THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Larry Smith...This One is for YOU!

Here it is the tail-end of 2009, a time for nostalgia. So, yours truly would like to share a particular part of her past when the casino world came crashing into her life.

The Set-up: It's 1996 in Albuturkey, NM. (Actually, quite a neat town, Albuquerque.) I'd just been laid off along with all my co-workers from an independent TV station that was sold to the local Fox affiliate. Decent paying jobs were hard to come by. But I'd heard that blackjack dealers were making great tips at the Indian casinos that were popping up around the area. A little research convinced me that it would be worth my while to become a BJ dealer. Never a gambler, I was convinced things were much more profitable on the other side of the table.

ACES Casino Dealer's School: Enter ACES Casino Dealer's School run by one Larry Smith who would become a lifelong friend. (Well, so far anyway.) A kind of sleazy, goodlooking guy named Dean signed me up and took my cash. Whatever I paid, it was worth the price.

I was the opposite of those lucky few who seemed to be born with a deck of cards in their hand. In fact, I was so bad, I think they put me in the remedial school of BJ dealing. I'd done a lot of things for a living like singing in nightclubs, making maps and rowing customers down the San Juan River in Utah. As far as card games were concerned, I was totally out of my element and intimidated as hell.

For instance, one time Larry was showing a visiting casino exec around the place and I was dealing to my fellow students, mostly gorgeous things half my age or Oriental hotshots. I trembled so much everyone started to snicker. It was then that the visiting VIP, who looked like a young Al Pacino, squeezed up next to me and whispered, "Relax, honey. Just pretend you're having sex." At which point all the cards flew up in the air and rained down on our heads. It was the first of several emarrassing moments I was destined to endure!

Meeting Slick, One of my Teachers: It was at the school I met William Slick Hanner, a real character, who carried around 20 dog-eared pages of his life story, hoping to find some sucker to write it. Well, I took one look at what he'd written and it was like a bomb hit me. I just knew I had to write his story, even though the only thing I'd written were some lurid love letters. Nine agonizing years later, Thief was published by Barricade Books. But that's another story.

Blackjack Auditions: Now that I had practiced maybe hundreds of hours longer than any living soul, it was time to audition at REAL casinos! I'd rather have autitioned for Stephen Spielberg than those suave, confident pit bosses.

After some terrible auditions in the local market, I decided to take my audition uniform (black slacks, white tux shirt and bow tie) up to a little Northern New Mexico casino about 3 hours drive from where I lived. Desperate for any live bodies to pitch BJ cards, the Ohkay Casino in Espanola, NM, hired me. Yahoo!!! My first BJ gig. I stumbled along managing to keep my job for 3 months. But I was in dangerous territory as a gringa where most of the town was either Pueblo Indian or Hispanic. After my rented house was robbed twice by druggies, I decided I'd better high tail it back to Albuquerque.

Fake Nails, a Dealer's Bane: One of the casinos south of Albuquerque needed dealers. So I went down with the express purpose of only filling out an application as I wasn't in my audition uniform and hadn't dealt a card for over a month. For a break-in dealer like me with little experience, that was an eternity.

Well...the pit boss was very eager to hire a BJ dealer, and here I was with some actual experience. He said, "Hey. Let's throw you on a table right now and see what you can do." I nearly fainted, as I had donned fake red fingernails, the same ones I'd worn as a live TV personality, hoping to camouflage my chipped ugly things. Like a cornered animal, I could see there was no escape.

Forcing a smile, I tapped out the smug BJ dealer. He handed me the cards in the 2-deck game and clapped his hands to show surveillance he was clean. This part was mostly a blur until it came to my pitching cards to the 5 patrons ready to watch the newbee do her stuff. The first cards made it to their proper places in front of the customers and I breathed a sigh of relief. The only problem was the damn fake nails bent backward every time I shuffled. I could only imagine what the eye-in-the-sky was thinking. On the next hand, I pitched a card to a customer. Immediately he reached up and pulled a red thing from his forehead, squinted at it and said, "What's this?" One of my fake fingernails had flown off and hit the guy between the eyes, sticking there. Before I could answer, I was yanked off the table and a young dealer choking with laughter took my place.

What are You Doing with that Roulette Wheel?: "All right," the pit boss groaned, eying me like I was something from another planet. "Since you said you can deal roulette, let's see if you can do better on the wheel." I could tell he wasn't any too pleased and I'd better get it right this time or else.

To be continued.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 6th in Series

The Las Vegas Strip is Born

If you traveled south from downtown on Las Vegas Blvd., you’d hit The Las Vegas Strip where most of the mob-run casinos and hotels sprang up. (Photo at right around 1977.) There was the Stardust, a carpet joint, that the Chicago Outfit called home. The Riviera was licensed to Ross Miller who ran an Outfit strip joint on Chicago’s Wilson Ave. His son became governor of Nevada. The Desert Inn was managed by Moe Dalitz and his Cleveland mob, as I mentioned earlier. Doc Stacher, a New York mobster, owned the Sands until it was purchased by Howard Hughes in 1967, making it legitimate. The Dunes at one time was owned by Major Riddle, a Chicago bookmaker, and Morris Shenker who represented Ray Patriarca of the New England Mafia. It’s also been said Shenker was associated with the St. Louis mob. The Bellagio now occupies the land vacated by the Sands after it was imploded. Further south on the Strip, Frank Costello and Sam Giancana had a piece of the Tropicana, just to name a few. Of course there was Ben Siegel’s infamous Flamingo. That’s just a quick recap from my own failing memory. You can probably understand why this section is so short.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 5th in Series

Glitter Gulch
The Union Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown was the beginning of Las Vegas as people came to know it. Glitter Gulch was the nickname for the casino area bordering Fremont Street and beginning at the Union Plaza. It wasn’t always that way. The Union Plaza opened in 1969. But the original site was the Union Pacific Railway depot.

When you got off the train, you looked down a Fremont Street open to the sky. The Fremont Street Experience wouldn’t happen till years later. On your left was the Las Vegas Club and on the right, the Golden Gate. Going east on Fremont was the Pioneer Club then the Golden Nugget. Across the street was the Mint and Horseshoe. A block down stood the El Cortez.

Vegas Vic, a waving cowboy sign in front of the Pioneer, boldly greeted visitors until 1966 when Lee Marvin, who was filming The Professionals and staying across the street, complained that the sign was too loud. After that, Vegas Vic only waved his arm. The arm stopped waving in 1991.

Fremont Street was quite the place. The Horseshoe took any bet you wanted to make from 25 cents to $10 million. Your first bet set your limit. The Golden Nugget had a floor inlaid with real silver dollars. Every May, Glitter Gulch celebrated its frontier heritage with Helldorado. (Pictured above right.) People went to “jail” if they weren’t wearing a Western outfit. Needless to say, many came with cowboy boots and hats in order to stay out of the poky. The celebration continued until 1990.

Not only were the downtown casinos a place for dealers to learn their profession, you could find all the good old boys there playing poker and cutting deals.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

No Comment

This just in from an AP news report:

Mobster blames alcohol for arrest

St. Louis--A gangster-turned-FBI informant whose exploits were the basis of the 1990 Martin Scorsese mob film "Goodfellas" said Tuesday his struggles with alcohol again are to blame for his weekend arrest after a drunken disturbance at a hotel.

Police hauled 66-year-old Henry Hill of Topanga, Calif., away in handcuffs Sunday after the dust-up in a Drury Inn lobby in Fairview Heights, Ill., while he was in the St. Louis area for a three-day showing of his artwork and to sign autographs at a nearby Larry Flynt strip club.

Free on bond on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Hill told The Associated Press on Tuesday he doesn't remember much about the weekend flare-up at the Drury.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 4th in Series

Casino the Movie

When people ask me if I’ve seen the movie Casino, I tell them not only did I see the movie, I lived it. I’m asked about the movie so often, I decided to go into a lot of detail for folks who want the inside story from a guy who was there.

