Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

Living Las Vegas:

In sneak peek of memoir, Oscar Goodman details how he came to defend mobsters

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Sun File Photo

Mobster Tony Spilotro, left, and his attorney, Oscar Goodman, walk side by side after a session of the Spilotro trial in 1986. Goodman is writing his memoirs, including his days representing alleged mobsters and three terms as mayor of Las Vegas.

Oscar Goodman

Oscar Goodman sits in a booth at Oscar's Beef Booze & Broads inside the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas Monday, Dec. 19, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s memoir about his life as a mob lawyer, his three terms as the “happiest mayor in the universe” and his new career as the head of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s host committee hits bookstores June 4.

Goodman gave members of the Destination Services Association a preview of his book, “Being Oscar,” on Tuesday at the recently relocated Planet Hollywood restaurant at the Forum Shops at Caesars.

“I think the reason my book is going to be successful is because it’s Vegas,” Goodman told the group. “Anything with Vegas cannot miss. People love us. They’re fascinated by us.”

The book is being published by the movie-making Weinstein brothers.

Goodman said he is meeting with his publishers at the end of the week to go over some details of the manuscript he presented after writing for more than a year.

He said the book chronicles his childhood in Philadelphia, attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania and his cross-country trek with his wife to Las Vegas, where friendly conversations at a blackjack table led to him representing the likes of Meyer Lansky and Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro.

“You don’t become a mob lawyer by saying, ‘I want to be a mob lawyer.’ They don’t teach you that in law school,” he said.

Goodman said that while his wife — current Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman — was playing low-stakes blackjack at the Hacienda, he met a dealer who eventually contacted him about filing for bankruptcy. Goodman took the case and successfully filed the petition for $250.

Weeks later, he got another call from a pit boss at the casino seeking a criminal lawyer.

‘“I don’t know if he’s a criminal lawyer, but call Oscar Goodman; he’s a good guy,’ the pit boss told me. So they called me,” Goodman said.

In a late-night meeting, Goodman said he went to the home of a well-known Las Vegas gambler and was handed an envelope and told, “Here’s three dimes, and you better win the case.”

“I didn’t even know what ‘three dimes’ was, but I opened the envelope and found 30 $100 bills,” Goodman said. “I had never seen that much money at one time in my life. And I began to sweat because I was told that I better win the case.”

It turned out to be a criminal defense for the stepbrother of an East Coast mob figure. It was Goodman’s first federal case and it was conducted in downtown Las Vegas’ federal courthouse — now the home of downtown’s Mob Museum.

The trial occurred on Valentine’s Day in 1966. When the trial ended, the client’s brother, also a reputed mobster, asked Goodman if it was better if the jury was out a short time or a long time. Goodman assured the man that the longer the jury was out, the better. But by the time they had made the short walk from the courthouse to Goodman’s downtown office, the jury had returned with a verdict.

“I think they felt sorry for me,” Goodman said of the jury. “I could try the case 1,000 times and (in my mind) I’d lose it 999 times. But this time, they gave me a Valentine’s Day gift and they found this young man not guilty.”

Goodman talked to the group about another of his favorite things — downtown development.

He applauded efforts to develop the tavern district on East Fremont Street, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts and the Mob Museum, which he said has already paid back the $400,000 the city had invested in it.

He’s optimistic about the redevelopment of the Lady Luck resort into the Downtown Grand and said his wife has hopes of turning the Downtown Transportation Center “into a Faneuil Hall” — a historic downtown Boston gathering place.

Goodman also offered a story about the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“I was there when Frank Gehry, the great architect, saw it for the first time,” he said. “When he first saw it — I give you my word of honor — he began to cry. When he saw the inside of that place, he said, ‘This is even more than I ever dreamed of when I was creating it.’ If you’ve seen it, it’s absolutely phenomenal with great artwork. But more important than that, the Cleveland Clinic is running the medical end of it.”

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  1. "Oscar Goodman details how he came to defend mobsters" it will be a one page memoir, it will state "I did it for the MONEY"

    hahahahahah :D

  2. I can not wait to read this book, thanks Oscar for everything that you have done for this town!

  3. Err, aahh, hummm....? GoBruins, you must not have been in Las Vegas during the Tony Spilotro years. Or seen how unsafe the city was to visitors and local "legit" businessman.

    Oscar Goodman defended and help protect a murder and his crew. Period!

  4. I am not defending or criticizing Oscar Goodman when I say this: if you read the Constitution, we are all entitled to certain rights. If you were accused of a crime, especially a capital crime, you would want a lawyer to defend you and you would want a good one. It is not lauding mobsters or murderers to say that they are innocent until proved guilty. I'm sorry others here think so little of the Bill of Rights.

  5. Mr. Green is correct. If you are in trouble you hire an attorney. The mob was smart, they hired the best just as you would if you faced jail time.

    Oscar has done more for this town than most mayors ever did. He has his haters than again some that post here would hate on anyone due to their lack of ever doing anything with their own lives. Some complain daily about the folks they work for, the ones willing to put up with them and give them a job.

    Hope his book is a huge successes for himself and for Las Vegas. The greatest city in the world!

  6. Don't view it as defending mobsters and criminals, view it as defending the Constitution.

  7. It is true of most professions like law, doctors and accountancy, that people seek a recommendation from someone they know.
    Goodman just benefited from doing good on a couple of cases and getting the recommends. Generally a criminal defense lawyer or public defender can't be too choosey on those they represent.

  8. "...recently relocated Planet Hollywood restaurant at the Forum Shops at Caesars."

    What? When did Planet Hollywood close it's Caesars' location and then move back?!

  9. @Michael Green and Noindex:
    Great posts.

    When I worked at my Chicago law firm, in the past, the firm was known for defending "mob figures". Sometimes the firm represented clients in matters involving the mob. In the book "Casino", our firm was mentioned quite a bit because of a matter taking place in Vegas during the Vegas' hey days. It represented a non-mob entity. I also worked for one partner who, thanks to him, taught me about the law and the Consitution. And I learned and respected what the practice of law was about before it all became about the "bottom line". He represented quite a few Chicago mob guys and another head mob boss from another city. Of course, I had to deal with these clients all the time, via phone and visits to the office. And this will piss all of you who think representing the mob guys is disgusting, but I was treated with the utmost respect by all of them which doesn't diminish in any way what they did for a "living". But yeah, they were regular guys in their own way. And they were always up against the feds for one reason or another. And at times, the feds were not the "saints" that people thought they were. They would stop at nothing to get evidence against these guys even though there was NO evidence. I remember going with my boss to help him at trial in a neighboring State when his client was on trial. I was told by my boss to be careful when calling home, ie my parents, boyfriend, because the FBI bugged my hotel phone!! I was like "WHY??? I'm just a secretary!" Of course, because of a signed confidentiality agreement when I was hired, I never discussed any cases outside of the office with anyone. That whole trip was way interesting. A huge first-hand learning experience on how our system does work.

    I laugh when people make a big deal about anyone defending the "mob"! These people look down at Oscar, or any other lawyer, but it IS about the Constitution and everyone IS entitled to legal representation under our Constitution, no matter what the crime is or who you are. Remember - the Consitution that protects the innocent...until proven guilty, or not guilty.

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