New documentary reveals How the Mob Lost Las Vegas
Beverly Ford and Stephanie Schorow, authors of The Boston Mob Guide: Hit Men, Hoodlums and Hideouts, are now contributing a biweekly blog to The Mob Museum.
When we think about mobsters, our thoughts often turn to Chicago, New York, Las Vegas or Boston. Yet, Kansas City, well known for jazz, blues and barbecue had its own brand of mobsters as dangerously deadly as its big city counterparts. Forget the Heartland’s reputation for homespun wholesomeness. These guys were as ruthless as they come.
Just ask Gary Jenkins, a former Kansas City police officer whose early work on a 1970s Mob investigation helped lead authorities from the muddy banks of the Missouri River to the bright lights of Las Vegas. It also led to Martin Scorsese’s 1995 movie Casino, the story of real-life, Midwest-born mobster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal who became the most powerful and feared casino boss in Las Vegas.
But Casino didn’t tell the whole story.
“It short shriftedKansas City,” said the now retired Jenkins. “It told a nice soap opera, but it really didn’t tell about the guys behind the scenes.”
Now, the 69-year-old former cop is telling that story through a documentary film he made calledGangland Wire – How the Mob Lost Las Vegas. The film, which had its world premiere in Kansas City in mid-November, details the riveting tale of how a string of restaurant bombings and murders in the city’s riverfront Quay District eventually led to the downfall of the Las Vegas Mob.
Jenkins wraps the story around secretly recorded FBI wiretaps of Mob bosses and other organized crime insiders, obtained through the National Archives, to tell the tale of the Mob and its influence on politicians, teamster leaders and casino operators.
“It’s a story of how mobsters work and what it takes to get them – and how the good guys win in the end,” he said.
Well, not exactly.
Although Jenkins story may hit a home run when it comes to showing the good guys as winners, we still suspect the Mob’s influence is powerful enough to be felt in this city of nearly 500,000 people. In fact, Jenkins agrees.
Yet today’s organized crime in KC isn’t really that organized at all, he said.
“They’re more small-time gangsters who do a bit of loansharking and maybe do a drug deal or two,” he explained. “They’re more uncontrolled … kind of fractured. It’s so much different than it used to be.”
Mob experts said they are seeing that same sort of fracturing in organized crime groups everywhere as new players, many from outside the Mob’s traditional ethnic stereotypes, move into what was once the Mafia’s domain. That can be a good thing for law enforcement officers who may no longer have to deal with insider murders, widespread corruption and the strict code of silence that organized crime breeds. Or it can be the worst, making it difficult for investigators to shut down a gangland operation that deals in petty criminals and small-time drug dealers who are far too distant from the main players.
Only time will tell.
But there is one sure thing. Those tape recordings heard on Gangland Wire are an interesting inside look at what was once the Mob’s golden years.