Back in 1970 I walked into the Stardust and who do I see but all the guys I knew while living at mob headquarters in Chicago. There was Wheels now one of the floormen and Harry Tinderella, another mob guy. There was a former Chicago cop dealing blackjack. I spotted my old friend, former card mechanic Phil Diaguardi, now a shift boss. And Bobby Stella, the casino manager, used to run the Owl Club in Hammond, Indiana for the mob.

In the movie, the Tangiers is actually the Stardust hotel and casino, though filming took place at the Riviera.

Many of the movie’s characters were based on guys I knew. Stevie Blue or Bluestein headed the powerful culinary union in Las Vegas. You couldn’t work as a waitress in any of the casinos unless you joined the union. Steve was Frankie Bluestein’s father. Frankie was maitre d’ at the Hacienda. In the movie, Frankie’s character was killed by the police, imitating what actually happened to him in real life. Steve’s other son, Ronnie, worked at the Fremont Hotel, another Outfit property.

Tony Spilotro, whose name was Nicky Santoro in Casino, was dead by the time author Nick Pileggi interviewed people for his book that they based the movie on. (Joe Pesci convincingly portrayed Tony in the movie.) So it’s mostly Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal’s viewpoint (Ace Rothstein in the movie) that comes across in Casino. Robert DeNiro played Ace. Sharon Stone as Lefty’s wife Geri rounded out the top actors. I never met Geri, but the chip hustler sure knew how to wrap guys around her little finger, including Lefty…and Tony Spilotro, too.

Frank Rosenthal was one of the best sports handicappers and bookmakers in the business. He was directly responsible for bringing sports books to the casinos. The mob and Tony Spilotro made a lot of money off Lefty’s picks. In the movie and real life, Lefty’s car, with him inside, was blown up in the parking lot of Tony Roma’s Rib Shack on Sahara Avenue. He escaped death because his 1981 Cadillac Eldorado had a metal plate under the driver’s side. It was standard equipment for that year and model.

The guy called Tony Dogs in the movie was based on Bill McCarthy. In Casino, he was the guy who gets his head squeezed in a vice to make him give up his partner. He talked after his eye popped out. The incident actually took place in real life at a different time. Bill and his partner, Jimmy Miraglia, were later found in the trunk of a car with their throats cut. It was the classic mob-style ending. Insiders called it “trunk music.” Spilotro told people that Bill McCarthy was the toughest guy he ever met. That’s some statement coming from Spilotro, with double-digit notches on his belt for the guys he allegedly whacked.

Allen Glick, the Outfit’s frontman at the Stardust, was portrayed by Kevin Pollack. Glick secured a loan from the Teamster’s Pension Fund for $67 million to buy the Stardust, Sahara, Marina, and Fremont hotels. I guess the power went to Glick’s head and he thought he owned them. He was very quickly set straight. His business partner, Tara Banks, slated to testify against him before the Nevada Gaming Commission, was shot five times in the head. Her body was discovered in her San Diego home. It’s been alleged the hitman was Tony Spilotro.

Alan King played the part of the teamster official, Allen Dorfman, who was overseeing the teamster’s loans in Las Vegas. When federal indictments came down against the mob for commandeering the funds, Dorfman was shot to death outside a restaurant on a cold Chicago day while his friend watched. Soon after, the slot manager who took care of the Stardust skim, Jay Vandermark, disappeared, supposedly to Mexico under an assumed name, but was actually murdered along with his drug addict son.

The restaurant that was a mob hangout in the movie was based on the real Leaning Tower of Pizza owned by New Yorker, Jasper Speciale. He also ran his lone shark operation there until Tony Spilotro convinced him to retire.

Of course, Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman played himself as Nicky’s lawyer. Tom Smothers did a credible job as Nevada senator and U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. In fact Reid, while on the Nevada Gaming Commission, had heated arguments with Rosenthal during Rosenthal’s licensing hearing as key employee at the Stardust. Rosenthal called Reid a hypocrite for taking Stardust comps for him and his family while opposing Rosenthal in court. Rosenthal shouted that Reid promised he’d back Rosenthal during the hearing. Reid responded that Rosenthal was a liar. Apparently, Reid was also responsible for Rosenthal’s inclusion in the city’s notorious Black Book of excluded persons. Rosenthal retired to Boca Raton, Florida where he died in 2008. Everyone knows what happened to Senator Harry Reid.

The nostalgia of the movie Casino reminds me of Bob Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the Memories.” Younger readers probably never heard of him.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 3rd in Series

This is the third chapter from Slick's new book, Slick Hanner's Las Vegas--Then & Now.

People Ask me…

The first big question people ask me about Las Vegas is if the stuff in the movie Casino is true. I tell them they got about 50% correct. If you read my book, Thief, I set a lot of things straight. The character played by Joe Pesci is based on Tony Spilotro who was a womanizer. I knew Tony Spilotro for many years and know many others who were even closer to him. The females who knew Tony said he was like a teddy bear. (See next section: “Casino the Movie” for more info.)

The second question I get asked is which hotels and casinos I would recommend to visit. I believe the best five in order are:
1. The Bellagio with their dancing waters that you can view for free…very romantic. (Pictured above right.)
2. The Mirage where you can watch their volcano exploding for free. (Reminds me of someone I know well.)
3. Treasure Island where you can catch a free pirate show with actors in period costumes dueling aboard a pirate ship complete with exploding cannons for free.
4. Downtown Freemont Street at night with its free laser light show. (Better just see it because I can’t describe it.)
5. You might want to give the new ultra modern CityCenter a look. It’s billed as “one of the great urban places of the world.”

The third question folks ask is whether I’d like to go back to the old days of Vegas. Of course I would. I was lot younger and had plenty of energy. I also missed a lot of opportunities back then. Maybe I’m a little wiser now and would hold on to my money better. I probably let at least a $1 million slip through my fingers. A lot has happened to Las Vegas in the last 40 years as compared to the long histories of New York or London. I’d like to see the town really go again, only this time I’d take advantage of more opportunities.

I remember working in a casino when they hired a new floorman. Everyone said, “What could he know about gambling? He went to college.” Today you can’t get a job in a major casino unless you have a college degree. And you’re hired through the casino’s Human Services department.

In my day, the only kind of a human services we had was called “juice.” If you knew the right people, you got juiced into a job. Even a felony didn’t keep you from working in a Las Vegas casino. Maybe you’d even get a job faster than someone without a felony. And there were no lawsuits against the casinos back then. The mob had their own ways of settling problems.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 2nd in Series

My Take: How Las Vegas Got Started

Shortly before midnight on June 20, 1947, Ben Siegel was at his girlfriend’s house in Beverly Hills, California sitting on the couch when he was hit by a barrage of gunfire. The first bullet took out Siegel’s right eye. The others found their mark. Ben Siegel, also known as Bugsy, was dead. (Pictured above right)

Just two hours later Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum and Morrie Rosen walked into the Flamingo as the new bosses. The killers headed northeast on Route 66 to Chicago. This was the beginning of the Las Vegas the world would come to know.

At that time, there were only three hotels on the Strip. On the south end stood the Flamingo, the north end the El Rancho Vegas, and in the middle the Frontier. The big man looking out for mob interests at the time was Johnny Rosselli. Later on, Chicago Outfit kingpin Sam Giancana thought he needed help, so he sent Marshall Caifano out to look after things. The other reason Giancana sent Caifano out is he kind of liked Caifano’s wife, who decided to stay in Chicago and keep the home fires burning.

In the 1950s, with a little help from the Teamster’s Pension Fund, Las Vegas boomed. Moe Dalitz came to the rescue of developer Wilbur Clark who began building the Desert Inn. Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker, Louis Rothkopf, Thomas McGinty and Cornelius Jones—collectively known as the Cleveland Mob—gave Clark the capital he needed to complete the 238-room hotel. But Dalitz didn’t make the same mistakes attention-grabbing Ben Siegel made. Dalitz kept a low profile and stayed out of the limelight. Dalitz called it “Wilber Clark’s Desert Inn.” The place even had Wilber Clark’s likeness on their casino chips. In reality, Clark only held a minority interest and did not run the casino.

Next came the Silver Slipper. In 1952, the Sahara and Sands opened. Then in ’55, the Dunes and Moulin Rouge followed by the Tropicana and Stardust in ’56.

