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Gaming Guru

Jeff German

Columnist Jeff German: Memories of Mob Shouldn't Be a Hit

10 May 2004

He represented some of the most notorious mobsters of all time, but for the first 25 years of his career as a criminal defense attorney, Oscar Goodman refused to admit that the Mafia existed.

It was part of his defense strategy to drum up public support for the likes of Meyer Lansky, Nick Civella and Tony Spilotro, who found themselves facing heavy government scrutiny throughout much of their criminal careers.

In 1992, however, long after his famous clients had died, Goodman came clean in a flamboyant way during a huge bash celebrating his 25th anniversary of practicing law.

As guests were leaving the lavish party, Goodman handed out T-shirts bearing a caricature of himself with the inscription "Oscar Goodman: 'There is no Mafia -- the Greatest Lie of the 20th Century.' "

Today, in his second term as mayor of Las Vegas, Goodman is making amends for telling that lie for so long. He has pushed the City Council into agreeing to build a shrine to the organized crime figures who played a big role in the city's early days.

The council last week approved plans to turn the historic downtown post office and courthouse, which is a couple of blocks from City Hall, into a cultural center that will feature an exhibit on the history of the mob in Las Vegas.

The vote comes while city officials are trying to persuade the federal government to declare another part of the city, Las Vegas Boulevard from Sahara Avenue north to Washington Avenue, a national scenic byway.

Officials are of the opinion that the seedy motels, pawn shops, X-rated video stores, payday loan outlets and tattoo shops that make up much of that stretch of the Boulevard deserve national recognition for their scenic importance to the country.

The natural extension of that mind-set is to make a priority out of preserving the city's mob heritage.

Never mind that it took law enforcement authorities decades to rid the Strip of mob influence. This is the new honest Las Vegas, where "what happens here, stays here," where we now freely admit that we are a city of sin -- and where we encourage tourists to come see it for themselves.

So bring on the mob memorabilia. It's just what we need to attract a few more visitors and make a few more bucks.

The old post office is perfectly suited to remember the mob. It was one of the sites of the Kefauver hearings on organized crime in 1950. The ghosts of Moe Dalitz, Wilbur Clark and Moe Sedway, who were among those hauled before the Senate panel, probably still haunt the place.

There are plenty of pieces of mob history worth exhibiting at the museum.

No. 1 on the list should be the famous photo of a bloodied Bugsy Siegel after his gangland slaying in Beverly Hills in 1947. Siegel, who built the Flamingo in 1946, is considered the patriarch of the Strip.

If we're lucky someone will find the remains of former Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, whose mob-dominated union financed construction of many of the Strip's big-name casinos.

There must be old FBI surveillance photos lying around of beloved Strip entertainer Frank Sinatra in the company of slain Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana. Sinatra's family will love seeing those put on public display.

And surely the FBI wouldn't mind enlightening city officials about the way Tony Spilotro conducted business in Chicago before he moved to Las Vegas to run street rackets for the Chicago mob. Details of the time Spilotro put an informant's head in a vise to squeeze information out of him have to be somewhere in the files.

Another museum draw would be the wiretaps of late gaming executive Carl Thomas giving Midwest mobsters a lesson in the art of skimming money from casinos. Who wouldn't love to learn how to carry on that tradition?

There's so much history to preserve.

It's nice to see the mayor and the City Council working so hard to preserve it.