Izzy Marion – A Las Vegas Mystery Man


This is a long one and from my book…….
I never saw it coming. Whack! Bang! Thud! I was knocked out in a fraction of a second and I never saw the car T-bone me. I was driving North on Eastern Avenue, in Las Vegas, about 45 m.p.h. The car that collided with mine ran through a posted stop sign and put a halt to my cruising. I was spun around, knocked out, forehead cut and landed in the front yard of the residence of Izzy Marion. I am only repeating what physically happened from eye witness accounts of the accident.
Izzy was in his kitchen and heard the collision and immediately went outside to discover his new uninvited guest. I was cold-stone out. Izzy opened my door and I fell out as far as my seat belt would travel. Thank God I was wearing it.
“What are you doing here? I asked in a groggy semi-unconscious state.
“What are you, doing here? Izzy replied with the emphasis on you.
I felt relieved that I saw an old friend. He consoled me just to see his face, yet I could see he was concerned with my condition. He asked repeatedly if I was ok. I felt ok and got out of the car and sat down on a cement step and tried to make heads or tails of what just happened.
I first met Izzy Marion in about 1963, while visiting family in Las Vegas. I was considering moving to Las Vegas as soon as I graduated from high school. Izzy was having a Sunday backyard party of which we were invited. I can clearly remember all of the male compares playing a typical Italian card game called Briscola. Briscola is a Mediterranean trick-taking card game for two to six players, played with a standard Italian 40-card deck. You can use a standard Anglo-American deck by stripping out the 8, 9’s and 10’s. The objective of the game is to win tricks with valuable cards in them.
After Briscola they played Morra. In its ancient form Morra is a hand game played for points by two people. Both players show either one or two fingers, and simultaneously call, out loud, the number of fingers that the other player will show. A correct call wins the number of points showing as fingers (2, 3, or 4,) if both players call correctly there is no winner. It is all yelled out in Italian. This would be a great place for a referee. There are more fouls and arguments in this simple game than in hockey.
A winner was determined and the “Boss” elected an “Underboss” and they continued in their La Cosa Nostra style game of reward and revenge. One of the women would bring out a tray of small miniature beer cans and put them in front of the Boss. The women were forbid to play a game like this. The Boss would confer openly with his Underboss. Izzy was a master at this clever game in which he could say how bad a certain member was; how you could never count on his help in times of trouble, or that he was never loyal. He would then ask his Underboss what he thought of the member. The Underboss might defend him or also knock him. The Boss then could flag him by giving him no drinks this round, because he was “not-ta nice-a”. This was the Boss’s show of retaliation.
The next compare was then judged and he may be approved by the Boss to have a drink, and then the Underboss might suggest that he have two drinks, and then the Boss may say he needs three drinks. Before long, this compare was drunk, and the first member was dry. It was a very interesting type of fun. Who they liked drank. Who they were unhappy with were prohibited from drinking. It was a hoot. Some of the Boss’s true feelings were often shown to the other comparis to set an example. So simple, yet so effective. It almost paralleled the real inner workings of the Mafia bosses. They kept everything nice and simple, and private.
I still had no grasp on what all these guys did for a living, but I wanted to be just like them. They dressed to a Tee, looked sharp and expressed themselves like I never witnessed in my life. I really wondered about Izzy. He was good looking and could have been an actor on the big screen and not just an actor but a leading man playing opposite any women he would tell the studio boss to cast. Little did I know that I would really get to know this mysterious, yet outgoing individual.
He was a macho man and his character appealed to the Italian blood within my body. His ways were what most, not all, young Italian men were taught. It was cool to be like Izzy. At 15 I thought he was really a trip.
I graduated high school and decided to move to Las Vegas and attend Nevada Southern University which later changed its name to the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I attended classes for about a year and decided that I wasn’t ready for college. I had been meeting a lot of people in Las Vegas and there were more exciting things to do than to spend my day studying and learning about the “essence of a chair” in philosophy. If my professor had explained how the chair was made, distributed and hocked or stolen, I probably would have paid attention. I wanted to know what made things tick in Las Vegas. It was a fascinating experience being 18 years old and being in Las Vegas working as a busboy in the dealer’s room at the Sahara Hotel.
