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KCUR By Daniel Margulies and Sam Zef – this story originally appeared on January 29, 2020

—Not only did they defeat the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings, the game marked the first major twist in law enforcement’s longstanding efforts to bring down the Kansas City mob.

Everyone in town was betting on the Chiefs, and longtime Kansas City mob boss Nick Civella had to scramble to find people who would take the other side.

“Then as now, Kansas City was crazy about the Chiefs and many people wanted to bet on them in Super Bowl IV against the Minnesota Vikings. So much so that the bets were completely biased,” says Kansas City author Bonar Menninger.

Bookmakers care about profits, so odds makers always try to balance the bets: 50% for one team and 50% for the other. That’s why points are given to the underdog.

“The mob doesn’t gamble with their own money. They don’t care who wins or who loses. They want an equal amount of bets on one side and the other,” says now-retired Kansas City Police Department organized crime investigator Gary Jenkins, who helped bring down the Kansas City Mob.

So Civella was desperate for people to take the other betting side of the Chiefs.

“They were considering a significant risk if the Chiefs won,” says Menninger, who wrote about the episode for Kansas City Magazine in March 2000.

Unbeknownst to Civella, the FBI had tapped his headquarters phone at a place called the Trap (otherwise known as the Northview Social Club) on 5th and Troost. Disguised as telephone company employees, FBI technical agents had climbed a telephone pole to set up the wiretap, as recounted in “Mobsters in Our Midst,” a book about the Kansas City Mafia by the FBI agent William Ouseley, now retired, who was supervisor of the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad in Kansas City.

FBI agents set up a wiretap on the pay phone inside the Trap, a local Mafia hangout. What is left of the building still stands at 5th and Troost.

Betting imbalance

While wiretapping is now routine in organized crime investigations, in 1970 the wiretapping law was fairly new. And what the agents monitoring the payphone at Trap learned was that mob soldier Frank Tousa was keeping tabs on the Super Bowl bets for the mob and the lion’s share would go to his hometown team.

“They were trying to establish a source of the layoff,” Ouseley, now 84, recalls the conversation he and his fellow agents were monitoring.

To be specific, Tousa told Civella that they hadn’t been able to lay off $47,360 in bets.

“So when that happened, Nick called the phone and said, ‘What are you doing about all of this?'” Ouseley says officers overheard Civella say.

The mob’s gambling profits come from something called vigorish, or, for mob shorthand, “the vig.” It’s a 10% surcharge added to losing bets. If you place a $100 bet and lose, you owe your bookie $110. But in this case it was Civella who was afraid of losing his shirt.

Ouseley says he and his fellow agents couldn’t believe their luck. They hadn’t expected Kansas City’s organized crime czar to call on the phone, but here he was admonishing his underling.

“We didn’t expect this to lead to the mob boss himself,” recalls Ouseley. “I mean, they’re so isolated. … The idea that this 10-day operation — that’s the amount of time they’ve given us (the Justice Department) — was going to lead to Nick Civella, I mean, was beyond any expectation.

Finally, in 1977, Civella was convicted of illegal gambling and sentenced to prison, although he secured an early medical discharge after being diagnosed with cancer.

Finally, in 1977, Civella was convicted of illegal gambling and sentenced to prison, although he secured an early medical discharge after being diagnosed with cancer.

No one knew it then, but it was the beginning of the end for the Civella crime family. It took several more years for authorities to finally bring down other prominent Kansas City mob figures, but Super Bowl IV was the first crack in its seemingly impenetrable facade.

It was “the first harpoon in the beast,” says Menninger of Trap’s interception. “It took many years and thousands of man hours and a lot of cooperation – various state and local law enforcement agencies and of course the federal government – the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI – but in the end they managed to make drop ‘The Outfit’, as it was known.

Violence on the River Quay

The end, however, did not come until the Kansas City mob erupted in violence in the mid to late 1970s. It was then that internecine warfare broke out between members of the warring Mafia, leading to a series of murders and bombings in the River Quay entertainment district (the area now known as the Kansas City River Market).

