A tale from Running Scared
  When the Chicago mob sent word
  Steve Wynn should be turned around

  copyright (c) 1996, Electric Nevada

Maybe Genovese crime family boss Anthony 'Fat Tony' Salerno, on that November, 1984 day in New York, was still suffering the effects of his stroke three years earlier.
Because as he listened to the Chicago mob's demand that he rein in Las Vegas gaming mogul Steve Wynn, Fat Tony seemed deaf not only to the Chicago messenger -- John 'Peanuts' Tronolone -- but also to the chance that an FBI microphone might pick up the conversation.
As luck would have it, there was a live microphone, and it had been hidden there in Fat Tony's Palma Boys Social Club since at least the previous March.
That mike has turned out to cast a very long shadow.
Not only did the mike mean the end the 60-year criminal career of Anthony Salerno. Its output -- even today, a dozen years later -- still threatens the carefully tended public image of the putative Las Vegas sun king, Steve Wynn.
The story behind the Chicago mob's concerns and why they went to Fat Tony can be found in Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn, a book researched and written by Las Vegas Review-Journal news columnist John L. Smith, and published last year by Barricade Books of New York.
Though tightly documented, the book has been the subject of a massive campaign of attempted suppression by Wynn. [See accompanying story.]
The meeting between Tronolone and Salerno at the Palma Boy Social Club, was, in part, a legacy of the earlier era, in the '70s, when the mob-dominated Teamsters Central States Pension Fund had helped Allan Glick buy the Stardust and Fremont casinos.
After Allan Glick's connection to organized crime was exposed, Glick, in 1979, sold his holdings in the Stardust and Fremont to Allan D. Sach's Trans-Sterling Corporation, which federal investigators quickly surmised was little more than a mob-connected holding company for Glick's original mob sponsors. Trans-Sterling was put under the trusteeship of Victor Palmieri and Co., and in 1984, after federal indictments outlined a mob-skimming operation at the Stardust, Sachs, too -- as part of a settlement with the Nevada Gaming Commision -- agreed to sell out.
The promissory notes held by Trans-Sterling for the Teamster-generated mortgages on the Stardust and Fremont hotels had a face value of $73.9 million, and Palmieri's initial attempts to find a buyer at that price failed.



"Then, on Oct 15, 1985," writes Smith, "Palmieri contacted Irwin Molasky -- a man intimately familiar with the Teamsters pension fund -- who, in turn, reached out for Steve Wynn."
Wynn, at this pre-Mirage time merely CEO of the downtown Las Vegas Golden Nugget casino, wanted at least a 20 percent profit, and over the next two weeks, his corporate vice-president, Clyde Turner, negotiated with Palmieri.
By the end of October, a final draft of the deal had been cut. It allowed Wynn and company to pick up the notes -- which would reach their full $73.9 million face value in 1991 -- for a mere $58.6 million. As it would happen, just four months later, in February of 1985, the Boyd Group prepaid the face price of the notes, took over the Stardust and Fremont, and gave Wynn an immediate profit of $14.4 million on his investment.
But three months earlier, in November of '84, when 'Peanuts' Tronolone came to see Salerno, what the Chicago mob had wanted was for Salerno to turn Wynn around. Wynn, they said, should let the sale of the notes go through at a lower price, with less immediate profit for the Golden Nugget.
At the Palma Boy Social Club, the business office of Anthony Salerno, this was the conversation the FBI mike recorded about the pending sale of the notes to the Boyd Group:

Tronolone: Jack Zero [Jack Cerone, of the Chicago crime family] told me, he said, 'You got to do this. No fucking telephones. Nothing. You gotta go and see this thing move right away. You gotta tell Salerno to tell Vince [Vincent Vinci] to get somebody to get Steve Wynn to stop. He's blocking the sale. He's blocking the sale.
Salerno: What can I do with Steve?
Tronolone: Humm?
Salerno: Who am I going to get?
Tronolone: Mel Harris. He's our guy. Mel Harris.

Earlier that same year, in March, FBI surveillance had twice registered Harris visiting Fat Tony at the Palma Boys Social Club.


  

