Dan Rowan (Laugh-In) Phyllis McGuire, Bob Maheu and the bug.

In the early 1960s there was a small love link between the comedian, Dan Rowan of Laugh-In fame and singer Phyllis McGuire which led to a conflict between Sam Giancana and Rowan. I knew who would win this issue.

This story was leaked from the  Sheriff’s office about a wire-tapping incident at the Riviera Hotel wherein Rowan’s room was put under surveillance because of Giancana’s fear that Phyllis may have been a little too friendly with Rowan. I also found out that Rowan was roughed up a bit as a warning to stay clear of Phyllis.

Sam Giancana was a very close friend of Johnny Rosselli’s and Sam was hot and heavy with Phyllis. Sam had heard that the comedian Dan Rowan, from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, was courting Phyllis. The idea sprung up that Sam could find out for sure if this rumor was true by bugging Dan Rowan’s room in the Riviera Hotel. The initial idea could have been Giancana’s, but I don’t think so—probably Johnny’s. Remember, this was around 1960.

Here’s what happened. The Clark County Sheriff’s office arrested Arthur Balletti on October 31, 1960 for bugging the phone set in Dan Rowan’s room at the Riviera Hotel. A hotel manager stumbled upon the suspicious-looking equipment in Balletti’s room. The reason why a hotel manager was in the room is unusual. I suspect that it might have been a set-up. A search of Balletti’s room reflected notes of dates and times of the recording times Balletti had written down about Rowan’s voice conversations. There was also a suitcase full of electronic devices, including transmitters, receivers, wall plugs, a minifon wire recorder and a set of 17 professional type lock picks.

On Balletti’s arrival at the county jail, he admitted that he had been hired by Investigations Incorporated of Miami, Florida, a company owned by former FBI agent Edward DuBois, and that the company had a client who wanted information on Rowan’s private life. Balletti admitted listening to and recording Rowan’s telephone conversations since October 25, 1960. According to Balletti, Fred T. Harris, an investigator, had entered Rowan’s room and installed the listening device. Rowan was advised of what happened; however, on November 1, signed a release stating that all charges against Balletti be dropped. I have a source that says Rowan was threatened and roughed up by an unidentified individual which caused Rowan to drop all charges.

This leads me to think about how many other taps were placed on individuals in Las Vegas and elsewhere when vital information was needed by whomever. If Giancana and Rosselli could get the CIA operatives to bug Rowan’s telephone, it’s a very good bet that they might have bugged the operators of the Desert Inn’s offices as well. Giancana and the Chicago Outfit would then know many inside tales that were valuable to their modus operandi. How much conversation about the casino skim did they overhear? They could know the answers to questions before asking. The way the room was bugged is even more interesting. It was a full crew of operatives, much like the Watergate burglars, but there’s more.

Maheu instructed T.W. Richardson, a manager at the New Frontier, to pay a gentleman $1,000 who would tell him a password. This $1,000 was a retainer to Balletti for the room surveillance. What I find strange here is how Maheu involved a completely uninvolved casino employee in the scheme and made it mysterious by using a password. Why would he handle the payment of $1,000 by using a password? Wouldn’t this make Richardson suspicious of the payment? All Maheu had to do was tell Richardson, ‘I want you to give a guy whose name is Mr. Brown (or whatever the name) $1,000 for me.’ I will reimburse you when I see you.’ But he didn’t. I’ll always wonder why. Maybe this was common practice with Maheu and Richardson and there were other incidents of this type. How many other important players were bugged? This was old hat for Bob Maheu.

Many years later, in his own words, Maheu talked about an incident wherein Hughes was concerned about Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra. “Mr. Hughes was interested in rumors that were abounding to the fact that Ava Gardner, with whom he was very much interested at the time, was at Lake Tahoe and seeing Frank Sinatra, and wanted a surveillance placed on Ava Gardner. I hired a private eye, a former FBI agent in Reno, and gave him the assignment.”

Maheu was a really interesting man and came from the old school of policeman-ship and was a strong anti-communist—something I grew up learning about during the Cold War. Actions that Maheu took were from a patriotic loyalist’s sense of righteousness that dictated, “You had to do what you had to do” to keep our country free. A little surveillance was okay here and there if it was for the better good. He really explained Hughes’ zeal for surveillance in an interview for public radio. This small bit of information maybe tells us that through Hughes’ interest for the “need to know,” he may have been responsible for the latest listening mechanisms employed by the NSA and the CIA and every other intelligence gathering source in the U.S. (Note: Those from Burbank should know that Bob Maheu’s secretar,y Mrs. Ceil Nolan’s children went to school at St. Robert Bellarmine with me.)

Maheu: “I mean, in the case of Hughes, people seem to want to forget about the accomplishments. And I’m talking about the accomplishments in communications. Everyone thinks of Hughes as a movie mogul, a woman chaser. They don’t realize that when he flew around the world, when he set a record flying around the world, he was as proud of the fact that throughout that whole trip he was in constant communication. He was a communications buff. I mean, who soft landed the first vehicle on the moon? It was Hughes Aircraft. Imagine that many years ago we soft-landed a vehicle on the moon that sent messages back to earth upon command from earth, not once but twice. We marvel about our communications today in the world of space. Who set the first space vehicle synchronized to earth? The Early Bird, which was a Hughes Aircraft manufactured vehicle, we did that in the middle ‘60s when four-fifths of the world had been incapable of receiving instantaneous communications. You understand that better than I do at that time. But we don’t talk about these accomplishments. We don’t talk about the things, the helicopters, and the other accomplishments of this man. And I think it’s time that we do. And as long as I live, I’ll do my share in that world, I’ll tell you.”

There you have it in his own words. It really confirms in my mind that Howard Hughes was a full-fledged partner with the CIA and a good possibility that Bob Maheu was the go between.

Remember, later on Anthony Zerilli and Michael Polizzi’s room at the Frontier was invaded by Clark County Sheriff deputies. Was their room bugged by people that wanted to force them out of the Frontier as hidden owners? Was there a mole in our midst? I think so. It was not Bob Maheu who had anything to do with this because he wasn’t around the Frontier then, but rather a local team of FBI agents who had bugs everywhere in Las Vegas who alerted the local Sheriff about the inside business at the Frontier Hotel. I thought so much of Bob Maheu that I asked him to sit on the board of one of my public companies.

Another important point is that the bugging/password event took place in 1960 and Maheu knew T.W. Richardson. How did Maheu know him? Maheu did not have any control of the New Frontier Hotel which was later opened as the Frontier Hotel and I was a partner. Maheu was acting for Hughes when he bought the hotel in 1968.

FBI reports show that Maheu was doing work for Hughes about the same time Maheu recruited Rosselli to assassinate Castro. Did Rosselli know Richardson and suggested to Maheu he would be a good casino contact for payment? What was the past role of T.W. Richardson and Rosselli and/or Hughes? Very mind boggling.

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