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Chapter 7 Various Nefarious Friends Page II of II

Right after the war, my cousin Oliver sold his Tucson Steam Laundry to an attorney from Cleveland by the name of Robert Brickman. Brickman explained that he was tired of the big city rat race and Cleveland's bad weather and wanted to live in the West.

A few months after the sale, it was revealed that Bob Brickman was actually a "front" or representative, for Cleveland's well known gambler, Tommy McGinty. One of McGinty's investments was the Mounds Club, a large nightclub and gambling operation on the outskirts of the city. It was one of Cleveland's favorite night clubs because of its high powered entertainment which included the biggest names on the nightclub circuit.

Tom and his very lovely wife spent a lot of time in Tucson and, through Oliver, I became well acquainted with him. He was a very friendly and nice guy, despite the fact that Life magazine pointed out in a series of articles on America's gambling operations, that Tommy was one of the nation's four top gamblers.

He was one of the original owners of the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas. He was its largest investor and invited Oliver and me to come up to the opening of the Desert Inn as his guests. We accepted and had a great time. We were told to just sign for drinks and food. I also bought a sweater and some neckties, which I charged to my room. When I checked out, about a week later, I was told that there was no bill for me. I explained that I had bought some clothes which I had charged to my room and for which I insisted on paying. The cashier disappeared for a few minutes and returned to advise me that they would not accept payment. That was the kind of guy Tommy was.

While there, I met all of the partners including Moe Dalitz. Tommy asked me if I could help them in obtaining a mortgage on the hotel. The place was paid for in cash put up by the investing partners. But Tommy explained that they wanted to arrange for a loan so that it would appear to be a normal operation. No one builds anything with his own money!

I assured them I would go to work to attempt to arrange a loan. They wanted to borrow only $500,000, although the place had cost a little over $3,000,000. I told them that before I could do anything I would have to have some figures on the operation to submit to a lender.

The hotel opened about the 24th of April. I told them to send me the figures at the end of May, showing their operating profit for the five or six week period. After I made a contact with a man by the name of Watson, who was the head of the mortgage loan department of the American National Life Insurance company in Galveston, he confirmed the fact that he would have to have operating figures to consider the loan.

American National took unusual loans in those days, and I recognized that none of the other larger companies would have anything to do with a loan on a hotel and gambling casino in Las Vegas..

Right after the first of June, I received the statements for six weeks' operations of the Desert Inn. It had made a profit of $685,000 during that period! I called Watson and told him I was sending the information he wanted. He said I would hear from him in a couple of weeks. I waited and waited for a reply. The people in Las Vegas were pressing me for an answer. Finally, I called him to ask what was holding up the confirmation of the loan.

He informed me that the loan had been turned down by the committee because the place was making too much money, and, anyway, "they don't need $500,000 anymore. They've already made more than that since they opened." I didn't have much of an argument, and never could arrange the loan for them.

While Oliver and I were in Las Vegas, Tommy told us he had to borrow some money and wanted us to help negotiate a loan with one of the Tucson banks for $100,000. He said he'd pay us $5,000 as a fee for arranging the loan. For security, he would put up $100,000 cash. When we asked him why he would do such a thing, he said something I had never heard before or since, "The trouble is that all my money is tied up in cash!" He explained that much of his money came from "black market operations," as he called them, and he had to show some legitimate sources for as much as he could.

We returned and did try to get the loan for him from Jack Sakrison, then president of the Southern Arizona Bank and Trust Co. in Tucson. Jack smiled and said that he had been approached before by other people wanting to borrow money and willing to deposit as security the full amount of the loan. He declined the loan and we forgot about the matter, advising Tommy of our failure.

A few years later, I was attending the World Series games in New York City and sat amid the Cleveland contingent because of friendship with Bill Veeck, president of the Indians. Tommy and Mrs. McGinty were sitting nearby, and we visited every day before and during the games.

At the game on Sunday, we learned that the Mounds Club in Cleveland had been held up the previous night by a gang in a commando-type operation. They not only took all the money on the tables, but also lined up the guests and took their money and jewelry.

Peter Lind Hayes, the comic, was the star of the show that evening, and had just started his act when these masked burglars interrupted the show and forced Hayes to get in line with guests. Hayes had made light of the holdup at first, thinking it was some kind of a gag, but he soon learned that they were for real. He was dressed in his stage tuxedo, which had no pockets, so he had nothing to drop in the sack as the burglars came down the line. He borrowed twenty dollars from the guy next to him so he would have some kind of contribution to make. After all, he didn't want to further offend them.

Tommy told us all about the burglary since he had been on the phone several times talking with his Cleveland associates. He said, "The first thing I asked was did they get the B.R., and they told me that they took everything, including the B.R." When I asked him what the hell the "B.R." was, he told me disgustedly, "The bankroll! The bankroll!"

Tucson, like every town, had its local gamblers. In the twenties, we had the bootleggers who were without question breaking a law; however, it was a law that was very unpopular. The whole fabric of law enforcement was not quite the same during that period, and there were quite a few gambling houses which operated from time to time in the Tucson area. Law enforcement officers obviously knew about the operations, but for one reason or another continued to permit them to remain open much of the time.

