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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Looking For Love
In All The Wrong Places

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
March 31, 2003

    Joey Cusumano and Oscar Goodman

Sin City Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer, is currently running for reelection against token opposition. After his guaranteed victory, he's expected to have a tumultuous second term because of information beginning to surface regarding his refusal to disassociate from his past mob clients.

On March 28, Goodman's past came back to haunt him in the form of a statement made by a member of the Nevada Gaming Commission. The statement was printed in the Las Vegas Review Journal:

"Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's decision to host at his home a mob associate banned from Nevada's casinos 'is an embarrassment to the state, an embarrassment for Las Vegas and an embarrassment for gaming,' one outraged gaming regulator said."

The statement came from Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller, former head of the FBI in Nevada. The associate he was referring to was Joey Cusumano. In 1990, Cusumano, 67, was placed in the Nevada Black Book of persons banned from entering casinos. Goodman was his attorney and considers Cusumano a  family friend.

Why is this all coming to light now in the middle of Goodman's reelection campaign? Last week, an anonymous political mailer was sent to Vegas voters quoting Oscar Goodman referring to one of his council colleagues, Michael McDonald who is running for a third term, as a "government rat," a "wimp," "vermin," "a piece of garbage," "blight,"  the "lowest form of human being," and a "sleaze ball." Goodman made the statements in 2000 after signing a petition to recall the councilmember.

A few days following the "sleaze ball" mailer, Goodman sent his own letter endorsing the reelection of the councilman he had vilified two years before. Many people puzzled by Goodman's sudden turnabout began mentioning Joey Cusumano's name as the possible motivation.

Tying McDonald to the mayor's close friend took little effort because the councilman lived at no apparent charge for two years in a half million dollar country club villa owned by Cusumano's family. In 1999, when asked to produce canceled checks to prove he paid rent, McDonald who earns $37,000 per year as a councilmember refused to disclose his lease payments except to say "I pay my share." Then he promptly moved out.

During his stay in the villa, McDonald was twice found guilty of violating ethics laws for doing favors for Cusumano's "best friend in the world," topless nightclub owner Frederick "Rick" Rizzolo, who McDonald often referred to as a "Pillar of the community." Following the Ethics Board's verdict, the Sheriff said he had gathered sufficient evidence to arrest McDonald, however, the District Attorney refused to cooperate and McDonald remained in office.

The hypocrisy of Goodman's endorsement of McDonald raised many eyebrows, especially since it happened in the middle of a federal investigation of Rizzolo who was another of Goodman's former clients. The federal government is investigating the possibility that Rizzolo is a front man for Chicago organized crime. It has also been suspected that Cusumano has hidden ownership in Rizzolo's topless bar, though no hard evidence has surfaced in news reports.

Because of the mayor's unexplainable recent actions, an April 1999 Letter to the Editor authored by Joseph Yablonsky, the former Special-Agent-in-Charge of the  FBI's Las Vegas office, seems more relevant now than ever before.

Special to the Review-Journal:

Having followed activities in Las Vegas since my retirement in December 1983 after almost 32 years with the FBI - including four years as special agent-in-charge of the Las Vegas bureau, I've never ceased to be amazed at some of the goings on in the entertainment capital.

The latest phenomena, reeking of pure chutzpah, has been the mayoral candidacy of mob lawyer Oscar Goodman, who led all candidates on Tuesday in advancing to the June general election along with Arnie Adamsen.

"Mob lawyer" is a title Goodman has relished and promoted over the years, although it's contradictory to his sporadic and inane denials that organized crime exists in the United States. The "boys" in Chicago, Kansas City and elsewhere must be elated about their guy in Vegas. They're probably thinking "we'll have some political juice there again."

I was reminded of Goodman's proclivity for hyperbole and excess when I remembered watching a promo for "Rivera Live" in November 1995 when the movie "Casino" came out. A familiar feared face projecting a rabbinical image appeared on the screen. The moderator touted him as the "Big 0.," the "mob's mouthpiece from Las Vegas.

