment.

In "Straw Men," Magnesen suspected that the judge, who committed suicide in 2004, was leaking information from FBI search warrant affidavits.

Another time, based on Rosenthal's information, agents decided to bug the executive booth at a Stardust restaurant, Aku Aku, hoping to catch Stella talking about the skim. Again, they sought approval from Judge Claiborne. Once the listening device was installed, the executives talked about innocuous subjects. Women. Weather. Golf. Almost as if they were taunting the FBI, Magnesen said.

Who leaked the information about the Aku Aku bug and Talerico's travels is akin to the other never-answered question: Who planted the bomb under Rosenthal's car in October 1982?

Theories are rampant. It's almost a trivial pursuit question for locals to theorize on who did it. Was it Spilotro, who had an affair with Rosenthal's wife, Geri? Was it the Chicago Outfit? Once again, Magnesen has a theory.

He believes it was ordered by Nick Civella, the Kansas City mob boss, who was tired of all the trouble Rosenthal had been creating in Las Vegas with his TV show and his seemingly endless quest for a gaming license. "Civella was dying of cancer and didn't care what Chicago thought about Lefty," Magnesen wrote in an email summary of his views. The bombing was 1982, Civella died in 1983.

Magnesen said he interviewed mob figure Joe Agosto a few weeks before he died in August 1983. Agosto said he had told Civella in 1977, "That Lefty. He's getting out of hand. He's stirring up dirt all over Vegas. He's dangerous. He could cause big problems with his big mouth and his TV show."

My favorite story of the bombing was from retired UPI Correspondent Myram Borders, who was driving home from the UPI office and passed Tony Roma's restaurant on Sahara Avenue. She heard a boom and saw Rosenthal's car blow up. She quickly turned into the parking lot.

"He scrambled out of the car and was jumping up and down patting his clothes. His hair was standing straight up … I didn't know if it was because of his recent hair transplant or the explosion that made it stand up so straight," she wrote in an email. "When I ran up and asked him what was going on, Lefty said 'They are trying to kill me.' When I asked who, he shut up."

Rosenthal died a natural death in 2008 in Florida. He was 79.

Magnesen said he wouldn't have said these things publicly about Rosenthal, but now it is widely known that Rosenthal was an informant. (I was the first to report it after his death.)

Of course, when Rosenthal cooperated with author Nick Pileggi for the book "Casino," he didn't reveal his informant status. Nor did that make it into the 1995 movie.

When the movie came out, Rosenthal said, "The way you saw it in the movie is just the way it happened."

Well, not exactly. He left a few historical holes.

Thanks to Jane Ann Morrison.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

FBI Raids May be Linked to Organized Crime

FBI agents raided property on Tuesday that may be linked to organized crime, KMBC reported.

Early Tuesday morning, the FBI served federal search warrants at several metro-area homes. The series of raids were planned to strike at multiple locations in the Northland at the same time.

KMBC's Micheal Mahoney reported that the raids were conducted at homes owned by people named Civella, Cammisano and Moretina -- names that are familiar to law enforcement agents who have investigated organized crime in Kansas City in past decades.

"There have been charges and search warrants and investigations into organized crime. And a lot of the names you're mentioning have been investigated in connection with those activities," former FBI Agent Jeff Lanza said.

The FBI wouldn't say what prompted the raids, but some sources speculate it may be in connection with a federal gambling investigation.

"When you serve a search warrant, you're usually pretty far down the line. And you've reach a conclusion that a crime has been committed or may be committed at the place that you're searching," Lanza said.

The FBI didn't say whether any arrests were made.

In the 1970s, FBI agents thought Nicholas Civella was an influential member of organized crime. Severe people from Kansas City were convicted in plots to skim hundreds of thousands of dollars from Las Vegas. One of the schemes was included in the movie, "Casino."

Thanks to KMBC

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blackhand Strawman: The History of Organized Crime in Kansas City

“Kansas City is like a lady of former ill-repute who is ashamed to talk about her past.” –Chuck Haddix.

