weather icon Clear
Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton appears at a court hearing in 1980. Newton was trying to finalize a deal to buy the troubled casino.

Part 6

Wayne Newton’s ‘Nightmare’

Wayne Newton’s ‘Nightmare’

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.

The exterior of the Aladdin Hotel and casino in July 1980 with a sign that says "We're Still Op ...
The exterior of the Aladdin Hotel and casino in July 1980 with a sign that says "We're Still Open!!" The Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously voted to allow the resort's casino to close on July 10, saying the stockholders had not met strict financial conditions.

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

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.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Tony Spilotro and the mystery of Lake Mead’s body in a barrel

Two experts at Las Vegas’ Mob Museum hypothesize that the ruthless enforcer killed one of three men with mob ties who disappeared decades ago without a trace.

Aladdin’s Curse

It was the final chapter of the troubled Las Vegas Strip resort controlled by the mob two decades earlier, then rescued by a big-name entertainer only to fall into ruin.

A Judge Falls From Grace

Harry Claiborne — the Nevada judge who stood up to prosecutors fighting the mob — was charged with bribery and filing false tax returns, and was the first federal judge to be impeached by the House.

Wayne Newton’s ‘Nightmare’

Newton wound up suing NBC for libel, and even tied his nemesis, Johnny Carson, into what became a decade-long litigation after a news report by Brian Ross.

Threats, Bombs and Stings

Nevada Governor Robert 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.

Wayne Newton vs. Johnny Carson

Wayne Newton and Johnny Carson, two of the biggest stars in the entertainment world, both set their sights on buying the Aladdin after regulators stripped the resort’s owners of their gaming licenses.

‘Close the Place Down’

State gaming control agents were on the Las Vegas Strip preparing to take unprecedented enforcement action to shut down the casino of the mob-ridden Aladdin Hotel.

Jimmy Hoffa’s role in developing Las Vegas

Jimmy Hoffa and his friends in the mob played a big role in developing Las Vegas through their control over the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, and the millions of dollars in loans it extended to casinos.

‘Mobbed Up’ podcast: ‘Strawman — Part 8’

Part 8 of ‘Mobbed Up’ tells the story of the start of the FBI’s Strawman investigation, through electronic surveillance audio and interviews with former members of law enforcement in Kansas City.