“Do your enemies before they do you.” — Lester “Benny” Binion
Binion’s Horseshoe casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
In 1971, various people began complaining to the local police department they’d gotten fleeced at an informal casino setup in California’s San Fernando Valley (yes, the location of, like, “valley girl” fame, a culture that developed a decade later).
The Dirty Details
Consequently, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Strike Force investigated the grievances. They discovered an illegal gambling ring, one that floated, or moved to avoid detection by law enforcement. In this case, it had been held at a different, rented home each time and the venture had been run for four months.
The men behind it employed prostitutes to lure their johns into playing various dice and card games of chance, including blackjack and craps. These were/are illegal in California. Then they cheated the players out of as much money as possible during the gambling by secretly using loaded dice, marked cards and a crooked wheel, all of which they’d acquired in Las Vegas.
They netted as much as $250,000 a month (about $1.5 million today)!
In December 1972, the LAPD raided the operation, and a grand jury ruling followed in November 1973. It indicted seven men on these charges: 1) conspiring to violate gambling laws, 2) traveling between states to promote an illegal gambling business and 3) conducting an unlawful enterprise.
The alleged co-conspirators were:
• Peter John Milano, 47, a Northridge resident, a made* member of La Cosa Nostra’s Los Angeles Nick Licata Family and a bail bondsman. As the suspected kingpin of the gambling scheme, he’d provided police protection and had offered to put up bond if any of them had gotten arrested.
• Martin C. Calaway, 47, a Beverly Hills attorney who allegedly had bankrolled the scheme with $25,000, for which he was to receive 20 percent of the profits.
• Luigi Gelfuso, 48, operator of a Fresno trash collection company, who supposedly had provided protection and debt collections.
• John Joseph Vaccaro Jr., 33, an unemployed Las Vegas construction worker believed to have run the games.
• Tony Endreola, 49, and Santo Albert Manfre, 39, were said to have overseen the games to ensure Milano had gotten his fair share of the profits. What the involvement of Harry P. Coloduros, 35, had been isn’t known.
Six days before the trial was to start, a masked person executed John L. Dubcek, 31, and his wife Francis Ann, 27 in Las Vegas at close range just before midnight as the two entered the dark hallway leading to their apartment. He first shot John in the back then hit Francis Ann in the face as she turned around.
The two had worked at the Westward Ho casino. He’d been a shift manager, which was ironic as he was an expert slot machine cheater and had gotten into trouble for illegal gambling previously. He also had been charged in 1972 with running a crooked gambling operation in Van Nuys with Vaccaro, but the case had been dropped.
John Dubcek had been scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness in the trial of the septet just as he’d done before the grand jury in the same matter. Although his and his wife’s murders never were solved, the FBI and other agencies believed that Milano, Calaway, Gelfuso and Vacarro had had him killed to silence him. In fact, the prosecutor averred he had proof the four had plotted the hit on the courthouse steps the day they’d been arraigned. Despite knowing that two contracts had been out on his life, Dubcek had refused police protection repeatedly.
“It was definitely a rubout job” by a professional hitman, a police investigator said (Press-Telegram, March 21, 1974).
Due to the murders, the judge postponed the trial for four and a half months.
When it finally took place, in mid-August, one of the men involved, Coloduros, testified for the government and implicated the others in the illegal gambling ring, yet Milano and Calaway professed their innocence.
The six-man, six-woman jury, after deliberating for three days, returned a guilty verdict for the three major players — Milano, Calaway and Gelfuso. A month later, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse. W. Curtis sentenced them each to four-year terms in federal prison.
* “Made” denotes one’s status as a fully initiated member of the Mafia, one that requires, for one, carrying out a contract killing on the organization’s behalf.