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Casino Heist of 2023 Cracked Much Quicker than the old Mafia Skim

Back in the day when I covered the federal beat for a TV station in Las Vegas, La Cosa Nostra – the mob – was all the rage. Las Vegas was considered an “open city,” one in which no single mafia family ruled the roost. While they ordered the occasional hit on each other, they played somewhat nicely in the sandbox when it came to stealing from the casinos. Yes. Working through insiders in casino count rooms, they illegally siphoned pre-taxed cash off the top, and then bag men carried each family’s share of the money to mob overseers in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. It was called the “skim” and they got away with it for years.

Their tidy operation was coming to a close by the time I started working there. Fine investigative reporting by the late Ned Day and slain journalist Jeff German, whose epic work is profiled here by Mob Museum contributing reporter Larry Henry, and retired Nevada Press Association Hall of Famer Jane Ann Morrison, took no prisoners reporting scoops on the mob’s activities. These headlines drew national attention, and the pressure was on. State and local law enforcement agencies were also turning up the heat, working through their own insiders – informants. Wiretaps, surveillance photos, and dogged pursuit by cops and G-men helped to take down the skimming scheme.

What followed throughout the 80s was a steady stream of juicy indictments. For a reporter it was interesting to watch the perps paraded into the federal courthouse, and equally newsworthy to see their skilled attorneys duke it out with the U.S. Attorneys. One of the most famous defense attorneys for these “reputed mobsters” was Oscar Goodman, who after his court career, served as the city’s mayor for 12 years. Once while he was at the height of his legal career, I asked him a question about organized crime. With cameras rolling, he put his hand in the air.

“Stop right there, Lynn,” Oscar said. “There is no such thing as organized crime. I tell my clients all the time there is nothing organized about what they’re doing.”

That hilarious and outlandish soundbite was one of my favorites ever. But in hindsight, I have to disagree with what Goodman said. His casino-skimming clients look a bit smarter than those behind a recent heist I am about to share with you. And it took only a day to crack a large chunk of this case.

Here’s the Skinny.

According to a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a local casino was conned out of more than $1 million on June 17. The victim was the Circa, one of downtown Las Vegas’ newest resorts. The paper quotes a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police (Metro) report in saying that an employee in the casino cage received a 4:30 a.m. phone call from a person falsely claiming to be one of the casino’s owners. He said the local fire department quickly needed to be paid for fire safety devices. The employee was instructed to drop varying amounts of cash off to people at two gas stations, an auto parts store, and a pancake house. Police say believing she was following her employer’s orders, the employee did as she was instructed. She has not been named or charged in connection with this heist.

But one man has, and some of the money was recovered June 18th.

Listen, folks, unlike back in the old days when FBI undercover agents had to infiltrate operations, these days, it’s true that “Big Brother is Watching.” Your every move might be caught on camera. Whether you’re walking through a neighborhood, running a red light, or getting a cash drop along with your waffle, they see you. Watching surveillance video from the restaurant, the R-J reports, police saw the license plate of the man who allegedly accepted the money.

Are you thinking this man lived in his mother’s basement? Close. He lived with his aunt in a trailer park, and according to the report, when police arrived at the mobile home, they found a bag with “Circa” written on the outside, and nearly $850,000 cash inside. They arrested 23-year-old Erik Gutierrez-Martinez.

Photo: Metro Mug Shot

With the casino’s owners working closely with police in the investigation, the hunt is on for the rest of the dough and any possible accomplices. Guessing it won’t be long before we know more.

Not the mob, but fascinating.

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