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IPSN, June 4, 1997

Murder of Chicago Hood Foretells
Power Grab by the Los Angeles Mob

- Mickey Mouse No More -

A Federal grand jury in Las Vegas indicted nine reputed mobsters and associates - including two men linked to the January 6th murder of Herbie Blitzstein, the corpulent but lethal first lieutenant and enforcer for the late Tony Spilotro and his “Hole in the Wall” gang of thieves when they were raising Cain in the desert oasis back in the early eighties.

Blitzstein had been out of prison and supposedly crime free since 1991 after serving time in a federal prison for credit card fraud.

It turns out that Los Angeles mobster Peter Vincent Caruso and an associate named Alfred Mauriello allegedly plotted “Fat” Herbie’s demise in order to pave the way for the Los Angeles and Buffalo crime families to muscle in on his auto repair business - the legitimate front for a loan sharking and insurance fraud operation.

The FBI installed electronic surveillance devices at Blitzstein’s shop - Any Auto Repair, located at 3055 Fremont Street. Joseph DeLuca, one of the nine men named in the indictment, but not charged with the Blitzstein murder, was listed as the owner of the establishment. DeLuca is presently incarcerated and is being held without bail.

The FBI says it was not aware that Blitzstein was about to become a moving target, despite listening in on hours of secretly recorded conversation from inside the auto repair agency. The tapes will hopefully provide rare insights into existing relationships between the national crime families, particularly the long dormant West Coast group.

For decades the Los Angeles mob was the poor, stumbling, bumbling, undernourished step-sister to Chicago - a West Coast vassal founded by Mickey Cohen, a Hollywood shakedown artist and sexual blackmailer who preyed upon movie stars in the 1930s. For years they called this motley crew of not-so-wise guys the “Mickey Mouse Mafia.”

Cohen was eclipsed in power by Jack Dragna, (nee: Antonio Rizzoti) in the 1940s. Dragna was never a forceful or resolute leader. His son Louis “The Reluctant Prince” Dragna who assumed command after the old man died in 1957, was even more shaky and unsure of himself.

Thereafter, the Southern California territory was partitioned into spheres of influence controlled by Cleveland and Chicago.

Louie “the Bomp” Bompensiero was in charge of the Southern California territory stretching from L.A. to San Diego, until 1977 when Tony Spilotro or one of his shooters, put a bullet in his head while he was standing in a phone booth. At the time of his death the “Bomp” was spilling mob secrets to FBI agents in San Diego which proved to be a major embarrassment to Spilotro and the bosses “back home.”

In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Strike Force identified Peter and Carmen Milano, sons of the ancient Cleveland mobster Anthony Milano, as new West Coast “bosses.”

However, their organization was riddled with informants. Craig Fiato and his brother Lawrence, high-level extortionists and juice loan collectors, wore an FBI wire for six years, gathering enough evidence for the feds to put the Milanos away.

The final knockout punch was delivered by the government in 1988 when Peter Milano was sent away for six years after being convicted on federal racketeering statutes. Two years later, underboss Mike Rizzitello was sentenced to 33-years in prison for conspiring to murder William Carroll, proprietor of a topless bar in Santa Ana, California.

The tattered fragments of the L.A. crime family have been under the thumb of Chicago ever since.

The fact that this thread-bare, skeleton operation has apparently joined forces with the Joseph Todaro group in Buffalo raises new questions and interesting possibilities. Robert Panaro, a so-called “friend” of Blitzstein and one of nine men indicted in this federal racketeering case, is linked to the Buffalo mob. There are those who believe that Panaro is secretly cooperating with the government. How else could he remain free on bond?

It was common practice, at least until Tony Spilotro ambled into town, to take care of the “heavy work” well outside Las Vegas city limits. The bodies were buried in the desert late at night, so the tourists would not feel threatened or otherwise offended by so much blood letting while they were whooping it up at the crap tables. Vegas was always considered an “open city,” with the implicit understanding that Chicago and Cleveland enjoyed somewhat greater autonomy in this region of the country than the New York families. So, what can all this possibly mean?

Well for one, it might indicate a possible resurgence of organized crime activity in Southern California and a permanent break with Chicago. It will certainly have long term repercussions in Las Vegas, where Ted Binion, a familiar name and a member of one of the old line Nevada gambling families, has been scorched from the after burners of this investigation.

A year ago the Nevada Gaming Commission suspended Binion from operating his Horseshoe Club because of his association with Blitzstein and a personal drug problem. In 1995 Binion authorized a cashier’s check at the Horseshoe to cash $11,500 in checks for his pal Herbie. Such associations are never good for business, particularly in image-conscious Las Vegas.

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