The 1960s saw the addition of the Aladdin, Caesar’s Palace, Circus Circus and the MGM. Howard Hughes added the Landmark. At 26 stories, it was the only high rise in Las Vegas. Back then, Las Vegas had three police departments. From Sahara south was Metro, from Sahara north was LV Police and north of that was North Las Vegas PD.

In order to work, you needed a gaming card, either from Metro or North LV. There were no female or black dealers on the Strip at this time. Al Sachs, a Stardust Casino shift manager at the time, hired the first woman dealer on the Strip. She had been a Stardust cocktail waitress until she was juiced into her dealer position by Al. It was all about who you knew. If you knew the right people, you could start out as a busboy and three months later wind up as a 21 dealer.

It’s been said that Marshall Caifano, the Chicago Outfit’s front man, burnt down the El Rancho in 1960. To this day, the lot stands empty on the corner of Sahara and the Strip.

In the 1970s, Tony Spilotro changed places with Caifano as enforcer for the mob in Las Vegas. Spilotro and Lefty Rosenthal, head of the Stardust, carried on one of the most interesting love/hate relationships in the history of Las Vegas. The pair had been childhood friends in Chicago, but now each believed they were top dog in Las Vegas. The movie Casino tells the story from Rosenthal’s viewpoint. You can read my slant on what happened in one of the following chapters “Casino the Movie” and in my book, Thief! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist.

A lot happened in the 1970s. Women and blacks were finally able to work as casino dealers on the Strip. Vegas and Metro police departments became one, which made getting a gaming card much easier. The only thing that didn’t change was the mob still ran things. But slowly they began to lose their grip on Sin City as people with deeper pockets entered the scene. The change of power began when Howard Hughes started buying up choice hotels and casinos. The mob just didn’t have the capital to compete.

Now, you’d have to live on Mars not to have heard of Las Vegas. In fact, the astronauts joke about being blinded from space by the city’s major wattage display, especially the powerful halogen beacon beaming up from the Luxor’s pyramid.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Slick's Las Vegas--New Book

Starting today I'm posting Slick's new take on Las Vegas: Slick Hanner's Las Vegas--Then & Now, a chapter at a time. We would like to hear your feedback.

Slick Hanner's Las Vegas


William "Slick" Hanner, George Joseph & Cherie Rohn

Who is William “Slick” Hanner?

In the early 1930s, I grew up on Chicago’s North Side. I was a truant and hung out with a gang. I ended up quitting school in the third grade. We were in the middle of World War II and it seemed like every one under the age of 60 was in the service. Nobody cared about a dirt poor Irish kid named Billy Hanner who skipped school looking for adventure.
Me and my friends sneaked into the movies to see our favorite actors—James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Paul Munie, George Raft and Edward G. Robinson. Hollywood glorified gangsters, making them the idols of my day. But even real gangsters had their good sides. During the Great Depression, they sponsored soup kitchens and gave to the needy who included practically everyone I knew.

It was 1947 and the war was over. Truant officers and police were back in full force looking for me. At only 15 I was too young to enlist, so I got myself a phony birth certificate. My brother, a war hero, signed as my legal guardian and I joined the Army Air Corps. The minute I got to basic training it split into two separate branches: the Army and Air Force. After basic, they sent me to Albrook Field in the Panama Canal Zone. The canal was a shortcut for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I was surprised the first time I went swimming. Oceans weren’t like Lake Michigan…they had a lot of salt.

To get out of work, I joined the boxing team. We fought Fort Clayton whose guys beat the hell out of me. Of course I was just a skinny runt and those guys were almost professional boxers. Anyway, my commanding officer wasn’t too happy with me so he sent me to Las Vegas Air Force base (Now Nellis) to build parking lots. When I got my orders, it said Las Vegas, Nevada, but my friends insisted it was Las Vegas, New Mexico. No one had ever heard of Las Vegas, Nevada, an outpost in the desert.

In 1949, I got an honorable discharge, my first real accomplishment. I couldn’t wait to get back to Chicago and that old gang of mine. I was 17, fell in love and married the woman who would become the mother of four of my children. Now my life was very different as a married man with kids. I wasn’t used to having responsibilities.
One thing didn’t change…I still wanted to be a gangster. With that sort of goal, it wasn’t long before me and my buddies ended up as convicted armed robbers. Now I was a felon, a lot worse than a gangster. As a convicted felon, you lose your civil rights. The state of Illinois owned me and my felony cost me my wonderful wife.

I soon found out something else that disqualified me as a hardcore gangster. I couldn’t hurt innocent people. That and the fact that I refused to follow orders made it impossible for me to be a gangster.

In 1970, I wound up in Las Vegas again. Now everyone had vacationed there or at least heard of the place. There was no question who really ran things in Las Vegas—The mob. Many of them were mob guys I knew, while living at Chicago Outfit headquarters, who had been sent out to Las Vegas. Now it was easy to get a job. I had what they call “juice,” or pull. All I had to do was register with the Las Vegas Police Department to get a convicted felon or gaming card which let you work in casinos. That meant I could legally be a dealer, shift manager or poker room manager, all jobs I held at one time or another.

When gaming started to open up in other states, I ran gambling schools and trained dealers in Louisiana and New Mexico. I met a writer named Cherie Rohn. Together we wrote my life story, a book called Thief. I went back to Las Vegas to retire. But seeing how much it had changed prompted me to write this book—the way I remember Las Vegas.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Internet Gambling...Encouraging News

This story appeared In Reuters Internet News:

Fri Nov 27, 2009 4:06pm EST

Treasury, Fed delay Internet gambling ban 6 months
By David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve on Friday delayed the implementation date for a new Internet gambling payment ban for six months, a move that gives lawmakers time to overturn it or end confusion over illegal practices.

In a joint statement, the Treasury and Fed said the December 1 implementation date for the law passed in 2006 would not be achievable for some financial institutions. They set a new compliance deadline of June 1, 2010.

"Commentators expressed concern that the act and the final regulation do not provide a clear definition of 'unlawful Internet gambling,' which is central to compliance," the two agencies said.

In addition, they said certain members of Congress have "expressed an intent to consider legislation that would allow problematic aspects of the act to be addressed."

The 2006 law, which cost European Internet gambling companies billions of euros in lost market value, prohibits credit card, check, and electronic fund transfer payments by U.S.-regulated financial institutions in connection with "unlawful Internet gambling."

But rather than define what types of gambling are illegal online, the bill relied on existing federal and state laws to answer that question. It also still allowed any online horse race betting permissible under the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.


Congress passed the anti-gambling legislation in 2006, when Republicans still controlled both the House and Senate. The final regulations issued to enforce the ban were issued by the Treasury and Fed just before former President George W. Bush left office in January.

Representative Barney Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, in October urged a 12-month delay in the implementation because of confusion over what kinds of online gambling were illegal under the bill.

Frank's committee in September 2008 passed a bill to overturn the ban, but the full House never acted on the measure. Frank earlier this year reintroduced the bill, which would effectively overturn the ban and create a framework for the Treasury to license Internet gambling operators, collect taxes from them and enforce rules for transparency.

On Friday, Frank praised the Treasury and the Fed for delaying the regulations, which he said would "curtail the freedom of Americans to use the Internet as they choose" and put unrealistic burdens on financial institutions.

"This will give us a chance to act in an unhurried manner on my legislation to undo this regulatory excess by the Bush administration and to undo this ill-advised law," Frank said in a statement.

Frank has scheduled a hearing next Thursday on the legislation, dubbed the "Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act."

The six-month delay will allow banks to establish policies and procedures to require gambling businesses to document the legality of their activities, the Treasury and Fed said.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Economics 101: Where is Las Vegas Going?

It's no secret that many states are facing bancruptcy. A November 2009 Pew Center Report states that Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and California (with its IOUs to pay bills), are barreling toward economic disaster.

Why do some states suffer more than others? According to the Pew Report, states that tend to rely heavily on one type of industry (tourism for instance) have a history of persistent budget shortfalls and other internal problems which make it difficult to implement major changes such as tax increases.

