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Missing This 'Mob Museum' Would Be A Crime


When you think of Las Vegas, it's hard not to recall the city's colorful past and the people who helped shape it into an American entertainment hotspot. Think members of the mob: Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. The fascination with organized crime and the city's prolific history has been the inspiration for many films over the years, including "Bugsy" and "Casino."

(Soundbite of movie "Casino")

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ROBERT DE NIRO (Actor): (as Sam Rothstein) And, Nicky being Nicky, he made his presence known. Especially at a casino where he definitely did not work -people got the message.

Mr. JOE PESCI (Actor): (as Nicky Santoro) Me? That's why the bosses sent me out here. They wanted me to make sure none of the other crews robbed the joint.

HANSEN: Next fall, you'll be able to learn more about organized crime at a new museum in the heart of downtown. It will be located in the old federal courthouse and post office and formally known as the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, or more simply, the mob museum.

Opened in 1933, the building is one of the city's last remaining historically significant structures. The courthouse is being renovated and the site is under construction.

I spoke with project manager Sam Tolman(ph).

Mr. SAM TOLMAN (Project Manager, Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement): The post office was on the first floor and the basement, and the court was on the second and third floors.

HANSEN: The rectangular, beige stone building with forest green trim was purchased for $1 from the federal government. The deal was that it had to be restored to its original condition.

Mr. TOLMAN: The courtroom bench is actually still in the room. We couldn't get it out. And we're refinishing that and it goes on this platform with the clerk's desk down below.

HANSEN: The mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar B. Goodman, is quite familiar with the courtroom. He spent more than 35 years defending mobsters accused of everything from robbery to murder.

(Soundbite of movie "Casino")

Mr. OSCAR B. GOODMAN (Attorney): (as himself) Mr. Rothstein is pleased to be here today.

Mr. DE NIRO: (as Sam Rothstein) And when the day finally came, I was ready. I felt so confident that all I had to do was present my case.

Mr. GOODMAN: And we have documents, one of which is a report by retired FBI agents, which completely absolves Mr. Rothstein from any wrongdoing. I'd like...

HANSEN: In that clip from the film "Casino," Mayor Goodman plays himself as a defense lawyer representing a sports handicapper and mob associate portrayed by Robert De Niro.

When I visited Mayor Goodman at his office, which overlooks the old courthouse, he did some reminiscing.

Mr. GOODMAN: I tried my first case at that old courthouse and post office. I had to pretend I knew what I was doing because I had gotten a lot of money in those days. I got a phone call from somebody who said, come on over. You know, come on over. With that voice, where am I supposed to come? And I went to this home in a very exclusive neighborhood and he came to the door and he said, here's three dimes and you'd better win the case.

I didn't know what a dime was. We went around the corner in my car, I'm shaking like a leaf - I'm a young kid. I opened it up, I saw $3,000. I had never seen $3,000 in my life at one time. So, I knew I better win this case.

And I went over to the courthouse early in the morning and I was waiting for the clerk of court. And I said, Ms. Fitzgerald, I said, this is a case where we don't need a jury - I didn't know how to pick a jury, so I didn't need a jury. She said, oh, let me talk to the judge. And she came out and she said the judge has summoned a jury. You have a jury trial, Mr. Goodman. With that, I vomited all over the courthouse steps.

HANSEN: Goodman is now on the board of the new mob museum that will be in that building. He wants it to be a place that won't glorify organized crime but will educate visitors.

Mr. GOODMAN: It's going to be an exposition, warts and all. They're going to see the foibles of the mob. They're going to see the efforts of law enforcement to eradicate them. They're going to see the means that that eradication took. And you'll see your relatives were part of the mob at one point in time.

HANSEN: The interactive and hands-on museum will feature about 700 artifacts. Among them, secretly recorded tape of a Mafia induction ceremony, the barber chair where mobster Albert Anastasio was murdered, and a section of the wall where seven men were gunned down during the gruesome St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

The museum will also feature an exhibition about the 1950 Kefauver Committee hearings that launched an investigation into the world of organized crime.

Unidentified Man: Organized crime does operate on a syndicated basis across state lines in the United States. That is a much bigger, more sinister and a larger operation than we had ever suspected.

HANSEN: Given the historic federal building's shady past, I couldn't help but ask project manager Sam Tolman if anything surprising had been uncovered during the restoration.

Mr. TOLMAN: An electrical contractor found inside one of the walls an actual gin bottle and it had a little bit of gin in it. And based on the date that it would've been put inside the wall, it was probably bootleg gin from Canada 'cause it was right during Prohibition. And we're going to have it as a display in one of the exhibits.

HANSEN: Do you think the gin bottle is probably the most interesting thing though?

Mr. TOLMAN: Oh, I think it is. Yeah, especially in light of who our mayor is.

HANSEN: I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I asked Mayor Goodman himself.

Do you know that construction workers found a bottle of gin hidden behind one of the walls up there?

Mr. GOODMAN: Yes, and you know whose that was.

HANSEN: Was it yours?

Mr. GOODMAN: Absolutely.

HANSEN: I don't believe it.

Mr. GOODMAN: That's where the library used to be.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOODMAN: I could tell you what volume it was behind.

HANSEN: What volume?

Mr. GOODMAN: I'm not telling.

HANSEN: Oh, come on.

I got the impression the mayor likes to spin ripping yarns. Besides, this bottle dates to the original courthouse constructed nearly 80 years ago. It will be on display for visitors. The opening ceremony is scheduled for next fall. It's not yet known whether a bottle of gin will be smashed against the building to officially launch the mob museum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR Staff