Mel Harris had an interesting history. A successful condominium developer in South Florida, he was also the son of a notorious Miami-based mob bookmaker, recently deceased. An acquaintance of Steve Wynn since the 1960s, he had also known the famed mob mastermind Meyer Lansky. And he had attended high scholl in Miami with Wynn's wife, the former Elaine Pascal.
But what perhaps was most remarkable about Harris, however, was how he had been hired by Wynn, that past summer, as a vice-president at the very successful Golden Nugget in Atlantic City.
Although Harris had no casino management experience of any kind, Wynn had named him that August, 1984 to the board of directors of Golden Nugget Las Vegas, and made him vice-president of marketing at the Atlantic City resort.
The employment contract Wynn provided Harris made him -- notwithstanding the lack of experience or training -- one of the highest paid executives in all of legalized gaming.
"His five-year deal," wrote Smith in Running Scared, "paid an annual salary of $400,000 and gave him an option to purchase 250,000 shares of convertible preferred stock, which in 1984 sold at a year-ending price of 9 3/8. That's potentially another $4.6 million. Harris was also handed a stock option agreement that would enable him to purchase up to 500,000 shares at a 25-percent discount...."
One thing Harris did have, in August 1984, the time of his employment at the Atlantic City Golden Nugget, was good connections to the man believed by organized crime experts to be the capo di tutti capi of America's La Cosa Nostre -- Genovese crime family boss Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno.
On March 6, 1984, only a few weeks after the death of his father, reports Smith, FBI surveillance recorded Mel Harris entering the Palma Boy escorted by Genovese associate and frequent Las Vegas visitor Sammy Spiegel.
"At the Palma Boy, Salerno and Harris talked for 24 minutes. In his deposition before New Jersey investigators, Harris recalled only exchanging 'pleasantries concerning his late father' with" Salerno.
"Two weeks later, this time in the company of convicted racketeer Milton Parness, Harris again



met with Salerno at the Palma Boy. Parness and Salerno had served time together in prison.
The second Salerno-Harris sit-down lasted forty-nine minutes. Harris, before gaming regulators, would recall that meeting only after being confronted with the fact of the federal law enforcement surveillance.
This was the man Tronolone was saying could turn Steve Wynn around.
Salerno: Where is he, over there?
Tronolone: He's from the office. He's right under him. He's the secretary.
Salerno: Yeah?
Tronolone: Yeah. Vice-secretary, first vice-president in command, Mel Harris is. Remember I told you all of this. The only guy who can talk to Mel Harris is you.
Salerno: He's blocking the sale?
Tronolone: He's blocking the sale. Now, if the sale is made, there's plenty of money in there for everybody. He told me to tell you.
Salerno: Is that the Stardust?
Tronolone: Huh?
Salerno: Stardust?
Tronolone: Yeah. Stardust. He's blocking that sale. He wants somebody to tell these people not to block it. Let the sales go through. If the sale goes through, he said, 'Tell Tony that there's money for all of us.' He says, 'It's paramount to tell him that.' How much, I think Mel and he can sit down after. 'If he lets that fucking sale go through, there's plenty of money for all of us.'
Salerno: How much time we got?
Tronolone: Right away you have to start on it.
Salerno: Yeah, but, ah, you sure Mel could tell him?
Tronolone: Huh?
Salerno: Mel could talk to him?
Tronolone: Mel, Mel's a shrewd man. Mel's his right-hand man. Mel, Mel could find a way to tell him.
Salerno: In other words, Steve Wynn is looking to buy this, right?


  

Tronolone: Right. He's looking. You see. But he's blocking it. That shit, that's not for sale. But he's blocking the sale, see? The combination from Chicago. Their people are buying... now trying to... they put, put a $52 million bid in for it.
Salerno: How can he [Wynn] go in it when I'm in it?
Tronolone: You can't call him no more. You gotta send word to him.
Later, when federal prosecutors used the tapes in their prosecution of Salerno and 15 other mobsters and their associates on 40 federal charges, ranging from murder to union corruption, they told Federal District Judge Mary Johnson Lowe that the tapes definitely connected Wynn to Fat Tony Salerno and the Genovese crime family.
"They were unhappy with [Wynn] at that point because they thought the offer was high enough," federal prosecutor Alan Cohen told the judge, "but Wynn was holding out for full face value and enough was enough. 'Let's go through with the deal. Stop holding out for the full amount.'"
Judge Lowe: "..what evidence is there ... Salerno would be acting against his apparent best interests by dumping on Wynn because Wynn was holding up the sale...?"
Cohen: "..while Salerno was going to get a piece out of Wynn's end, the people in Chicago and in


Kansas City were going to get a piece out of the other end, and you'll see in the transcript it says, the message that Tronolone carries is, 'We can all make money from both ends.' And what Salerno had to do was to get Wynn to go ahead and sell so that the people in Chicago and Kansas City could get out of their end -- the Stardust and Fremont owners -- and Salerno could get out of his end what he could get out of Wynn. Each of the respective organized crime families had, as they say in the tapes, 'We have it on each end. We have it in Las Vegas and you have it here.'"
"This tape is absolutely crystal clear enterprise proof ... of what Tronolone does on behalf of this enterprise," Cohen said. "He is acting here clearly as a conduit between the organized crime people and Chicago, Jackie Cerone, and Salerno, and carrying a message to Salerno asking Salerno to get Wynn, who is demonstrably -- and Mel Harris -- demonstrably under Salerno's control, to do something which would financially advantage the people in Chicago and people in New York."

---Steve Miller


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