Tim Nordelli, brother of his bootlegging brother, Bob, was one of the Old Pueblo's most consistent operators of gambling joints. For twenty-five or thirty years he was on the local scene, operating for a while, then being raided and closed down. He was a sleazy man, who always drove a big car, wore a big diamond ring on his pinky and usually had a tough-looking woman with him. But he never seemed to bother anyone and contributed to local charities until he finally disappeared.

Red Chitwood was another man who operated gambling houses here. For years he had a place out on the Nogales Road just south of the airport. He, too, behaved himself generally, and was much more of a gentleman than was Tim Nordelli.

Oliver and I used to visit occasionally a Chinese joint that used to operate in the old part of Tucson off Meyer Street. I never gambled, but Oliver loved to shoot craps and play 21 with the Chinese, who during the day operated or worked for legitimate businesses. This Chinese place was like something out of the movies. Dark, dingy, filled with the smell of incense, and difficult to get into unless you were known, this joint was an exciting change from Tucson's rather drab existence.

These and other gamblers were people I knew well. They all attended the theatres, were "night people," as was I in those days, and patronized the same restaurants, usually late at night. They filled a need in the community and had their counterparts in every city in the country, I am sure.

Two well-known men said to be associated with the Mafia, have resided in Tucson for many years. Joe Bonanno is by far the better known of the two, but Pete Licavoli is said to be very important in the Detroit area, where he is credited with heading up the "Purple Gang."

Joe Bonanno has lived in Tucson for over twenty-five years, raised his children here and has as yet to be arrested for any of his acts in the Old Pueblo. For several years, right after WWII, Joe used to come into our real estate office to see one of my salesmen, Barry Walker. Barry sold Joe several properties, and he was one of his regular customers.

In the early fifties, after the famous raid by the FBI and other law officers on the Appalachia headquarters of one of the Mafia Dons, where the national leaders of nefarious operations were assembled, there was a grand jury investigation, and one of the members of the federal grand jury, Mark Stuart of New York City, was a good friend of mine whom I usually saw when I was in that city. One evening he said that one of my neighbors from Tucson was one of the biggest names associated with the Mafia, according to testimony received by the jury.

When he told me his name was Joe Bonanno, I said that I knew a man by that name, but was sure it was not the same guy. However, when Mark described him, I had to agree that it was one and the same. It was very difficult for me to accept the fact that Joe Bonanno, who was always so soft spoken, so handsome, so very nice, could be the one by that name who had been picked up in the dragnet spread by the FBI to catch leaders of the Mafia.

Joe's son, Bill, had gone to Tucson High School and was in the same class with my son, Manny. Joe has a home in one of the very best residential areas, and his identification as one of the Mafia came as a shock to many people who had known him in Tucson for years.

We never saw Joe in our office after that. He seemed to sense that people would have treated him differently. We could not continue to do business with him, at least we could not sell him any property since to do so would be a violation of the Realtors' code of ethics.

When Joe Bonanno was kidnapped on the streets of New York, I was in Paris. I had bought a copy of the European edition of the Herald-Tribune and picked up my mail at the Meurice Hotel. As I handed the paper to my wife, I saw Joe's picture on the front page. Without reading the caption, I asked, "Did someone kill Joe Bonanno?" My wife said no, he had been kidnapped. I predicted that he would never be seen alive again, but, of course, I was wrong.

Later, I told Joe about seeing his picture on the front page of the paper in Paris and that I had predicted that he would be found in the Hudson some day with a cement cast around him. He smiled and said that he was glad to be back in Tucson. He had a couple of men with him when I saw him on the street in Tucson, one of whom was murdered while in the East a short time later.

There have been reports and rumors that he and his family were leaving Tucson, but he still calls it home, much to the discomfort of the local police. They watch him like a hawk. Whenever he catches a plane to go somewhere they know about it and are there to see him off. When he returns, they are there to see who is joining him. So far as I know, however, he has never actively pursued any of his business operations in the Old Pueblo.

Pete Licavoli owns and lives at the Grace Ranch, a psuedo-ranch on the eastern border of Tucson. He's lived in Tucson almost as long as the Bonanno family has been here. At one time he owned much more acreage than he has now.

He came into my office one day to see me, and, after introducing himself, said he wanted to list some of his property for sale with us. I took the information and thanked him for thinking of us.

A few months later I sold sixty acres of his land to Jack and Mabel Weadock, long-time friends. They offered cash for the property and signed the offer on a Sunday morning. I called Pete Licavoli, and he asked me to come out late that afternoon to present the offer.

I drove to the Grace Ranch, which I had formerly known as a guest ranch, and found Pete in the recreation room. It was a large room of about 20 by 40 feet, with a large table in the center set for dinner. Pete had about a dozen friends present to whom he introduced me. They were having a party and enjoying themselves. The girls were running around the table, "doing roadwork," I was told in a joking manner by one of the men.

