BY SCOOP MCTROLL
In 1960 Las Vegas was a sleazy paradise for the scum of society, the mob was heavily invested in Vegas, through both the covert ownership of Casinos and in the skimming scam that earned them millions of dollars. Guiseppi 'Nick' Civella was the head of the Kansas City mob and along with his brother, Carl 'The Cork', had been making a fortune through illicit means in Vegas casinos. They received a setback however when they became charter members of the infamous Nevada "Black Book", which banned them from all Vegas gaming venues for life. Their nephew, Anthony Civella would soon become the third family member to end up in the black book. This meant that they needed to find another way of getting some of the money being splashed around Vegas.
Frank Fertitta jr. arrived in Vegas in the same year and his family's reputation appeared to open many doors for him. He immediately got work in one of the Casino's and his official job was that of a bellboy. In a remarkable rate of success, Frank soon became a Blackjack dealer and then worked his way into management. Throughout the 1960's Frank Fertitta jr gained a reputation for being a street smart operator who understood the business as well as anyone could. Not bad for a guy who arrived in town a few years prior with little more than the shirt on his back, or so the story goes.
During this same period, the Kansas City mob were eager to get their claws back into some of the Vegas revenue. In 1970 the FBI ran surveillance on Nick Civella through the use of wire taps and acquired enough evidence to arrest him and several other mobsters for fixing the Superbowl between Kansas and Minnesota. An associate of Civella's named Sol Landie was given immunity in return for testifying against Civella. In November that same year, Landie's home was invaded by 4 black men who forced him to watch as they stripped his wife naked and forced her to commit felatio on each one of them. Then they took turns at savagely raping and sodomizing her while forcing Landie to watch the entire ordeal. Once they had finished with his wife, they murdered Landie. Before they left, they arranged the room to look as though it was a botched robbery attempt. A few days later the 4 men were arrested and they admitted that they had been paid to kill Landie because of his testimony. Eventually, Nick Civella would serve 20 months for his part in the Superbowl scam.
By the early 1970's the Kansas City mob had struck up an association with a high profile Vegas Casino star named Carl Thomas. Thomas was soon taken under the wing of the Kansas City mob and he was used by them as a front man, a respectable cover for the mob. The Kansas City mob controlled the notorious Teamsters Union and they had been using the Teamster union members fund money for several years to fund illegal activities. Using Teamsters Union money, the mob purchased several casinos in Las Vegas, the most famous one being the Stardust. Through a strawman named Alan Glick, the Kansas City mob also purchased and sold The Fremont, the Tropicana, the Hacienda and the Marina during the 1970's.
Carl Thomas had been made the Chief Executive Officer of Glick's casinos and he quickly recommended his friend Frank Fertitta jr for a President's position. The one time bellboy was now the President of the Fremont and worked directly under the mob stooge, Alan Glick. Many of you may remember Glick's thinly diguised character 'Mr Green' in the Martin Scorcese movie 'Casino' starring Robert De Niro. 'Casino' was based on the true story of the mafia casino skimming operations at Glick's casinos. Skimming operations that, according to FBI wiretap transcripts, Frank Fertitta was involved in.
The movie 'Casino' was based on the skimming of the Fremont Casino, when Frank Fertitta jr was it's President.
In 1976 the Kansas City mobster Carl Thomas formed a partnership with Frank Fertitta jr and they started a 5000 square foot gaming venue aptly named 'The Casino', the name would later be changed to 'The Bingo Palace' and eventually 'Palace Station'. Now, Vegas executives did get paid decent salaries even in those days, but it's difficult to believe the official version that together they "scraped together" the money to start 'The Casino'. For one thing, Carl Thomas was owned by the Kansas City mob and anything he was involved in, they were involved in. There is little doubt that at least Thomas's share of 'The Casino' was backed by mob money, namely that of the Civella Brothers and their La Cosa Nostra mafia chapter in Kansas City.