So where is this line of reasoning going? Well, California has long been considering legalizing gambling (aside from Indian casinos), in order to tap into the multi-billion dollar revenues the state could collect, ostensibly targeting the money for education and debt reduction. Read here for Californians responses to this issue:

It's no secret that a large portion of Las Vegas's gambling revenue comes from California. But what if California legalizes gambling? There goes a reliable source of income.

In response to the headline: Las Vegas gambling plummets--What does it mean for the city?, posted on the blog site,, readers comment re the impact of other states legalizing gambling across the board: ttp://

This next year should be telling. I'd like your take on the issue: Where is Las Vegas going?

All reasonable comments will be published below.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Gangsters of Miami: The Magic City

GANGSTERS OF MIAMI: True Tales of Mobsters, Gamblers, Hit Men, Con Men And Gang Bangers from the Magic City

Rising from a swampy flatland a little more than a century ago, Miami has grown to become a trend-setting metropolis known for tourism, fashion, nightlife and style. Miami is also the city of Hollywood's "Scarface" Tony Montana, television's Miami Vice and popular culture's "Cocaine Cowboy." Ron Chepesiuk's Gangsters of Miami (Barricade Books, November 2009) digs beyond the headlines and fantasy to provide a close up look at the real role that mobsters, gamblers, hit men, drug lords, con men and other gangsters have played in making America's youngest city also one of its most fascinating.

Known as the Magic City, Miami has always been the home for a colorful variety of gangsters. They include the notorious smugglers of the Prohibition era, such as Gertrude Lythgoe, Bill McCoy, James Horace Alderman, the Ashley Gang, and Red Shannon; famous mobsters like Al Capone and Meyer Lansky who helped make Miami a gambling Mecca, the Cuban Mafia and its syndicate, La Compania, led by godfathers Jose Battle Sr. and Jr.; the marijuana traffickers of the early and mid 1970s, most notably the legendary Black Tuna Gang; drug lords of the Medellin and Cali cartels and master minds of the cocaine explosion, such as Griselda Blanco, the so-called Black Widow Blanco, Pablo Escobar, the "King of Coke" and Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela; the Russian Mafia with colorful characters like Ludwig "Tarzan" Feinberg, who came to America after the fall of the Soviet Union; and the street gangs that plagued Miami after the advent of crack cocaine in the mid 1980s, led by such vicious gang bangers as Anthony "Little Bo" Fail and Corey "Bubba" Smith.

The book also provides details of headline making cases and characters like the tourist murders of the early 1990s, the Operation Swordfish money laundering investigation; the Yahweh Ben Yahweh investigation, the Don Aronow and James Callahan murders, the Andrew Cunanan murder of noted fashion designer Gianni Versace, and the rise and fall of Chris Paciello, the so-called "King of South Beach." Gangsters of Miami also investigates the police and governmental corruption that has plagued the Magic City since its early days.

Gangsters of Miami is a lively and well-documented account of Miami's gangs and gangsters, showing that fact can be more riveting than fiction. The praise for the book has been lavish:

Steve Morris, Publishers of the New Criminologist web site, said "Chepesiuk's aptitude for revealing the inner workings of organized crime within a community is once again on display here as the reader is cast into Miami's bloody underbelly. A remarkable achievement by the author."

Scott M. Dietche, author of The Silent Don: The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante Jr. calls the book "one of the most complete looks at crime in South Florida."

Lew Rice, Former Special Agent in Charge, DEA and author of DEA Special Agent: My Life on the Front Line hailed Gangsters of Miami as a "must read for anyone interested in an historical and colorful account of crime in the Magic City."

Ron Chepesiuk, an award-winning investigative journalist, has been described as "the master of high octane journalism." He is the author of Gangsters of Harlem and Black Gangsters of Chicago, Drug Lords, a Fulbright Scholar, an adjunct professor in the journalism department of UCLA's Extension Division and a consultant to the History Channel's Gangland documentary series. He has also been interviewed by the Biography Channel, Discovery, the History Channel, Black Entertainment Television, and NBC's Dateline.

Monday, November 2, 2009

HARRAH'S Hard Times

In my last blog I mentioned the decline in Las Vegas revenues. Here's further news on the topic in this Associated Press story:

"The world's largest casino company said Tuesday that it lost $1.6 billion during the third quarter as fewer people gambled, fewer groups visited and the value of its assets fell.

The loss at privately held Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. for July through September reflected a $1.33 billion drop in the value of its assets.

Harrah's $1.6 billion quarterly loss included a $1.05 billion loss from operations plus the cost of interest expenses and taxes. It said its operations income would have been $278.4 million if it hand't written down the value of its assets."

We visited the Paris which was located right across from our suite. Sure looks great on the outside.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Real Scoop: Mobwriter in Las Vegas

(Photo at right: The LV Strip as seen from the Jockey Club roof.)

It was a whirlwind trip, just 5 eventful days in Sin City. Here's the rundown:

My best friend, JJ Gamble (her real name!), and I flew to LV for free compliments of her son-in-law who flies for Southwest Airlines. Since we used his buddy passes, we promised we'd refrain from besmirching his good name, i.e., no sex on board, etc.

The silence at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas was deafening. No clink, clink, clink of coins hitting the hollow-bottomed slot machine trays. In fact, only a handfull of folks patronized the rows of slots that kind of resembled tired soldiers standing at attention.

I don't recommend Suzuki as a rental car brand. The compact sounded like it was ready to hop the curb and head for the junk yard any minute. But at least it got us where we needed to go.

We headquartered at the Jockey Club on the Strip (see our suite at upper right, minus the great view), enveloped on the south by the magnificent Bellagio and some new half-built glass thing on the north. In fact, you couldn't actually see the Jockey Club from the street, but that was okay since it's central Strip location made up for it being hard-to-find. Our suite included 2 TVs, well-equiped kitchen (we saved a bundle cooking in), handsomely appointed furnishings, a king-size bed, and ample room to stretch out. Even though we received a discount for attending a promotional event (many, many real estate discounts around LV), the Jockey Club is a solid value anyway. The ground floor even boasts a small grocery store, albeit expensive. And it allowed us to pick up important items such as wine, milk and a map without having to retrieve our clunker Suzuki from the pleasant valet service.

The Strip appears mostly as I remember it from 2001 with its sea of gawkers from all parts of the globe. But direct questions to various employees about how things are really doing were met with grimaces and sighs of relief at still being employed...for now. The word is that people are spending considerably less than normal (whatever that means?) on gambling. In truth, the table games, as well as the slots, at Caesars, Bellagio, Venetian, Paris and Palace Station seemed somewhat sparce. A floorman, who shall remain unnamed (not my intention to hurt anyone's business), said that bet size was down considerably. And a reliable source told us that a popular restaurant owned by a famous chef was serving about 1/4 of normal numbers.

BUT...the 2 shows we attended, Bette Midler, who thanked the audience for choosing her show, and Cirque du Soleil's O, appeared full. Both shows exhibited grand production values that boggled the mind, a far cry from the Las Vegas of yesteryear.

Then there was the visit to Sheri's Ranch, a bordello in Pahrump, Nevada, about an hour's drive west of Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal. My friend, Lora Shaner a retired madam at Sheri's, escorted us to the famous ranch for lunch. The place looked like a standard darkish bar and restaurant...except for the nearly naked girls strutting around. And they were most pleasant while we toured the establishment, including the "dungeon" complete with real devices of torture to drive their patrons to ecstacy! The other theme rooms we visited were far more conventional. Sheri's is sort of a downscaled version of the Playboy Mansion. Check out Sheri's Web site for photos and more info:

Slick took JJ and me to visit his friends, Big Daddy Carlos and his wife, Ava Berman, who are refurbishing Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Glitter Gulch. (See earlier Mob Speak blog featuring the pair.) While waiting to see Big Daddy who was in a meeting, the multi-talented, accomplished restaurateur and promotor, Ava, made the 3 of us feel like family. She and I even discovered to our utter amazement that we grew up in the same north suburban Chicago town and even went to the same high school! Shucks. They presented us with comp VIP tickets to their Holloween tour in the hotel. It was the neatest, creepiest such tour I'd ever experienced. I highly recommend a visit to the historic Horseshoe if you want a taste of authentic Las Vegas in its heyday. Benny Binion started holding the World Series of Poker at the hotel and the rest, as they say, is history. Be sure to check out the million dollars on display on the casino's main floor, guarded round-the-clock. Don't know about you, but to me a million bucks is still a lot of money.