Pete offered me a drink while we talked about the offer. He poured Chivas Regal from a gallon bottle held on a cradle, something I had never seen before. The smell of the soon-to-be served spaghetti dinner was almost irresistible, but I declined his invitation to dine with them. We discussed the offer, which Pete signed, and I departed. He had proved to be a pleasant guy to do business with.

A few months later we sold another piece of his property to Art Pollard, where he established his quarter horse ranch. Again Pete Licavoli performed as he should. Shortly after that Pete was tried on some charge by a federal court in the Detroit area, was found guilty and was sentenced to serve time. While he was in the penitentiary, I had a couple of letters from him telling me that when he got out he was going to see me about investing money in any venture I would recommend. He even said that I could be a silent partner without investing any of my own money.

When he returned he came to see me a couple of times, again offering to invest in any deal I was going into myself. He said he could get large amounts of money if it was needed; however, I haven't seen him in several years.

Not long after the Second World War, I made a trip to Los Angeles on business and to visit my mother who had gone there for the summer. Right after arriving there, I went to her home, where I was going to stay, and called a friend I had met during the war. His name was Lew Kerner. I met him when he was the business manager for an Air Force show, "On the Beam," that was touring air bases. Freddie Brisson, husband of Rosalind Russell, was the general manager of the company which featured Peter Lind Hayes and his wife, Mary, as well as others who later made it big in show business, including Mario Lanza.

The troupe was in Tucson for nearly a week, and, in my job as manager of the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club and because I had been in the theatre business, I was asked to assist them. I was with them night and day. They put on a couple of performances which attracted sellout crowds. The show was great and later toured the nation.

Freddie Brisson, a captain at the time, was bucking like hell for recognition and a promotion, but the man who really ran the outfit was Lew Kerner. The Tucson showing was the first one for the production, and both Brisson and Kerner wanted to make certain that it got off to a good start. Brisson suggested that we have the mayor attend and say a few words of welcome. I said that I thought it would be more appropriate if we got the governor. Sid Osborne was a good friend of mine, and he gladly agreed to be present.

Brisson was excited as it would give him an opportunity to blow his horn about his accomplishments while handling the Air Force show. He asked Governor Osborne to write him a letter of commendation which I presume he used later to get a promotion to a higher rank.

However, when I was in Los Angeles, I made a date to see Lew Kerner for lunch. In about an hour he called back and said he had to see me immediately, and would I please come to an apartment in Hollywood to meet him and a friend who needed a favor.

I drove over to the address given me. It was a garden apartment building. The particular apartment was on a second floor. Lew met me at the door and introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Allen Smiley. He was a man of about forty years, with prematurely white hair and a beautiful young wife.

Lew explained that Smiley had a problem on which he thought I might be able to help him. Smiley took over and told me his story. He said he had been born in White Russia and had been brought to the United States by his parents when he was a year old. He said he had been picked up by the police in numerous gambling raids in many cities since he was in the gambling business. He had always given the police the information, as a routine matter, that he had been born in this country. However, during the past year he had been arrested and had given the same story to the police, but this time they charged him with violation of a federal law regarding giving false information to police about his place of birth.

He had been tried, found guilty and was scheduled to appear before the judge for sentencing within a couple of weeks. Judge Dave Ling, a long-time Arizonan and one of two federal judges in the state, had presided at the trial and was to impose sentence on Smiley.

He asked me if I would be willing to intercede for him with Judge Ling. I explained that while I knew Judge Ling and knew some of his family, I was not the one who could be of any help. In fact, I knew very well that about the most stupid thing I could do would be to try to influence a federal judge. The judge would probably have sentenced me for two years and Smiley for one year.

I knew that Richard Harless, then a congressman from Arizona, was in Los Angeles because I had an appointment to see him while there. I suggested that since Harless was also an attorney, as well as a congressman, that Smiley should contact him regarding the matter. Anyway, that was a way for me to get out of an embarrassing situation.

In pleading for my help, Smiley said, "I know that they'll probably send me to Leavenworth, where it is hot as hell, for the next few months. Besides, how would you like to leave a beautiful young wife like this to those wolves in Hollywood?" I had to agree with him that she would not be lonesome very long.

Smiley left the room and returned with a white jacket which he brought over to show me. He explained that the hole in the shoulder of the coat was made by a bullet fired when Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was killed in Las Vegas a few months before. Smiley was seated on the settee next to Bugsy when his killers fired through the window behind them at close range. Smiley had not been wounded but he missed by less than an inch of being shot that night.

Another gambler that I got to know was Gus Greenbaum, who lived in Phoenix for many years. He operated gambling houses there from time to time when the local lawmen turned their faces the other way. He eventually became involved with the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, in which Bugsy Siegel also had an interest.

One night while Gus Greenbaum and his wife were in their home in Phoenix, some "hit" men paid them a visit. The next day their bodies were found with their throats cut. Police never solved the mystery of "who" or "why."

CONTINUE with Western Characters