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Aug-13-2006 20:25printcomments

The Battle for Las Vegas; The Law vs. The Mob Looks at Vegas Crime in the 70's and 80's

Flashback to 2006: No punches are pulled in this hard-hitting historical account of some of the most vicious men to ever walk the face of the earth.

various Las Vegas crime related
Photo credits: Warner Brothers,, Las Vegas Review Journal,,

(LAS VEGAS) - Sin city meets hard truth in a new book by Dennis N. Griffin called The Battle for Las Vegas; The Law vs. The Mob. Never again will the reader see those characters who ran Vegas during the hard years in the 70's and 80's in the same light.

In this gritty real life drama about America’s most corrupt city, Griffin removes the facade and allows this desert gambling place to tell true stories about real events from a police perspective, and that is different.

These were the years when the Chicago Outfit dominated oeganized crime in Las Vegas.

Sort of like Bonnie and Clyde, without the likeability and charm of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. You know the real Bonnie Parker was not as, shall we say, photogenic? Sort of like Las Vegas if somebody yanked the plug that keeps the millions of dollars a month in neon lights glowing, it wouldn’t look like much at all.

The book’s cover shot is a scene from the older days of Las Vegas. The author walks the reader through the years from 1829, when an 18-year old Mexican scout who worked for a trading caravan found the area. He had been sent off in search of a new trade route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California.

His discovery of Las Vegas, which translates to the meadow in Spanish, remained fairly low keyed, only being shared with other Mexicans and local Paiutes until the arrival of John Fremont in 1844, the namesake of Fremont Street in downtown sin city.

Fremont Street

Fremont Street today is a covered area free of car traffic, and the most amazing video images travel over or totally occupy the area with the brightest, boldest and biggest images I’ve ever seen in an outdoor environment. This is an aspect of Las Vegas that is family-friendly and memorable, I can’t imagine how much it must have cost to build and create.

My five years in Las Vegas, Nevada were only years in the shadows of the events passed along in this unique piece by Griffin, who looks at the high crime years during the 1970’s and 1980’s through the eyes of the investigators who finally won their war, sort of anyway.


That doesn’t mean it is overly technical either, the book literally takes apart the characters of people like Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Oscar (the future Mayor) Goodman who kept them in business, with a particular attention to detail.

Spilotro was known as a person who could have another person murdered with little more than the blink of an eye. Most of the actual crime centered around burglary, which I recall being rather surprised to learn.

There are payoffs and “skimming” casino earnings, but the book explains how Spilotro and his boys were really a bunch of ruthless burglars, and at the time, it was, “God help anybody who gets in their way.” Tony “the Ant” Spilotro was known for being vicious, and many of his murders are said to have involved great amounts of torture, as his own death also eventually would.

Even the most cold-blooded people have a soft side, and Griffin documents some of Spilotro's charity, community spirit, love for his family, and even a desire to help poor, struggling employees.

But he was no Al Capone. Chicago truly benefitted from Capone's money, whereas Spilotro and his troop were, for the most part, out for themselves.

They say that in the end, Spilotro grew out of control, and the superiors in Chicago ended his reign of terror in Las Vegas by leaving his body, and that of his brother Michael, clothed only in their underwear, beaten and buried in a shallow grave in a Midwest cornfield, probably while still alive.

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Mob mayor of Las Vegas

The fact that Goodman would emerge from those years to become sin city’s mayor is beyond amazing when you go through Griffin’s book. I knew Goodman before, during and after his election. One take on him is… “Hey, he is what he is. He doesn’t deny what got him there.”

Another take on Goodman is that he relentlessly pursued the freedom of his murderous clients each time they were arrested. He got them off when it came to murder charges and not just once. The book delves deeply into the crooked cops also, guys who would totally jump ship and move directly into organized crime.

A great example from the mid-70’s is the story of Joe Blasko, a detective for Las Vegas Metro Police, and Phil Leone, a sergeant in the department’s anti-crime unit. Each man reported directly to Sheriff Ralph Lamb, who had vowed to take the mob out of his city. Without his knowledge, they also directly reported to Spilotro and other Vegas mobsters. Then they got caught by the department, slapped on the wrist and fired, and switched overnight into mobsters.

Some cops retire, some stay busy with secondary careers, and in Las Vegas, some join the Mafia.

I suppose my favorite part comes from the other people who were close to the problem. That’s right, nothing less than the local news media. Several people from the Las Vegas market that I know write short chapters with their memories of the time.

Gwen Castaldi

Gwen Castaldi was a friend when I worked for the NBC in Las Vegas. After leaving her anchor role to head the news department at the new FOX startup, I joined her.