Haddix, longtime host of KCUR-FM’s popular “Fish Fry” program, was referring to our fair city’s notorious history as a hub of organized crime and political corruption. It seems that a lot of people would rather ignore that sordid part of our heritage.

Terence O’Malley, the local lawyer and filmmaker who enjoyed success with his documentary “Nelly Don: A Stitch in Time”, hopes to change all that.

O’Malley’s exhaustively researched documentary “Blackhand Strawman: The History of Organized Crime in Kansas City” opens on March 20th at the Screenland Theatre at 17th and Washington, KCMO.

O’Malley is a Kansas City native with a degree in English from Loyola University, one in Radio and Television Production from KU, as well as law degree from Washburn University in Topeka. His résumé also includes extensive experience as a TV reporter, pianist, and a stint as the press secretary for the governor of Alaska.

His eclectic background gives him a unique perspective as a filmmaker.

O’Malley received unprecedented access to film, photos and other documentation from family members of the very criminals that his movie profiles.

“I’d essentially proven myself to be a bona fide storyteller with ‘Nelly Don’, so that when people heard that I was endeavoring to tell the story of organized crime in Kansas City, they understood that I was probably the right guy”, O’Malley explained. “They thought, ‘Okay, he’s a good guy, he understands. We’re going to take a chance on him because we think that he is going to treat the story with the gravitas and the respect that it deserves.’”

The film incorporates this privately collected information with archived data, news footage and interviews with experts on the subject.

It was while working on his film about Nell Donnelly, the famous Kansas City dressmaker, that O’Malley became fascinated with local gangsters.

In 1931, Donnelly was the victim of a kidnapping and Missouri U.S. Senator James A. Reed recruited notorious KC crime boss Johnny Lazia to find her. “When I was researching ‘Nelly Don’, I realized, ‘Holy Cow! She was rescued by the mob, by the Mafia.’” O’Malley said. “It started fomenting in my head that nobody had ever given a serious treatment to organized crime in Kansas City before.”

The film chronicles this dark history from the turn-of-the-century when many Sicilian immigrants arrived in Kansas City, up until 1986 when the grip of crime boss Nick Civella was finally broken.

The movie’s “Who’s Who” of notorious ne’re-do-wells includes Lazia, Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast, Charlie “The Wop” Carollo, Anthony “Fat Tony” Gizzo, Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Frank “Jelly” Nash, and Nick and Corky Civella, to name but a few.

O’Malley found them all to be fascinating individuals.

“Charlie Carollo was probably a mathematical genius because he kept all of the books for all of the Pendergast sin businesses in his head,” O’Malley explained. “Pendergast didn’t own those businesses (bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, etc.), but he got a cut of everything that was going on.”

Anthony Carollo, Charlie’s son, was taken with O’Malley when the filmmaker knew the name of the band (the Coon-Sanders Orchestra) that played at a function for his parents in the 1920s.

Impressed by O’Malley’s knowledge, Carollo called his sister in Kansas City and said, “Give him anything he wants…give him all the access he wants.” As a result, O’Malley was able to include heretofore-unseen film and photos.

“Same story with the Lazia family,” O’Malley said. “Vince Bianchi is the great-nephew of Johnny Lazia. I had a long conversation with him about the project and told him that I was interested in the characters in more than just a two-dimensional context. “I wanted to explain how these people got to where they were. They weren’t just gangsters. It wasn’t so much about perpetrating crime as it was a mode of survival.”

Having won the trust of the families, O’Malley then went about the business of educating himself on the subject. He was aided in his inquisition by a noted group of experts.

In addition to Haddix, on-screen contributors include:

Although these authorities contributed, the actual filming was a one-man affair. O’Malley estimates that he’s spent between two and three thousand hours over a three-year period working on the movie.

“I did the camerawork at the same time that I interviewed everybody. I did all of the writing, all of the research, the field production (acquiring and digitizing the imagery), selected the music, did the narration and I did all of the editing.”