Oddly, Fertitta and Thomas continued to work for the other casinos, despite now owning one themselves. As a mafia strawman, Glick was pushed to one side by the mob and they put their own guys in to run the casinos. Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, made millions for the mob by skimming the slot machine takings at the casinos. Rosenthal, who was played by the actor Robert de Niro in the movie 'Casino' (Tony "The Ant" Spilotro was played by Joe Pesci), was officially known as Glick's entertainment director and he allegedly reported to the mafia bosses in Kansas and Chicago, who between them had financed Glick with $62 million in loans from the Teamsters Union.
The FBI had long suspected an elaborate skimming operation was taking place at some of the four Glick owned casinos and launched 'Operation Strawman', which was a massive surveillance operation that included telephone wiretaps. It is in one of these wiretaps that Frank Fertitta jr becomes implicated in the skimming operation. In this particular scam, the management rigged the scales to make them read only a third of the actual weight of the coins. The extra money was skimmed and set aside, later being converted into paper bills. The skimming was taking place at The Tropicana and at the Fremont, where Frank Ferttita jr was the President.
Below is the transcript of the FBI wiretap involving Frank Fertitta jr, Tropicana Manager Don Shepard and Kansas City mobster Carl Thomas.
FBI Wiretap of the Bingo Palace Casino, Las Vegas, Nev. Feb 7, 1979.
9.00pm outgoing call:
Frank Fertitta Jr, Carl Thomas voices heard, inaudible conversation takes place between them as the number 9739-2222 is dialled from The Bingo Palace.
FEMALE OPERATOR: Tropicana
FERTITTA: Don Shepard, please (casino manager)
FERTITTA: Hello Shep.
SHEPARD: What are you doing?
FERTITTA: I'm sitting here having a glass of wine with Mr. Thomas.
SHEPARD: Oh, good.
FERTITTA: He's telling me how smart he is and, im sitting here listening to him like an idiot.
SHEPARD: If you need anybody to tell you how dumb you are come on over, im pretty good at that.
SHEPARD: Ah, this, listen this conversation isn't being recorded is it?
FERTITTA: I, I really couldn't tell ya.
SHEPARD: Yeah. Ask, ask, a ask Carl if anybody's going to go boogie-ing tonight. I'm ready to boogie, do a little YMCA number.
FERTITTA: You're ready?
SHEPARD: Oh, yeah, shit, yeah.
FERTITTA: Jesus Christ, I don't believe this.
SHEPARD: I'm just sitting here, my legs are twitching. I can hardly wait to dance.
FERTITTA: We, were just talking about going out of town or something.
SHEPARD: Oh, yeah, well actually I should go out of town to dance.
INTERUPTION OF RECORDING
SHEPARD: Did you see me?
FERTITTA: I didn't see you.
SHEPARD: A quarter of it whatever.
FERTITTA: Right, so if these coins cost us say $20,000, we got $150,000 on, you know, we're going to have like $130,000 in excess cash.
FERTITTA: You know.
SHEPARD: Yeah. We don't have that problem over here.
FERTITTA: Well, yea, you...well I don't mean excess cash, but I mean more cash than they have so, I don't think its funny here.
SHEPARD: We've got…I've got about like $80,000 stock piled.
SHEPARD: You know or something, we, we haven't felt any crunch or anything I was just curious if you're, you know.
FERTITTA: Well we had $50,000 see, but I didn't want to make the change over here until we got them all cause $50,000 wouldn't, you know, we couldn’t make the change with 50, so, ah, we need like 150.
SHEPARD: When are you going to switch your tokens?
FERTITTA: As soon as I get them all.
FERTITTA: I'll switch in fact I think we're supposed to have them all. Oh, Jimmy gave me a date today, but I've forgot what it was. Ah, now maybe next week or something, then I'll probably just go ahead and switch over.
SHEPARD: Okay, well listen I'll talk to you.
The FBI swooped on Glick's strawman empire in 1979 and arrested Fertitta's partner Carl Thomas, Glick, the Civello Brothers and about a dozen others. Despite the seemingly incriminating wiretap transcript, the FBI could not get enough substantial evidence to charge Fertitta. Despite the testimony of former Fremont Security Chief, Harold McBride, where he swore under oath that Frank Fertitta jr had been involved in the skimming operation at the Fremont, and wiretap evidence of the Civella's and Thomas that implicated him, Fertitta was never charged with the skimming at Fremont casino where he presided.
