Yablonsky, agent in charge of the bureau's Las Vegas district office from 1980 through
'83, is writing a book on his experiences in pursuit of organized crime during his four
year tenure in the Silver State.
And it's not a book intended to warm
the cockles of gaming advocates' hearts.
"I wrote an op ed piece for the
Cincinnati Post," the retired FBI veteran told Electric Nevada, "and one
of the things I refer[red] to is the fact that the relationship between politicians and
the mob [in Nevada] was incestuous."
For example, says Yablonsky, much of
the mob activity that he and his agents in Las Vegas and throughout the state worked on
and brought to prosecution in the 1980s was a direct legacy of actions by Nevada Senator
Pat McCarran decades earlier.
"Back in 1946," he said,
"FBI agents in New York were investigating Bugsy Siegel and Frank Costello and a few
of those who were getting together to come up with the financing for the Flamingo."
But the New York FBI agents soon
received an order from Truman's Attorney General, Tom Clark, to cease the investigation on
the grounds it "lacked federal jurisdiction."
"Well, they later found
out," says Yablonsky, "that Pat McCarran had interceded in behalf of his newly
emerging constituency" in Las Vegas.
McCarran -- a powerful member of the
U.S. Senate -- was raising a ruckus, charging that the FBI investigation had been designed
to "damage the economy" of Nevada.
It was a defensive refrain that has
often been trotted out by Nevada politicians over the decades since, notes Yablonsky.
He focuses in tightly on the McCarran
incident and others like it, characterizing them as "In other words, 'We let the
wiseguys take over, as long as it's good for our economy,' right? We get a piece and they
get a piece."
Nevada's effort to "tame" a
historically disreputable and illegal vice like gambling has been dubious from the
beginning, Yablonsky says.
One reason he gives is that
throughout America, before being legalized in Nevada, the casino business was always based
on the bribery of public officials. That was because only through large-scale corruption
of officials could large illegal gambling operations exist.
But since large-scale corruption is
also the province of organized crime, illegal casinos and organized crime have always been
Thus it wasn't a coincidence, says
Yablonsky, that "The guys who came out there [to Vegas], from Bugsy Siegel on, up
into the 50s and the 60s, were outright guys with mob ties and serious records for
illegality in other places."
Nor was it a coincidence that their
illegal behavior continued.
"They didn't lose that habit;
what they would do is take advantage beyond" says Yablonsky.
"In other words, you don't
change someone overnight because he's involved in an illegal activity somewhere else and
he comes to a place where it's legal. If he's a criminal, he's going to act that way
Thus what Nevada politicians soon
began coming to terms with, says Yablonsky, was a constituency of mobsters.
"To the degree that Nevada
politicians had to go to casinos for their money to run for office, [and] to the degree
that the casino was organized-crime controlled, in effect, their constituency became
"It's just that simple, isn't
it?" he asks.
It wasn't only McCarran who, in
Yablonsky's eyes, got compromised. With the exception of U.S. Senator Dick Bryan, when he
assumed the governorship in 1980, Yablonsky says he didn't see a lot of integrity among
the state's major politicians -Senator Paul Laxalt, Republican; Senator Howard Cannon,
Democrat; then-Gaming Control Commission chairman, and now U.S. Senator, Harry Reid, and
powerful state senator Floyd Lamb.
"When I got to Nevada in
'80," he says, Reagan was President and U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt "was his
closest personal friend."
"He had the Teamsters backing
him in Nevada, because of their loans and the casinos skimming for the mob. The amount of
power that Laxalt had was enormous. Everybody acknowledged that. He was epitome of Nevada
's power in Washington."
It was because Laxalt became
"sort of the liaison guy between the Congress and Reagan" that he had so much
power in Washington, says Yablonsky.
When the FBI investigations in Las
Vegas started upsetting organized crime, he says, Senator Laxalt tried to do what Pat
McCarran had done, thirty years before -- to get the FBI, in this
Top of page
case Yablonsky and his men, reined it.
