You enter the spa through oversized oak doors and immediately see sun stream down on a naked old man as he climbs out of a sunken Jacuzzi tub in the center of a brightly lit atrium. Nearby, wrapped in herb-scented towels, sits a trio of tanned younger men, engaged in conversation. Around the corner, in a long, darkened, corridor-like room lined with leather-upholstered reclining chairs, a solitary figure, draped in white wraps, gets a facial from an attendant. There are other rooms -- one for steam baths, one for eucalyptus treatments, another for herbal wraps, another for massage. The attendants -- dark, big, and burly -- speak European-accented English.
Notorious men have passed through these doors. Presidents and playboys. Executives and Mafia dons. Union chiefs and hit men. This week, the nation's Republican governors, including Texas governor George W. Bush, GOP frontrunner, will gather here for their annual meeting. They will make pronouncements on the State of the Union, play golf or tennis, wheel and deal in the nightclub, rub shoulders with lobbyists, admire their female company, and maybe tip their hats to passing wise guys. Welcome to La Costa Spa and Country Club.
How much blood was spilled to build La Costa? So many bodies piled up over the years it's hard to keep track. The godfather of the place was Moe Dalitz, a mobster from Cleveland who got his start back in Prohibition days with Detroit's "Little Jewish Navy," running booze across the Detroit River from Canada. He traveled with Detroit's brutal "Purple Gang," until the Zerilli brothers arrived in town and things got too hot. He ended up in Cleveland with the Mayfield Road Gang -- Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker, and Louis Rothkopf, a.k.a. Lou Rody.
Dalitz was a gangster's gangster. He was close to every big mob name: Joe Adonis, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Costello, Meyer Lansky. He attended the February 1946 going-away gala for deported mob boss Lucky Luciano. According to the late FBI agent William F. Roemer, who wrote War of the Godfathers, after World War II, Dalitz was dispatched by Lansky to Las Vegas to check on Siegel. After Moe made his report, Bugsy was shot dead one night in his girlfriend's L.A. mansion. Dalitz and the Mayfield Road Gang relocated to Vegas from Cleveland more or less permanently in 1949 and took over the ailing Desert Inn from Wilbur Clark. From there it was a short hop to California.
Enter Teamster boss James Riddle Hoffa. Dalitz owned a chain of laundries and dry cleaners in the Midwest, including Cleveland's Pioneer Linen Supply Company. Dalitz met Hoffa, who was rising through the ranks of the local Teamsters union, in the mid-1930s through Hoffa's mistress, Sylvia Pagano. In 1949, when Teamsters threatened to strike the Detroit Dry Cleaners Association, Dalitz's dry cleaning racket, Dalitz intervened and slipped Hoffa $17,500 to get the union off his back.
In the 1950s Dalitz and the Desert Inn picked up new friends, many from show business. According to Frank Sinatra biographer Kitty Kelley, Dalitz gave Old Blue Eyes a break when Sinatra was down on his luck, a favor for which Sinatra proved forever grateful. "Moe Dalitz let him sing at the Desert Inn," Kelley quotes a Sinatra associate as saying, "Yeah, I was at Cal-Neva with [Sam] Giancana, and I was with him a lot when he visited Frank in Palm Springs. I even knew Moe Dalitz when he was calling himself the entertainment director of the Desert Inn. Don't that beat everything? The entertainment director!" Years later Sinatra and members of his Rat Pack, including Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., would show up to entertain on La Costa's showroom stage.
In the late 1950s in Vegas, Dalitz met another couple of Las Vegas friends. Irwin Molasky and Merv Adelson were small-time builders who had separately arrived in the gambling mecca from Los Angeles. Molasky moved to Vegas in 1951 and built garage additions and home additions, according to an interview he gave the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1998. Several years after Molasky arrived in Vegas, he met Adelson, the son of a Beverly Hills grocer who had set out to make his own fortune. The two founded Paradise Development Co., which, Molasky later said, sold a house a day from 1957 to 1959 for $30,000 to $40,000.
It didn't take long for Molasky and Adelson to get together with Dalitz, whose connections with Hoffa and the underworld were to pay off in a big way. Last year, the 73-year-old Molasky recalled for the Review-Journal that in 1956 he and Adelson wanted to build a new for-profit hospital in Vegas to compete with the county hospital. Doctors, he said, were demanding it. "The doctors wanted out of politics, and also they wanted to practice with modern facilities." At first, Molasky said, financing came from a local savings and loan. "But we ran out of money and had to take in some investors." They turned out to be Moe Dalitz and his associate Allard Roen.
To swing the deal, Dalitz arranged a $1 million loan from the Teamsters Central States, Southeast and Southwest Pension Fund. As Molasky recalled it, "The local Teamsters, as well as the Culinary Union, wanted us to take all their members for a certain amount a month. It was an early form of managed care." Actually, writes Ovid Demaris, in his book the Green Felt Jungle, the contracts were a way to guarantee that the loan payments, and Hoffa's kickbacks, would get paid on time.
The Central States pension fund was created by then-Teamsters vice president Hoffa in 1955 by folding together smaller pension funds from 22 states. On its face, the new pension fund was a move to provide portable pensions for truck drivers who frequently changed jobs. But that was only how it looked on paper. The fund was designed to be a piggy-bank for Hoffa and his friends in the Mafia to dip into. According to James Neff, author of Mobbed Up, the board of trustees of the new pension fund was "simply a rubber stamp. Hoffa dictated whom to loan money to. In return Hoffa demanded a finder's fee of up to ten percent of each loan. The trustees went along with it. The union's trustees were his toadies; the employer trustees, usually trucking company owners, feared strikes and slowdowns if they lifted a finger against Hoffa."