• Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

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."

Once Sunrise Hospital was built, Dalitz and his three partners, Roen, Allred, and Molasky, turned their attention away from Vegas and toward the sunny beaches of San Diego County. As Roen explained it in 1970 to a reporter from the San Diego Evening Tribune, he had become familiar with an attractive piece of property on a placid lagoon near Carlsbad around 1958, when he owned a ranch house at San Luis Rey and frequented the Del Mar track. He said he bought the first thousand acres for about $2000 an acre in 1962, and Adelson and Molasky's Paradise Homes bought another 2000 acres.

Roen told the reporter that each of the four partners had put up $1 million. He said they were "avid golfers," so they built the golf course first, then stables for horses, tennis courts, a hotel, and finally the spa. "We figured to capitalize on the fad for losing weight," Roen said. In 1964, he added, the Teamsters made their first La Costa loan: $4 million. Before they were done in 1987, the Central States pension fund had pumped more than $97 million into La Costa and the partnership.

After the resort opened for business in 1965, local papers were full of hype for the real estate development that the four partners were marketing in conjunction with the hotel. "Robert Stirling (Anne Jeffreys), Yvonne de Carlo, and her stunt man husband Bob Morgan, and George Sherman, director of the Daniel Boone show recently bought home sites," reported Frank Rhodes of the San Diego Union in September 1965. "Phil Harris and Hoagy Carmichael just bought home sites," Rhodes reported again that December. He added that "the managing director of the new La Costa spa will provide milk baths for his beauty patrons" and would "soon ask the health department to set up the rules for the operation."

Though it wasn't played up in the local press, word soon began to get around the underworld and in law-enforcement circles that La Costa was more than just a hangout for harmless Hollywood denizens. As the infusion of Teamster loans grew into a virtual flood of cash, those who had so generously sponsored the resort turned into some of its best customers. One of La Costa's biggest fans was Allen Dorfman, a Chicago insurance executive who ran the Central States pension fund.

Dorfman was no ordinary insurance man. He was the stepson of Paul "Red" Dorfman, an ex­prizefighter with close ties to Tony Accardo, who succeeded Al Capone as mob boss of Chicago. Known as a hoods' hood, Red became head of the Chicago waste-haulers union in the 1940s after the murder of the union's founder. He had assisted Hoffa's rise by introducing the ambitious young man to an assortment of organized-crime leaders, who in turn helped the rising labor boss extort and intimidate his way up through the Teamsters' hierarchy. In the early 1950s, Hoffa returned the favor to Red by setting up Allen Dorfman, who was then a college gym teacher, in the insurance business, handling the Central States health-and-welfare policies. Hoffa soon gave Dorfman a key role in running the pension fund as well, and Dorfman became Dalitz's financial go-between.

By the early '70s, Dorfman was so well established with both the Teamsters and the Chicago mob that he had become the virtual king of La Costa. In 1967, Hoffa had been convicted of jury tampering and pension-fund fraud and sent away to the federal prison in Lewisburg. He left Dorfman in charge of the Central States Pension fund, proclaiming, "Allen Dorfman speaks for me." "Dorfman was wealthy, politically connected, and fond of the good life," writes James Neff. "Silver-haired and handsomely distinguished, he fancied rubdowns and facials at Teamsters-financed La Costa Country Club, where he owned a condominium."

Dorfman worked every angle. In 1972, according to an account by Steven Brill, author of The Teamsters, Dorfman bought a three-year-old, 12-seat Grumman Gulfstream executive jet equipped with a bed and bar from his friend Frank Sinatra for $3 million. He leased the plane to the pension fund for $30,000 a month. The fund then turned the jet back over to Dorfman for his exclusive use. "Ostensibly Dorfman was to use the jet for his pension-fund consultant activities," wrote Brill, "but in 1972, [it was spotted] 25 different times at the small airfield that services La Costa."

"He dresses more stylishly" than his Teamsters cohorts, Brill described Dorfman in 1979. "He's better built, better kept, better groomed, and much younger looking than 54. He speaks better and prefers Rolls-Royces and Mercedes to Cadillacs and Lincolns."

Dorfman preferred the links of La Costa. "He loved the golf course," according to Brill. "He was the best golfer among the Teamsters' powers, and he had a beautiful condominium overlooking the fairway. Everywhere he went at La Costa, Dorfman was treated as if he owned the place -- which in a way he did; he arranged the $97 million in loans from the Central States pension fund that had built it."