Yours truly

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Inside a Major Hollywood Mob Flick

Photos left: Book cover To Kill the Irishman; bottom: Ray Stevenson as Danny Greene; right: Danny Greene.

In my last blog I mentioned a story that appeared on the Website, New Criminologist. I've posted it here in its entirety with express permission of editor Steve Morris at New Criminologist. Hope you enjoy it.

The Irishman: Inside an Upcoming Major Hollywood Mob Flick: Special to New Criminologist UP AGAINST THE BOOK SHELF COLUMN
- Ron Chepesiuk

What is it that attracts us to Mafia movies like steel clips to a magnet? Most of us have seen The Godfather, a movie considered by many to be the greatest ever made. But it’s just one of a long line of great Mob flicks that extend back to Hollywood’s early years where we had such classics as Public Enemy Number 1 and Little Caesar. Just in past two decades or so Hollywood has released such great flicks as Casino, Donnie Brasco, GoodFellas, Jackie Brown, A History of Violence and The Departed, among others.

With so many superb mafia flicks around, we might ask: Has Hollywood seen its best days when it comes to this genre of movie? The quick answer is, no way.

Consider that that this coming spring (2010) an explosive and highly original mob flick is scheduled for release. Titled simply The Irishman, the movie depicts the story of Danny Greene, an Irish-American mobster who takes on the La Cosa Nostra in a vicious and violent gang war that had the bodies piling up on the streets of Cleveland in the 1970s.

Greene is on record as making this bold challenge to the powerful La Cosa Nostra: “I have no axe to grind, but if those maggots in this so-called Mafia want to come after me, I’m over here by the Celtic club. I’m not hard to find.”

That’s great dialogue from the book upon which the movie is based. Written by true crime writer, Rick Porrello, and published in 1998 as To Kill an Irishman, the book has sold more than 20,000 copies. Not bad for a self-published book.

The Midwest Book Review described To Kill an Irishman as “must reading…a true life story more dramatic than anything ever to come out of Hollywood.”

Another review by the Book Reader predicted great things for Porrello’s book when it concluded that it was “a terrific read about powerful losers and mob stuff just a few years ago. We see a Hollywood script soon.”

Porrello is no literary flash in the pan. He had initial success with his first book, The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia: Corn, Sugar and Blood, which Barricade Books published and included Porrello’s research into the murder of his grandfather and three uncles. The book was also a regional favorite and went through several hard cover printings before being re-published in paperback.

But Porrello could not come to terms with Barricade over what literary rights he was willing to sell to the publisher.

“In today’s publishing marketplace, it’s tough to strike a fair deal on your own,” Porrello explained. “You really need a literary agent, but when I queried several literary agents to see if they would represent me, they said it’s hard to sell a book written by an unknown author.”

Porrello, however, didn’t need to publish books to survive. In 1981 the 18-year old talented musician became the drummer for Sammy Davis Jr., the super star entertainer who hung out with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as a member of the famous Rat Pack.

As a stickman for Davis, Porrello traveled the world, appeared in television show, including the Johnny Carson Show, and performed regularly at venues in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

"It was a great life and a great career, but I’ve always wanted to write," Porrello revealed. "Writing is tough, but there is no greater feeling than seeing your book in print."

And that feeling is magnified when the writer becomes one of the chosen few in his profession whose book is transformed into a Hollywood movie. A remarkable achievement considering Porrello has a time-consuming day job. He’s a Cleveland area police chief.

The Irishman movie brings together an award-winning all-star cast and an award-winning all-star production crew. Noted actors Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino, and Vincent D’Onofrio (Law and Order’s Criminal Intent) will play lead and supporting roles. Director Jonathan Hensleigh was the screenwriter for Die Hard with a Vengeance and Jumanji and wrote and co-directed The Punisher, while Jonathan Walters is the co-writer. The movie’s editor, Douglas Crise, was Oscar nominated for his work on Babel.

Writing the screenplay must have been a challenge given Greene’s complex character and the richness of his story. Porrello described Greene as “a Celtic warrior at heart, obsessed with the color green—green car, green jackets and green ink pens.”

The quirky Irishman was handsome, obsessed with physical fitness and followed a strict diet of fish, vegetables and vitamin supplements. To minimize his hair loss, Greene underwent painful hair transplants.

“Green took his personal hygiene very seriously,” Porrello explained. “He even had a nail brush in the union bathroom to keep his manicured nails scrubbed clean.”

Greene had no problem with using car bombs to blow his enemies to smithereens, but he was also known as an animal lover who put out food for birds and squirrels.

Greene got his start in racketeering in the late 1960s as president of the Cleveland branch of the International Association of Longshoreman, but was deposed after a Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper investigation revealed he had been embezzling union funds. Greene worked as an enforcer for local Cleveland mobsters, including Alex Shondor Birns. He got into a dispute with Birns over $60,000 that Greene refused to repay, and the two went to war.

Birns made several botched attempts on Greene’s life. In one incident, the Irishman found a bomb that Birns had planted in Greene’s car. Greene described his brush with death as “the luck of the Irish” and vowed to get even. “Sure enough,” Porrello explained, “a few weeks later, Birns was blown out of his car in two pieces. It was an excellent hit and Danny was proud.”

After Godfather, John Scalish, died from heart surgery in 1976, the criminally ambitious Greene allied himself with John Nardi, a corrupt teamsters official in a move to take over the Cleveland underworld. When Greene murdered the feared but respected mobster Leo “Lips” Moceri and Eugene “The Animal” Caisullo, the Italian Mafia had had enough and went all out to get Greene. What followed prompted one newspaper to describe Cleveland as the “bombing capitol of the United States.”

You can read the book to find out what happened and watch the movie to see how Hollywood treats the story. We will reveal, though, that the subsequent Mafia war had consequences beyond Cleveland. Besides leading to the murder of dozens of gangsters, the war also created a chain reaction in which the Mob remained in perpetual war not only in Cleveland but also Milwaukee, Kansas City, Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

Meanwhile, Greene became a legend.

Porrello concludes his page turning narrative with a lyrically Irish sounding refrain from The Ballad of Danny Greene: “One day he’ll lie, as all we must, some will laugh but most will cry. His legend will live on for years, to bring his friends mixed pleasure.”

According to news reports about the movie, Actor Ray Stevenson, the star of The Punisher, looks forward to the challenge of playing the complex Danny Greene character.

In an interview with the Internet site Movie Set Stevenson said it was the exceptional script that drew him to the project. He described Green as charismatic, a loner whom the people considered a Robin Hood because he gave turkeys to them at Thanksgiving and Christmas to show “it wasn’t about the money, there was a higher goal.”

The movie project’s genesis can be traced to 1997 when Tommy Reid, then a young, ambitious entertainment entrepreneur stumbled on to the Danny Greene story and learned that Rick Porrello was writing a book about it. Thus began a long and arduous process of getting the movie made. Why did it take so long for The Irishman to reach fruition?

“First of all,” Reid explained to the New Criminologist. “Rick’s book was self- published and not a New York Times bestseller. Even if a book is a New York Times bestseller, it has one percent chance of being made into a movie.

Reid added: “So many elements are involved (in making a movie). You need a great writer to adapt the book to a screenplay. You got to have a visionary production team on board. Then you have to find the financing, so you can make reasonable offers to acting talents like Ray Stevenson and Val Kilmer to get them on board.”

Reid laughed and quipped: “That’s how a movie becomes a 12-year overnight success.”

Each year, for more than a decade, Reid had to buy an option on Porrello’s book to retain the right to make a movie based on it. As the website Wikipedia explains, the option is a “contractual agreement between a movie studio, a production company or film producer and writer, in which the producer obtains the rights to buy a screenplay from the writer, beyond a certain date.”

