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Former Mob Lawyer Elected Las Vegas Mayor

By Cathy Scott

Reuters News Service (Jun 1999)

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Flamboyant lawyer Oscar Goodman, famous for defending some of organized crime's most notorious figures, was elected mayor of the gambling mecca of Las Vegas Tuesday.

 

      Goodman, 59, beat veteran Las Vegas City Councilman Arnie Adamsen, with 65 percent of the vote in a run-off election, with 82 percent of voting precincts reporting.

 

      ``This was a clean campaign and people appreciated that. It says that that's what people want, despite the fact that I'm a well-known defense attorney,'' Goodman told supporters.

 

      His victory was almost a foregone conclusion although he was dubbed the ``mouthpiece for the mob'' after a 30-year legal career representing legendary figures like the Mafia's alleged financial maestro Meyer Lansky.

 

      He played himself in the movie ``Casino'' but bristles at being called a Mob lawyer, claiming that only 5 percent of his clients were reputed Mafia figures. They included Anthony ``the Ant'' Spilotro who was suspected of more than 20 killings, and Philadelphia mob underboss Philip Leonetti.

 

      Despite years of close scrutiny by the authorities, Goodman has never been charged with a crime.

      ``I'm proud of what I've done. I'm not ashamed of anything,'' he said recently.

 

      ``I've made America a better place by making sure the Constitution is upheld. If you can assure an unpopular person's rights are protected, the average person gets the spillover effect of that.''

      Goodman, whose more recent clients have included boxer Mike Tyson and singer LaToya Jackson, has no political experience. But he succeeded in presenting himself as an outsider in touch with the people in a city keen to shake off its sleazy image and reinvent itself as a center for family entertainment.

 

      He brought charisma and energy to a campaign centered on a pledge to make developers of the glitzy casino resort pay more to help clean up dilapidated neighborhoods.

Goodman began his legal career in Las Vegas in 1964 and his big break came when he was hired to represent 19 bookmakers who were targeted by a federal wiretapping operation that spanned 26 cities.

 

      Goodman discovered that then-U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell had illegally authorized the wiretaps. As a result, the charges against Goodman's clients were dismissed and Goodman's reputation as a lawyer for organized crime offenders was established.

 

      Over the years, Goodman has not hidden his animosity toward the FBI, once declaring that he would rather his daughter dated Spilotro than date an FBI agent.

 

      Retired undercover FBI agent Rick Baken, who in 1978 infiltrated the Las Vegas Mafia, said the voters of Las Vegas had chosen a ``real wild card.''

 

      ``He's an intelligent fellow. He's not a respecter of persons. He's got all the money he needs, so he can't be swayed by moneyed interests. He's either going to be the best mayor Las Vegas ever had or the worst, because I know Oscar and he's not going to be anywhere in the middle,'' Baken told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

 

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