For all his polish, however, Dorfman was never his own man. He was controlled by Chicago Mafia capo Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, described by Neff as "a cunning hit man who had worked his way up the ranks. With his wire-rimmed aviator glasses, thick black hair, and youngish looks, Lombardo, like Dorfman, possessed the smooth veneer of respectability so often sought by second-generation racketeers." Lombardo, who also hung out around the La Costa fairways, was a constant reminder to Dorfman that he was beholden to the mob.

Later they would both play an important role, along with Kansas City Mafia boss Nick Civella, in the life of La Jollan Allen Glick and his Teamster-backed Las Vegas casinos, the Stardust and the Fremont. According to Brill, Glick met with Dorfman and another pension-fund trustee at La Costa to discuss a loan for the King's Castle Hotel near Lake Tahoe. The deal later fell through when Nevada officials refused to license the mob-connected manager that Dorfman had picked to run the hotel. It was only the first of Glick's many contacts with Dorfman, who would eventually arrange Teamster funding for Glick's purchase of the Frontier and Stardust, where mob killer Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal would skim millions for the Kansas City mob, plus a cut for the Teamsters brass. When Tamara Rand, a real estate woman with a grudge against Glick, started making noises about his business ethics, she was shot dead in her Mission Hills home.

Dorfman wasn't the only one living large at La Costa while his old mentor Hoffa languished in prison. Frank Fitzsimmons, Hoffa's designated successor, was even more partial to the resort. Hoffa intended Fitzsimmons to be only a caretaker president, but Fitzsimmons soon had other ideas. After taking over the union from Hoffa in 1967, Fitzsimmons had begun to build his own power base. As early as 1971, he and Dorfman were working on ways of keeping Hoffa behind bars, so they could continue to plunder the union and its fat pension fund.

"From 1971 to 1974," Neff writes, "two IRS agents met secretly with Fitzsimmons...in Washington, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and at the La Costa resort hotel and spa near San Diego. Fitzsimmons pretended to be candid with the two IRS agents why [he] was informing, claiming to want to rid the Teamsters union of mobsters and racketeers. But the only names [Fitzsimmons] coughed up were allies of Jimmy Hoffa."

As he sat in the pen, the stir-crazy Hoffa heard of the betrayal and plotted to kill the pair.

Fitzsimmons's chief strategy for holding on to power ran directly through President Richard M. Nixon. "The condominium salesman who conducts tours of La Costa tells you that on a clear day you can see Richard Nixon's estate in San Clemente from Frank Fitzsimmons's home that overlooks the La Costa fairways 30 miles south," Steve Brill wrote in 1979, when Fitzsimmons was at the height of his power.

On July 17, 1972, Fitzsimmons called a press conference at the La Costa clubhouse to announce that the Teamsters had endorsed Nixon for a second term. It was the only major union to support the Republican president. "La Costa room records show that members of the International executive board, as well as other top teamsters personages including Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., and Tony Provenzano (then still barred from officially holding office because of his labor-law violation conviction), gathered there on July 14," writes Brill. "Most took two-bedroom suites at the hotel, although physical fitness buff Provenzano took a double at the spa."

Later it was alleged that Fitzsimmons and the Teamsters had illegally funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Nixon's reelection campaign fund, and Nixon's justice department had in turn pulled its punches in when it came to Teamsters' involvement with the mob. Following the press conference, according to Brill, the 20 board members got into a caravan of five limousines and motored up the coast to Nixon's estate to personally give him the good news. "A beaming Richard Nixon gave each of the visitors a barbecue lunch, drinks, a personalized presidential golf ball, and a crack at his private three-hole course."

Nixon had given Fitzsimmons another reward. A year before the endorsement, in July 1971, Nixon had met with Fitzsimmons in the White House. Fitzsimmons made it clear he was not pushing for an early Hoffa parole, certainly not before the Teamsters convention that summer during which he was to be officially elected president of the union. Then, in December 1971, Nixon finally commuted Hoffa's sentence, but with a key proviso: Hoffa could not participate in Teamsters' political affairs until 1980, when he would be 67 years old.

Fitzsimmons's favorite event of the year was the annual golf tournament in his honor at La Costa. Players included some of the biggest mobsters in America. "Teeing up just behind Fitzsimmons was Salvatore Provenzano, known as Sammy Pro, the sixth vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters," writes Brill. "Older brother Anthony, known as Tony Pro, was a captain in the old Vito Genovese family." Tony Provenzano, Brill continues, "ran the New Jersey Teamsters union as an arm of organized crime. Loan-sharking, numbers running, cargo pilfering, sweetheart contracts. He used nice, respectable Sammy as the front man." After Hoffa disappeared from the parking lot of a Detroit-area restaurant on July 30, 1975, Provenzano, along with Fitzsimmons, was fingered for the murder, but nothing was ever proved.