Amazingly, when Thomas first became implicated by the FBI, the ownership of The Bingo Palace was transferred solely to Frank Fertitta jr. Did this mean that Frank Fertitta was now a front man for the Kansas City mob, or are we to believe that they happily sold him Thomas's share of the casino and wished him well? It's a tough call, I know.
In 1979 the Nevada Gaming Control board ordered Glick to sell up and he did, to associates of Moe Dalitz, the man that Frank's relative, Sam Maceo had helped to get started all those years ago. Glick sold for $2 million in cash, the assumption of $92 million in debts and with another $66 million to be paid from the casino's earnings by 1991.
Although he was one of the few to escape prison, Frank Fertitta jr did not go completely unscathed in the aftermath of the skimming scandal. Fertitta was the target of a four year investigation by the Nevada Control Board but in 1989 they voted 2-1 not to initiate disciplinary action against him.
Despite this decision, Fertitta's reputation had been damaged. Some sources claim that Frank Fertitta jr knew that his mob connections could hamper any future applications for gaming licences. Whatever the actual reasons, in 1993 Frank Fertitta jr officially stepped down as the Chairman of the board and handed over to his son, Frank Fertitta III, or 'Frankie Three Sticks', as he is known in some circles. The company then became public. Station Casino's then applied for licences with the Missouri Gaming Commission to run casinos in Missouri. Many would ask if it's possible for a business that was believed to be built on mob money and mob connections to become squeaky clean simply by changing the name of the Chairman.
In 1993 the Missouri Gaming Commission called on Frank Fertitta's former employer and business partner, the convicted casino skimmer Carl Thomas. They requested information from Thomas about Frank Fertitta jr, Thomas agreed to attend an inquiry with them. Before he did this however, Thomas drove to Vegas from his home in Oregon and met with Station executives to discuss his testimony with them. Noone really knows exactly how that meeting went down or what transpired. The people that do know, arent talking. He then left Vegas to return to Oregon before heading to meet with the Missouri Gaming Commission. Before he could attend that meeting and give testimony on Frank Fertitta's background, Thomas was killed in a bizarre single car accident, it was a clear night and the road was in good condition. Thomas knew the area well. Due to Thomas's untimely death, the Missouri Gaming Commission were unable to complete their inquiry into Frank Fertitta jr and they granted licences to Station Casinos.
Today, Frank Fertitta jr keeps busy with his finance company, Frank Fertitta Enterprises and with his many positions in the community, including being on the board of Trustees of the University of Las Vegas and a member of the Bishop Gorman High School Development Corporation. These days Frank Fertitta jr mixes with the Governor of Nevada and is a respected member of the Las Vegas community.
When asked about his former associates Frank Fertitta jr and Carl Thomas, the infamous criminal Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal, recollects;
"Carl introduced me to Frank Fertitta, as "my main guy", and his right-hand man. Frank became the President of Allen Glick's Fremont Hotel Casino at the recommendation of Carl Thomas during my temporary absence from the industry while I was awaiting the outcome my appeal versus the Nevada Gaming Commission. When I regained my former position as the CEO of all properties under the "Argent" (Allen R. Glick Enterprises) umbrella Frank and I became more interactive. Frank had gained a solid reputation as a topnotch casino executive who understood the games with a high degree of professionalism. After several private meetings and close personal observation I too agreed that Frank was well suited to operate the second largest Casino in the downtown area.
During the course of the next several years Frank with assistance from Carl Thomas forged an imposing empire. Soon thereafter Carl Thomas died when his car ran off a winding road in the mountains of Oregon, I think he could have been bumped! In 1976 Frank opened the Bingo Palace, ultimately renamed Palace Station. Next came Boulder Station, then Texas Station, Barley's and Sunset Station.
Frank was driving hard on course to become a behemoth within the gaming industry. In 1998 he purchased King 8, renaming it The Wild, Wild West. Next came the Santa Fe and Fiesta casinos. Frank acquired 49 acres near Jackie Gaughn's Suncoast, with future plans to build on other parcels at Craig Ranch Station and Martin Luther King Road. Frank decided he had enough and retired into the sunset. Some guys always seem to windup with all the dirty work. Estimated wealth $1 Billion" - Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal.