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A plot by organized crime to seize control of the Las Vegas outcall industry was thwarted by FBI agents, in large part because they had help from a mob insider.
When gangsters with John Gotti's crime family heard about a mysterious black box device being used to steal from escort companies, they sent a fearsome crew to town to fix the problem.
The mob associate formerly known as Tony Nastasi didn't turn against the mafia itself when he volunteered to help the FBI. Rather, he wanted to put the hurt on some individuals who had it coming.
His work here in Vegas put him up against some very rough customers, including a torture expert nicknamed Vinnie the Aspirin and a mercenary they called the Angel of Death.
It's no wonder the FBI wanted to put Tony into witness protection, but he said no.
"She says, "Listen, this is what we gotta do. We've gotta take your mother and uproot her and you have to get rid of your dog. You have to do this." So I said, "Honey, listen, take all your f-ing travel brochures and go back to LA." She looked at me like I had three heads," said Tony nastasi fmr. Mob associate..
Tony Nastasi doesn't regret his decision to forego the witness protection program, and as he watched news stories a few weeks ago about nearly 60 of his former associates in the New York mob being busted by the FBI, he didn't entirely regret giving up The Life.
Nastasi owned escort services in New York and Las Vegas and paid a piece of the profits to the mob. There was no question then, and none now, what services the so called escorts provide.
"There is no gray area there. That's prostitution, absolutely," he said..
By the late 90's, ads for outcall services filled 134 pages of the Las Vegas phone book, but most of the companies were controlled by five or six men. Nastasi was one of them.
The FBI was interested in the racket, for obvious reasons.
"A large majority may have been fronts for prostitution, money laundering, narcotics distribution," said FBI Organized Crime Specialist John Plunkett.
He couldn't understand why the mob did not control the industry. After its expulsion from Las Vegas casinos, mafia interests found other ways to make money here, including the sex trade. But the escort owners were mostly independents.
Then the mob put a plan into motion. It happened when rival owners began to hear about a mysterious black box device that was diverting calls from potential customers to one owner.
"If you call the XYZ Escort Agency, you're not going to get them. You're always gonna get the ABC one. You know what I'm saying?" said Natasi.
An owner named Chris DeCarlo, who had already approached Nastasi about an alliance, with protection from John Gotti's family, had a bold idea.
DeCarlo contacted Mario Stefano, a high ranking New York mob figure. Stefano told him help was on the way.
"They called him Vinnie the Aspirin. If they were to have a headache running on of their businesses, they bring in Vinnie the Aspirin. He makes the headache go away," said Tony.
His real name was Vinnie Conguisti. His most infamous work tool was a power drill, which he used to obtain information. Tony knew the name.
"He was a pretty ruthless individual. Men, women, children -- he didn't care," said Natasi.
The Aspirin and two other tough guys came to Las Vegas to find the black box and its creator, and then to take over the escort industry one company at a time -- by torture or murder if necessary.
The FBI slipped in and bugged their hotel room and started following them as the hitmen conducted their own surveillance of the homes of rival escort owners.
For months, Nastasi had worn a microphone hidden in a beeper and allowed an FBI agent to pose as his manager.
The FBI hoped the investigation would take them deep into the mafia, but it came to an abrupt end when agents reported that Vinnie and crew were inside Chris DeCarlo's Tropicana office and might be ready to drill the kneecaps of the black box inventor.
Tony was in New York but was on the phone with DeCarlo and heard the men talking about using the drill.
Agent John Plunkett made the decision to bust in.
"The three of them were sitting around a fella who was on a chair in the middle. Don't know to this day if he realized how much trouble he was in," he said.
Agents seized a gun and a knife. Then in Vinnie's car, they found a lot more -- a rifle, bulletproof vests, a spring loaded ice pick, a so called kidnap kit and the drill.
It was enough to send all of the mafia men to prison, and sent Tony Nastasi into limbo. He isn't sure he would make the same decision again.
"You tell me I did a good thing, but if I knew all the s--- I would have gone through since then, I might have just turned my back," he said.
Vinnie Congiusti died in prison. The others did their time and were released.
No one ever found the black box and the FBI was unable to confirm it even existed.