The charity golf tournament, with 150 participants, benefited Chicago's Little City Home for blind retarded children, which had been founded by Red Dorfman, the mobbed-up stepfather of Teamsters financial fixer Allen Dorfman. Some cynics, Brill notes, joked that the home was occupied by retarded children "who had been blinded by Teamsters goons for the extra publicity value of having them be blind."

Other regular participants included Fitzsimmons's son Frank. "Just upstairs from the locker room at La Costa is the Tournament of Champions lounge, where a live band plays at night," Brill wrote in 1979. "Frank Fitzsimmons's older son Richard spends many of his evenings there when he comes to La Costa for Teamsters functions or to use his father's condominium. On more than one occasion he has made a fool of himself. According to the bartenders, after a few drinks Richard remembers that he has always wanted to be an entertainer. At about one in the morning, he may grab the microphone and croon away. It usually elicits some embarrassed half-smiles, but the management never complains." In 1979, Richard was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for accepting bribes from a trucking firm.

On October 9, 1975, Richard Nixon motored down from San Clemente to play in the Fitzsimmons tournament. It was his first public appearance since he was forced to abandon office following Watergate. When Fitzsimmons presented the ex-president with a trophy, Nixon inspected it and said, "That's nice. Where's the union bug?" It turned out that there wasn't one.

By the mid-'70s, the secrets of La Costa were coming to public light, and the resort's owners were not happy about it. By then partners Merv Adelson and Irwin Molasky were no longer just two-bit real estate promoters from Vegas. They were big shots in show business, owners of Lorimar Productions, which created The Waltons, a ratings blockbuster praised for its family values. And Adelson would soon marry superstar anchorwoman Barbara Walters. Under the circumstances, any publicity about the unsettling links between La Costa and the mob was most untimely.

In 1974, Bob Guccione's Penthouse magazine ran an exposé of La Costa entitled, "La Costa: The Hundred-Million Dollar Resort with Criminal Clientele." The group fired back by filing a libel suit against the magazine and the two young authors of the story, Jeff Gerth and Lowell Bergman, a one-time San Diego underground journalist who later became famous as the 60 Minutes producer portrayed by Al Pacino in the new movie The Insider. Dalitz and his partners were asking for $630 million. At roughly $100,000 a word, it was said to be the biggest libel award ever asked for in an American court.

The late Roy Grutman, who was chief counsel to Penthouse during the trial, recounted the case in his colorful 1990 memoir, Lawyers and Thieves. "In 1974, shortly before the article appeared, quite by chance I had visited 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 Burt Podell."

Grutman was more impressed with his opposing counsel, the legendary Louis Nizer. "Close to 80 and nearly blind, Nizer still had his share of cunning. Ten months before the trial began, he reached a separate secret settlement with the two writers, who suddenly apologized for their story and withdrew from the case. In the beginning they had been zealots who wanted to take the fight to the Teamsters and the mob. Now, as the trial date drew near, they decided that backing down might be the wisest and safest thing to do."

Undaunted by the defections of Bergman and Gerth, Grutman launched into his opening statement to the jury. "I explained how the resort was designed as a safe haven for criminals on working vacations. Since Mafia members prefer to conduct their business in person rather than over the telephone or by mail, La Costa, far from the cops and other cares of the world, was the perfect place to relax and make deals. People who are the heads of rackets not only go to [La Costa] but are given the run of the place."

Grutman went on to present his case, offering the backgrounds of Allen Dorfman, Jimmy Hoffa, and Moe Dalitz as backup. He offered evidence that even the legendary Meyer Lanksy himself had been out to La Costa. Lansky, Grutman said, "explained in a deposition he had gone to La Costa only twice to take walks and visit a sick acquaintance." Eventually Dalitz and Roen were dropped as plaintiffs based on their history as public figures. That left the resort itself, Adelson, and Molasky still suing.

Wrote Grutman: "My strategy was simple. To prove that the story about La Costa as essentially true by establishing that Adelson, Molasky, and company had built the resort using loans from the Mafia-friendly Teamsters Central States pension fund and that underworld figures regularly met there, as the writers claimed. The plan was to call as a key witness Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno. He was a former hit man turned government informant who could testify about mob meetings he had attended at La Costa and tell jurors how the Teamsters' Union pension fund was used by the Mafia like a bank to finance legitimate and illegitimate business projects. All very logical."

But the plan ran into a snag. Grutman claimed he soon learned that the judge in the case was fixed and that Sheriff John Duffy of San Diego County, a witness for the plaintiffs, was a liar.

