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Excerpted from The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob
In addition to loansharking, Tony Spilotro had other money-producing irons in the fire, burglary and fencing stolen property chief among them. Burglars working for Spilotro eventually earned the nickname the Hole in the Wall Gang (HITWG). This handle resulted from their method of gaining entry into commercial buildings by making a hole in the wall or roof. But the thieves didn’t limit themselves to breaking into businesses; they stole from private residences and hotel rooms with equal zeal. Jewelry and cash were prime targets.
The size of the burglary crew fluctuated depending on the nature of the job. Some small capers might require only one or two men, while a major heist could need six or seven. In the latter case, extra help was sometimes imported from Chicago or elsewhere.
The proceeds from a job were split among Spilotro and the burglars. For a big haul, Tony was obliged to send some of the profit to his Chicago bosses. He also had to pay a certain amount of overhead. Valets, maids, desk clerks, and others who provided information regarding the value and activities of potential victims were compensated for passing on the information.
One of these scams was operated out of two locations, a major Strip property and a popular restaurant, and involved valet parkers. The valets identified affluent guests and struck up conversations to obtain additional information about the guest’s plans. For locals, valets could usually find address information with the registration papers in the vehicle. In the case of visitors, the name of their hotel was extracted during seemingly idle chitchat. Then, indicating long and short-term parking areas, the valet inquired as to how long the guest would be leaving their car. If the answer reflected a lengthy stay, the valet turned over the car to a burglar who, armed with keys to the residence, could conduct a leisurely burglary, using the victim’s own vehicle to transport the booty. For out-of-towners, a friendly desk clerk at their hotel was contacted for specific room information. If the target’s plans didn’t allow the time for an immediate theft, the information was filed away for possible future use.
So, depending on the size of the score and the number of ways the loot had to be split, an individual burglar might earn enough money from a job to be able to take a few weeks off and live it up. However, if through faulty intelligence or bad luck, the break-ins weren’t profitable, the thieves might be forced to strike again quickly just to maintain a basic standard of living.
Well, maybe “forced” is too strong a word. As a retired detective familiar with Spilotro’s burglars told me: “Those guys loved to steal. It was what they did. They could be sitting in a restaurant with ten grand in their pockets and they’d go across the street to a convenience store to steal a pack of gum. They wanted the big money, sure. But stealing, in and of itself, was a necessity for them. They were addicted to it.”
As Tony’s status grew, additional sources of income materialized, too. The Ant and his gang weren’t the only street criminals in Las Vegas, other crooks, not mob-connected, wanted to share in the bounty, and there was more than enough to go around. But Tony was running his budding underworld empire like a business. Legitimate entrepreneurs are required to get business licenses and pay related fees; if they’re caught operating without the necessary permissions, they’re subject to sanctions. Enterprising criminals wanting to get, or stay, in business also had to follow a certain protocol. They needed to get Tony’s blessing and pay him a share of their profits, known in gangland parlance as a “street tax.”
And it wasn’t wise to think you could simply ignore Tony and go about your business without his finding out about it. He knew everything that went on within the Las Vegas criminal element. No one did anything — from contract killings to burglaries, robberies, fencing stolen property, or loan sharking — without his approval and without paying him a monetary tribute where appropriate. And the sanctions for violating Tony’s procedures could be much more severe than those imposed by a governmental licensing agency.
Tony Spilotro was becoming ever more powerful, and his organization was growing.