Human resources may not have been their strong point but the Mob’s corporate statement was clear: to make money through any number of serious crimes from kidnapping and extortion, booze, drugs and sex, to Hollywood, sports, gambling and counterfeiting. For this American ‘corporation’, Key Performance Indicators were achieved beyond their wildest aspirations leading top Mobster Meyer Lansky to boast: “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel”.
We’re learning about gangster folklore in The Mob Museum in Las Vegas where we’ve been photographed in a line-up, tried out a Tommy gun (the mob’s weapon of choice) and stood against the original St Valentine’s Day wall where the mob family massacre of 1929 occurred in Chicago.
Las Vegas was a favourite playground for Mobsters and many family members were major donors to the Mob Museum, ironically housed in a sturdy 1933 building that was once a federal court house. Local loan shark and hit man Frank Cullotta, technical advisor on Martin Scorsese’s film Casino, often brings friends
The museum traces the great European diaspora and subsequent arrivals to Ellis Island during the early 1900s. Forming poor immigrant groups crammed together in New York notorious neighbourhoods, for many crime was the only, if not easy, way out. A graphic film shows the mob’s greatest hits (and not in a good way) with the choice of weapons whatever came to hand from shovels to Kosta Boda candlesticks.
The frighteningly fascinating tale follows the Mob’s trajectory as it morphs into powerful ‘families’ across major American cities. Consolidated, influential and keeping it all in the family, not even General Motors was better prepared to take advantage of growing American affluence.
By 1950, organized crime in Vegas was generating an astonishing $15 billion a year, a cash cow amongst the glittering neon thanks to ‘The Skim’. By pocketing some of the cash before the official casino counts, the ‘families’ bled millions from properties including the Tropicana and the Flamingo reducing taxable income at the same time – a win-win situation. Both properties, now glamorously refurbished, are nostalgic reminders of the good old, bad old days.
Hollywood’s success turned on Mob money and mobsters mixed it with Hollywood’s stars. However, the Hollywood dream machine was subject to strikes and extortion paying millions to keep films in production.
The Mob Museum even has a plausible reason as to who killed JFK. They claim that Lee Harvey Oswald had a friend who was connected to Carlos Marcello of the New Orleans mob family. When the mob were kicked out of Cuba, a big revenue earner for them, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy initiated a full-scale FBI investigation into the mob, Harvey was recruited to assassinate the president. Jack Ruby also had mob connections and lax policing provided him ample opportunity to close in on Oswald for the kill. With Oswald dead and, at that time Ruby in jail, the old mob axiom “for two people to keep a secret, you have to kill one” just may be true.
The Mob Museum is at 300 Stewart Ave, Las Vegas. Adult tickets are $19.95 and can be purchased online at www.themobmuseum.org Buy 1 get 1 free on Tuesdays after 1pm. Museum is open 10am – 7pm daily.