"Judge Kenneth Gale wouldn't let me question Fratianno," Grutman recalled. "When Fratianno tried to tell of a Mafia plan hatched at La Costa to kill entertainer and television producer Desi Arnaz, the other side objected and Gale instructed the jurors to disregard what little Fratianno had said. The story he would have told was how Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, angered by the portrayal of mobsters in Arnaz's television series The Untouchables, wanted to have him murdered. Fratianno met Giancana at La Costa in the 1960s to make the arrangements, but three attempts to kill Arnaz all failed."

When court recessed for the day, Grutman wanted to have a word with the Weasel. "Fratianno was taken to a holding cell outside the courtroom. When I came in he was smoking a big cigar and pacing back and forth." To Grutman's surprise, Fratianno said he knew the judge. It turned out that Fratianno himself had filed an earlier, abortive suit against Penthouse at the instigation of the mob, and "at the request of the late West Coast mobster Johnny Rosselli, he went to see Kenneth Gale, then a San Pedro lawyer, for legal advice about the case. That's why Gale would not let me question Fratianno. He had been Jimmy's lawyer and obviously did not want this fact mentioned in court."

And there was more. "Not only had Gale interceded on Fratianno's behalf with a parole officer in 1971 while he practiced law in Las Vegas, he also represented one of that city's most notorious union racketeers. The pattern continued after he moved to California. When Gale was picked to be a judge, he was a labor lawyer in San Pedro, a mob-infested harbor town south of Los Angeles. When he was 41, he married a 15-year-old girl in Salt Lake City, where he owned a Go-Go bar. Several years after that marriage ended in divorce, he married a Soviet woman in Russia. Here was one judge who got around."

Worse yet, Grutman maintained, was the conduct of Sheriff John Duffy, whom La Costa had called as a witness to vouch for the character of the resort and its owners. "Judge Gale was not the only one helping the plaintiff's case. San Diego Sheriff John Duffy, who had received campaign contributions from La Costa's owners and whose office failed to turn over evidence from a bartender informant proving that prostitution and gambling went on at the resort, was also doing all he could to assist.

"Just when it seemed that everybody connected with the case was on the take, something strange happened. I was contacted by a member of the San Diego grand jury, which had been convened a few years earlier to look into organized crime. She offered to supply me with a copy of letters and other documents Duffy had signed then, including statements by him about organized crime at La Costa. 'I always thought we had a crooked sheriff,' she said on the phone. 'Now I think you have a crooked judge. I don't care if I go to jail. Somebody has to see these things.' "

The material made it abundantly clear that Duffy had lied in his most recent affidavit. According to what he had told the grand jury seven years earlier, he believed that "the decisions" of organized crime figures meeting at La Costa, "influence actions taken throughout the United States." He offered as an example the suspected killing of former Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa by mobster Tony Provenzano, a regular guest at La Costa. "Investigations have disclosed that some of the principal suspects in this case were surreptitiously meeting at La Costa prior to [Hoffa's] disappearance."

After a lengthy trial, the jury found in favor of Penthouse, but Judge Gale threw out the verdict and ordered another trial. Though Grutman protested, the ruling stood, and both sides prepared for battle anew. But on December 5, 1985, on the eve of a new trial, the parties reached a settlement. "After more than $8 million in [Penthouse] legal expenses to try the case and being on a yo-yo before a gang of judges in California [for a decade], the public has been served," Grutman declared. Each side agreed to pick up its own legal fees and issued a statement saying, "The toll has been punishing and arduous on both sides. It appears that if the case were to continue through yet additional court proceedings, whoever would ultimately win would enjoy a Pyrrhic victory at best."

In addition, the statement said, "Penthouse in the article...did not mean to imply nor did it intend for its readers to believe that Messrs. Adelson and Molasky are or were members of organized crime or criminals. In addition, Penthouse acknowledges that all of the individual plaintiffs, including Messrs. Dalitz and Roen, have been extremely active in commendable civic and philanthropic activities, which have earned them recognition from many estimable people. Furthermore, Penthouse acknowledges that among plaintiffs' successful business activities is the La Costa resort itself, one of the outstanding resort complexes of the world." In turn, the La Costa owners lauded Penthouse publisher Guccione and his magazine for their "personal and professional awards."

Grutman's 1990 memoir was not as magnanimous. "Penthouse had won a favorable verdict the first time around and would undoubtedly win again, but not even Bob Guccione could hope to outspend the other side. The Penthouse jurors denied Dalitz, Adelson, Molasky, Roen, and La Costa the respectability they wanted. In the long run, though, that mattered less than something else they already had.