“The result was one of the most intense federal racketeering investigations in the history of this city,” wrote JJ Maloney, a writer who covered the mafia’s exploits for the Kansas City Star, in City magazine in 1978.

That paroxysm of violence eventually led to extortion convictions for William “Willie the Rat” Cammisano and his brother Joseph Cammisano. Around the same time, Civella, who was just getting out of prison, took over the reins as the head of the Kansas City union.

But not for long. Building on their initial successes, the FBI began uncovering other Mafia racketeering schemes, including a long-running operation to skim money from Las Vegas casinos.

Through his control of Teamster’s billion-dollar Central States pension fund, the Kansas City mob, as well as crime syndicates in Chicago, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, had managed to invest and infiltrate several Las Vegas casinos and skim their profits.

“We put a hidden microphone inside a pizza place in Kansas City and found out that there was talk of creaming in Las Vegas casinos,” recalls Jenkins, the police investigator. “And so this investigation really became the backstory for (Martin) Scorsese’s famous film ‘Casino.'”

As a result, Civella, his brother Carl, mob member Carl DeLuna, and nine other mob figures were indicted in 1981 on charges of skimming money from the Tropicana casino. They were convicted in 1983, the same year a new indictment was filed naming 15 organized crime defendants in a scheme to skim money from the Stardust casino.

Civella has never been tried in the skimming cases. He had returned to prison in 1981 for attempting to bribe a prison employee. He won another medical parole in 1983, but died just two weeks after his release.

Dawson and Dawson

An intriguing footnote to the 1970 Super Bowl connection is that Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson’s phone number was found in the possession of a Detroit bookie named Donald “Dice” Dawson (no relation to Len), which Time magazine he described as a “versatile gambler”. and trendy bookies.

Just four days before the Super Bowl takes place in New Orleans, The New York Times, quoting NBC News, reported that New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and Dawson “will be invited to appear before a federal grand jury in Detroit to investigate sports gambling”.

The Chiefs quarterback admitted talking to Donald Dawson on a few occasions but denied entering into illegal gambling agreements with him. He was cleared of the charge and went on to lead the leaders to their historic upheaval.

Jenkins says he knew the Chiefs star wasn’t mobbed.

“I felt bad for him at the time because I knew in my head that there was nothing wrong with Lenny Dawson,” says Jenkins, “but it’s the looks that are as bad as the real thing in the minds of many.” people”.

For his part, Civella has always denied that organized crime existed in Kansas City. In a 1970 newspaper interview, he listed his occupation as a professional gambler.

But law enforcement knew otherwise.

“Yeah, we took Nick and put him in jail, (but) the outfit continued,” says Ouseley. “In fact, they were skimming from Vegas this whole time. Nothing stops the organization, no people. So the fall of the mafia was the buildup of our efforts and the local people who contributed greatly – the buildup of a program dedicated to the destruction of Cosa Nostra families.

The cover of “Mobsters in Our Midst,” former FBI agent Bill Ouseley’s book about the Kansas City mob.

“Surely this was a piece,” Ouseley says, referring to Civella’s conviction stemming from the 1970 wiretap, “because not only was he indicted, but he spent the next six years tied up in court, distracted perhaps from other things he had to do. , having to operate under the restriction of the court.”

Menninger says the importance of the Super Bowl IV case was that it debunked the notion that the Kansas City Mafia was invincible.

“There was a sense in Kansas City that the mob was here and they were powerful and weren’t going anywhere,” Menninger says. “And so the fact that they were finally able to land some shots and finally shoot them down — that’s an amazing story, and so much credit and courage and conviction goes to these federal investigators and local law enforcement.”

“I think people need to understand how much work has been done and what an important case it was,” adds Menninger. “Not just in terms of breaking up the crowd, but damaging and ultimately crippling it nationwide.”

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