Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins discusses the new book Sin City: The Rise and Decline of the Mob in Las Vegas with author Jeffrey Sussman. As you may know, your host, Gary Jenkins, chased the #mafia around Kansas City while they were secretly skimming millions from Sin City or Las Vegas casinos. Jeffrey Sussman has extensively researched the rise and fall of the Mafia in Las Vegas. Sin City had no home-grown Mafia family, and starting with Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, and Frank Costello, they built the Strip into a money-making machine. When Atlantic City opened, The New York mobsters took control of all gambling action in Atlantic City, while the Chicago Outfit moved into Sin City big time.
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Feb 07, 2023 12:50PM • 20:59
las vegas, casinos, money, teamsters, mob, built, chicago, tony, rosenthal, howard hughes, buy, people, book, gangsters, jeffrey, character, lefty, moe, hand, friend
JEFFREY SUSSMAN, GARY JENKINS
A lot of people don’t realize is that the flamingo hotel was not started by Bugsy Siegel as portrayed in the movie bugzy. It was actually started by a man named Billy Wilkerson, who owns the Hollywood Reporter, and a number of other places in Hollywood, including several restaurants. He started a flamingo and named it the flamingo but it had nothing to do with Bugsy Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill, which was the premise in the movie that the flamingo got its name for because Bugsy Siegel named it after Virginia hill. It never happened that way.
Welcome while you are to average out there. Good to be back here in studio gangland wire. We have my repeat guest Jeffrey Sesemann. Jeffrey, welcome.
It’s a pleasure to be with you again, Gary.
Well, Jeffrey, we’ve done boxing in the mob. We’ve done some other older mob things that you and I talk a year or so ago about this new book about the kind of the origins in Las Vegas, how it developed, you get a copy of that book there, hold that up.
I have a copy of the book. It’s called Sin City gangsters, the rise and decline of the mob in Las Vegas. And it was just published.
Cool. So guys, I’m gonna have links to the Amazon site where you can buy that book, I highly recommend you buy the book and and looking forward, you’ll see that your intrepid host, Gary Jenkins gets a little credit.
Absolutely. Well deserved credit.
So definitely that he interviewed me and he recorded what I knew about Las Vegas courts. My knowledge of Las Vegas, as you all know, is really from Kansas City. And that’s about the skimming and what happened in the Kansas City area of the skimming investigation in the 1970s. But I was happy to help Jeffrey and I wish you all luck in the world. And so how did you happen to get started this year in the easterner right what you boxing in the mob has been one of your things boxing is your real thing. So head right into this.
Well, I met three different people at different points and it sparked my interest. In the late 1970s. I met a man named Big Julie Weintraub, who looked like an ex heavyweight fighter, you know, he had a broken nose and he was about six foot five 250 pounds. And he was the creator or the inventor of what was called the Las Vegas junket where he would take high rollers to the dunes hotel, and each one of them would lose about $250,000. And Julie was a compulsive craps player, and he would tell me about this and how it funded his gambling. So that was my first initiation into learning about Las Vegas. The second was, I was on vacation, also in the late 1970s, at a resort in Southern California called what Costco and I was invited to a New Year’s Eve party there at someone’s home. And at the New Year’s Eve party, I met this elderly man, and we were standing in the living room, each of us had a drink in hand. And he said to me, you know, my back is killing me. I’ve got to sit down. And so we both sat down on the couch, and we’re chatting. And I said, So what do you do? And he said, Well, I used to be a partner in owning the desert in with Moe Dalitzs and a guy named Robert Tucker and somebody else whose name I can’t recall. And I said, Oh, that must have been fascinating. He said, Yeah. And then we sold it to Howard Hughes. And I said, How did that come about? And he said, Well, pews and a whole entourage of Mormons came out, and they took over the top two floors of the Desert Inn. And because they were Mormon said, drinking, they didn’t gamble. And we were losing a ton of money on the place. And we usually reserved the top two floors for high rollers who come out over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. And so we went to Howard Hughes. And we told him that he either had to move or he had to buy the place. And he said to us, well, how much do you want for it? And we gave him a price that was four or five times the value, thinking that he would move out. And instead he said, Okay, I’ll buy it. And that’s how Howard Hughes bought the desert in. So that was my second encounter. And then the third time, I was on a book promotion tour in Chicago. And someone I knew, who was in the trucking business, invited me to his private club for dinner. And it got there a little early. And he was sitting at the bar talking to a man. And I had no idea at the time who he was. And my friend introduced me he said, Tony, this is Jeff Sussman. Jeff, this is Tony. We shook hands. And my friend said, why don’t you go in the dining room and tell the maitre d you’re with me, he’ll give you a table and I’ll be in in a few minutes. So I went in the dining room and waited a few minutes my friend came in and I said, Who was that? He said, his name is Tony Accardo. And he’s headed the outfit. And I was having trouble with people pilfering from my trucks, and he said he would take care of it and no more pilfering would occur. And then my friend took out this button that must have been this big and it had a picture of too only a quarter wanted. And it said on the top Happy Birthday. And then on the bottom it said big tuna Happy Birthday big tuna. And he said to me where this button any place in Chicago and no one will bother you. He said you could shoplift on Michigan Avenue, and no one will arrest you. And then after learning also about you and Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro, they were controlled by the Chicago outfit. Yeah. And they also took orders from Tony Accardo, as well as Sam G and Connor and others. And so that was the third event that sparked my interest.
