New Book to Reveal Las Vegas Mob Secrets - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

New Book to Reveal Las Vegas Mob Secrets

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Tony Spilotro and attorney Oscar Goodman Tony Spilotro and attorney Oscar Goodman

FBI agents in Chicago believe they have finally solved the murder of former Las Vegas rackets boss Tony Spilotro.

It's been 20 years since the bodies of Spilotro and his brother turned up in an Indiana corn field, presumably killed by their associates in organized crime. The pending prosecution could shed much light on that era.

A lot of new information is about to be made public in the form of a new book about the Spilotro era. It's called The Battle for Las Vegas, and it includes interviews with a small army of former police detectives and FBI agents, most of who are now retired and who are able to talk about those days for the first time.

The give and take for the lawmen and the suspected mobsters was almost humorous at times, but it was dangerous all the time. Tough Tony Spilotro personifies the zenith of the mob's power in Las Vegas. His 1986 murder marked the beginning of the end for traditional organized crime in Nevada casinos.

Tony and his brother Michael disappeared from Chicago and were found later buried in a cornfield. Tony's wife Nancy, and his longtime attorney Oscar Goodman, have long contended that lawmen didn't care who carried out the hit.

"People thought Tony Spilotro was a punk and a hood and a murderer and the FBI won't look into his murder, and yet we did," said retired FBI agent Gary Magnesen, who was one of the agents who tried to put Spilotro and his bosses behind bars.

He says there was never a doubt that the bureau would figure out who killed Spilotro and a lot of other people. Using mob informants and wiretaps, the FBI's operation family secrets has named more than a dozen mob figures for 18 unsolved slayings, including those of the Spilotro brothers. At the top of the list of indicted suspects is longtime Chicago mob boss Joey the Clown Lombardo, Spilotro's former overseer, and a man who probably knows plenty about some of the most famous murders in modern history, including those of mobster Sam Giancana, Teamsters official Alan Dorfman, and quite possibly the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa.

Lombardo isn't talking, but a lot of the lawmen who chased him, and his crew, are. "They did overt and covert surveillance. In some cases, they wanted them to know they were being followed," said Las Vegas author Denny Griffin, who has interviewed a small army of former policemen and FBI agents from the Spilotro era to obtain new insight into the tense interaction between the hunters and the hunted.

Intelligence officers confided to Griffin that they messed with the heads of Spilotro and his gang. "They got a sniper rifle with a laser scope and when the targets would come out of a restaurant, they would put the red light on their chest and get various reactions," Griffin said.

Spilotro's defenders say the police went over the line many times, including the alleged drive-by shooting of Spilotro's house. In response, Griffin says, Spilotro hired two hit men from Chicago and planned to take the officers out.

The hired killers arrived in town but Metro was waiting for them and the hits never happened. Then, a Metro official flew to Chicago to meet with the top three mob bosses and to deliver a message.

"Tell them if anything happens to my two cops, I'm coming back with 40 men and we're gonna go to the same three houses and kill everything that walks or crawls, and that's not a threat. That's a promise," Griffin said.

"I think they were over exuberant. Even though they're mob guys you can't go shoot up a house," said Gary Magnesen. In those days, relations between the police and the FBI were not good. Las Vegas in general viewed the FBI with suspicion, and a lot of information about investigations leaked out.

Every month, mobsters skimmed about $300,000 in cash from the Stardust and other Mafia controlled casinos. The FBI was watching. Agents finally jumped in during a hand off of the suspected cash.

"When they went and made the arrests, the box contained wine and cookies. It became known as the great cookie caper. Certainly someone had ratted them out," Griffin.

Over the years, the Eyewitness News I-Team has stayed in touch with Nancy Spilotro and her son Vincent. They have a much different take on Tony Spilotro's life and they point out he was never convicted of any murder or any other felony, although he was under indictment at the time of his death and might have been considered expendable by the mob.

More will come out when the Chicago trial gets underway. Denny Griffin's book The Battle for Las Vegas will be released at the end of this month.

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