Top Mob-Related Stories of 2022

Top Mob-Related Stories of 2022
© USA Today

The Mafia is no longer a factor in Las Vegas, but several news stories in 2022 recalled when crime syndicates ran casinos and street rackets in Southern Nevada, especially from the 1940s into the ’80s.

We look at the 2022 news stories that have a mob theme.

Murder Victim Found in Lake Mead Barrel

In May, a corroded metal barrel containing skeletal human remains was discovered on the receding shoreline of drought-stricken Lake Mead near Las Vegas. The person in the barrel had been shot to death, investigators said. 

Based on the victim’s clothing, the barrel was thought to have been dumped in the lake in the mid-1970s to early ’80s when water levels were much higher. 

During that violent era, mobsters such as the Chicago Outfit’s Tony “The Ant” Spilotro were active in Las Vegas. This period is portrayed in the Las Vegas Mafia movie “Casino,” with Joe Pesci playing a character based on Spilotro.

Though speculation exists about who the person in the barrel might be, and who might have killed him, authorities by year’s end had not identified the victim or the killer. 

FanDuel Opens Sportsbook at Former Mob Casino

In August, the global bookmaker FanDuel won approval from Nevada gaming regulators to open its first on-site casino sportsbook in the state. This arrangement does not include a FanDuel mobile app.

The sportsbook at the Fremont hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas’ historic Glitter Gulch opened Dec. 17. An official grand opening for the FanDuel Sportsbook is expected to be held in mid-January. 

The Fremont, which first opened in May 1956, now is owned by publicly traded Boyd Gaming but once was among the most mobbed-up casinos in Nevada.

Decades ago, for example, Mob courier Ida Devine would transport illegally skimmed casino revenue from the Fremont by train to mobster Meyer Lansky in South Florida. In those days, the Las Vegas passenger train station was located where the Plaza hotel-casino now stands at Fremont and Main streets.

In the 1970s, the Fremont resort was one of four casinos owned by California developer Allen Glick’s Argent Corp., which answered to Midwestern crime families. 

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, an oddsmaker and Chicago Outfit associate, oversaw the Argent Corp. properties, most notably the Stardust. In the movie “Casino,” Robert De Niro portrays a character based on Rosenthal. The name of the Stardust was changed to the Tangiers in the movie for legal reasons. 

The Stardust has since been demolished. In 2021, the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas held its grand opening at that location on the Las Vegas Strip south of downtown.

Las Vegas Reporter Slain

In early September, Jeff German, a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter, was stabbed to death outside his home. He was 69.

For more than 40 years, German covered Spilotro and other mobsters, first at the Las Vegas Sun, then at the R-J. 

German was known as a fearless reporter who broke one major story after another, many involving organized crime figures. While German was at the Sun, a Mob associate punched him in the mouth, requiring stitches.

When German was killed, longtime Las Vegans wondered whether the attack was a Mob hit in retaliation for some previous story. 

As it turned out, police arrested a county public official accused of inappropriate conduct in office. German had written about the reported toxic work environment under this administrator.

The former official, Robert Telles, has been charged with murder. A trial date is set for April 17. 

Tropicana Considered for MLB Stadium

In September, Bally’s Corp. of Providence, Rhode Island, completed its acquisition of the Tropicana hotel-casino on the southeastern end of the Strip near Harry Reid International Airport.

The Tropicana first opened in 1957 and was linked to the Mob during its earlier years. 

For a while, Rosenthal lived at the Tropicana, where his future wife, Geri McGee, was a dancer. In the movie “Casino,” Sharon Stone plays a character based on Geri Rosenthal.

The Tropicana later came under law enforcement scrutiny for a skimming pipeline that diverted untaxed gaming revenue — the skim — to the Civella crime family in Kansas City. In the 1980s, this discovery led to the imprisonment of high-ranking Midwestern mobsters.

Also at the Tropicana, novelist Mario Puzo and film director Francis Ford Coppola worked on the script for 1972's "The Godfather” between gambling sessions on the casino floor, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

During these gambling breaks, "Coppola lost $30,000 the first week playing craps and blackjack," the newspaper reported. "Puzo dropped $10,000 at roulette.”

“We felt so terrible that we lost that we went up and worked twice as hard,” Coppola said.

Heading into 2023, the Tropicana’s fate is uncertain. The property probably will be rebranded and might even be demolished. 

The site has been named as a potential location for a baseball stadium for the Oakland A’s if the team relocates to Southern Nevada. 

Oakland’s Triple-A farm team, the Las Vegas Aviators, plays west of downtown in a ballpark that doesn’t have the seating capacity or other amenities for a Major League Baseball team. 

Bugsy’s Death House For Sale

On Dec. 26, 1946, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opened the Flamingo hotel-casino south of downtown on the desert highway to Los Angeles, now known as the Strip. His girlfriend, Virginia Hill, was with him at the grand opening.

Six months later, Siegel was shot to death in the living room of her rented Beverly Hills mansion. Armed with a .30 carbine, the assailant fired through a window from outside the home. Hill was not there at the time. (A fictionalized version of Siegel’s relationship with Hill is dramatized in the 1991 movie “Bugsy,” starring Warren Beatty and and Annette Bening.)  

Though several theories exist about who fired the shots, no one has been positively identified. The Beverly Hills Police Department considers the killing to be an open investigation and won’t release the Siegel file.

Recently, the home where Siegel was killed went on the market for $17 million. 

Photographs posted online show what the interior of the 7,092-square-foot, seven-bedroom residence looks like today. The room where Siegel was shot while sitting on a sofa is included in online photos.

The Flamingo is still in operation at the same location on the Las Vegas Strip, though the last original building was demolished in the 1990s.