You realize everybody out there saying no, you have the button? Where do I find one of those buttons? You have that button?
Yeah, the only thing that button was made available to the public. It was just people who attended this dinner party that my friend attended.
Not too bad. Of a keepsake there. Absolutely. So I guess Las Vegas Sin City has a little bit I know about those early days is there was the built the Boulder Dam. So there’s a lot of men that need to be entertained out there. Right, right after the war, I believe what’s been going for a little bit. I think they had legalized gambling, but the only place that had it, but those really early nascent days. What did you learn about that?
Well, it was fascinating because one man who I found absolutely fascinating was a man named modell, who started out in Cleveland as a bootlegger during Prohibition. And when prohibition ended, he opened gambling casinos in several states in the Midwest, and did so well with them that he moved to Las Vegas, and he had been a friend ever since he was a young man if Jimmy Hoffa, and Jimmy Hoffa had risen to be head of the Teamsters, and he arranged for modalities to get a loan from the Central States pension fund, to build the desert in and moat, Alex went on to build several other casinos as well in partnership with other gangsters, primarily East Coast gangsters, the most prominent being a Meyer Lansky, who also own points in the desert, and he was a fascinating character because eventually, he became so well established in Las Vegas. He made so much money from his casino businesses that he built, built, he built churches, he built synagogues, he built shopping malls, he built schools, he built hospitals, he became known as Mr. Las Vegas. They even wanted him to run for the Senate at one time, and he turned them down. He went in one generation, from being a gangster to being one of the most respected citizens of Las Vegas, referred to in the media as Mr. Las Vegas, who is an extraordinary life that he lived. And for me, he was one of the most fascinating of the characters that I got to write about.
I have a wiretap where Nick Civella and Joe Agusto who was Nick’s Vegas mole in the Tropicana and they’re talking about doing some more business, what they’re really talking about is trying to put together a package to buy the Tropicana when Allen Glick was going to sell it. And they were talking about people to do business with and Nick said something about, you know, about Moe Dalitz and Joe’s Said, Moe, he’s a good guy, so we could do business with Moe.
He was such an influential tough guy. He was having lunch one day, I forgot who it was with. But there was a young gangster who was trying to extort money from motel it’s who was at this table with them. And motel it’s had notified I think, was Sheriff Lamb. Prior to this dinner, that he wanted this guy ejected. And Sheriff Lamb just came right into the restaurant, grabbed spike by the collar and trek to jail. Because motel it’s wanted it, he had so much power. And he used it frequently, but his power was just extraordinary.
So let’s talk a little bit about Lefty Rosenthal, I know we and I talked about him, and I’m sure you learned even more. He was such an influential character out there in Las Vegas. And now what do you know about the origins of Lefty in Las Vegas?
Well, he was connected to the Chicago outfit along with Tony Spilotro. And when they wanted someone out there in the 70s, to run the casinos for them, also to control the skin. And he was an expert, not only in increasing the profits, but also at manipulating the skin to maximize the amount of money that they could skim out of the casinos. And he was absolutely brilliant, but totally a moral person completely without a conscience, and the mob loved him. However, what was also interesting, and the mob didn’t learn this until much later, is he was also an FBI informant. And that’s one of the ways that he kind of skipped past all the obstacles that someone like Tony Spilotro faced, and ultimately, that’s why they tried to blow him up. At the end they put a bomb in his car, because they finally had more than just suspicions that he was an FBI informant.
