Former FBI Chief in Vegas
   Still Stung After All These Years
Last week Electric Nevada's interview with retired FBI agent Joseph Yablonsky reported that mob interests were allegedly provided help by former Nevada U.S. Senators Pat McCarran and Paul Laxalt. This week Yablonsky's spotlight turns to the late Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun, and U.S. Federal Judge Harry Claiborne.

  by Del Tartikoff
  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

Although Hank Greenspun liked to posture as a crusading journalist, says Yablonsky, the publisher actually had a vested interest in Las Vegas corruption.

"You see, Greenspun used the paper as an extortion device," the 67-year-old former supervising agent for the state told Electric Nevada. "If you crossed him, you were dead, as far as the politicians [were concerned].
"In other words, they used to say, he couldn't get you elected, but he sure as hell could get you un-elected. So all of these politicians, including Laxalt, were totally subservient to his wishes.
"He thought he was the feudal lord of Las Vegas," but "his power was based solely on his attacks in the paper."
Yablonsky says it was when his office launched an undercover investigation of political corruption, that Greenspun started his first attacks on the FBI man.
"I suspected that his reasons for attacking me was that the only way he could enhance his riches was by having crooked politicians and people who would submit to his extortion," he says now.
Operation Yobo, based on a misspelling of the FBI man's name, was an operation that went on for about 18 months. In the operation, payoffs were made to politicians.
The five were:
1) State Senator Floyd Lamb, who, says Yablonsky, "was probably most powerful senator in the history of the [Nevada] legislature;"
2) State Senator Eugene V. Echols;
3) Clark County Commissioner Jack Petitti;
4) Clark County Commissioner Woodrow Wilson, and
5) A Reno councilman whose last name was 'McClellan.'
Lamb, recalls Yablonsky, at the time was head of the state senate's finance committee, with control over the State Employees Pension Fund.
"The ostensible purpose of our undercover guy was to get a loan to buy a casino," he says.
"In fact it was supposed to be Boomtown, up around Reno. Mr. Lamb wanted one percent as a quote, finder's fee, (laughter) which he thought he was entitled to (more laughter).
"He had been given about $20,000 prior, and he introduced the undercover guy to several of the others and so forth.
"They weren't all indicted at the same time; it was over the period of a few months."
All five of the politicians were convicted.
"And then the case that really brought the wrath of God on me, by Mr. Greenspun and others," says Yablonsky was the case of U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne.
Claiborne, a Democrat, had been appointed to the federal bench in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, upon the recommendation of Nevada Senators Howard Cannon, a Democrat, and Paul Laxalt, a Republican.
"The principal person [triggering] the initiation of the investigation," says Yablonsky, "was Joe Conforte, who had claimed he had bribed the judge."
After Conforte -- operator of a brothel in Mustang, Nevada, east of Reno -- made his initial claim, the U.S. Justice Department started a probe into Claiborne's alleged failure to pay sufficient income taxes.
A federal grand jury indicted the judge December 8, 1983 on charges of income tax evasion, receiving a bribe, and filing a false ethics report. Then, in August, 1984, the federal district court in Reno found him guilty on two

Top of page





counts of willfully underreporting his federal income taxes in two successive years.
Claiborne, sentenced to two years in prison and fined $10,000, refused to quit drawing his judicial salary, and would not resign from the bench. In large part because of that, he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives in July, 1986, and convicted by the U.S. Senate on October 9, the same year.
The former Nevada federal judge was only the fifth federal official in the history of the American Republic to be so convicted by the Senate.
During the early stages of the case, says Yablonsky, Greenspun's attacks became extremely fierce.
"Mr. Greenspun was trying to kill the case, by making all kinds of allegations of government misconduct by yours truly and the prosecutor," says the former agent.
In addition, he says, the publisher was working with some cooperating politicians "to set me up."
"They were trying to get me out of there -- that was basically it.
"But I think [Greenspun's] thing with me, in terms of Claiborne, had more to do with his relationship with Benny Binion, because Claiborne was a very close friend of Binion.
"Imagine a federal judge whose best friend is a convicted murderer," muses Yablonsky.
"I don't know anywhere [else] United States where that could have happened."
Even though Greenspun is dead, says Yablonsky, his legacy continues today with the Las Vegas Sun's continuing enmity for the former FBI SAC.
"When the movie Casino came out, I was asked by one of the editors of the Cincinnati Post ... to accompany his reporter to the movie and give my reaction, [since] some of those actions took place during my watch," he says.
"So I did and he wrote a nice article and it went out on the wire service, and it didn't take more than a day before two columnists in the Las Vegas Sun take off on me, one of them claiming that I was the only FBI SAC who ever was run out of town."
The actual record, says Yablonsky, began when he was assistant agent in charge in Boston, then got promoted to AIC, at which time he was reassigned to run the Cincinnati, Ohio office.
"According to my Washington sources, I was hand-picked to go to Vegas because there was dissatisfaction with the running of the office and the activity level and so forth.
"I was told by the director he was sending me there to "stimulate some activity."
Arriving in January of 1980, Yablonsky says he was scheduled to retire at the end of '83 because it was then when he would reach the FBI's mandatory retirement age of 55.
"I reached 55 on December 29 of '83, and retired December 30."
Yablonsky said the Sun columnists said "a bunch of other things" they had been "perpetrating" during his tenure in Las Vegas.
"I must admit I'm still angry about that. It's probably what impels me to continue to write this story," he said, referring to his book in progress about his 1980 through 1983 tour of duty in Las Vegas.
"I came out to Nevada with 28 years on the job and not a mark against me. I think I had one censure for leaving a paragraph out of an unimportant report, and that was my record."

The mob and Senator Howard Cannon


Want to share your opinion? Electric Nevada's comment page is open!

Back to Electric Nevada's front Page