San Diego Oscar Goodman, 59, known as "The Big O," the Las Vegas attorney who local papers sometimes dub "The mouthpiece of the mob,"drives his dark Mercedes sports car toward the desert beyond the city limits. He crunches off onto the gravel of a low bluff overlooking open lands and switches off the motor. He sits, waiting.
A short while later, a light-colored rag-top, probably a Chrysler, comes from the other direction and pulls off the road a few yards away. A man gets out in a dark suit like Goodman's, balding as much as Goodman, but younger, thinner, more fit, perhaps 40.
Goodman gets out. They shake hands.
"Rick," says Goodman, "I've been waiting 20 years for this; 20 years to have you apologize to me.... Every day of my life, Rick, all I think about is when you came into my office and you tried to set me up. You tried to frame me. You tried to entrap me. I want you to apologize."
"I tell you what, Oscar," says Rick Baken, one-time FBI undercover agent, "I know some of the same people that you know, and they've told me that's been a thorn in your saddle for 20 years."
"For 20 years; I can't forget about it," says Goodman.
"Well, that's probably one of the best pleasures of life for me," replies Baken. "It's to know that for 20 years, you knew that you actually were caught."
"I was caught? I was caught doing what? Trying to do the right thing?"
"You have never done the right thing," says Baken. "You do what you think is the right thing, but you don't make the rules."
"I don't make the rules? I make my rules."
"That's true. You make your rules."
"And my rules have ruled so far."
The confrontation happened last year and was filmed by a documentary crew making Mob Law, a feature-length profile of Goodman, who is proud to boast a client list that has included Meyer Lansky, Charlie "The Moose" Panarella, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, allegedly the Chicago Mob's enforcer in Vegas.
Goodman also has considerable ties to San Diego. He has a condominium in the Shores high above Coronado with a sweeping view of the ocean. He's a hero to downtown's legion of defense attorneys, some of whom he has befriended and mentored as they built their careers defending alleged drug smugglers, hit men, bookies, and topless- joint tax cheats. And, of course, he defended Roger Hedgecock in the notorious public corruption case that ultimately toppled Hedgecock from his throne as populist hero and cost the then-liberal mayor his job.
Goodman also unsuccessfully defended San Diego's minor mobster Chris Petti against accusations of trying to help the mob muscle in on the Rincon Indians' gambling plans.
And he says he was "very close" to La Jolla's Allen Glick, when Glick ran the Argent Corporation in Las Vegas, which owned such casinos as the Stardust, the Fremont, and the Hacienda. According to Nicholas Pileggi, in his book Casino, Glick, a 31-year-old San Diego real estate dealer in 1974, suddenly became the second-biggest casino operator in Las Vegas history.
"Allen Glick had been chosen as a mob front because he was thought to be squeaky clean," wrote Pileggi.
Glick, who answered to mob killer Tony Spilotro , had links to San Diego's Tamara Rand, who was shot five times in the head in the kitchen of her house in Mission Hills in November 1975, shortly after a business disagreement with Glick. "Glick had been quietly fighting Rand's claims that she was a partner in the Stardust [Glick's casino] for years," Pileggi wrote, "but her mobster-style murder pushed an obscure financial-page dispute onto the front page."
As for Hedgecock, his first trial for public corruption ended in February 1985 with a hung jury after one juror refused to vote for conviction. The defense had been run by Mike Pancer, a rising young San Diego criminal defense lawyer who was a friend of Goodman.
As Don Bauder wrote in his 1985 book, Captain Money and the Golden Girl, Hedgecock recruited Oscar Goodman for the retrial. Goodman had done legal work for J. David Dominelli, Bauder reported. Dominelli was the La Jolla swindler whose spectacular downfall helped trigger Hedgecock's indictment.
"[Goodman's] firm had been J. David's landlord," according to Bauder. "Goodman said he would represent the mayor for a minimal fee. It was altruistic, Goodman explained: He owned a condominium in San Diego and believed Hedgecock was the right man for the mayor's job.
"Goodman's presence caused the no-growth and pro-growth constituencies to think, at least for a moment, the same thought. They wondered jointly if Goodman would be a new power in San Diego real estate -- and they marveled at the irony that Roger Hedgecock, the outspoken no-growther, had served as the catalyst in Goodman's rise."
Goodman doesn't have fond memories of the case. "I came in and represented Roger as vigorously as I knew how and got my face in the judge's face, and there was an awful lot of acrimony there, unfortunately. The judge didn't like me. I didn't care for him. He didn't like Roger. Roger didn't care for him. And the whole thing got [screwed up] in the jury room where there were all sorts of improprieties taking place -- drinking, sexual activities, instructions outside the presence of the lawyers -- and the jury came back with a 'guilty,' but it didn't mean anything because the court of appeal upset it. They said the jury was a runaway jury, acting improperly, and reversed it."
Rather than face a third trial, Hedgecock pled guilty to one felony conspiracy charge, agreed to pay a $5000 fine, and served three years' probation. In January 1991, a judge, following the terms of Hedgecock's plea bargain, reduced the felony conviction to a misdemeanor and dismissed the case. Under the deal, Hedgecock is forever required to disclose his record if he runs for office, seeks local or state licenses, or applies for a concession to sell state lottery tickets. He later paid a $30,000 civil fine to settle state corruption charges.