The smiling eager defender of downtrodden and/or nonexistent members of organized crime displayed a plastic rat. A childishly impish expression came over his face as he twisted the rat's neck and commented in the first person plural, "We bite their necks off." The use of the pronoun "we" tells it all.

Over the years he has disparaged the FBI with public remarks such as, "líve never met an FBI agent who has told the truth"; they're "princes of darkness and obstructers"; the "FBI deals dirty"; "they're not always on the up and up"; "I'd rather see my secretary go out with one of my clients than an FBI agent"; "organized crime was invented by the FBI because of their inability to right street crime" - on and on' adnauseam.

His outrageous remarks, intended to promote the notion that he was somehow the FBI's nemesis, couldn't be further from the truth. During my tenure, our concerns about Goodman had little or nothing to do with his skills as a defense lawyer. His stereotypical tactics were to plaster the court with frivolous motions and to put the FBI or police on trial. I recall only one FBI case he prevailed in, during that time frame. Generally his loss column has by far outweighed his win column.

Our concerns were more about his tactics. Example; He brought forth two convicted slot machine cheats and created a scenario that had me directing a burglary on then Judge Harry Claibone's residence wherein crucial evidence was illegally gathered by an FBI agent and a Metro detective. One of the slot cheats unequivocally flunked a polygraph test about the alleged incident and the other later told IRS agents that the judge's best friend, convicted murderer Benny Binion, was willing to put up $1 million to spring him.

Why did he and his co-counsel in Chicago waive a jury in the M&M boys homicide case (the victim's head was placed in a vise, popping his eyeballs) perpetrated by his beloved client, "gentle" Tony "The Ant" Spilotro? Waiving a jury in a homicide case is virtually unheard of. It places the fate of the defendant in the judgment of one person, the judge. as opposed to 12 jurors. The judge in that case was subsequently convicted of corruption in an FBI sting operation known as "Greylord."

One might ask why a nerdy kid like Goodman, who got his butt kicked by neighborhood bullies, didn't become a prosecutor, which would have allowed him to alleviate his obsession with being an underdog by putting the bad guys in jail. Instead he became a wannabe to the most extreme breed of bullies ... organized crime.

I was chagrined by the images of numerous sociopathic mob types expressing their admiration for lawyer Goodman as a stand-up guy in "Mob Law," a documentary recently shown on The Learning Channel. It is sad indeed when a man's psyche requires validation of his own machismo by the dregs of society.

Contrary to his denial, "I am not my clients," Goodman is forever tied to the mob by virtue of his having served and been in a love-affair with them for 30 odd years. Axiomatically, it's a marriage from which divorce is unobtainable.

Instead of longing for the good old days when Las Vegas was electric and exciting to Goodman because of mob presence, he might seek redemption and legitimacy by taking a job as an assistant district attorney, where he could truly apply the tenets of the Constitution instead of defiling them.

Ironically, had it not been for the effectiveness of the FBI which provided Goodman with defendants and made him a rich man, he wouldn't now be seeking the love and attention of the Las Vegas community by asking residents to elect him to office.

Joseph Yablonsky
Lady Lake, Fla.
(Mr. Yablonsky was the former Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Las Vegas office of the FBI)

The statements of Joe Yablonsky along with those of his successor Bobby Siller, cause speculation that Goodman is still defending the interest's of organized crime in Las Vegas. In the meantime on February 21, eighty agents of the FBI and IRS, with guns drawn, raided Rizzolo's business. Their findings have yet to be revealed, but insiders suspect that Goodman and McDonald's names may surface if criminal indictments are issued.

It also bears mentioning that in February, Goodman accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from Rizzolo.

Yablonsky was responsible for the conviction and imprisonment of Goodman's former law partner and mentor, disbarred Federal Court Judge Harry Claiborne. Goodman unsuccessfully defended Claiborne. Now Goodman is defending his one-time enemy in a hotly contested city council reelection bid. Who's interest is Goodman serving?

Copyright © Steve Miller

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