They had probably more talk on these Kansas City wire caps about lefty Rosenthal than any single subject between Nick and Joe Agosto and Tuffy and Joe Agosto and Lefty was in the center of all this. He was in the center of the scam from the start as he was a mob associate conducted in Chicago. And he lived through all s and he never went to Grand Jury. He was never indicted. He was not an unindicted co conspirator. He just like disappeared. form it
didn’t you know, it’s extraordinary. And then after it was all over, he moved to Florida and operated a very quiet bookie operation there, and no one ever bothered.
Now, Tony Spilotro mean, on the surface, he was set out to kind of oversee Chicago’s interest and they had a big interest in the gambling industry. But Tony, he was in the black book pretty quick. So how did he operate out there?
Well, he had a gang of professional thieves. And he wasn’t happy, just taking orders from the outfit, and being a sort of an overseer, to protect lefty Rosenthal, and to make sure everything ran quietly at the casinos. And he wouldn’t have been bored doing that. Back in Chicago, he had killed people who’s a professional thief. He especially was interested in stealing jewelry and fencing it. And so he went a little reserved in Las Vegas, and put so much attention on himself that the outfit got very upset with him. It because they felt that he was going to ruin the skin for them, because he opened up the door to numerous investigations. And the outfit as a result would suffer. And the one thing they didn’t want was to suffer because of this guy. And you know, he wasn’t the only one that the outfit got ticked off that they also got ticked off at Frank Sinatra. And at one point, Sam Giancana put out a contract on the life of Frank Sinatra, it because he ruined the Cal Neva Lodge. For Sam Giancana. These people were really intense about being able to maintain the flow of money that was coming into them, and anyone who jeopardize that had to be eliminated. Whether it was Frank Sinatra or Tony Spilotro?
Yeah, Alan Dorfman once said on a tape on a phone that he said, you know, you gotta be in Vegas. You’re gonna maneuver money. You gotta be in Vegas. So which kind of click on him also? Yeah, yeah, they killed him too. Yeah, Teamster connection and how the teamsters teams your money, really? I shouldn’t say wouldn’t say Bill Vegas, but it was really instrumental in that. What did you learn about Teamster money?
Well, it’s certainly the Central States pension fund, operated by the teamsters contributed to the building of about 10 casinos, in Las Vegas. And even after modell, its was getting out of the casino business. He built a caster with a couple of partners in Southern California, and that was funded by the teamsters Central States pension fund. And even when things began to change in the 1980s, and so forth, Jay Sarno, who built the first big billion dollar Resort Hotel in Las Vegas, even he took money from the Central States pension fund to build Circus Circus.
Right? There’s Carl Thomas. There’s a little blurb from Carl Thomas on the wire, about how he was skimming from Circus Circus. And he was a teamster, he was a Dorfman guy who was a Dorfman plant in there, assisted with the skimming wherever they were, they were all over the place. So now, here’s a question I get once in a while, and I don’t know if you got this answered or not these loans that the teamsters made, they were secured by property, how good loans were they for the pension fund? Did they default on a lot of them? Or were they get paid back? Or what was it?
The ones that they made to modell? It’s those are all paid back? He was almost meticulous in making sure that it was paid back. But you know, they were taking in so many hundreds of millions of dollars, it wasn’t difficult for them to pay it back. If someone was doing bust out or something where they wouldn’t have money, then the loan wouldn’t be paid back. But by and large, modell, its credit, they pay back all their loans.
I would imagine all the rest of them did too. That’s the best I could ever learn about it was that I thought you might learn some more, that most of those learning loans were paid back. So Sheriff Ralph lamb now there’s a character did you learn much about him?
Sheriff Ralph lamb was a law and order guy, but he was also the guy who would do favors for the mob like he had a split personality. On the one hand, he adhered to strict regulations and law and order. And on the other hand, he would look the other way or do favors for guy like Moe Dalitz or anyone else who is a powerhouse in Las Vegas. And he knew how to maintain his position and he did a good job of maintaining it.
You I found an old FBI report where he wrote a letter of recommendation to the Florida State racing commission for lefty Rosenthal, because he was trying to get a license to have a racehorse or something down in Florida. So he got to a character there that bragged. Now he took mobsters off the plane and beat him up and put it back on the plane and sent it back to Chicago or New York.
But on the other hand, he was doing favors, right.
