Irwin Molasky ended up in Las Vegas in the early 1950s, he later recalled, where he met future business partner Merv Adelson, a Beverly Hills grocer’s son who was then-owner of Market Town, a 24-hour-a-day supermarket on Las Vegas Boulevard. Among their other ventures was the Colonial House, a bistro that enjoyed an edgy reputation as a haunt for high-class hookers, recounted Ovid Demaris and Ed Reid in 1965’s The Green Felt Jungle.
They soon linked up with Moe Dalitz, who had become one of the richest and most powerful denizens of the underworld after expanding the base of his hometown Detroit empire of gambling and other assorted rackets to Cleveland. Dalitz, it’s been said by some, first arrived in Las Vegas in the late 1940s, on a mission for the East Coast mob to keep track of Bugsy Siegel and the construction of his over-budget Flamingo hotel.
An example of how Dalitz did business is recounted by Michael Newton in his 2009 Dalitz biography, Mr. Mob. In September 1947, four men carrying submachine guns held up the Mounds Club casino outside of Cleveland, fleeing with between $250,000 and $500,000 in cash and jewelry. Another heist followed at the Continental Club. Cops took no action, but, according to Newton, “Moe Dalitz used his influence to learn the bandits’ names. A trial of sorts was held, sentence was passed, and manhunters hit the ground running. By March 1948, it is said, every one of the robbers was tracked down and killed.”
Molasky testified in January 1982 that he was introduced to Dalitz by Allard Roen, a Dalitz protégé, general manager of the Desert Inn, and convicted stock manipulator who was the son of notorious Cleveland gambler and bookie Frank Rosen. Molasky said Dalitz wanted him to build houses on the new golf course at the Desert Inn, which Dalitz controlled.
Shortly after that, according to Molasky, he and Adelson began building the for-profit Sunrise Hospital on Maryland Parkway. Its construction had been financed by loans from a savings and loan, but “we ran out of money and had to take in some investors,” Newton quoted Molasky as saying. When the deal was finally worked out, Molasky later testified, he and Adelson owned 45 percent of the stock, another 45 percent was held by Dalitz and Roen, and the remaining 10 percent by a doctor who put up the original $40,000 to help get Molasky and Adelson off the ground.
The first 62 beds of the hospital opened on December 15, 1958. Senator-elect Howard Cannon, cozy with Dalitz and his friends, cut the ribbon. Another prominent financier of the project remained low profile: Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union pension fund, which had advanced a million dollars at 6 percent interest in a complicated deal that obscured the origin of the money.
The loan was just the beginning of an exceedingly profitable relationship between the Teamsters, Dalitz, Molasky, and their partners. To guarantee patients, Hoffa ordered that all members of the Teamsters’ and Culinary Unions’ medical plan be forced to use Sunrise if they required hospitalization. It was “an early form of managed care,” Molasky later said.
The Teamsters also loaned $1.2 million to Dalitz, Roen, Adelson, and Molasky, along with fifth partner, Bernie Rothkopf, to build the Stardust Golf Course and Country Club and the nearby Paradise Palms housing development. “If Moe told them to make a loan,” said one observer quoted by Sally Denton and Roger Morris, authors of 2001’s The Money and the Power, “they made the loan.”
All along the way, FBI agents dogged virtually every movement of Dalitz, Molasky, and their associates, taking copious notes and filing voluminous reports. According to Newton, in February 1961 G-men wanted to charge Dalitz with “bribery, labor racketeering, and Mann Act violations (transporting women across state lines for ‘immoral purposes’),” but bureau director J. Edgar Hoover killed the idea.
In February 1962, writes Newton, the FBI followed Dalitz and his friend, entertainer Phil Harris, to San Diego, where they had “quite a party” with unidentified women before heading for Mexico in Dalitz’s yacht. The same month, Dalitz and New York mob kingpin Meyer Lansky were listed by FBI agents as being among ten mobsters “marked for ‘intensified investigations.’”
Somehow, though, charges were never filed. Then along came the flamboyant publisher of a glossy skin magazine to do what federal authorities never had. Bob Guccione, the owner of Penthouse, was in the midst of taking on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy for the pinnacle of the nation’s men’s publishing business, and the Brooklyn-born Guccione was ready to get down to some serious muckraking.
“I first met Bob Guccione at the London Penthouse Club in 1970,” wrote attorney Roy Grutman. “Dressed in a white suit and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and sporting an array of gold chains, he looked like a psychedelic Beau Brummel.”
“After years of selling soft-focus crotch shots, Guccione wanted to do something more important, something Hugh Hefner would never try,” added Grutman. “If the Washington Post could bring down Richard Nixon, he would go after something even bigger.” The target was La Costa.
Headlined “La Costa: The Hundred-Million-Dollar Resort with Criminal Clientele,” the story ran in March 1975. “The primary founders of La Costa were syndicate ‘bluebloods,’” Penthouse charged. “La Costa has been controlled by the Moe Dalitz mob, which includes Dalitz, Allard Roen, Merv Adelson, and Irwin Molasky.… It was Dalitz who persuaded then-president of the Teamsters Union, James Riddle Hoffa, to finance Las Vegas casinos, starting with [Dalitz’s] Desert Inn and related properties, with Teamsters retirement cash.”
That May, Dalitz and his partners filed a $630 million libel suit against Guccione and his magazine.
By coincidence, Grutman, who handled the case for Guccione, had earlier been a guest at La Costa: “A vast complex of white motel buildings and a golf course that looked like a semi-arid cemetery, it reminded me of Las Vegas. There were fountains, doormen who looked like ex-boxers, and many peculiar guests. I realized how peculiar when the tennis pro arranged a doubles match for me, and one member of the foursome was a recently convicted recipient of bribes, former New York state senator Bert Podell.”