The Vegas Mob Tour has been on my “to do” list for nearly three years, and this past week I finally did the deed, using my uncle’s visit as an excuse.
Uncle Mike knows a little something about the mob.
When he worked in the federal prison system in Texas, one of the prisoners he dealt with was New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, who was consistently polite to Uncle Mike during the time Marcello served for assaulting an FBI agent.
I know a little something about the mob, too.
As the newspaper’s federal court reporter starting in the mid-1970s, my job was intertwined with folks like Anthony Spilotro, Frank Cullotta and Frank Rosenthal, boyhood chums from Chicago who moved to Las Vegas to protect the Outfit’s financial interests, sort of the Three Mob Musketeers until they turned on each other.
Revisiting Las Vegas’ mob history through a 21/2-hour bus tour sounded right for us, at least until they come up with a Cirque du Mob.
On the tour, I was stunned to learn I’d missed a big story. Did you know mob associate Lefty Rosenthal’s car bombing in 1982 was the act of bikers hoping that, if they killed him, his ex-wife Geri would get a boatload of money and, through her, they would benefit?
I certainly didn’t.
Our tour guide told a vivid tale, speaking with absolute authority. He told us the mob definitely didn’t do it; sources in the FBI believed bikers did the bombing.
This was a big story — if only it were true.
I checked with two of the tour consultants, retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy and author Dennis Griffin, before reaching Vegas Mob Tour owner Robert Allen.
All three said the theories about the Rosenthal car bombing were legion, but it would not be true to state as fact that bikers did it.
The tour guide probably has been chastised for the biker story, as well as for leaving the impression the mob still has a strong foothold in today’s Las Vegas.
(It still has a foothold, but it’s not as strong as our guide indicated. He left the tourists on the tour with a false impression, albeit one they probably already had.)
Allen apologized for any inaccuracies. To help him, I gently pointed out a few additional less significant mistakes.
“I try my best to keep them accurate,” said Allen, who worked as a comedian and musician in Las Vegas between 1972 and 1999, a job that put him close to the mob.
He started the Vegas Mob Tour nearly three years ago. His consultants, Arnoldy and Griffin, later helped him bring in another mob expert — Cullotta, the mob hit man who turned state’s evidence against Spilotro.
No column about Spilotro and Rosenthal is complete without a mention of the movie “Casino,” loosely based on their lives.
The shocker was discovering Cullotta, who is no longer in the federal Witness Protection Program, goes on the mob tour a few times a year. Usually, he’ll describe to tourists how he murdered Jerry Lisner, a scene he re-enacted in “Casino.”
So you’ll never know when the guy in the seat across the aisle might be a retired hit man, now making a few extra bucks as a tour consultant.
Uncle Mike and I gave the tour a thumbs up. You don’t see a heck of a lot out the windows; most of the time the bus is parked in parking lots, but the video and stories are lively and mostly accurate.
Allen said about 800 people a month take this tour and almost all are tourists. Tickets are $56.25 plus a $15 service charge, but it’s a flat $50 for locals if you pay in cash. For more information the Web site is www.vegasmobtour.com or call (702) 339-8744.
Allen said he learned a life lesson from his days working as an entertainer in mob joints: “Do your business and go home. Don’t stick your nose in where it doesn’t belong.” (Was he trying to tell me something, or have I seen the “Godfather” movies too many times?)
Vegas and the mob, sometimes it’s history, sometimes it’s entertainment. But our fascination with the mob never fades.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison/.