It’s such an interesting place where we got into this scam and Lefty and he was frantically trying to manipulate the attorney general who then became the governor and kind of had a little bit of a crappy two bit low blackmail scheme on him. And it’s like, Las Vegas and Nevada. They were really almost libertarian out there. They did not like the interference from the federal government. They wanted to handle those things themselves. But yet on a state level is really hard to deal with a nationally based organized crime thing. So it’s an interesting place out there.
But you talked about the federal government, and I spoke to Moe Dalitz’s daughter and other people who knew a lot of these guys during their prime, I was told that the person that they hated the most was Robert Kennedy, that he was really a thorn in their side. And there were no tears shed, but when he was assassinated, they all felt relieved.
So I guess as Howard Hughes he started buying up casinos, and then as at the same time when the mob the FBI started exposing the scam and getting more names in the black book and the teamsters money dried up it was that a little transition right there.
There’s a little bit of a transition. And certainly, when Howard Hughes began buying up casinos, he bought a lot of Mapo casinos. So a lot of those mobsters, they just took their money and went someplace else. Yeah, so a lot of those casinos then became more legitimate. But he was a funny character. One of the things that I found out when he was in his suite at the top of the desert in is looking at the window. And he saw this blinking sign from the Silver Slipper. And it really annoyed him. He thought it was vulgar. So he had a former FBI guy who worked for him. Then Robert Mayhew. And he said, Mayhew, I want you to go out and buy the Silver Slipper and get rid of that. And he did. He thought nothing of it. I think he bought 12 hotels. I mean, it was just extraordinary. He made deals where he would sell the hotel, but he would own the land. And he would leased it back to them. And then later on, they could buy the land from him for it kind of complicated, real estate transactions.
Now that Robert Mayhew, I believe he was the guy that helped the CIA connect with Sam Giancana. During that time, if I remember, right,
yeah, that’s true. And then Hughes fired me up because he taught me he was stealing from him. And may you sued Howard Hughes and Hughes countersued, and I think that may he walked off with about $2 million. So he really wanted a lot more than that. And that was the end of that relationship now.
Or may he? He was a Mormon, too. He’s the one that brought in all those Mormon ex FBI agents. Exactly. Right. That’s right, that’s trusted the Mormons they weren’t gonna steal from they didn’t drink and they didn’t smoke, and
they were costing the mob a lot of money.
Really. Now, it’s a fascinating place. And it’s changed so much. I guess it after Howard Hughes and the mob went out, then the corporation’s figured out that we can really make some money out here. And it’s just changed so much.
These kind of big, visionary type of guys, like Jay Sarno and Kirk Kerkorian, and Steve Wynn, and Sheldon Adelson. I mean, they built these multibillion dollar hotels and casinos. And when you think of all the money they spent to build these places, and yet they were still making a profit on them. They were so expensive to build. And yet the money that came in was even greater than the cost of building an operating system Mason,
I found a transcript from an old wiretapping Steve Wynn was overheard and just this was just an aside, he said, Donald Trump’s the only one that can lose money in the casino business.
It’s true. It takes a special Mac to lose money in the casino business. Really, Meyer Lansky said of the casino business, he said, it’s great. He said, All you do is you open a store that doesn’t sell any merchandise, and people give you their money.
That’s a good quote there. That is a good one. All right. Well, Jeffrey, this is this has been great. And guys, we don’t want to give too many stories away. You’re gonna want to take a deep dive into Las Vegas and check that link out down in the show notes and get that book. I really highly recommend it. I’ve gotten several Jeffrey’s books and I’m gonna get one of these. I haven’t got one yet, but you’re gonna get me one. Right.
Absolutely without question, since the gangsters the rise and decline of the mob in Las Vegas. Yeah. Oh, I forgot to mention that Nick Pileggi. It says about this book that he found it fascinating. He said, It’s all here. And I learned a lot from it. And he’s the guy who wrote Casino. So I felt very good that he said he learned a lot from
I would feel good. Do you got a quote from him on that? Great. Yeah, that’s cool. Thanks a lot. Jeffrey.
My pleasure. Thank you for having me, Gary.
Well, if you guys you know, I ride motorcycles. So look out for motorcycles when you’re out there. And if you are one of your friends or relatives or somebody you care about, been in the service and have a problem with PTSD, go to the VA website and get that hotline number because there’s help available out there. Thanks a lot, guys. Bye Jeffrey
Bye bye. Take care.