“Las Vegas was better off when it was run by the mob.”
Anyone who has spent time in Las Vegas has probably heard it before, and residents of Las Vegas hear it all the time. But was the city really better when organized crime had a stranglehold on its biggest business, its lifeblood? When the Las Vegas Strip was mobbed up, and crime families from all over the country had a tight grip on the flow of cash from many of its casinos?
Season 1 of Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas is an 11-part true-crime podcast series produced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in partnership with The Mob Museum, chronicling the mob’s rise and fall in Las Vegas through the eyes of those who lived it: ex-mobsters, law enforcement officials, politicians and journalists.
From back alleys to bank vaults, dimly lit basements to the neon glow of the Las Vegas Strip, Mobbed Up will transport you to the 20th-century criminal underworlds of Chicago, Kansas City and of course, Las Vegas.
Release date: May 26
Thursday, October 11, 1979. Around 4:30 a.m., a woman returns to her home in Las Vegas to find her belongings tossed around, bullet holes marking the walls and a trail of blood leading to her backyard.
Hours later, the front page of the evening edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal displays the headline, “Con Suspect Killed in ‘Bloody Murder.” Forty years later, we revisit the scene of the crime with someone who was there when it happened.
Release date: May 26
As a kid, Frank Cullotta’s first job was stealing. His second job was shining shoes on Grand Avenue in Chicago. One day, another young shoeshine yelled at him from across the street. The two kids stepped into the middle of the road to defend their turf, both ready for a fight. Instead, the chance encounter sparked a friendship that would span decades.
Release date: June 2
A string of gunshots rattled the Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park, Ill., in the early morning hours of April 26, 1962. Two brothers and a woman had been ambushed while exiting a bar, chased down by car after attempting to drive away and shot to death.
When Frank Cullotta heard about the murders on the radio that morning, he knew immediately who was responsible.
Release date: June 9
“If you ever want to define the term ‘symbiotic relationship,’ try the growth of Las Vegas and organized crime,” UNLV Associate Professor of History Michael Green says. “I don’t think we have one without the other, at least at the rate Las Vegas grew.”
Within the criminal underworld, it was decided that Las Vegas would be an “open city.” No single crime family or syndicate would control the territory.
Release date: June 16
In the 1970s, a holding company called the Argent Corporation begins buying up Las Vegas casinos using loans from the Teamsters Union Central States Pension Fund.
By the mid-1970s, the Argent Corporation’s ‘empire’ comprised four casinos: the Fremont, the Hacienda, the Marina and, most famously, the Stardust.
Release date: June 23
Prior to his decades-long career in Congress, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid squared off with the mob as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
“I thought I knew everything about gaming,” Reid stated in the fall of 2019. “I didn’t realize until later that I knew very little about gaming and what was going on in Nevada.”
Release date: June 30
Frank Cullotta says he assembled a crew, dubbed the ‘Hole in the Wall gang,’ on orders from his childhood friend and reputed Las Vegas mob enforcer Tony Spilotro.
The crew earned its nickname by busting holes in walls and roofs to gain entry into homes and businesses without tripping alarms. Such was the plan in the summer of 1981, when the crew looked to execute its most ambitious score to date.
Release date: July 7
"Las Vegas was the last thing on our mind."
In the spring of 1978, the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad in Kansas City placed microphones in a restaurant, hoping to pick up information about local mob activity. Instead, they picked up on something far bigger: casino skimming operations in Las Vegas.
Release date: July 14
"You never become a rat."
Following their arrests for attempted robbery of a home furnishings store in Las Vegas, Frank Cullotta and five other members of the "Hole in the Wall Gang" face steep prison sentences. Loyalty wears thin, and the FBI sees an opportunity.
“He always said if you pull a gun on somebody, you finish it.”
Tony Spilotro goes missing in June of 1986, last seen driving away from his brother's home in suburban Illinois. Over two decades later, a racketeering trial in Chicago reveals what happened after that.
Release date: July 28
"I'm probably the only guy standing right now."
Decades after it was at the center of a federal racketeering case, the aging Stardust hotel-casino is imploded to make way for a new resort project. Meanwhile, Frank Cullotta has returned to living under his own name in Las Vegas.