“Sure ,optioning the book was expensive,” Reid conceded. “My company had to put up a lot of money and it really added up. But we prevailed and never gave up. Along the way the project fell off the horse a few times, but I would get back on and ride it. I was a true believer in the project.”

During the past 12 years, Porrello got several offers from others who wanted to buy the option to To Kill an Irishman. Some of the prospective buyers were bigger names than Tommy Reid in the entertainment industry, but as Porrello explained: “Tommy’s the man. He had a vision for my book and he is ambitious…contagiously ambitious. He got me believing that the project would happen.”

Aspiring entertainment entrepreneurs cannot live by one project alone and so while The Irishman was in development, Reid was busy building his career. The film projects that he has produced and directed include The Wiffler: The Ted Whitfield Story, the true tale of the greatest wiffle ball player of all-time, and Strike, a comedy starring Tara Reid, Ross Patterson and Clayne Crawford.

As a field producer, Reid researched and prepared 120 plus interviews with retired, rookie and 2009 Super-Bowl winning NFL players. “I have to have a couple of irons in the fire to keep going,” Reid said. “But I knew The Irishman was my best project, and all it would take to be successful was timing and getting the right elements in place.”

Still, the challenges were formidable. Reid confided that at one point he got so frustrated at the lack of progress, he decided it was time to produce something tangible from all the work he had done on Danny Greene’s story.

In 2007, the producer went to Cleveland and interviewed nine individuals who had ties to Danny Greene. The interviews form the basis for the documentary, Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman, a factual portrayal of The Irishman’s life. The documentary is in post-production and will be available for distribution in 2010.

Reid plans to use the documentary to help promote the feature film which finally began production in May 2009. “Sitting there watching the production begin I had to pinch myself,” Reid recalled with smiled. “Finally it had all come together.”

The shooting went smoothly wrapped the following month. When asked what’s the movie’s cost, Reid sighed and said: “The cost is never ending. The advertising alone can eat up your budget. Post-production is another cost. That’s the important phase in which the movie is edited.”

When asked when will the movie finally be completed, Reid chuckled: “There is a saying in Hollywood. You never finish a movie; you abandon it. Otherwise, post production can go on forever.”

The movie is scheduled to debut St. Paddy’s Day, 2010. “With an Irish character like Danny Greene, that’s a fitting way to launch the movie,” Reid said. It sure is, but given the uncertainties of the film industry, it may take the luck of the Irish for that to happen.

## Based on Rick Porello’s book, “To Kill an Irishman” (Available from Simon and Schuster Publishing in 2010)
## Code Entertainment, Producer
## Executive Producers—Jonathan Dana, Rick Porrello
## Producers Tommy Reid, Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso and Tara Reid
## Co-producer—George Perez
## Director—Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters
## Actors: Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Paul Sorvino, Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio
## Script writers—Jonathan Hensleigh and Jeremy Walters
## Editor—Douglas Crise
## Cinematographer—Karl Walter Lindenlaub
## Production Designer—Patrizia von Brandestein
## Distributor—Lightning Entertainment
## Domestic Sales—ICM and Jonathan Dana

Ron Chepesiuk ( is award winning freelance investigative journalist and documentary producer. He is a Fulbright scholar and a consultant to the History Channel's Gangland documentary series. His true crime books include Drug Lords, Black Gangsters of Chicago and Gangsters of Harlem. His three forthcoming books include "Gangsters of Miami"(November 2009), The Trafficantes (an e-book in February, 2010) and Sergeant Smack: The Lives and Times of Ike Atkinson. Kingpin, and his Band of Brother (May, 2010).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Criminologist: Mob Speak's Website of the Year

Just discovered a fascinating Website: New Criminologist--The online journal for criminology.

The site is chock full of important mob-related info, as much as any I've seen, and it's worth your taking a look.

I heard about New Criminologist from my friend Ron Chepesiuk, a multi-published author of a long list of non-fiction crime books and articles. Ron spits out top-quality literature such as his upcoming title, Gangster's of Miami, November 2009, the way bunnies produce offspring.

I'm hoping Ron will give me permission to reprint his article about the movie The Irishman due for release on St. Paddy's Day 2010. The movie is based on Rick Porrello's book, To Kill the Irishman. (Porrello is pictured above.)

Ron describes the lengthy (10 years), tedious book-to-big screen process and why it's a near impossible endeavor. Every word he says is true.

Happy reading!


Friday, October 9, 2009

How Bad/Good is Las Vegas Economy?

Next week Mobwriter sees for herself what all the fuss is about. My friend, JJ Gamble (great Sin City name!), and I are paying a visit to Las Vegas to take in the sites and see Slick, Tony Montana, retired madam Lora Shaner, and maybe take in some shows.

On my list is checking out some of the bigger casinos on the Strip, off Strip casinos such as the Rio and maybe Glitter Gulch, see how Fellini's Restaurant on the West Side is faring, and get out to an old haunt, Lake Mead, now gasping for life.

I'll report back on my findings...nothing scientific. Just impressions on how Las Vegas seems to be coping or not with the state of the economy.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gangsters of Miami--New release

Featured Book: Gangsters of Miami
Ron Chepesiuk
October 2009 $23.95 Hardcover

This book chronicles gang and gangster history using profiles to tell the rise of the gangster and history of crime in Miami. Known as the Magic City, the book traces gangsters that include the notorious smugglers of the Prohibition era, famous mobsters like Al Capone and Myer Lansky, the Cuban Mafia, the Colombian cartel, the Russian mafia, and the current street gangs that have come to plague Miami after the advent of crack cocaine.

Since the turn of the century, Miami has been a pivotal destination for emerging criminal organizations: the Mafia, Colombian cartels and local street gangs. Ron’s latest well written tome, Gangsters of Miami, accurately depicts their dominance, control, and method of operation during Prohibition and their progression to gambling and narcotics. This book is a must read for anyone interested in an historical and colorful account of crime in the Magic City!
Ellen Poulsen, author, The Case Against Lucky Luciano: New York’s Most Sensational Vice Trial and Don’t Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang.

With a sharp eye for detail and a crisp writing style, Ron Chepesiuk peels back the layers of sun-drenched Miami, exposing a history of corruption and crime, stretching from the Mafia to the Colombian cartels to the Russian mob to the little-known Cuban Corporation. It’s one of the most complete looks at crime in South Florida.
Lew Rice, Former Special Agent in Charge, DEA, and author of DEA Special Agent: My Life on the Front Line.

Meet the real Tony Montana’s and flinch at their ruthless capacity for extreme violence and murder. Chepesiuk’s aptitude for revealing the inner workings of organized crime within a community is once again on display here as the reader is cast into Miami’s bloody underbelly. A remarkable achievement by the author.
Scott M. Deitche, author of Balls: The Life of Eddie Trascher, Gentleman Gangster and Silent Don, The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante Jr.
Chepesiuk provides another fascinating portrait of organized crime in an American city whose uniqueness and location made it a spa for a variety of colorful crimes and criminals. Miami stands as a stark contrast to the comparatively staid underworlds found in the East and Midwest.
Steve Morris, Publisher, The New Criminologist.

Chepesiuk provides another fascinating portrait of organized crime in an American city whose uniqueness and location made it a spa for a variety of colorful crimes and criminals. Miami stands as a stark contrast to the comparatively staid underworlds found in the East and Midwest.
Stephen Brodt, Editor, Trends in Organized Crime Journal.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MORE of Slick's Q & A: The Answers

I'm a day late (if anyone's noticed.)

Here are the answers to Slick's Q & A:

Q: What separates a professional gambler from an amateur? A: When you can quit your day job and gamble full time with always something to fall back on.

Q: Is there a dealer's union in Las Vegas? A: A few casinos weak unions exist, but the casinos are trying vigorously to keep unions from forming. Check out this link for more complete information:

Q: Where did the saying "Bet your bottom dollar" come from? A: In the 18th Century, poker players stacked silver dollars instead of chips. When a guy wanted to bet everything, he "bet his bottom dollar," meaning the whole stack down to the last dollar.

Q: Who made "The buck stops here" a household phrase? A: Harry Trueman, an avid poker player, kept the saying on his desk.

