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Former Nevada Gov. Bob List in his office June 29, 2021, in Las Vegas. At left on the desk is the pistol he frequently carried while he was getting death threats in 1979. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Left_Eye_Images

Part 5

Threats, Bombs and Stings

Threats, Bombs and Stings

Nevada Gov. Robert List had only been in office a couple of months in early 1979 when his life was threatened.

Armed with a mass of FBI wiretap transcripts, List was embarking on one of the most critical tasks in the history of the state — breaking the mob’s grip on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.

“We put everybody on notice that we were going to revoke, revoke all their licenses, and that they had to, they had to find buyers quickly,” List says. “So one by one, they did. And it was half the Las Vegas Strip. Basically cleaned the mob out.”

After his life was endangered, as the ambitious campaign against organized crime moved forward, List decided to wear a bulletproof vest.

Nevada Gaming Commission April 23, 1981 Nevada Gaming Commission Harry Reid last commission ...
Nevada Gaming Commission April 23, 1981 Nevada Gaming Commission Harry Reid last commission meeting Gary Thompson/Las Vegas Review-Journal )

“There was a clear threat that if I didn’t back off, I was going to be hurt,” the former governor says.

But List wasn’t deterred. He kept pressing ahead, even in the face of an unrelated, undercover sting that targeted the governor himself.

The FBI had handed List hundreds of pages of transcripts from secret, court-approved wiretaps. The agents had been collecting evidence alleging Mafia families in Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and St. Louis were wielding hidden influence on the Strip.

There was a clear threat that if I didn’t back off, I was going to be hurt.

Bob List, former Nevada Governor

The lives of state gaming regulators were also threatened in those days. Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid and fellow Commissioner George Swarts both found bombs under their cars. Mobsters also once talked about killing Gaming Control Board member Jeff Silver.

And witnesses important to the state’s efforts against the mob seemed to turn up missing.

State and federal authorities were under enormous pressure to work together to finally clamp down on organized crime. Their actions produced a steady stream of media stories that kept the mob in the news.

George Swarts, shown in 1983. The former Nevada gaming commissioner found a bomb under his car ...
George Swarts, shown in 1983. The former Nevada gaming commissioner found a bomb under his car in 1979. Swarts died in 2020. (Rene Germanier/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

“There’s no question that the local media in Las Vegas played a big role in the demise of the mob in Las Vegas,” says Geoff Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs for The Mob Museum. “It got to the point where, practically, there were a half-dozen different major stories all going on at once.”

Part 5: Threats, Bombs and Stings

Threats against former Gov. Robert List and top Nevada gaming officials are the focus of the fifth episode in the Review-Journal’s second season of the popular, true crime podcast series, “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas.”

Your host for season 2 is Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, who has covered organized crime in the city for more than 40 years.

Where and how to listen

Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas, Season 2” is available for free on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and more.

Search for “Mobbed Up” on your preferred mobile podcasting app and tap “subscribe” or “follow,” or click here to listen to the series on the Review-Journal website.

Season One of “Mobbed Up,” published in summer 2020, chronicled the rise and fall of the mob in Las Vegas over the course of 11 episodes.

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