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A Loan Shark's Last Words: Why Me?

IPSN July 16, 1997

Details of Herbie Blitzstein Hit Revealed;
L.A. Mob Stumbles and Falls in Vegas


As the assassin’s bullet ripped through “Fat” Herbie Blitzstein’s body, the dying Chicago loan shark and ex-pal of the late Tony Spilotro looked into his killer’s eyes and wailed: “Why me?” Seconds later he collapsed into a black leather easy chair dead.

The January 6th slaying of Blitzstein at his Las Vegas town home is a tale of intrigue and the incompetence of two inept criminal organizations floundering in the backwaters of Mafia gangland.

Herbie Blitzstein was an influential wise guy living high and mighty in the desert oasis.....but that was 20 years ago. As a lieutenant serving under the late Anthony Spilotro in former days, Blitzstein enjoyed all of the privileges, perks, and protection that go with Chicago mob membership. But after Spilotro and his brother were buried alive in an Indiana cornfield in 1986, his connections to Chicago for the most part, withered.

He continued to run his loan-sharking and insurance fraud scams under the mistaken belief that no-one could possibly be interested in molesting his operations. With Spilotro gone, and the presence of the Chicago mob in Vegas greatly diminished from what it had been during the cheeky days of the 1970s and early 1980s, Herbie probably figured that he would be left alone in old age. After all, he was 63, and no longer a “player” who rolled the dice within the inner mob circles, or so he thought.

Beginning last October, the long dormant Los Angeles mob entered into a conspiracy with the Buffalo group to muscle in on Blitzstein’s operation in Las Vegas.

Present at the meeting were John Branco, an ex-felon out of Los Angeles who was secretly cooperating with the FBI; Carmine Milano, underboss in L.A.; Stephen Cino, and Stephen Caruso, reputed members of the West Coast criminal organization.

Robert Panaro of Buffalo, allegedly represented the interests of the East Coast crime family.

Caruso, Branco, and Milano met in a hotel coffee shop to iron out specific details. It was agreed that Blitzstein would not be killed.

They did not know that Peter Caruso had aleady gone against the wishes of the Milano group in L.A., and had already planned Blitzstein’s demise.

Peter Caruso burglarized Blitzstein’s home a few hours before the actual hit was scheduled to go down. Among the items removed from Blitzstein’s home was jewelry and coins belonging to Teddy Binion, the Las Vegas casino operator who was suspended from his day to day operation of the Horseshoe Club.

After rifling through the home, Caruso left the door open for a pair of hired assassins recruited by mob associate Alfred Mauriello, who received a “finder’s fee” of $10,000 - a portion of the $50,000 in stolen loot removed from Blitzstein’s abode.

Mauriello told the FBI after the caper unraveled, that he hired two hitmen, Richard Friedman, 55, and Antone Davi, 29, to handle the matter for $3,500 - less than the cost of a cheap used car.

Poor Herbie Blitzstein. He was betrayed by his pal and business partner Joe DeLuca who had fronted for Blitzstein in his automotive repair business, according to secret affidavits.

DeLuca wanted a larger share of the business, and met with Panaro, Cino, Branco, and Peter Caruso at a Denny’s Restaurant outside of Las Vegas just two days before the burglary and murder for the purpose of dividing up the spoils.

With Herbie gone, Buffalo and Los Angeles wrangled over the split, but neither group could agree on what was fair with respect to how much each group would receive from the insurance scams being run out of Blitzstein’s car repair business.

The greedy Milanos, who had been torn apart in the mid 1980s through a series of federal prosecutions, at one point, attempted to cut Panaro out of the action.

Informant John Branco, who was held in high regard by the Milanos to the point where he was about to be inducted into the family as a “made” member, was advised by Caruso that plans were afoot to burglarize the home of Teddy Binion, and then murder him. Caruso had just sold Branco a watch and a gold coin belonging to Binion for $1,000 and was eager for more loot.

Teddy Binion is alive and well. Caruso’s plan was foiled, but Binion’s home was sprayed by bullets in a drive by shooting reminiscent of Chicago in the reckless days of the 1920s.

Federal investigators believe that the unauthorized hit of Herbie Blitzstein may spell the final downfall of the informant-riddled Los Angeles mob, once the trials of the 12 men charged in this case have run its course. It will be interesting to see whether or not Las Vegas will continue to remain an open city now that Mafia “amateur hour” is at an end.

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