The Midwest La Cosa Nostra Familias and Las Vegas
By: Gary Jenkins
I produced, Gangland Wire, a feature length documentary film that tells the back story behind the Martin Scorsese film, Casino. I was able to obtain all the audio and transcripts from wiretaps and hidden microphones used to investigate skimming form Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s. The film’s audience is able to hear out of the mouths of the Midwest mobsters exactly what they were concerned about, how they skimmed, who was skimming and other interesting little gossipy items like the fact that the Robert DeNiro character, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal had hair plugs.
Dr. Michael Green, Nevada Historian, has stated that when Atlantic City opened up for legalized casino gambling in the early 1970s, the Commission declared that Las Vegas Casinos were open for infiltration by the Midwest Mobs and Atlantic City was closed to all but the Northeastern Families. Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Cleveland went to work. These Mofia families already each owned a significant International Brotherhood of Teamsters official. Kansas City owned Roy Lee Williams, boss of the Kansas City Local and president of the Central Conference of Teamsters, Chicago owned Allen Dorfman, Central States Pension Fund Board, Milwaukee owned Frank Ranney, Central States Pension Fund Board and Cleveland owned Jackie Presser, International Vice President of the Teamsters.
These mob families directed their Teamsters contacts to ensure that certain individuals were able of obtain large loans. The most important loan was 62 million to Allen Glick. Mr. Glick then purchased the Argent Corporation. Mr. Glick soon became the largest casino owner in Las Vegas by owning the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and the Marina hotel. At about the same time, Kansas City mob boss, Nick Civella had placed a Sicilian immigrant into the Tropicana hotel and casino. The Chicago Mob forced Allen Glick to place Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal into the position of Food and Beverage manager (Lefty could not be licensed because of felony convictions) and the Kansas City mob planted Joseph Agosto into the Tropicana as the show Form these positions, these men recruited in casino employees and set up a steady flow of skim from both casinos.
The Argent skim was sent directly to Chicago. They, in turn, shared with Milwaukee, Cleveland and Kansas City because those families helped influence the Argent casino loan. Nick Civella’s man, Joe Agosto, had infiltrated the Tropicana on his own and was able to secretly set up a skimming operation without the cooperation of the ownership because no Teamster’s money was used. This skim was sent directly to Kansas City and they shared with Chicago.
My recent documentary, Gangland Wire, shares a lot of behind the scenes information about this infiltration of Las Vegas casinos. The individual given the job of overseeing the day to day activities and speaking directly with the Las Vegas operatives was Carl “Tuffy” DeLuna. He was the Underboss of the Kansas City family. Tuffy was your stereotypical mob guy. He was quiet, low key, careful with whom he talked and drove an inexpensive late model family car. Tuffy had a moderate but nice family home, long term wife and 2 children. He kept a girl friend on the side who was not very attractive, but the “greatest blow job in Kansas City.”
Tuffy came up through the ranks as a young armed robber. He probably “made his bones” in a 1960s killing of mob member, Sam Palma. Palma was under indictment for a series of armed robberies and was looking at serious time. This is the kind of thing that makes mob bosses nervous. A Kansas City PD Intelligence Unit detective team following Tuffy last saw him having coffee with Sam Palma at a late night coffee shop before they went off duty. The next day, Palma’s body was found laying on his father’s grave. A typical mob hit, get the victim isolated and leave it in a manner that sends a message. Nobody in law enforcement ever figured out the message from leaving a guy’s body on his father’s grave. But, there is no doubt, that was a message.
As many folks know, the film Casino indicates that the FBI first learned about the casino skim from a hidden microphone in the back of a small grocery store owned by fictional character, Artie Piscano. This is based in fact.
Only the details are different. The “bug” was placed in a wall next to a small table in the Villa Capri lounge. The FBI and KCPD Intelligence Unit had informants reporting that Tuffy and other mob guys often sat at this same table and planned murders as well as talked about other mob business. I drove by the Villa Capri many times late at night and recorded the presence of Tuffy’s car along with the automobiles of other mob members. Officers and agents were sent inside to have drinks periodically and they confirmed that Tuffy always sat at the same table. He was usually talking with other known mob guys. He would often leave the Villa Capri and drive to his girls friend’s house to spend the next few hours. Nothing like planning a murder or conspiring to steal millions from Las Vegas casinos and then going for a blow job.
The monitoring agents heard the Bee Gees Staying Alive coming from a nearby juke box more than they care to recall. But, eventually the damming conversations started rolling into the recorder. The agents heard that the owner of the Stardust casino was going to sell the corporation that owned the Stardust and that the Kansas City mob wanted to have someone they control buy that business.