The big-screen incarnation opens on March 20th and the DVD will be available in time for Father’s Day. A companion book is set to be published in November.

“The reason “Blackhand Strawman’ is being released on March 20th is because that date coincides with the 37th anniversary of the release of ‘The Godfather’ in Kansas City,” O’Malley pointed out.

The KC Italian community, concerned about the “The Godfather” and its potential for impugning Italian-Americans, purchased all of the tickets for the film’s 1972 premier at the Empire Theatre…and then refused to attend. The movie played to an empty house while a party was held down the street instead.

O’Malley was quick to mention that most Italian-Americans were victims of organized crime, not participants.

“The overwhelming majority of Italian-Americans were not criminals or murderers by any stretch. I wanted to set that as a tone or theme so that people could enjoy the film for the stories it contains without denigrating or besmirching the Italian-American community.”

He did admit some trepidation in pursuing the project.

“I talked with people in law enforcement, and the message to me was that I have nothing to fear,” O’Malley said. “I am no threat to their ongoing criminal business enterprises. They’re not going to worry about someone like me.”

And what about those contemporary mobsters?

“That’s why I terminated the film in 1986. I didn’t want anyone to believe that this was any type of exposé on the status of organized crime in Kansas City today…because I really don’t know.”

Thanks to Russ Simmons

Monday, November 03, 2008

Was Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal a Snitch?

Back before he was mayor of Las Vegas, when he was the city's leading mob attorney, Oscar Goodman insisted he didn't represent snitches.

He represented Frank Rosenthal. Now that Rosenthal is dead, three former law enforcement sources with first-hand knowledge confirmed what was long suspected. Lefty Rosenthal was an FBI informant, whether his attorney knew it or not.

While Rosenthal was alive, no one would confirm it. Nobody wanted to be the one who got Lefty whacked. After he died of a heart attack in his Florida home Oct. 13 at the age of 79, it is confirmed Rosenthal was a "top echelon" informant, someone with firsthand knowledge of the top ranking mob bosses.

Rosenthal's code name was "Achilles," one source said. Was it a sly reference to the handsome Greek warrior who was invincible except for his heel? Or was he simply a heel? Sure beat the code name his mob buddies used when discussing him -- "Crazy."

I couldn't confirm exactly when he started informing to the FBI, but the relationship was lengthy and useful. His information helped the FBI develop a lot of organized crime and casino skimming cases.

Rosenthal was an informant even before the 1982 bombing of his Cadillac outside Tony Roma's restaurant on Sahara Avenue, one source said. After the bombing, the FBI tried to convince Rosenthal to enter the Witness Protection Program, but he refused.

Later, he told the Chicago Tribune he rebuffed the offer to become a federal witness. "It's just not my style. It doesn't fit into my principles." Instead, in 1983 he left Las Vegas, which had been his home since 1968, moving first to California, then Florida.

"He talked about everything and everyone, whether he had first-hand knowledge, like he did at the Stardust, or second- and third-hand knowledge like at the Tropicana," one source said.

Nobody had a definitive answer as to why Rosenthal would become a Chatty Cathy.

One source said Rosenthal was an expert handicapper. "He was a smart guy, he could see people were going down. As an oddsmaker, this was his chance to bet both sides of the game."

A second source said it was speculation, but "he may have felt he needed a way out at some point, and he knew cooperation was one way to get out."

Rosenthal was from Chicago, but since he was Jewish, he wasn't a made member of the Chicago Outfit, but he was a close mob associate. From childhood, he was friends with another mob watchdog, Anthony Spilotro, which ended with Spilotro's affair with Rosenthal's wife, Geri, the tale fictionalized in the movie "Casino."

When the mob needed someone to watch over its Las Vegas casino interests, Lefty was the man. From 1974 until 1979, San Diego businessman Allen Glick was the casino owner, but Rosenthal, despite his ever-changing titles, was the smooth operator.