MORE of Slick's Q & A

Test your knowledge on the following:

Q. What separates a professional gambler from an amateur?
Q. Is there a dealer’s union in Las Vegas?
Q. Where did the saying “Bet your bottom dollar” come from?
Q. Who made “The buck stops here” a household phrase?

Answers will appear by Thursday, Sept. 24.

Monday, September 14, 2009

TERRORIST VIOLENCE - Coming to a town near you

Let's hope these
horrific photos are
never repeated.

The following email came from a most reliable source. Open your eyes, Americans. They won't do it the same way twice:

Juval Aviv was the Israeli Agent upon whom the movie ' Munich ' was based.. He was Golda Meir's bodyguard - she appointed him to track down and bring to justice the Palestinian terrorists who took the Israeli athletes hostage and killed them during the Munich Olympic Games.

In a lecture in New York City a few weeks ago, he shared information that EVERY American needs to know -- but that our government has not yet shared with us.

He predicted the London subway bombing on the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox News stating publicly that it would happen within a week. At the time, O'Reilly laughed and mocked him saying that in a week he wanted him back on the show. But, unfortunately, within a week the terrorist attack had occurred.

Juval Aviv gave intelligence (via what he had gathered in Israel and the Middle East) to the Bush Administration about 9/11 a month before it occurred. His report specifically said they would use planes as bombs and target high profile buildings and monuments. Congress has since hired him as a security consultant.

Now for his future predictions. He predicts the next terrorist attack on the U.S. Will occur within the next few months.

Forget hijacking airplanes, because he says terrorists will NEVER try and hijack a plane again as they know the people onboard will never go down quietly again. Aviv believes our airport security is a joke -- that we have been reactionary rather than proactive in developing strategies that are truly effective.

For example:

1) Our airport technology is outdated. We look for metal, and the new explosives are made of plastic.

2) He talked about how some idiot tried to light his shoe on fire. Because of that, now everyone has to take off their shoes. A group of idiots tried to bring aboard liquid explosives. Now we can't bring liquids on board. He says he's waiting for some suicidal maniac to pour liquid explosive on his underwear; at which point, security will have us all traveling naked! Every strategy we have is reactionary.

3) We only focus on security when people are heading to the gates.. Aviv says that if a terrorist attack targets airports in the future, they will target busy times on the front end of the airport when/where people are checking in. It would be easy for someone to take two suitcases of explosives, walk up to a busy check-in line, ask a person next to them to watch their bags for a minute while they run to the restroom or get a drink and then detonate the bags BEFORE security even gets involved. In Israel, security checks bags BEFORE people can even ENTER the airport.

Aviv says the next terrorist attack here in America is imminent and will involve suicide bombers and non-suicide bombers in places where large groups of people congregate. (I. E., Disneyland, Las Vegas casinos, big cities New York, San Francisco, Chicago, etc.) and that it will also include shopping malls, subways in rush hour, train stations, etc., as well as rural America this time (Wyoming, Montana, etc.).

The attack will be characterized by simultaneous detonations around the country (terrorists like big impact), involving at least 5-8 cities, including rural areas.

Aviv says terrorists won't need to use suicide bombers in many of the larger cities, because at places like the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, they can simply valet park a car loaded with explosives and walk away.

Aviv says all of the above is well known in intelligence circles, but that our U. S. Government does not want to 'alarm American citizens' with the facts. The world is quickly going to become 'a different place', and issues like 'global warming' and political correctness will become totally irrelevant.

On an encouraging note, he says that Americans don't have to be concerned about being nuked. Aviv says the terrorists who want to destroy America will not use sophisticated weapons. They like to use suicide as a front-line approach. It's cheap, it's easy, it's effective; and they have an infinite abundance of young militants more than willing to 'meet their destiny'.

He also says the next level of terrorists, over which America should be most concerned, will not be coming from abroad. But will be, instead, 'homegrown' - having attended and been educated in our own schools and universities right here in the U. S. He says to look for 'students' who frequently travel back and forth to the Middle East. These young terrorists will be most dangerous because they will know our language and will fully understand the habits of Americans; but that we Americans won't know/understand a thing about them.

Aviv says that, as a people, Americans are unaware and uneducated about the terrorist threats we will, inevitably, face. America still has only a handful of Arabic and Farsi speaking people in our intelligence networks and Aviv says it is critical that we change that fact SOON.

So, what can America do to protect itself? From an intelligence perspective, Aviv says the U.S. needs to stop relying on satellites and technology for intelligence. We need to, instead, follow Israel's, Ireland 's and England 's hands-on examples of human intelligence, both from an infiltration perspective as well as to trust 'aware' citizens to help. We need to engage and educate ourselves as citizens; however, our U. S. government continues to treat us, its citizens, 'like babies'. Our government thinks we 'can't handle the truth' and are concerned that we'll panic if we understand the realities of terrorism. Aviv says this is a deadly mistake.

Aviv recently created/executed a security test for our Congress, by placing an empty briefcase in five well-traveled spots in five major cities. The results? Not one person called 911 or sought a policeman to check it fact, in Chicago, someone tried to steal the briefcase!

In comparison, Aviv says that citizens of Israel are so well 'trained' that an unattended bag or package would be reported in seconds by citizen(s) who know to publicly shout, 'Unattended Bag!' The area would be quickly & calmly cleared by the citizens themselves. But, unfortunately, America hasn't been yet 'hurt enough' by terrorism for their government to fully understand the need to educate its citizens or for the government to understand that it's their citizens who are, inevitably, the best first-line of defense against terrorism.

Aviv also was concerned about the high number of children here in America who were in preschool and kindergarten after 9/11, who were 'lost' without parents being able to pick them up, and about our schools that had no plan in place to best care for the students until parents could get there. (In New York City, this was days, in some cases!)

He stresses the importance of having a plan, that's agreed upon within your family, to respond to in the event of a terrorist emergency. He urges parents to contact their children's schools and demand that the schools, too, develop plans of actions, as they do in Israel .

Does your family know what to do if you can't contact one another by phone? Where would you gather in an emergency? He says we should all have a plan that is easy enough for even our youngest children to remember and follow.

Aviv says that the U. S. government has in force a plan that, in the event of another terrorist attack, will immediately cut-off EVERYONE's ability to use cell phones, blackberries, etc., as this is the preferred communication source used by terrorists and is often the way that their bombs are detonated.

How will you communicate with your loved ones in the event you cannot speak? You need to have a plan.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sonny Girard Interview

Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, ex-mobster Sonny Girard spent most of his early years in the Red Hook and Navy Yard sections of South Brooklyn. He chose a path that offered a way out of his dirt poor existence—the lucrative life of the “wiseguys.” Serving the maximum time in Sing Sing and other NY state prisons for his role with one of New York’s five mob families was only a beginning for Sonny’s life of crime. Photo: Sonny is second from the right.

In 1985, Sonny was convicted of racketeering under the RICO statute by Rudolph Giuliani’s office, which led to another stint doing maximum time (7 years) in federal prison. It was during this incarceration that Sonny took up writing and penned his first novel, Blood of Our Fathers, 1991, Simon & Schuster followed by Sins of Our Sons. Girard is also author of Snake Eyes about a hedonistic bookmaker. A fourth book is in the works.

Girard, a savvy and knowledgeable ex-mobster, has the knack of communicating intelligently about his life in organized crime. These qualities make him a sought-after guest on TV shows such as ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, Fox News Channel’s The Edge with Paula Zahn and as a consultant on the movie Mickey Blue Eyes with Hugh Grant and Jeanne Tripplehorn. More recently Girard appeared on Fox’s National Enquirer TV, analyzing the authenticity of HBO’s hit The Sopranos.

The above was taken from an interview which appeared on and has been edited for space by Mobwriter.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg with regard to Sonny’s multifaceted life of crime and beyond. In order to get a better idea of what makes Sonny tick, I studied his Web site, Sonny’s Mob CafĂ©,, and listened to several online archived radio interviews.

Intrigued, I contacted Sonny and asked him if he’d do a Q & A on Mob Speak. Much of what I learned about Sonny will become evident by reading the interview that follows. I purposely avoided the more mundane topics and picked others that give a better insight into this complex and principled man. My questions are few. I hope the answers will be long.