I learned how to deal and went to the my cousin’s casino, The California Club to “break-in” the business and learn all the casino games that the little casino on the corner of First and Fremont Streets, now swallowed up by the Golden Nugget, had to offer.
The California Club had a small show stage right in the middle of the casino. Some great acts appeared there at one time or another such as Fats Domino, Little Richard and many others including the regular house act, Sonny Spencer. Then one evening I came to work and there he was in living color, the star of the show. Izzy Marion had entered the building. He was a terrific act, as he appeared to me, especially since I had met him a few years earlier. I had no idea that he was a friend of my cousin Frank Schivo. But Izzy was everyone’s friend and I realized that he was a real politician and moved a swift as a half-back in the NFL. He was impressive as an entertainer in my young opinion, and he could even carry a tune. He did the job well and the people really liked him. Why he was there was probably to showcase his act, break it in and get it smoothed out for better venues. After all right outside the entrance on First Street there was a city sign that said, “No spitting on the sidewalk”.
He was working a deal with his friends at the Frontier Hotel at the same time. A full page ad appeared in the Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper with two people standing in front of the Frontier Hotel, Izzy Marion and Jack Shapiro. The caption read something like this: “We welcome Izzy Marion to the Frontier Hotel and wish him a huge success in his new beauty salon in the hotel. Also we wish Izzy great success in his new advertising agency.”
I could never figure this ad out, other than it indicated that Izzy Marion was more than being the Izzy Marion I knew. He was doing other surreptitious things for undisclosed people. I did a little investigating. I will bet my last dollar believing that Izzy Marion, the singer, hair-stylist and entrepreneur convinced Zerilli that he should help watch his interest in the Frontier Hotel.
In February, 1972 the government tried to present evidence, that the Frontier Hotel had hidden ownership. In the case that was brought against Jack Shapiro and others, the government contended that ex-Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa agreed in 1964 to lend $6 million to the hotel in which Tony Zerilli and Michael Polizzi would have a hidden secret interest. Tony Zerilli was one of Izzy Marion’s closest friends. Federal prosecutor Thomas Kotoske claimed that Frontier developer, Maury Friedman first contacted Jack Shapiro in 1964 to attract investors in the then proposed International Hotel Casino. It is a real coincidence that years later Kirk Kerkorian would develop the other super-size hotel in Las Vegas, aptly named the International Hotel. Maury Friedman was a key government witness, testifying for two days under a grant of immunity from prosecution. When there was a concern on some construction costs at the Frontier, Freidman quoted Jack Shapiro as saying, “Don’t worry, you know that Mike and Toney are behind this thing. You’ll get your money.”
Friedman told of many meetings during 1966 and 1967 in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Detroit, Toledo and New York, about how control of the hotel passed to the Detroit group. Maury revealed that the Detroit group were giving orders as early as May, 1966.
Friedman, Rosselli Zerilli and Polizzi met in Palm Springs, California in March of 1964. Freidman was interested in getting investors involved with his new hotel-casino venture. Polizzi and Zerilli both wanted in with the deal provided they could remain as silent partners, and even not known by any other investors. Then a week later in Buffalo, Zerilli, Polizzi and Maury Friedman met with Lou Jacobs of the Emprise Corporation. They discussed the new proposed resort and wanted Jacobs to invest in concessions at the property.
Then in April, they had the big meeting. Zerilli, Polizzi, Friedman and Johnny Rosselli met with Hoffa in Chicago to arrange for financing for the hotel. They were interested in obtaining a $6 million dollar loan. They had a basic deal, but the deal fell apart in a few weeks which in part could be because Hoffa was going on trial in Chicago on defrauding the Teamsters pension fund in connection with other loans Hoffa had made or gave orders to complete.
According to Ed Becker and Charles Rappleye , “Rosselli was also instrumental in arranging financing for construction of new hotels and expansion of existing ones, often through the offices of the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, which was controlled by Chicago mob figure Paul Dorfman and his son Allen. As Fred Black graphically explained in an interview, “If John Rosselli told Allen Dorfman to go shit on the courthouse steps in Carson City, he would shit on the courthouse steps.”