Although federal officials claimed millions were skimmed from Glick's casinos, Rosenthal was never indicted. Nor did he testify against Midwest mob leaders as Glick did during the trial in Kansas City, which ended with mob boss convictions in 1986.

Las Vegas was an open city for the mob. No one organized crime family controlled all the casinos; different families shared the booty. The Chicago mob through the Argent Corp. had a foothold in the Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina.

The Tropicana was the playground of the Kansas City mob.

The boys in Detroit staked out the Aladdin.

The Dunes had ties with St. Louis mobsters.

Milwaukee bosses arranged for Glick's $62 million in loans from the Teamsters Union pension funds to buy Las Vegas hotels, then insisted Glick hire Rosenthal.

The indictments were many, so were the convictions. Despite the extensive wiretapping, Rosenthal was never charged, even though authorities described him as the man who "orchestrated the skim at the Stardust."

Inevitably, some of his buddies figured he wasn't charged because he was informing on them to the FBI. The late Joe Agosto -- entertainment director at the Tropicana and the Kansas City mob's guy on the scene -- was wiretapped in 1978 telling a Missouri mobster Rosenthal was "a snitch" who would "bite the hand that feeds him."

In John L. Smith's book "Of Rats and Men," Goodman said Kansas City mobster Nick Civella thought Rosenthal had become too friendly with the FBI. Civella called Goodman, his own attorney, and asked whether Rosenthal was crazy, apparently a code term for untrustworthy. "No, I don't think he's crazy," Goodman answered. "If I had agreed with Civella, Rosenthal would have been killed. I didn't know it at the time, but I apparently saved his life," Goodman told Smith.

Goodman started representing Rosenthal in 1971 after Rosenthal was indicted on illegal betting charges. In 1975, a Las Vegas federal judge dismissed the indictment against him, saying the wiretap was illegal and should have been an investigative tool of last resort.

That same year, Sheriff Ralph Lamb submitted an affidavit to help Rosenthal restore the rights he lost after pleading no contest in North Carolina to trying to change the point spread for a college basketball game with a bribe in 1960. The sheriff said he had known Rosenthal for five years and "he has evidenced the highest integrity and his reputation for truth and veracity in the Las Vegas community is unexcelled. Mr. Rosenthal is among the most respected persons in the Las Vegas gaming community."

Contrast that with Glick's Kansas City trial testimony 10 years later about a 1974 meeting with Rosenthal in the Stardust coffee shop. Glick said Rosenthal told him: "You're not my boss. And when I say you're not my boss, I'm talking not just from an administrative position, but your health. If you interfere with what's going on here, you will never leave this corporation alive."

As one of the recipients of the Rosenthal Glare, I can vividly imagine how those words were delivered.

Goodman represented Rosenthal for decades, fighting to keep him licensed to operate the Argent casinos. Higher courts ultimately overturned Rosenthal's victories in lower courts. Gaming regulators put him in the Black Book.

Throughout his life, Rosenthal denied being an FBI informant, but said it wasn't for want of trying by the FBI.

In 1976, Rosenthal told gaming officials that in 1960, when he was working in horse racing in Miami, J. Edgar Hoover sent an agent who asked him to provide information about gambling throughout the country. He said the agent promised him "near total immunity, except murder."

In 1977, he claimed he was the victim of harassment because he refused to supply information to the FBI.

As recently as 2006, when asked why he never snitched, Rosenthal said, "It all comes down to style and doing what you feel comfortable with. I never talked about or testified against anyone and never will."

He may not have testified, but he definitely talked.

As far as Goodman not representing snitches, one knowledgeable source said, "I think he represented more than one, whether he was aware of it or not."

Thanks to Jane Ann Morrison

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Open City: True Story of the KC Crime Family 1900-1950

For 25 years, William Ouseley was considered public enemy number one ... if you were a mobster, that is.