What follows an example of Tuffy DeLuna talking to Carl “Corky” Civella (Kansas City Mob member and brother to boss, Nick Civella). “J” and Joe are the Tropicana operative named Joe Agosto (he was not depicted in Casino). Jay is Jay Brown (he was not depicted in Casino) who was a lawyer for the Argent Corporation. Lefty is Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (Sam “Ace” Rothstein) and “the man from Chicago” mentioned is “Joey Doves” Aiuppa. They are discussing the sale of the Argent Corporation and who should run it after it changes hands. Joe Agosto and the Kansas City family want to choose who operates that corporation. They are concerned that the Chicago family does not respect Joe Agosto. When Civella said, that his brother blasted Lefty he means he lectured Lefty about causing trouble with the Nevada gaming commission. When they talk about “meeting their needs up north”, they mean that they are skimming enough money to keep the Chicago family happy. When they say, “close the territory”, they mean that the Kansas City family would control all the skimming in Las Vegas.
DE LUNA: I’ll tell you what tends to prove that he’s right, Carl tends to prove that Joe’s conception of Jay’s loyalty is first with him and then maybe to “J”, maybe tend to prove (unintelligible), the very fact that Joe was there to cash that check the night before last, Crazy and, ah, Jay Brown pulled him on the side an’ talked to him, to have him to tell Lefty, I told you, I’m sure Lefty’ll get back to you, and he told Joe them things about (unintelligible) being Chief, Chairman of the Board; the seven guys for leasing the thing. Sure enough, half hour later Lefty pulls Joe on the side, tells Joe this morning already, I got a new idea pa-pa-pa-pa, I want seven guys and I want Jay to be, to head the Board, the Chairman, and I want you to tell Joe to tell Jay (unintelligible). Why would Lefty need Joe if it ain’t a fact that Jay has told Lefty I want to go check with Joe, I could have told you that, that Jay did tell that to Lefty, I wanna go see Joe first. So Lefty knows it, that he’s checking with Joe. So maybe Joe is, now maybe it almost proves that Joe is right that Lefty feels, not Lefty, Jay’s first loyalty is to Joe. Can you, are you following that? All right now, I know what the man from Chicago’ll say, hey fuck Jay Brown and fuck Joe Agosto too. Well I say fuck Jay Brown, I don’t say fuck Joe Agosto. Now, now they don’t care about (overlapped – unintelligible) —
CIVELLA: (unintelligible) — about nobody.
DE LUNA: — that’s their attitude. They don’t give a fuck about nobody. But to me it’s showing us a discourtesy if, for them to treat somebody that we call our acquaintance, our friend, Joe Agosto is our friend, plus the fact it looks like we’re going to make a buck with this guy.
CIVELLA: I’ll tell you what, my brother blasted Lefty when he’s with ‘im in California.
DE LUNA: Yeah, I remember that.
CIVELLA: I’m sure that they — if we could close the territory when they, they okay their needs up north. You know if they okay their needs, an’ then we’ll, we’ll meet with them guys. An’ he will, I’m sure he will (unintelligible) Lefty (unintelligible) get this guy (unintelligible)
DE LUNA: Carl, we’re gonna have to give this guy an answer right now, tonight.
CIVELLA: Well, we will, tell ‘im see what he says first.
The next segment really peaked their interest. When they say that Genius’s debt service is two million a month, they are talking about Allen Glick, the owner of Argent, and how much he has to pay back to the Teamster’s loan each month.
DE LUNA: — uh, can’t be two million a year Carl, can’t be —
CIVELLA: — two million a month, (unintelligible) twenty-five million a year, they can’t make it.
DE LUNA: If it is something like two million a month, if it is, where the fuck is his, his debt service ah, I’m talking about the Genius’s debt service. Can’t be nowhere near that, can’t be two million a month Carl. Where is his net gonna be monthly? (unintelligible)Unless like you said, are we gonna get a piece of (unintelligible)? Are we in with them on that? ‘Cause if you gotta pay two million a month for rent, now we’re only in with the operators, right?
CIVELLA: ‘Member, you remember the deal in Chicago, talkin’
DE LUNA: Yeah, four and half million —
CIVELLA: A year.
DE LUNA: Right, a year, right.
ClVELLA: Doesn’t seem, does it seem possible twenty-some million?
DE LUNA: Right.
CIVELLA: Oh, yeah?
DE LUNA: Ah, yeah, twenty-four (unintelligible).
CIVELLA: The guy wanted four and half, and Carl told ’em try to get ’em down, try to get ’em, remember?
DE LUNA: The guy wanted what?
CIVELLA: The guy wanted four and half million.
DE LUNA: Right, four and half, right. That’s right.
CIVELLA: A year?
The next conversation was not understood at the time, but it became very important. This is Carl Tuffy DeLuna talking with Carl “Cork” Civella about how DeLuna went out to Las Vegas and told Genius or Allen Glick to sell the Argent Corporation. Jay Brown again was an attorney for the Argent Corporation. What we did not know at this point in time was that Tuffy had gone to Las Vegas and threatened Allen Glick and his children when he ordered him to sell out his ownership of Argent Corporation.
