Las Vegas is building a museum about Mafia involvement in that now oh-so-wholesome metropolis. Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former attorney who defended such organized crime notables as Meyer Lansky and Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, brokered a deal to sell a brick building in downtown Vegas for $1 to a not-for-profit group that’s raised $15 million to establish and outfit the museum.
The project is reportedly being supported by the FBI, and is in fact spearheaded by a former SAC (Special Agent in Charge) of Las Vegas, Ellen Knowlton, who retired in 2006. Knowlton says the FBI has agreed to share photographs, wiretap transcripts, and other materials for exhibits.
“Despite the sort of edgy theme, this museum will be historically accurate and it will tell the true story of organized crime. The plan is to give people a kind of gritty taste of what it would have been like to be not only a person involved or affiliated with organized crime, but also what it would have been like to be in law enforcement.”
The museum in expected to open “by 2010” in the “brick federal building” that hosted one of the hearings on organized crime held by Sen. Estes Kefauver in the 1950s. The Kefauver hearings were the first large-scale investigation into the Mafia and, along with a few other events, forced J. Edgar Hoover to finally acknowledge that there was a nationwide organized crime syndicate.
The final cost of the museum is expected to reach $50 million; some of the $15 million raised so far has come from the sale of Las Vegas commemorative license plates.
Organizers are suggesting they might have paying visitors decide as they arrive “which side of the law they want to be on, and then be given a story line tracing the life of a famous lawman or mobster or street cop or numbers runner.” Sort of like what one can do at the Dickens Fair, only there you don’t get to break anybody’s kneecaps.
Image: Tony Spilotro, who hated being called “The Ant,” which FBI agent Bill Roemer had derived from “pissant.” Spilotro was the enforcer for the Chicago Outfit in Las Vegas in the 1970s and ’80s, and was the model for Joe Pesci’s character in Casino. From Wikipedia.