"Money."

Four years before the settlement, on May 6, 1981, Teamsters president Frank Fitzsimmons, who had been running the Teamsters in the 14 years since Jimmy Hoffa had been sent to prison, died of lung cancer at La Jolla's Scripps Clinic. He was buried in the Desert Memorial Cemetery on the outskirts of Palm Springs, where his friend Frank Sinatra would ultimately lie in repose. Fitzsimmons's death coincided with a Teamsters board meeting at La Costa. Teamsters vice president Roy Lee Williams laid down the law to the assembled board members. "If any of you do run against me, and I beat you, your careers on the executive board are over." Williams could talk tough with good reason: he had the muscle of Kansas City mob leader Nick Civella behind him.

Though Williams was already under investigation, along with Teamsters pension fund honcho Allen Dorfman, for conspiring to bribe Nevada Democratic senator Howard W. Cannon in order to derail a trucking deregulation bill, he was easily elected to succeed Fitzsimmons. Less than two years later, on December 15, 1982, Williams, along with Dorfman and his handler from the Chicago mob, Joey Lombardo, were convicted of the charges. A month after that, on January 21, 1983, the 60-year-old Dorfman was walking with a business associate through the parking lot of a Chicago-area hotel when two men came up behind them, announced "this is a stick-up," and pumped a round of bullets into Dorfman's head. Though the killing was never solved, it appeared obvious that Dorfman, the one-time king of La Costa, had been silenced because he knew too much and might squeal to the feds to get a more lenient sentence.

In April 1983 Williams, suffering from emphysema in a Kansas City hospital, agreed to resign his presidency in order to stay out of prison during the appeal of his conviction. He was replaced by Jackie Presser, another mobbed-up Teamsters leader who, in the footsteps of his late father William, had risen through the rough-and-tumble world of the Cleveland underworld. Bill Presser had worked with Dorfman and Dalitz and had a major role in arranging the pension-fund money to La Costa, as well as to Allen Glick's Las Vegas hotels.

Jackie Presser had the good sense to support Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. His stirring speech to the Teamsters board at La Costa that summer had resulted in the union's endorsement of the former California governor over the Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter. That fall, Presser was rewarded with a prestigious position on Reagan's presidential transition team.

It would later be revealed that during the last nine years of his life -- until he died in July 1988 of brain cancer at age 61 in a Lakewood, Ohio, hospital -- Presser had been an informer for the FBI, feeding the feds detailed information on murders, payoffs, car bombings, shakedowns, casino skimming, and all manner of Teamsters corruption. The documents were unsealed just as the government settled its racketeering case against the union in 1989. The union and its pension fund was now under federal supervision. It seemed that, thanks to Jackie Presser, the feds had La Costa's number all along.

By the time Presser died, the resort was under new ownership and the heat was off La Costa, though many of the old crowd are said to still frequent the place, and the powerful sons of the likes of George Bush and Jimmy Hoffa pass through on special occasions like the GOP governor's conference. The neighborhood of luxury homes outside the resort has become a favorite for swindlers, con artists, telemarketers, and big-time pornographers, perhaps drawn by the area's high-rolling reputation.

In November 1987, when the partnership announced that it was selling out to Sports Shinko, a Japanese outfit based in Osaka, for $250 million, the founding partners seemingly went their separate ways. Roen continues to lead a low-profile life in a plush home at La Costa. For a time he ran the Torrey Pines Inn. Adelson remains in show business; he and Barbara Walters divorced in 1992. Molasky is a big-time developer in Las Vegas, building condominiums and shopping malls in the booming desert city.

Roen, Molasky, and Adelson surfaced briefly again ten years later in a court battle over the marketing rights to the name and trademark of "La Costa." According to the terms of the sale of La Costa to Sports Shinko, the lawsuit said, surviving partners retained the La Costa naming rights everywhere in the world but within the resort itself and Japan. Outside of those two exceptions, according to the suit filed in North County superior court in 1997, the La Costa rights belong to the partners, which they may license for everything from sweatshirts to perfume. A dispute between Sports Shinko and the four partners over the matter was settled out of court last year with no details revealed. Much of the courthouse file on the case remains under seal.

As for Moe Dalitz, until his death in 1989 at age 89, he remained a revered figure in Las Vegas, having been given the Humanitarian of the Year award by the American Cancer Research Center and Hospital in 1976 and the 1982 Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. When Dalitz died, a Las Vegas newspaper reported that the old gangster left $1.3 million of his fortune to 14 charities.

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Comments

Sign in to comment

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader

Close