The FBI agent earned the ongoing assignment to help take down the powerful crime families that had thrived in Kansas City for decades. And these weren’t simply small-time hoods. “The conception is driven by the media and the movies that they’re just some thugs that mainly kill each other and are involved in some basic criminal activities,” Ouseley says. “I don’t think people understand the impact organized crime has had on the underpinnings of our society: infiltration of business, infiltration of the labor unions, infiltration of politics and government.”

Ouseley, who retired from the FBI in 1985 as supervisor of the Kansas City Field Division of the Organized Crime Squad, got to see the toils of his labor justified through the prosecution, conviction and dismantling of the notorious Civella cartel. Now the longtime Lenexa resident has written his first book, “Open City,” which traces the birth and spread of organized crime in Kansas City. “After 21 years of working on the street, there were a lot of people encouraging me to tell the stories,” he says. “The history took me over, though. I found it was a book in itself. That’s why I only got from 1900 to 1953.”

Ouseley, a fit-looking 72-year-old with a prominent Bronx accent, encountered plenty of obstacles when assembling the project. “The most difficult thing about it is that everybody of any significance is dead,” he says. “I wasn’t too interested in people telling me tales that I had no way knowing if they were true. A second problem was that during the heyday of the mob and the machine, they cleaned out all the records from the police department. That was part of their power. So piecing together some of the history of these people and how they came to be was very difficult.”

The title “Open City” may at first seem like a reference to Roberto Rossellini’s famous 1945 film about oppression in wartime Italy. But Ouseley says he chose the name because of the freedom the mob experienced during their heyday in Kansas City. “I wanted to capture the fact that it was a wide-open, anything goes, captive city completely dominated by a corrupt machine and an organized crime family,” he explains. “It was a haven for the gangsters of the ’20s and ’30s. They all came up here for R&R. It was an open city in the negative sense.”

“Open City” revels in the “gangster era” that continues to be a source of fascination for true crime aficionados.

Through meticulous research, Ouseley traces the roots of crime societies in Southern Italy and Sicily, which became known as the shadowy Black Hand once they arrived in the Midwest.

What began as an insular gang extorting local businesses in “Little Italy” in the early 1900s developed into a formidable juggernaut during Prohibition, eventually allying itself with the political engine run by boss Tom Pendergast.

One hilarious story in the book tells of the State Line Tavern, which sat directly on the state line at 3205 Southwest Blvd. Gamblers moved to the west side of a white line that divided the building if Missouri police raided the joint, and to the east if officers hailed from Kansas.

The slow incursion by these organized crime factions paved the way for Kansas City’s most infamous mobster: Nick Civella.

“In the beginning when we learned what we were up against, it didn’t appear to be too significant in the national scene,” Ouseley says. “But we came to find out that Nick Civella was a major player nationally, mainly due to the fact that he owned Roy Lee Williams. With him having Williams, who became the IBT (International Brotherhood of Teamsters) president, we came to find out that Nick was one who had to be included at the table in many of the schemes that involved the use of unions and pension funds. The Las Vegas case that closed out my career sort of proved that.”

Ouseley’s expertise in this area led to a featured appearance on “60 Minutes,” in which he was utilized as the central expert during a story about a major Teamster figure from Cleveland who became an FBI informant.

At the age of 50, however, the agent decided to retire from the profession. He says, “There were a number of reasons. I had 25 years in. I had seen the demise of the Civella dynasty. The timing was right. I had to retire at 55 because it’s mandatory. With the big case that ended the whole saga, I wouldn’t say there was nothing left to be done, but the major portion had been done. Then my wife was after me to quit.”

After his stint with the bureau, Ouseley spent 15 years as the NFL security representative for Kansas City. (“The theory behind the department was to protect the integrity of the league,” he says.) After he left the NFL in 2000, he worked on his own as a security consultant, private investigator and public speaker.

Although he’s been away from the gritty drama of mob case work for more than two decades, he still keeps up with where organized crime stands in Kansas City.

