November 2, 1934|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||January 6, 1997
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Occupation||Gangster, bootlegger, racketeer|
|Criminal charge||Fraud, conspiracy|
|Criminal penalty||8-year sentence at Federal Center Institution, El Reno, Oklahoma|
Born in Chicago, Herbie started working the rackets in the late 1950s. Blitzstein stood at 6 feet and weighed three hundred pounds and sported a goatee and moustache, dressed flamboyantly and drove a 1973 Cadillac Eldorado. It was said he had a close physical resemblance to the Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. He lived at 6720 North Damen Avenue in Rogers Park, Chicago with his third wife, but spent a great deal of time at Phil Alderisio's bar, The Tradewinds in The Patch. He had been a close associate of convicted mob bookmaker Henry Kushner. When he was convicted of bookmaking by the FBI and sent to prison, Herbert took over his clientele along with mob bookmaker's Boodie Cowan, a bookmaker that was suspected of being murdered by Anthony Spilotro. He was later convicted of racketeering. When he was released from prison, he moved to Las Vegas to serve as muscle for Spilotro. Tony Spilotro, John Spilotro and Herbie ran the Gold Rush Ltd. jewelry store, located on West Sahara Avenue, which was a front for the Hole in the Wall Gang, so named because they punched holes through walls and ceilings to grab the loot and run. Blitzstein also worked as a fence for stolen goods at the combination jewelry store and electronics factory.
The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang
His capo, Anthony Spilotro, in 1976, formed a burglary ring with his brother Michael and Blitzstein, utilizing about eight associates as burglars. The crew became known as the Hole in the Wall Gang because of its penchant for gaining entry by drilling through the exterior walls and ceilings of the buildings they burglarized. Other gang members included Peanuts Pancsko, Butch Pancsko and Pops Pancsko, Frank DeLegge, Michael LaJoy, Joseph D'Argento, Gerald Tomasczek, Peter Basile of Wilmette, Illinois, Carl Urbanotti of Chicago, Illinois, Ernest Lehnigg of Addison, Illinois, Samuel Cusumano, Joseph Cusumano, Ernesto "Ernie" Davino, 34, Las Vegas, "Crazy Larry" Neumann, Wayne Matecki, Salvatore "Sonny" Romano, Leonardo "Leo" Guardino, 47, Las Vegas, Frank Cullotta, 43, Las Vegas, and former Las Vegas detective, Joseph Blasko, 45, Las Vegas, who acted as a lookout and who later worked as a bartender at the Crazy Horse Too, a gentleman's club, and died of a heart attack in 2002. Following the botched burglary at Bertha's Gifts & Home Furnishings on July 4, 1981, Cullotta, Blasko, Guardino, Davino, Neumann, and Matecki were arrested and each charged with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, attempted grand larceny and possession of burglary tools. They were locked into the Las Vegas police department's holding cell in downtown Las Vegas. The only members of Spilotro's gang not arrested for the July 4th burglary were Blitzstein, Michael Spilotro, Romano and Cusumano. By this time, Spilotro's relationship with Rosenthal had collapsed, as Tony had had an affair with Rosenthal's wife, Geraldine McGee Rosenthal. Meanwhile, Cullotta had turned state's witness, testifying against Spilotro. But the testimony was insufficient, and Tony was acquitted.
In 1967, according to FBI affidavits, "Fat Herbie" ordered the murder of associate loan shark and bookmaker Arthur "Boodie" Cowan for holding back a street tax. Although Herbie did not participate in the July 4 robbery, he was indicted with Tony Spilotro on federal racketeering charges. The charges were later dropped for insufficient evidence.
In 1976, Blitzstein was convicted of running an illegal gambling operation.
He was one of the few Hole in the Wall Gang members who was not arrested after a botched July 4 burglary at Bertha's Home Furnishings in 1981. Blitzstein is described by FBI agent William Roemer in his book The Enforcer as one of the mobsters tested by the FBI in the early days of the Top Hoodlum Program. Herbert was a 183-cm, 135-kg (six-foot, three-hundred pound) man who drove a white 1973 Cadillac Eldorado and dressed impeccably.
While incarcerated in California, Blitzstein was taken off his heart medication by a prison medic and suffered a heart attack as a result. His case was part of a 1991 congressional investigation into medical abuse in prisons.
On 10 December 1991, Blitzstein was unanimously nominated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for inclusion in its official Black Book. Former police officer and board member Steve DuCharme said that Blitzstein's life "reads like a crime novel," and that Blitzstein was responsible for some of the most "embarrassing" crimes in Las Vegas city history. Nevada Deputy District Attorney Charlotte Matanane called Blitzstein a "notorious and unsavory person" during the relevant board hearing, and accused him of associating with Frank Rosenthal, among others.
On 6 January 1997, Blitzstein was killed execution style in his Las Vegas home. He was shot by mob members from Buffalo and Los Angeles who planned to take over his street rackets, which included prostitution, insurance fraud and loansharking. Of the seven people arrested in the plot to kill Blitzstein, four pleaded guilty to lesser charges in order to receive reduced sentences. One died in prison awaiting trial, and two went to trial and were acquitted.
In popular culture
Blitzstein, portrayed in the film Casino by Bret McCormick as Bernie Blue, was not murdered by the Las Vegas police during a bungled arrest as portrayed in the film. The shooting depicted in the movie "Casino" was that of another reputed associate of Anthony Spilotro named Frank Bluestein, not Blitzstein as stated above.
- May, Allen (23 August 1998). "Greed in the Desert: The Herbie Blitzstein Murder Trial". AmericanMafia.com.
- "TOURISTS WANT TO KNOW: Wise Guide". Las Vegas Review-Journal. April 30, 2006. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
- Vogel, Ed (11 December 1991). "Blitzstein nominated to state's Black Book". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
- Puit, Glenn (8 January 1997). "Many found Blitzstein a likable guy". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
- White, Keith (17 July 1991). "Congress Reviews Charges of Medical Prison Abuse". USA Today. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
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- Herbeck, Dan (19 April 1997). "2 Buffalo Natives Indicted in Racketeering Case Tied to Mob". The Buffalo News. p. C1. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
- Thevenot, Carrie Geer (27 March 2001). "Sentencing closes case". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved 28 October 2011.
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