Spilotro's Vegas

IPSN, Autumn 1994

Exploring the “Ant” Colony

The Enforcer: The Chicago Mob’s Man Over Las Vegas
By: William F. Roemer, Jr.
Donald L. Fine, Inc. 348 pp.

Reviewed by Dennis Bingham

Imagine if you will, spending an evening with the man who is regarded by his peers in law enforcement as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on organized crime. One of the most “highly decorated agents in the history of the F.B.I.” sits across from you in an all-night cafe and shares his recollections of the underworld. Into the wee hours of dawn you hear the tales of dedicated F.B.I. field agents battling the shifty-eyed thugs, bookies, pimps and criminal low-life from someone who has “been there.”

All in all, it’s an intriguing way to pass an evening, and that is what is in store when you peruse through Bill Roemer’s latest offering, The Enforcer: Spilotro, the Chicago Mob’s Man Over Las Vegas.

However, the title of the book is somewhat mis-leading if the reader is expecting a standard third- person biographical treatment of Tony “the Ant” Spilotro. We never get a sense of who Spilotro was, or what made him tick. Spilotro’s early background, his family dealings, and personal insights are given only cursory treatment by the author. Missing are the viewpoints of friends and associates who knew Spilotro on more intimate terms than Field Agent Roemer. Although Spilotro is the title character of the book, the Chicago mobster’s life serves mainly as a framework for a broader discussion of mob rule in Las Vegas, Bill Roemer’s first hand dealings with the Windy City’s ranking mobsters – well traveled roads effectively covered in this first book Roemer, Man Against the Mob – and countless other anecdotes about gangsters that are by now familiar to Chicago-area crime buffs.

The Enforcer neatly compartmentalizes Spilotro’s life into three parts: Formation, 1914-1971; The Rise, 1971-1982; and The Fall, 1983-1986. Part One begins with the arrival of Spilotro’s father, Pasqialie, at Ellis Island in 1914, then jumps all the way ahead to 1953, the year Tony begins high school.

Roemer traces Spilotro’s transformation from street-smart wise guy to the Outfit’s designate over Las Vegas lucrative criminal operations. In graphic detail, Roemer recounts the career Spilotro’s mob-mentor, the crazed torture-killer. “Mad” Sam DeStefano and “Milwaukee” Phil Alderisio, a top hit man and one of the meanest of the Chicago “Wild Bunch” who operated back in the 1950s and 1960s. “Milwaukee” Phil made the battle a personal one by harassing Roemer’s wife.

Although Spilotro was the prime suspect in as many as 18 mob hits, what makes him worthy of full- length book attention is the role he was destined to play in overseeing Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit during its final chapter as a “Mafia” playground – about a decade before corporate America supplanted the mob on the board of directors of the major hotels and casinos.

The Outfit required its Las Vegas representato to be a “ruthless guy, a tough guy; a guy who could handle the disciplinary work, handle all the ‘Mr. Insides’ [mobsters who work the casino floors]. At the age of 34, Tony was stationed in Vegas overseeing all the activity of the Chicago mob in the west. All were overseen by this little runt of a man whose personality came alive when he was threatening someone.

The Enforcer includes some added bonuses: an organizational chart of the Chicago Mob family, a detailed index, and an epilogue listing the current whereabouts of most of the characters central to the story. Roemer has scattered 75 photographs liberally throughout the book which breaks up the text.

I find the conversational tone of the book to be problematic. Roemer’s personal asides to his readers embellish the subject matter and help clarify our understanding of the material, but at the same time, it also creates mild confusion with the dozens of names, sidebars and opinions that jump in and out of the story at inopportune moments. I’m inclined to believe that the fault here may rest more with the copy editors rather than Mr. Roemer, who appears to be more comfortable tackling non-fiction subject matter than weaving fictional characters in and out true-to-life plots as he did in his second book, the War of the Godfathers.

Bill Roemer reminds us that organized crime, the viciousness of its activities and the debilitating effect it has on our society, are not remnants of an earlier, forgotten era dominated by Al Capone and Meyer Lansky, but collectively pose a serious problem even today – and into the millennium. Modern organized crime is being redefined by the intercity street gangs, South American drug cartels, and South East Asian triads who study and refine the techniques of those who have gone before and the murder and mayhem threaten the stability of countries south of the U.S. borders.

The book concludes with a cautionary note from the author who is alarmed by the rising tide of the legalized gambling industry now sweeping the country. He sees these as unstoppable vices symptomatic of a spreading economic demise pandering for tax moneys within society.

Wherever there is opportunity for criminal activity as legalized gambling most certainly forebodes, there will come yet another Tony Spilotro. Another top muscle guy who breeds violence and believes that threats and intimidation will always produce the necessary results for the “wise guys.” And whether or not we legalize casino gambling seems incidental to the problem in a world whose reality has been re-defined by massive drug problems, international crime proliferation and the violence it spawns.

(Dennis Bingham is a writer, editor and cartoonist employed by the Chicago Police Department News Affairs Division.)