Monday, December 17, 2012

Tarnished Badges in Las Vegas

by Dennis Griffin

The law-enforcement agencies tasked with ridding Las Vegas of the corruption of organized crime in the 1970s and into the ‘80s had to clean up their own houses before taking on the mobsters. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had been rocked by a scandal involving detectives providing information to the bad guys. And the FBI had image problems of its own.

Starting in the late 1960s, the word within federal law enforcement circles was that agents working out of the FBI’s Las Vegas office were “freeloading” all over town. They were reportedly receiving free meals and drinks from the very individuals and casinos they were supposed to be investigating or keeping an eye on.

Richard Crane, head of the federal organized-crime strike force in Southern California and Nevada from 1970 to 1975, knew that this conduct, if true, had to be confronted and rectified. Crane complained to Justice Department officials in Washington and an inspection team was sent to Las Vegas to find out what was going on. After a couple of weeks the inspectors left, having supposedly chastised the offending agents. Crane was satisfied — until he began receiving word that the inspection team itself had taken advantage of the available comps! He heard reports that the investigators had enjoyed their stay and left without accomplishing anything; meanwhile, the agents assigned locally were continuing to take advantage of casino largesse. An Internal Revenue Service agent Crane trusted confirmed the allegations. Crane again complained to Washington, but when he left government service in 1975, the problems in Las Vegas continued unchecked.

Jack Keith, agent in charge of the Vegas office from 1974 until 1977, discussed the situation with a Los Angeles Times reporter after his retirement. “The precedent was set by one of the first agents in charge in Las Vegas. When he ate at a casino, he never even signed the check. He just got up and left.”

Keith offered an explanation of why things got out of hand. “The town was a cesspool. The atmosphere permeated everything. The old-timers were part of it and didn’t even know it. No man should have been allowed to stay in that town for more than three years. Some of the agents had been there for ten or fifteen years. I told them there was no such thing as a free lunch and that some day they’d have to pay for it.”

But allegations of taking a few meals or seeing some free shows weren’t the end of it, things got worse. When the Dunes and later the Aladdin were wiretapped, the men being taped were content to discuss golf, the weather, and women. Some of the agents working the taps believed that the lack of productivity was due to leaks originating from other agents. Similar to the situation the police found themselves in, other FBI field offices became reluctant to share information with their Vegas colleagues.

Another complaint to Washington resulted in yet another inspection team being sent to Sin City in June 1977. This time the investigators weren’t compromised. Within a few months, a dozen local agents were censured, reassigned, or opted for early retirement. This housecleaning set the stage for the investigative successes that would eventually bring down the Mob in Sin City.

Dennis Griffin is a True Crime Author, Co-Host of Crime Wire and We Know a Guy on the Inside Lenz Network.  He has written several books concentrating on the history of the mob presence in Las Vegas.

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