Kotoske also offered to prove through another witness and also a partner in the Frontier, Sam Diamond, that Jack Shapiro suggested a similar deal in 1965. Zerilli and Polizzi were soliciting to secretly invest $400,000 to $500,000 in the Silver Slipper casino located across the street from the Desert Inn Hotel and Country Club and just adjacent to the Frontier. The government had document sources confirming that Jack Shapiro, also about a 10% owner in the Frontier, as a “handmaiden and mouthpiece” for Zerilli and Polizzi.
The Emprise Corporation was a big company in 1972. According to a Sports illustrated article, “The Jacobs Brothers of 1915, and Sport service of 1948, had in 1961 become absorbed by the family’s new holding company, Emprise, which in turn became what is thought to be the largest single investor-proprietor in the realm of sport.”
Under the name of the principal Emprise subsidiary, Sport service, the Jacobs are feeding the fans of seven major league baseball teams ( Baltimore, Detroit, the Chicago White Sox, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Montreal); eight professional football teams ( Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Washington and Green Bay, when it plays in Milwaukee); five professional basketball teams (Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee); four hockey teams ( Chicago, Buffalo, St. Louis, Kansas City) and a number of minor league baseball and hockey teams.”
“The Jacobs have the concessions at more than 50 horse and dog tracks in the U.S. and Canada, plus 10 more in England and Puerto Rico. They have contracts with jai-alai frontons, bowling alleys, horse shows, golf tournaments and ski lodges. In 1960 they were the concessionaires for the Rome Olympics.”
“In 1963 Jeremy Jacobs obtained controlling interest in the Cincinnati Royals and the Cincinnati Gardens, where the Royals played. The Jacobs owned stock (off and on) in the Buffalo Bisons of the International League and in the Buffalo franchise in the American Hockey League.”
“Emprise holds stock, bonds or debentures in at least 19 separate pari-mutuel entities, including controlling interest in the Buffalo raceway; Finger Lakes raceway ( N.Y.); Latonia raceway (Ky.); Miles Park (Ky.); Southland dog track in West Memphis; Daytona Beach (Fla.) Kennel Club; Daytona Beach Jai-Alai Fronton; Melbourne ( Fla.) Jai-Alai Fronton; Centennial Turf Club (Colo.); and, in Arizona, all six greyhound tracks and until recently two of the three thoroughbred tracks. That is the imposing sum of what Louie had achieved by living and dying at his desk. The name of the corporation told the story. Enterprise and empire: Emprise.”
“In keeping with the old man’s modus operandi, Emprise money rolled out as fast as it rolled in, fertilizing the empire’s pastures. (Louie once told a potential partner, “Anytime you want more than $3 million, give us 24 hours’ notice. Any less than that sum, we’ll get you immediately.”) While stadium patrons from Seattle to Orlando, Fla were helping make Sport service a $100 million-a-year operation by devouring 20 million hot dogs, gulping 30 million soft drinks, guzzling 25 million cups of beer and shelling five million bags of peanuts, the company’s private loan office—Louie’s crowbar—was shelling out. Besides numerous unpublicized loans to franchise owners, there was help of such sensational magnitude it could not pass unnoticed. The Jacobs loaned $2 million to the new Montreal Expos, virtually a second mortgage according to Club Secretary-Treasurer Marry Renaud. An exclusive 10-year concession contract with option to renew for Sport service went with the deal. A loan of $2 million was extended to the Seattle Pilots. When that team moved to Milwaukee in 1970, an additional $500,000 was added. Along with it came the
25-year concession agreement with Sport service. In St. Louis, a $12 million guarantee (at $400,000 a year) was made by Sport service to help the city secure financing for Busch Memorial Stadium. The money is so vital that city authorities are worried about the whole stadium financial structure should Emprise be forced out of the picture. Another $1.2 million was invested by Emprise in concession booths and equipment. Quid pro quo: Sport service got a 30-year concession contract.”
“Meanwhile, Emprise, the “parent” company set up so that Sport service’s operations could be limited basically to sports concessions, had spread far and wide. Within the body of the conglomerate were, by company account, 162 different corporations. (Estimates by those who have had reason to track Emprise’s growth through the maze of its subsidiaries say the total may be four times that big.)”