MOBWRITER: What’s obvious from my research about you is that you’re an intelligent guy with a broad perspective of life—a Renaissance Man—to be sure. So I’m gonna jump right to something that’s been nagging me. You claim to be an “unmade” made guy and dismiss the notion that a guy’s made for life as a myth. Can that really happen? Did you actually quit the mob?

SONNY: Occasionally, one friend or another will call to complain that some documentary or book got something wrong. My answer is always, “Aren’t they supposed to?” One of those things they get wrong is that you can’t get out. Yes, it’s rare and not the rule, but it does happen. One old man I knew was shot when his bosses, the Mangano Brothers disappeared. When he left the hospital, he made a deal to save his life: his “badge” would be “put on the shelf,” as long as he participated in no mob activities. He became a successful restaurateur for the rest of his days, without ever getting involved in an outside deal. I went through a discussion that sort of landed me on the “injured list.” I gave my word to stay on the legal side of the line and, if I decided to return to the street life, would go back on the active roster. While my old pals are still my best pals, I’ve stayed out of action.

MOBWRITER: It’s evident to anyone who seriously studies your comments that you hate snitches. Sounds like a lot of guys want to protect snitches on the premise that they’re making money together and they believe the guy won’t rat them out. Eventually, many of these guys get stung by the snitch.

William Slick Hanner (whose story I wrote) told me how little he thought of Frank Cullotta for ratting out Frank’s boyhood friend, Tony Spilotro, to the Feds. Slick said snitches are the lowest of the low. In your opinion, is there ever any justification for snitching?

SONNY: I could have saved a number of years in prison if I’d believed there was justification to rat others out. All those who do snitch make excuses, but I know better. Henry Hill, for example, told Nick Pileggi about how everyone turned on him and threatened his life, leaving him no choice. Hill was always a scumbag. When he had a bar on Queens Boulevard, no one liked Hill, but they respected Paulie Vario, who loved Hill like a son. They used to say, “You respect a dog for his master,” when referring to Hill. I didn’t see that in “Goodfellas.” Did You? Finally, he ratted Paulie out for getting him a no show job to get out of a halfway house. Paulie died in prison because of it. All the rats are pretty much the same. They’ve decided to transfer the punishment for things they did from them and their families to others and their loved ones.

On the other hand, I have seen two instances where I could understand the guys who became rats. One was the guy who sent “Crazy Joe” Gallo to prison for extortion. He was not a tough guy, but a millionaire businessman, Teddy Moss, who stepped over the line into illegal deals. One of Joey’s guys told Joey about Teddy, and that if Joey pressured him, the businessman would come to him, they’d have a meeting, and Teddy would come up with money that he’d share with his boss. Everything went as planned until Joey, not satisfied with the gentle extortion, smacked Teddy and read him the riot act. Scared, the businessman had nowhere to go except to the cops.

The second was Tomasso Buscetta, the Sicilian Mafioso who ratted out everyone in the Pizza Connection case. In a way that is uniquely Sicilian, his enemies slowly tightened a noose around him, executing those friends and relatives of his, and saving him for last. Finally, alone in South America and captured by Italian authorities, Buscetta broke. Do I think he was justified? Of course not, but, with an American mobster’s sensibility, think that his enemies played with fire too long, and left themselves open to his turning bad. To me, he fell apart like a prizefighter who’s had his body broken down with shots and just about gives up without a final blow. They should have rid themselves of him early on. Who knows, maybe they enjoyed the game?

MOBWRITER: On your blog you devote quite a bit of space to addressing misconceptions about the mob. For instance, you say cosa nostra (our thing with no name) was made into the more popular concept of La Cosa Nostra by Joseph Valachi. And thereafter it is always used in its capitalized form as the official name of the mob. You seem to feel this new usage is a negative or false usage from the original?

Like everything else in this world, the way in which words are used is constantly evolving. Like it or not, that’s life. If we go back even further in the Sicilian history books and elsewhere for that matter, we see many more examples of words which have been “bastardized” and evolved into new meanings. Therefore, can’t one say that there is no such thing as a “pure” language? Please comment.

SONNY: Yes, you’re right. The difference is that in this age of mass communication we don’t have the daisy chain that words and terms used to follow and change. It was like whispering something to someone at the beginning of the line and having it change as it’s repeated to those behind him. This was said publicly, on television. No daisy chain. I understand that no one wanted to step forward to correct it, and I don’t care that the world believed the idiot, Valachi. What gets me is that guys in the street, who did not know any better, especially younger mobsters, accepted it. I couldn’t believe it when I heard John Gotti say it was going to remain a Cosa Nostra after he died. It reminded me of a Jersey guy who had his crew play the Godfather theme endlessly on a diner jukebox while he was there. The old days were more gritty; more down to earth.

MOBWRITER: Also on your blog, you talk about a book proposal you’re working on with Meyer Lansky’s nephew, Mark Lansky, about his uncle the so-called “brain of modern organized crime.” Having recently collaborated on a Lansky book with Sandra Lansky Lombardo, Meyer’s only daughter, I learned that Lansky took only a few people into his confidence. Sandra (as well as her husband Vince), was the only family member Meyer trusted. Sandra claims that during the last 10 years of her father’s life, he spent most of his time with Sandra and Vince, dinning at their home many times a week and talking about Meyer’s past. So, with all due respect, where does Mark claim to have received his information? In asking this question, I have no particular allegiance to individuals, only to the truth.

SONNY: Mark says he drove Meyer around during those days, and has introduced me to people who knew him from that time. I will forward your question to Mark and get his response. Mark’s response will appear in a future Mob Speak posting.

MOBWRITER: If there’s one thing you could change about your past, Sonny. What would that be? Or maybe there’s nothing you’d change.

SONNY: After my first book was published, an old friend once asked if I wished I had become an author earlier in my life. I told him no, that I was happy for the life I lived and happy I was out of it. Why the latter? Because I couldn’t stand the unraveling of that life. Yes, we committed crimes, but there was an honorable component early on; an ability to put an umbrella over people and protect or help them with their lives. One friend, Funzi Mosca, told me that when he was young someone in his family had to become a mobster so that their influence would allow the other brothers to have legitimate productive lives and pull themselves out of poverty. It was those ghettos that produced really tough guys who had LOYALTY to each other. Today, when wannabe mobsters grow up in suburban areas, where they do not ever need anyone to get them through life, they have no loyalty to anyone. That’s why it’s so easy for them to rat out others. One of my old pals used to say that everyone could be a toughguy as long as the shoe fit; that it was when the laces got tight that you’d see who screamed. Yes, I would like to change things; I would like to have the world exactly as it was in our “good old days,” but then, I wouldn’t be interviewing for you now, would I?

MOBWRITER: Your interview on Heal Yourself Talk Radio reveals you as a guy who seems to accept your past—the good and bad—with no axes to grind. You say that the world doesn’t necessarily revolve around each of us. And you give examples of how people have pent up anger in them. Now that you’ve gotten the “poison out of your system,” you can laugh many things off. (Please correct me if I have any of this wrong.) You seem to appreciate what you have, especially your grandkids, having seen the raw underbelly of life.

Sensing your humility in that interview, Sonny—and the fact that you have experienced so much—I ask what would you like to accomplish with the remainder of your time on this earth?

SONNY: My humility is built of necessity…and advancing years. I had a drink with a friend, Bobby Pellegrino, who owns Pellegrino’s restaurant, in Deerfield Beach. Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” came on the jukebox. Bobby Pellegrino started complaining about how bad things are today. I told him that instead of complaining, he should realize how lucky we were to have wonderful memories, like Bobby Darin and all things in our lives at that time. I asked what our kids and grandkids would have to look back at with fond memories in thirty or forty or fifty years? Realizing that, I spend my remaining years building memories for my grandchildren. When I have a special or great day with one or more of them, I actually smile inside, knowing I’ve put another memory in the bank for them.

MOBWRITER: Mob Speak would like to get your take on this provocative interview with Sonny Girard. Be sure to check back to see Mark Lansky’s response.

Thanks for your time, Sonny. Best of luck to you and your family.