That is when I heard many of the stories related in Griffin’s book, the first time. In the movie Casino, Gwen plays the Business Week reporter who does the interview with Robert Deniro in the movie Casino. In real life, Gwen actually did that interview with “Lefty” Rosenthal.

Along with several other journalists of the time, Gwen lays down her memories in a way only she can, “That period was an oddly-fascinating, but tough and grueling time. It was probably the most weird complex chunk of time in organized-crime history. And it occurred on the open neutral turf of Las Vegas. I don’t believe there is any other city where mob activity played out this way.”

The late Ned Day

One reporter I would really like to have known was Ned Day. Ned took “the Ant” on and embarrassed him time and time again as a newspaper columnist and TV reporter. One day Ned who was extremely well liked in the community, went on a trip to Hawaii. A great swimmer, Ned mysteriously just drowned in fairly calm, warm Hawaiian water.

I know people who will tell you that without a doubt, he was murdered. With Ned Day, ended a constant dagger of public consciousness in Spilotro’s side that he didn’t like at all.

Ned Day’s death was ruled an accident.

Today Las Vegas is a different place, and the mob does not at least overtly, control what is going on there. That is, unless you consider Goodman’s role in the whole affair.

I would check out The Battle for Las Vegas; The Law vs. The Mob. by Dennis N. Griffin. It is a real eye opener that illustrates the power of corruption and the downside of where gambling based industry can lead.

_____________________________________________________ Dennis Griffin is a Las Vegas resident who retired after a 20-year career in law enforcement. He is the author of six published mystery thrillers including the first two books of a Las Vegas based trilogy. Look for Dennis's book The Battle for Las Vegas; The Law vs. The Mob. published by Huntington Press on Amazon and other quality booksellers.
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Comments are Closed on this story.

bri March 9, 2010 4:34 pm (Pacific time)

he was a very brave man and it took alot of courage to do what he did alone

Juliet July 25, 2009 7:09 pm (Pacific time)

I remember when Ned Day drowned in Hawaii. The RJ article said he drowned in less than three feet of water. I *KNEW* it was a mob hit and I was 14 years old. I still don't believe it was an accident -- it made no sense.

Tim King: Juliet, that is something I have heard from many people.  I loved hearing Ned Day stories from the crews I worked with at News 3 and Fox-5.

megan lamb March 2, 2007 1:14 pm (Pacific time)

i am honored to have known ralp lamb,he is the grandfather of my children ,a fine man

Albert Marnell August 14, 2006 2:19 am (Pacific time)

My mother may have been Prussian but my father was Sicilian and had a large business. Paul Castellano used to come up to my father's place of business to extort "protection money". My father was tough and knew how to deal with these guys and Castellano had to give in order to get. I was very young at the time. I do not want to mention the details of my father's business but organized crime is no mystery to me. I even had to let Paul C. (who looked like a tall doctor) to take whatever he wanted from the retail portion of my families business. I was only sixteen and had disdain for these types of guys as did my mother. She hated them but was not scared of them (give her a double scotch and they would run away from her when she was angry). My last name comes from Marinello but the last name was changed (at my mother's request well before I was born.) A beautiful last name but it could bring trouble if word got around that you were Italian and had a good business. Anyone that networks with these people is a real low-life and has no real values. You always hear what wonderful family men they are....I say "Bull!" Only poorly educated people find this lifestyle appealing or cool. O.C. types are street smart but so is a dog. When they are not in a group they are chicken shot (kind of like law enforcement...what an oxymoron!) They are all so brave in groups but they are the first ones to pick up their skirts and run when they are on their own. I hate all of the shows and movies that romanticize this moronic and eventually self destructive life. There is nothing cool about these people and if you don't buy into their myth, you would be surprised how you can get rid of them. Even though their is a new mob that is better educated, some have college degrees and the Russian mob which is basically headquartered in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn and is far more sophisticated and diabolical than the old Italian mob. They are still sheet. The Russian mob is made up of alot of the top brass in government of the old Soviet Union. They were not going to be top dog in Russia and then come here to push broom. The sad part is how many people in law enforcement network with them, befriend them and are on double from the public and the other from these sociopaths. Goodman looks like he has the I.Q. of a chipmunk. Every city is infested with these people and the police bow to them and get their cut. The higher ups in multinationals are just as evil and corrupt. The only difference is that they have high university degrees and are sanctioned and protected by the government. As Opa would say as I would stand up in the back seat of his car because I was so young, "Ja Albert, Dis ist da Land uff da frrreee. Freeee crooks und bumz. Opa was right.

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