“Today there are more than 70,000 Emprise employees working in 39 states, Canada, England and Puerto Rico.”
Ralph Lamb, Sheriff of Clark County, Nevada, announced that he was going to investigate the Frontier for hidden ownership. In Clark County, the local government also has to approve a gambling license, besides the State of Nevada. Technically speaking, a person could be approved for State gaming license and be denied to operate with Clark County, where the Las Vegas “strip” is located. The information that was given to the authorities was good enough for the police to barge into a Frontier room and arrest Anthony Zerilli, president of Detroit’s Hazel Park Racetrack. He was booked on vagrancy charges and released a few hours later. Zerilli’s father Joseph, was a legitimate Detroit Mafia boss that was not apprehended at the legendary Mafia Appalachian meeting at the home of Joseph Barbara.
The FBI questioned an employee at the Barbara estate and showed them Joseph Zerilli’s photograph but the domestic employee suddenly could not identify Zerilli as being in attendance at the meeting. A further check of Hertz Rent-A-Car records reflect that Zerilli rented a car in Binghamton New York and returned to a Brooklyn, New York agency. The clerk stated that due to the volume of cars handled each day by him and also due to the lapse of considerable time he was unable to identify Zerilli as being the person who returned the car to his agency. The Hertz records indicated that the driver’s license used to secure the rental car was a Michigan driver’s license issued to Joseph Zerilli. Joseph Profaci, was at the meeting, and is the father-in-law of Zerilli’s son, Anthony, who was arrested at the Frontier Hotel. Joe Zerilli denied being invited to Barbara’s home, denied any knowledge of the meeting and denied any intention of appearing at the meeting.
Tony Accardo and Samuel Giancana were overheard in Chicago discussing that several prominent racketeers of Sicilian origin were “bosses in different parts of the country. They indicated that there are nine or twelve men who make up this so-called “Commission which mediates on matters involving jurisdictional disputes in so-called “open territories. Accardo mentioned that one of the members of this Commission is Joseph Zerilli of Detroit, Michigan. He stated that other members of this Commission were Vito Genovese, Joe Profaci, Joe Bonanno, Joe Ida, Steve Magaddino, Pete Madaddino and Tommy Luchese.
Sources informed the FBI that the top leaders in the so-called mafia are in the East principally in New York and New Jersey. Information formed a solid opinion that the word of no man would carry more weight than that of Joseph Zerilli of Detroit. Zerilli would be apt to have the last word in settling any important dispute, whether it be in Detroit, Chicago or New York City. He had risen to the top in Detroit since 1931 and was probably as influential in the whole country as he was in Detroit. Zerilli was soft spoken and never encouraged violence except as a final resort when other methods failed. Zerilli was described as the “court of last resort whose decisions had the effect of law so far as the hoodlums were concerned. He was like the role of Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando in the Godfather. Robert Kennedy commented about the Zerillis, “(Mr. Kennedy) The Toccos and Zerillis are two of the leading gangster families in Detroit, Mich., and in the Michigan area.
The Detroit hoodlums did not enjoy the prestige of hoodlums from Cleveland, Brooklyn, Miami, Chicago and other cities because their racket activities had been confined primarily to the Detroit area. Pete Corrado (deceased) reportedly had an interest in the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and his son Dominic Pete Corrado is believed to still have an interest in it. When Corrado died, Pete Bommarito, brother law of Pete Licavoli, took over the Corrado operations. Tony Tocco, Tony Zerilli and Mike Polizzi had were looking for interests in other states and he said that Vito Giacalone and Mike Polizzi were the negotiators for the sons of Detroit hoodlums inasmuch as both could mix well and meet people. Izzy was right there in the middle of it all. The families loved him like a son.
The Frontier Hotel meeting was supposed to be a special secret meeting, but the FBI and the local police had a pretty good idea what it was all about. Friedman brought in the Detroit Mafia as hidden owners to put up the money to finish the hotel rooms and the casino. They had over five million dollars invested, so why were Accardo and Ricca called in to be questioned by the Grand Jury? Because Ricca’s boy, Johnny Rosselli, was putting the squeeze on the Detroit family for 15% of the Frontier Hotel action. This was a major issue to all concerned and the FBI knew all about it. Rosselli was already an owner in the Frontier gift shop.
