Updated June 21, 2021 - 1:21 pm
The acclaimed podcast series “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas” returned June 21 for a second season, this time tracing the rise and fall of organized crime through the lens of an unlikely witness: Wayne Newton.
The singer, a Las Vegas fixture for more than 60 years, had a front-row seat to the action as he feuded with “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson to take ownership of the Aladdin.
The hotel and its ties to the Detroit mob in the late 1970s are the focus of the audio project, a partnership between the Las Vegas Review-Journal and downtown’s The Mob Museum.
“True-crime fans from around the world have waited almost a year for Season 2 of ‘Mobbed Up’ to land, and they can listen to it starting Monday,” said Glenn Cook, executive editor and senior vice president for news for the Review-Journal.
“Season 1 of ‘Mobbed Up’ was by far our most ambitious and successful podcast project at reviewjournal.com. There have been more than 786,000 downloads to date from all 50 states and 67 countries. And in Season 2, the storyline’s stakes are even higher.”
The first two episodes of Season 2 of “Mobbed Up” are available June 21. A new episode will be released weekly until the eighth and final installment comes out Aug. 2. Subscribe, and catch up on Season 1, at reviewjournal.com/podcasts/mobbedup or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or other podcast platforms.
The first season of “Mobbed Up” recounted the story of the mob’s hold on the Stardust, loosely fictionalized in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” as told by former Chicago mobster Frank Cullotta. Cullotta died shortly after completing the podcast project.
The story of the Aladdin, however, is much less known.
Battle for the Aladdin
“The Aladdin played an important role during that period, because it is where FBI agents first uncovered evidence of hidden mob interests,” said Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, the podcast’s writer and host. “In that case, it was the Detroit mob. And the investigation, once it became public, prompted Nevada regulators to take away the licenses of the resort’s owners and force them to sell the property.”
That’s when the two entertainers began sparring.
Newton had been a fairly regular guest on Carson’s couch, even stepping in as guest host a few times, during the 1970s. But as both men sought to buy the Aladdin in 1980, the relationship soured.
“The Aladdin owners accepted Newton’s deal, and it didn’t sit well with Carson, who eventually started doing nasty jokes attacking Newton’s manhood,” German said. At one point, the singer physically threatened Carson to get him to stop.
In October 1980, NBC began airing a series of investigative reports alleging Newton was tied to the mob through his longtime relationship with alleged Gambino crime family associate Guido Penosi. Those reports linked Newton to another reputed mobster, Frank Piccolo, and even suggested the Strip headliner might have used mob money to buy the Aladdin.
Newton denied knowing about the organized crime connections of the two men, and gaming regulators did not uncover evidence that mob money was used in the Aladdin’s purchase.
“This was a tough time for Newton,” German said. “He had to deal with death threats, scrutiny from gaming regulators and national news reports raising questions about contacts he made with mob figures.”
“Mobbed Up” tells the story through extensive interviews with prosecutors and elected officials, along with German’s recollections from covering the mob in those days.
“Collaborating with the Las Vegas Review-Journal on the ‘Mobbed Up’ podcast series was a natural for us,” said Geoff Schumacher, The Mob Museum’s vice president of exhibits and programs. “The series offers a riveting deep dive into the history of organized crime in Las Vegas. Season 2 brilliantly captures the high-stakes drama as state and federal law enforcers sought to remove the mob’s final grip on the Las Vegas casino industry.”
Jimmy Hoffa episode
In addition to the story of the Aladdin, Episode Two is dedicated to the life and disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters Union boss.
“Hoffa was a major player in the development of the Strip. He oversaw the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, a mob-dominated financial institution that loaned millions of dollars to casinos,” German said. “People are still fascinated today over what exactly happened to Hoffa. It’s one of the biggest murder mysteries of all time.”