Memories of the good old, bad old days flooded the Mob Museum’s courtroom Tuesday as four witty men competed to deliver the funniest one-liner about the mob in the ’70s and ’80s.
Even if you’ve heard the stories many times before, they still drew laughs from about 120 people making the downtown museum’s historic federal courtroom feel like a comedy club.
The tale tellers for a conversation about “Cleaning Up Las Vegas” (What, it has been cleaned up? No one told me.) were former federal prosecutor Stan Hunterton, former Gaming Control Board member Jeff Silver and television newsman George Knapp. The moderator was writer Jack Sheehan, who had his own quips to share. As it moved along, it became less of a conversation and more of a comedy routine. That’s not a bad thing.
Silver was 29 when he was appointed to the Gaming Control Board in 1975 and was closely involved in the investigation of mob associate Frank Rosenthal. Silver noted there are two kinds of people: those who talk about mobsters and end up dead and those who don’t and live to tell.
“I did not say anything about my feelings about Frank Rosenthal,” he paused and smiled, “until I read his obituary.”
Did he fear for his safety when he was one of the regulators? “If looks could kill, I’d be dead,” he said, laughing.
The FBI shared some wiretap transcripts in which unsavory types were saying, “We’ve got to get this Silver guy.” But then they said it might not be a wise move. He found that reassuring at the time.
The newsman had a different relationship with mob figures than the regulator and the prosecutor. Knapp arrived in Las Vegas in 1979 and was first a cabdriver. His girlfriend worked at a nightclub frequented by mob figures, so he knew them in that format first, without realizing who they were until after he became a newsman. Frank Rosenthal, Joey Cusumano and Tony Spilotro were just people he met at the Oz.
Everyone shared their stories about the late and colorful newsman Ned Day — his insolence toward mobsters, the torching of his car, presumably by mobsters, and his winsome ways, although not with mobsters.
Day was a mentor to Knapp, a prospective investigator for Silver and a client to Hunterton.
As a control board member, Silver once gave Day $500 so he could go to Mexico because he had a tip that slot cheat Jay Vandermark was there. Unfortunately, the newsman, who had a fondness for tequila, couldn’t find him, and Vandermark is presumed dead.
“Ned and I had about every relationship possible, besides sexual,” said Hunterton, going for the laughs.
Hunterton came to Las Vegas in 1978 to work with the Las Vegas Organized Crime Strike Force. He prosecuted Valley Times publisher Bob Brown, earning the antagonism of Day, who worked for the Valley Times. But after Hunterton and Day met, they cleared the air and Day later asked Hunterton to represent him.
“He (Day) had forgotten to file his tax returns for six years,” Hunterton said. More laughs.
Knapp focused on the relationships between the media, law enforcement and mob, talking about the leaks that came from federal law enforcement sources which have since been plugged to the media’s dismay.
Even the mob used the press. After Rosenthal’s car was bombed in October 1982, Rosenthal invited Knapp, Day and a few other news media types over to his home. “He wanted to use us to get the message out he was not cooperating” with law enforcement.
Rosenthal uttered one memorable line. Asked who he thought was behind the bombing, Rosenthal, not known as a quipster, quipped, “It certainly wasn’t the Boy Scouts of America.”
Knapp revealed, “I went as Lefty Rosenthal for Halloween that year.”
Probably the most serious commentary they offered was when Sheehan asked the men: “What should the average Las Vegas citizens be most concerned about today?”
Hunterton opted for meth, Silver for money laundering, especially drug money, and Knapp chose cyber crime and identity theft conducted by Eastern European organized crime gangs stealing millions.
But back to the jokes. When asked about multiple mob deaths, Hunterton said, “The mob’s retirement system really stinks.”
Guess enough time has passed that instead of fearing the Mafia, we mock it with snappy one-liners.