Anthony Giordano was also a hidden owner in the Frontier from St. Louis, Mo. He was a great friend of Dave Goldberg and Erwin Gordon, two of the country’s top bookies at the time. Goldberg and Gordon last worked at the Dunes Hotel in the late sixties and early seventies. Goldberg was especially close to Tony G., as he was called. Giordano was also close to Morris Shenker, who represented Jimmy Hoffa.
Izzy was a close friend of Dave Goldberg and both were extremely close to Sorkis Webbe and Jimmy Tamer of the Aladdin Hotel. Izzy dated Ellen Mae George, widow of one of the Detroit members who owned the Aladdin Hotel. Trough Ella George, Izzy obtained the lease to the beauty salon at the Aladdin.
In late 1971, a Midwest group purchased the Aladdin from Recrion. They included St. Louis attorney Richard Daly, St. Louis deputy license collector Peter Webbe, Detroit residents Charles Goldfarb and George George, and then-Las Vegas casino operator Sam Diamond.
The only problem was that all of the owners were denied gaming licenses because of questions about their past business dealings. Finally in 1976, Mae Ellen George, the widow of George George, was licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission over the strenuous objections of the Gaming Control Board.
Two years later, Aladdin general manager James G. Abraham was named in an indictment that charged several Aladdin executives with running a skimming operation for reputed Detroit underworld boss Vito Giacalone. Abraham and several others were later convicted in a federal trial in Detroit.
Finally, in 1979 the Nevada Gaming Commission seized control of the Aladdin and ordered the property to be sold.
Izzy was in the middle of all of this, yet he was a great community leader. He never missed a political vote, coached American league baseball and served as an usher in the St. Viator’s Catholic Church.
Izzy was the man to see for UNLV basketball tickets. He was a very close friend of Jerry Tarkanian and crew. Izzy was so close to Jerry that Izzy would invite the entire basketball team to his house for a home cooked pasta dinner. Izzy believed that pasta, the night before a game, gave the players the extra energy need to win.
Izzy had a short fuse, but maybe it was all an act. Remember he was married to singing great Connie Francis and reportedly dated Shirley MacLaine. His temper got him into big problems with Connie and who knows what he laid on Shirley.
One time I bumped into Izzy walking into our local voting station. He said imperatively, “You have to vote for Kathy McClain!”
I felt like having some fun with him and pushing his button.
“No way Izzy, I am voting right down the Republican Party agenda!” I thought he was going to have a coronary. In his Italian tough guy attitude he quickly told me what kind of turncoat I was. It was worth the fun, and I went in and voted for the candidate of my choice. When I was leaving he asked me who I voted for. I refused to tell him. A double jab.
Izzy caused feelings of ambivalence. You could take him some days, and then some days not want to listen to his brotherly type of advice. In fact since I did not have a brother to look up to, I looked up to my older cousin who was square as a cube. Izzy reminded me of him. “Don’t do this, and don’t do that”. But in his heart he meant well, but he would give you a look that must have been rehearsed, or was learned from his mob friends in Detroit. The look implied that you would have something bad coming to you if you did not mind him. The love-hate relationship was really what I remember the most about him.
Yet Izzy enlisted me to help as an usher in our local parish. When I would come in before the Mass, he would give me the once over. “Straighten out your collar, “or “Button your shirt.” He had to be the Alpha. He could not help himself.
I had Izzy on my radio show several times: this link will direct you to the interview so you can actually hear his voice. Are you can watch it on You Tube: http://youtu.be/y-jnUSb0Ud8
I know I have said a lot about Izzy Marion and many will say that it was all made up. I don’t think so, because I watched Izzy make his farewell speech on video. Izzy knew that he would be leaving this earth and he personally wanted to think his dear friends. I am not going to indict Izzy’s friends by revealing all the names he mentioned on video, except one. Izzy was grateful to his dearest closest friend, Anthony Zerilli.
Rest in heaven Izzy.

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