CIVELLA: Yeah. At the Stardust. Jay told Joe to help him —
Brown like a savior the way Joe was–. Okay, Genius is all for this deal. He wants it to go through. He wants to make a public announcement, right. Which, those were my words to him, I said, do what you got to do boy, make your public announcement that you’re gettin’ out of this for whatever fuckin’ reason you want to pick and get out, you know. I put that in his head. Make a, hold a news conference, make a public announce– but anyway Joe says that he wants to make a public announcement right away. And if Jay Brown can stall Lefty for a while, a week or something, he would not come here til Sunday. But if he can’t stall him, I’m going to come before. All right, he’s coming before ain’t he? So that proves that Left, Lefty and, and Glick both are pushing it.
Next is Allen Glick’s testimony, at a later trial, about his meeting with Tuffy DeLuna. This was taken from the trial Transcript. This conversation took place in Oscar Goodman’s office. In the film Casino Allen Glick was portrayed as Phillip Green by character actor, Kevin Pollak. In the film, Oscar Goodman was portrayed by himself as the attorney for the Rothstein character at a Gaming Commission hearing.
Prosecutor – Mr. Glick can you tell the jury about meeting the Defendant, Carl DeLuna?
Glick – Yes it was in the April of 1978
Prosecutor – Where was that meeting?
Glick – I was asked to come to Oscar Goodman’s office in downtown Las Vegas
Prosecutor – Who is Oscar Goodman
Glick – Mr Goodman is an attorney who represented Argent Corporation at one time.
Prosecutor – When you entered that office who did you observe
Glick – I saw Mr. DeLuna sitting behind Mr. Goodman’s desk with his feet up on the desk
Prosecutor – Tell the jury, as best as you can recall what you remember about your conversation with Mr. DeLuna
Glick – Mr. Deluna’s demeanor was very vulgar, coarse and he used many profanities.
Prosecutor – What was the topic of this conversation
Glick – He said that he and his partners were sick of having got deal with me and having me around. He wanted me to know this would be the last time I would hear from him or anybody else unless I abided by what he said. He informed that it was their desire to have me sell the Argent Corporation immediately and to announce the sale as soon as possible. He said that in the event I did not take his threats seriously and that I may find my life expendable, he went on to inform me that I would not find my children’s lives expendable. He looked down at a piece of paper and gave me the names and ages of each one of my sons. And he said that if he did not hear within a short period of time that I announced the sale, that one by one he would have each of my sons murdered.
Finally the Robert DeNiro character Ace Rothstein, who was the real Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, was portrayed as a cool smooth character with a huge ego. Nick Pillegi tells a story about how he wanted to interview Rosenthal and obtain his help in writing the book and the screenplay. Lefty was not cooperative and would not agree until he learned that Robert DeNiro was going to play his character. Then, he was on board 100%. During this time, Lefty was called before the Nevada Gaming Commission. They had information he was running the Stardust, yet had no Nevada Gaming license. Lefty could not pass any background check because he had a felony conviction for bribing a college basketball player. Some old footage exists that shows Lefty arguing with the Gaming Commission President, Harry Reid. This is the same harry Reid who is the current Senator from Nevada. During this hearing, Lefty wore a hat the entire time he was addressing the Board. The below conversation reveals why he wore that hat.
AGOSTO: You remember you know I told you that uh, I was very much concern that this guy should be restrained?
DE LUNA: Yeah.
AGOSTO: In somehow, in some form, because he’s pazzo (crazy) he just went nuts.
DE LUNA: Yeah. What the fuck’d he do now?
AGOSTO: What he did now? Exactly what I foreseen it. All right, let me tell you. They went at the hearing this morning, you know, and he put up the one witness, he had ten witness to put up. During the, during, ah, the hearing he’s over there, ah, chewing gum and having his hat on, you know what I mean?
DE LUNA: Having his what?
AGOSTO: Having his hat because he gotta the–
DE LUNA: The hair plugs?
AGOSTO: Yeah, the hair plugs–
DE LUNA: All right.
AGOSTO: –so he’s wearing hat, you know, during the hearing and chewing gum. So they put one witness, you know, and ah, when the witness got through, Goodman was going to put more witness, he had about ten witness: so Haycock says I’m sick and tired of this bullshit, you know, he says I’m not gonna allow anymore witness. He says uh, we not here to determine if he’s a good entertainment director or bad entertainment director. I don’t want to know about it. Said we here only to call him in for license.
These wiretaps allowed me to tell my audience exactly how the mob worked out of their own mouths. Gangland Wire contains the actual audio of Tuffy and others discussing how to skim money from casinos. The viewer can hear Nick Civella discuss making political contributions to Nevada politicians and how to deal with a corrupt politician. The taps captured a Chicago Mafia Captain named “Joey the Clown” Lombardo threatening to kill a casino owner named Morris Shenker. Gangland Wire contains interviews with former law enforcement folks in both Kansas City and Las Vegas, former Stardust employees, historians and many other first- hand witnesses to these events.
Alexandra, thank you for allowing me to be part of your event. I wish you the best of luck and success with your creation of a new sub-genre in the romance novel arena, the Mafia romance novel.