"Fortunately, William French
Smith, who was the Attorney General at the time, didn't buy it, as far as what he was
trying to do to me," says Yablonsky.
"I think Smith was basically
honest, although he was not hip to the jive as far as organized crime and all that other
stuff. When Laxalt came to him, I'm sure he read through it. There were others though, in
the administration, who acquiesced to [Laxalt's] desires."
Yablonsky attributes much of the
spread of gambling nationwide to the national power Laxalt was able to bring to the casino
"Now, what I see is -- what have
we got, casino gambling in 25 states? Look how many-fold that influence has increased. And
you know, it's a sellout, it really is."
Laxalt, he charges, was "in the
pocket" of organized crime from the very start of his political career.
"Particularly with [Moe] Dalitz,
who he's never forsaken, according to remarks he's made.
"In fact, I think it was a Los
Angeles Times reporter, when he was exploring [pursuit of] the Presidency, [who]
asked, "Would you invite Moe Dalitz to lunch at the White House?" and he said
According to The Black Book and
the Mob; The Untold Story of the Control of Nevada's Casinos by Ronald A. Farrell and
Carole Case, published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1995 and based upon records
of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, Morris "Moe" Dalitz was head of a
group which had purchased 59 percent of the Desert Inn stock in 1947.
Called before the televised Kefauver
committee hearings into organized crime in 1950 and '51, Dalitz was asked about his and
his partners' illegal gambling activities in Ohio and northern Kentucky, and reported
links to New York organized crime figures Lucky Luciano, Benjamin Siegel, and Meyer
Yablonsky acknowledges Dalitz
"was a guy who had a certain amount of charm and grace," but also says "he
was what you might call the point man for the mob."
By acquiring the image of the patron
saint of the community, says Yablonsky, "Moe Dalitz was an important figure in terms
of acquiring political power and influence [for] the mob's objectives."
Dalitz became "Mr. Las
Vegas," says the ex-FBI agent, by completing the Desert Inn, building the city's
first shopping center and building the Sunrise Hospital.
"It makes him sound like he was
doing this because of civic spirit -- as opposed to the money that was being taken out of
Dalitz, he says, was probably
"the one who influenced Jimmy Hoffa into the Teamster loans, [which] built a lot of
the early casinos, and also [provided] the basis for the skim, and the mob having their
Not only was Laxalt tight with Moe
Dalitz, says Yablonsky, but he also became good friends with Allen Dorfman, the Chicago
mob's man in charge of the Teamster's Central States Pension Fund.
While Nevada governor in the early
70s, Laxalt attended Dorfman's 50th birthday party in Chicago. He also met with mob-linked
Teamster representatives in Palm Springs and, at their behest wrote then-President
Richard Nixon a letter asking him to let Hoffa out of prison, arguing the charges against
Hoffa had merely been part of a Bobby-Kennedy "political vendetta."
Yablonsky acknowledges he wasn't
popular in Las Vegas. The reason, he says, is that he wouldn't subscribe to the community
party-line -- the civic-booster pretense that corruption, organized crime, and skimming
weren't linked to the casino business.
"One of the things that bothered
them was that I was outspoken. If I were asked to speak -- and you know the Agent In
Charge of a field office of the FBI is always invited to speak before different
organizations [like] Lions, Kiwanis, etc. -- I always found that my topic, unless it was
specified by the group, was the crime problems indigenous to where I operated.
"The problems in Nevada were
corruption, organized crime and skimming. I'd talk about these things, [though] not
specifically naming things, and they must have thought, 'This guy's out of his friggin'
mind.' You don't talk about this stuff.
"And that's partly what pissed
them off. My outspokenness."
Yablonsky was especially unpopular,
he says, with the late Hank Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun.
"I got a lot of press there.
There was a campaign being waged by Mr. Greenspun of the Las Vegas Sun. We had a
political corruption undercover operation, [and] that was when he first started his
Nevertheless, says Yablonsky,
"we nailed five of the politicians."
Greenspun and the Democrats
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