One of the recordings that will be in the Mob Museum proved important in the prosecution of organized crime, but it was also pivotal for Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, as he tells it.
"I got a phone call from a prosecutor up in Massachusetts," said Goodman, who used to work as an attorney representing alleged organized crime figures. "He says, 'You're through, Goodman.'"
When he asked why, the following conversation took place:
"You said there's no such thing as the Mob?"
"That's right. There's no such thing as the Mob."
"Well, listen to this tape."
The tape was of four men swearing allegiance to an organized crime family.
"It was word for word out of some Mob movie, a Mafia induction," Goodman said. "That was the end of Oscar. I decided to run for mayor."
For most of his tenure as mayor, Goodman and others have been working on the Mob Museum, officially known as the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Several exhibits were unveiled Thursday, and the museum is expected to open in the middle of 2011.
"This is one of the most anticipated museum projects in the world," said Dennis Barrie, the museum's creative director. "It is really a topic that evokes true interest with the American public, with museum people, with all sorts of people.
"This museum is about the history of Las Vegas. But it's even greater than that. It's about the history of America."
He presented renderings of three exhibits exploring different facets of people involved in organized crime.
They lived in a brutal, violent world.
They made lots of money.
Eventually, a lot of them were caught -- or killed.
Violence will be examined in an exhibit called "Mob Mayhem," featuring weapons used by hit men and explanations of secret messages hidden within murders. The centerpiece of the exhibit will be the St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall from a Chicago warehouse where Al Capone's men slaughtered members of a rival gang in 1929.
"The Skim" concerns Las Vegas' casinos and the revenue they provided to crime families across the country. The walls will be papered with cash, Barrie said, and displays will show how casino profits were diverted.
"The casinos were a rich source of income for them -- but not rich enough," he said. "We want to tell the story of how Mob figures skimmed off the top and sent the monies back to various cities.
"This is a national story. They sent the money back to Kansas City and Cleveland and Newark and Philadelphia and Detroit and Tampa."
Another exhibit will be "Bringing Down the Mob" and will focus on wiretaps and surveillance. Visitors will be able to listen to Mob conversations, view surveillance footage and learn about establishing new lives in witness protection.
City leaders have taken some heat over dedicating public resources to a museum about organized crime. Goodman says it will be an economic driver for downtown, drawing anywhere from 250,000 to 600,000 visitors a year.
Barrie promised that the museum will tell "an honest story" about the role organized crime played and continues to play in American life.
Still, he expects the displays and subject matter to stir debate.
"There'll be controversy in this museum," Barrie said. "If there's not, we're not doing our job."
The historic former federal courthouse and post office on Stewart Avenue downtown will house the museum. Construction has been under way for months.
The $42 million project is being paid for with a mix of grants, Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency funds and city revenue; $12.4 million came from the city's general fund starting in 2002, and Goodman said Thursday that general fund money was spent on the project before the economic downturn.
During construction, the museum will create 227 construction jobs. It is expected to employ 52 people when it opens.
Goodman also said there is movement on the closed Lady Luck casino across the street from the museum.
Workers are cleaning up the inside of the building, and the casino's owners, CIM Group, are expected to present plans to the City Council in the next two months.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-229-6435.