“From what I understand it’s on a very low end,” he says. “The last of the ‘tough guys’ in Civella’s entourage — Carl DeLuna — died about two weeks ago. The last of the sons and grandsons of the racketeers, they have been pummeled with these cases. They’ve lost all of their main assets — the politics, the labor — and that was the substance of the mob. They’re semi-legitimate now. They run some of the topless bars and things like that.”

Surprisingly enough, Ouseley claims that at no point during his FBI tenure did he fear his life was in danger.

“There’s sort of an unwritten rule there, and that goes toward the misconceptions that people have,” Ouseley says.

“This is the business of crime and corruption. As a business, their main objective is to further and protect their business interests. They know that to hurt an agent or a prosecutor or even a news person would be detrimental. They would get heat like they don’t normally get. If they killed an agent, we would shut them down. We would take the whole office and just shut down everything they did, even if we had to park a car in front of every gambling operation. But we would not have the ability to do that if left alone.”

Thanks to Jon Niccum

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

Monday, February 20, 2006

Reputed Former Mob Leader 'Tony Ripe' Civella Dead

Friends of ours: Anthony "Tony Ripe" Civella, Nick Civella, Carl "Cork" Civella, Joseph Auippa

Anthony Civella, said by federal investigators to have headed organized crime in Kansas City in the late 1980s and 1990s, is dead at 75.

Passantino Brothers Funeral Home said Thursday that it was handling arrangements and that rites for Civella were pending, but that it did not have information on when he died or on his survivors. There was no phone listing for a Civella in the Kansas City area, and the city's vital statistics office said it had not yet received a death certificate for him.

Civella once told a judge he had undergone seven heart bypass operations. Civella, whose nickname was "Tony Ripe," was the nephew of Nick Civella, the reputed leader of the Kansas City mob at a time when it allegedly worked with other organized crime families in Chicago, Milwaukee and Cleveland in schemes to skim money from Las Vegas casinos.

Tropicana Hotel and Casino Las VegasAfter Nick Civella's death in 1983, leadership was said to have passed to his brother, Carl "Cork" Civella, father of Anthony. Nick Civella died while under indictment as one of 12 people accused in a skimming case involving the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Subsequently, his brother Carl was among those charged in another Las Vegas skimming case involving the Argent Corp., which owned the Stardust and Fremont casinos. Carl Civella was one of five who pleaded guilty in that case. Five other defendants, including Joseph Aiuppa, described by the government as head of the Chicago mob, were convicted at a trial in Kansas City.

That trial included testimony from Roy Lee Williams, former president of the Teamsters Union, who said Nick Civella paid him $1,500 a month from late 1974 to mid-1981. He said the money was in return for his vote as a trustee of the union's Central States Pension Fund for a $62.75 million loan that enabled Argent Corp. to buy the two casinos.

Anthony Civella was convicted of bookmaking in the 1970s and served 3 1/2 years in prison. He had business interests that included automobile sales, restaurants, insurance and property ownership.

After his father and other reputed Kansas City mobsters went to prison, Civella was reported to have moved up to the leadership. In 1991, he and two associates were convicted on eight counts of fraud related to the resale of prescription drugs. They were accused of having brought more than $1 million worth of drugs at deep discounts, claiming they were intended for nursing homes, then re-selling them to wholesalers on the West Coast.

After his release from prison in 1996, Civella was barred from entering casinos in Missouri and Nevada. Gaming commissions cited his convictions, which included driving a vehicle without the owner's consent in 1964, conspiring to run interstate gambling in 1975 and running a sports bookmaking operation and continuing criminal business in 1984.

In his 1984 plea, Civella signed a statement acknowledging that prosecutors could prove his role in other crimes, including casino skimming, stealing from charity bingo games and setting up front companies to hide his ownership. He also acknowledged prosecutors could prove he conspired to commit murders and other violence to punish underlings, silence government witnesses and eliminate competing mob factions.

"His death reflects a passing of an era in Kansas City's colorful history," said David Helfrey, a St. Louis attorney who headed the Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force at Kansas City during the casino skimming trials.

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