It was a moment of jubilation for Wayne Newton. The Nevada Gaming Commission on Sept. 26, 1980, had just approved “The Midnight Idol” as the new co-owner of the Aladdin hotel.
Newton told gaming commissioners he was determined make the Aladdin a “shining star” in the aftermath of the black cloud that had tarnished the Strip resort’s image when it was controlled by the mob.
The commission had kicked out the Aladdin’s previous owners after some executives were convicted in federal court of allowing the Detroit mob hidden interests in the casino.
But as Newton left the hearing room with his longtime lawyer Frank Fahrenkopf, the smiles on their faces were quickly erased. They were confronted — some say ambushed — by an NBC news team led by investigative reporter Brian Ross and producer Ira Silverman.
Fahrenkopf, a politically connected Nevada attorney who later would become chairman of the Republican National Committee, still remembers the encounter.
“We were walking out of the commission room, walking down the hallway to go out to my car. And Brian Ross and Ira Silverman showed up sticking a microphone in Wayne’s face saying, how about Guido Penosi, and making these allegations that he was a front for the mob,” Fahrenkopf says.
Guido Penosi was a well-known reputed mafia figure who had made death threats against Newton and his daughter go away earlier in the year.
Newton got angrier and angrier, as Ross stuck a microphone in his face and peppered him with questions under the lights of the camera about calls he made to Penosi.
“And I kept saying, Wayne, keep walking, keep walking,” Fahrenkopf recalls. “Remember, Wayne was a black belt. And I was afraid he was gonna turn around and whack him. And, I mean, they follow us all the way out to my car. And I, you know, I got Wayne in the car. And I said, don’t do, don’t say anything, get in the damn car.”
Newton wound up suing NBC for libel and even tied his nemesis, “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson, to what became a decadelong litigation.
There would be new death threats against Newton, and he would be subpoenaed to testify against the mob in a federal criminal case.
Ross will provide insight into his sensational reports about Newton in this episode.
Part 6: Wayne Newton’s “Nightmare”
How a network television report turned Newton’s dream of owning a Strip casino into a nightmare is explored in the sixth installment 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
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.