Robert Maheu was a trusted aide of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes.
Tony Zoppi with Frank Sinatra.
LAS VEGAS -- When a special U.S. House of Representatives committee concluded in March 1979 that President John F. Kennedy "was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy," three men with Las Vegas ties were mentioned in the report in the context of alleged CIA-Mafia plots.
One of the men was the late Robert Maheu, a trusted aide of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who owned KLAS-TV and several Las Vegas resorts before passing away in 1976.
The other men, Sam Giancana and John Rosselli, were Chicago mobsters who ruled Las Vegas Strip resorts behind the scenes in the 1950s and early 1960s. Giancana was executed in his Illinois home in 1975, and Rosselli's decomposed body was discovered a year later in a steel drum floating in a bay near Miami.
As summarized by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Mafia initially decided to assist the CIA in attempts to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The Mafia was run out of Cuba's resort industry after Castro came to power in the late 1950s.
The committee reasoned that the Mafia not only cherished the official sanction and logistical support the CIA could bring to a Castro assassination attempt, but also believed that assisting the spy agency "could be used by organized crime as leverage to prevent prosecution for unrelated offenses."
Even after it became apparent in the early 1960s that Soviet influence in Cuba wasn't going to end anytime soon, the committee speculated that the Mafia still would have continued its participation in anti-Castro plots "in hopes of preventing prosecution of organized crime figures and others involved in the plots."
Maheu, who died in 2008, was a former FBI agent who served as a liaison between the CIA and organized crime figures. The committee recounted the time in the spring of 1962 when Maheu was the subject of an FBI wiretap investigation in Las Vegas.
The committee said of Maheu: "He had installed a telephone wiretap, which he claimed was done as a favor to Mafia chieftain Sam Giancana, who was also involved in the anti-Castro plots. Maheu's explanation to the FBI was that the tap was placed as part of a CIA effort to obtain Cuban intelligence information through organized crime contacts. The CIA corroborated Maheu's story, and the case was not prosecuted. In addition, in 1966, Maheu used his contacts with the CIA to avoid testifying before a Senate committee that was conducting hearings into invasion of privacy."
Rosselli, referred to by the committee under the alternate spelling of his last name Roselli, was said to have helped publicize the anti-Castro plots in a bid "to avoid deportation in 1966 and 1971 and to escape prosecution for illegal gambling activities in 1967."
Rosselli also proposed the so-called "turnaround theory" of the 1963 Kennedy assassination, which the committee said was based on the allegation that Cuban exiles hired by the Mafia as hit men but captured by Castro were forced to "turn around" and murder Kennedy.
But this explanation of Kennedy's death had little credibility with the committee because "it would have been unnecessarily risky."
"The committee determined from CIA files that, in 1963, the Cuban government had agents of its own in nearly every country of the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, who undoubtedly would have been more dependable for such an assignment," the committee reported. "Even if Castro had wanted to minimize the chance of detection by using hired non-Cuban killers, it appeared unlikely to the committee that he would have tried to force Mafia members or their Cuban exile confederates to engage in the assassination of an American head of state."
More plausible to the committee, though, was that the Mafia might have voluntarily turned against Kennedy.
"By late 1962 and 1963, when the underworld leaders involved with the CIA in the plots had perhaps lost their motivation to assassinate Castro, they had been given sufficient reason by the organized crime program of the Department of Justice to eliminate President Kennedy," the committee stated.
"The committee found that the CIA-Mafia-Cuban plots had all the elements necessary for a successful assassination conspiracy -- people, motive and means, and the evidence indicated that the participants might well have considered using the resources at their disposal to increase their power and alleviate their problems by assassinating the president."
CIA files revealed that Rosselli maintained direct contact with William Harvey, chief of the CIA's Cuban Task Force, as late as 1967 and kept in touch with the agency as late as 1971.
But the committee said that additional pursuit of evidence tied to CIA-Mafia plots was made difficult by the fact that many key figures in the Castro plots had since either died or were murdered.
While the committee concluded that Kennedy's assassination was probably the result of a conspiracy, it was unable to identify other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy. It ruled out the CIA, Cuban and Soviet governments as participants and also eliminated the Mafia and anti-Castro groups as a whole but stated that individual Mafia or anti-Castro members "may have been involved."