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The Secret Police in the United States: How local law enforcement took on organized crime and La Cosa Nostra

By Gary Jenkins

The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit is a private entity whose dues-paying members are hundreds of North American law enforcement agencies. Its founding purpose was, “to promote the gathering, recording, and exchange of confidential information not available through normal police channels, concerning organized crime."

During the post war 1950s, criminals became more mobile operating across state lines, and local police departments found it difficult to learn about travelling criminals. In particular, La Cosa Nostra families were communicating and committing criminal conspiracies across many jurisdictions. The F.B.I. and most notably, J. Edgar Hoover, did not trust local police departments, sometimes for good reason. Not all local police departments were riddled with corruption, in 1956, representatives from 26 local and state law enforcement agencies met in California and formed the LEIU to share information. One of the first rules was that they allowed no new members unchecked. If any existing member accused the new applicant of allowing any kind of corruption inside the department, they were not welcomed to the organization. The founders of LEIU knew that to be effective, they must foster an atmosphere where confidential information could be freely shared, in other words, the organization must be squeaky clean and appear more virtuous than Caesar’s wife. A paranoid J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to investigate this new organization. Hoover soon learned the new organization was above corruption and could be an asset. LEIU could be called the Interpol of the United States. At one time, they were so secret that most officers of the member agencies were unaware of the national LEIU organization. Today they have a public website and a LEIU Facebook Page you can like.

In 1962, ex-FBI agent and then Kansas City Chief of Police Clarence Kelley created a squad of 8 specially chosen detectives to form a Top Hoodlum Squad. He based this on the F.B.I. Top Hoodlum Program established by J. Edgar Hoover as a response to the publicity from the famous 1957 Apalachin convention raid. In post war America, the remnants of Prohibition era corruption still infected many big city police departments. In the late 1950s to the 1960s, local law enforcement started to distance themselves from politicians owned by the National Crime Syndicate. During this time, the F.B.I. and local police did not trust each other or work well together. As a result, like Kansas City, many large cites and state agencies formed their own version of a top hoodlum program with a directive to focus on local organized crime families. In Kansas City, politicians could not deny that two local men, Joe Filardo and Nick Civella, known to be part of Prohibition era bootlegging gangs, were caught at the Apalachin meeting. Serious law enforcement leaders in Kansas City and across the United States realized a National Crime Syndicate created the need to share intelligence from city to city and state to state.  Chief Kelley's squad soon joined L.E.I.U. and even renamed themselves the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit or LEIU. The Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit (LEIU) was the most elite unit on the KCPD.

After "extreme vetting," I was selected to join the KCPD Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit in 1976. At that time, like most other Intelligence units, the KCPD LEIU was located in a secret off-site office building. We were commanded by a Captain and he reported directly to the Chief of Police. I was just in time to take part in a major investigation of the mob in Kansas City which uncovered the Midwest mob families skimming money from Las Vegas casinos. During my 13 years as a detective I investigated members of the Civella crime family, groups advocating civil disorder, the KKK and many other professional criminals operating across jurisdictional boundaries.

The most important asset of any intelligence unit is credibility and freedom from corruption.  As an example of how LEIU works to keep itself clean, I must tell the story of Las Vegas Intelligence Unit Detective Joe Blasko and his Sergeant Phil Leone. In the 1970s, these officers reported directly to Clark County Sheriff Ralph Lamb. By 1978, the Las Vegas F.B.I. Office was working very hard to investigate and charge the transplanted Chicago Outfit mobster, Anthony "Ant" Spilotro. For a while, Spilotro seemed to be leading a blessed life. He and his crew seemed to magically avoid every law enforcement informant, surveillance or wiretap. A tough former marine named Emment Michaels was a new F.B.I. agent who took a personal interest in Tony Spilotro and his band of thieves. The F.B.I. office had grown suspicious of the Las Vegas cops. Soon, Agent Michaels learned from a secret wiretap why Spilotro seemed be leading a charmed life. He and other agents overheard the voices of Sergeant Phil Leone and Detective Joe Blasko informing Spilotro of police surveillances, identity of informants, descriptions of undercover automobiles and backgrounds on loan shark customers. Michaels even caught Blasko watching Spilotro's business, Gold Rush Jewelry, and telephoning in short messages about surveillances. As these facts came to light it was not long before the Las Vegas Metro PD was removed from L.E.I.U.

In 1973 the Clark County Sheriff's office and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department had merged. The sitting sheriff, Ralph Lamb, was named the head of this new department. Sheriff Lamb was an old-school law enforcement officer and was a more concerned with politics than law enforcement. He would be indicted by the I.R.S. over unreported income he claimed were loans from casino owner, Benny Binion. He mailed a letter to the Florida Horse Racing Commission supporting Chicago mobster, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal who was trying to get licensed. Remember, the two Intelligence detectives, Leone and Blasko, reported directly to Sheriff Ralph Lamb. In 1978, a police Commander named John D. McCarthy challenged Ralph Lamb and won the election.

One of the first units to receive the new Sheriff's attention was his Intelligence Unit. Joe Blasko and Phil Leone quickly took their leave of police work. Sheriff McCarthy appointed a new Intelligence Unit commander named Kent Clifford. This was December, 1978 and on one Commander Clifford's fist days in his new assignment, he arrived a work to find many cases of expensive bourbon, scotch and other hard liquor. The new Commander asked, "What's this?' One of his detectives replied, "Commander, that's our Christmas from the Strip." Clifford replied, "Take that stuff back and you are to never take anything from any casino again!" After a few quick transfers, Commander Clifford pronounced his overhauled squad to be clean. It was not long after that L.EI.U. readmitted the Las Vegas Metro Police Department back into the organization.

Commander Clifford's unit started working closely with Agent Michaels and his surveillance squad. On July 4th, 1981, they caught Tony Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang (photo above) in the process of committing a burglary. To add sweetness to the moment, former unit member Joe Blasko was arrested with the gang.  Agent Michaels would say, "This was the greatest day of my law enforcement career!" Out of that arrest, the F.B.I. turned gang member Frank Culotta as a witness and the only reason Spilotro escaped prosecution was his assassination.   

In more recent times, the traditional La Cosa Nostra organizations have diminished in scope and threat. After September 11, 2001, local law enforcement has increased attention to domestic terror, because of L.E.I.U., the individual state and city intelligence units have been better equipped to respond to the new traveling criminal. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gary Jenkins retired from the Kansas City Police Department in 1996 after a 25-year career. Gary attended the UMKC School of Law and graduated in 2000. He was admitted to the Missouri Bar and he continues to practice law today. He is a Board member of the Kansas City Police Pension System and The Jackson County Historical Society. During the past 10 years, Gary produced three documentary films. The first two were Negroes To Hire: Slave Life in Antebellum Missouri and Freedom Seekers: Stories From the Western Underground Railroad.

Gangland Wire is Gary's third documentary film. During Gary's KCPD career, he was assigned to the KCPD Intelligence Unit, investigating organized crime. In the 1970s, a grass roots development in the City Market area, became known as the River Quay.  A Mafia dispute over parking rights and strip clubs would destroy the area. The resulting investigation will allow F.B.I. agents to convict La Cosa Nostra leaders in Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Former KCPD Detective and filmmaker Gary Jenkins tells this story as only an insider could, using excerpts from wiretaps and interviews with participants.  

Additionally, Gary created a Smartphone app titled Kansas City Mob Tour. This app utilizing maps, text, photos and video conducts the user on a tour of famous Kansas City mob sites.

Gary produces and co-hosts a podcast titled Gangland Wire Crime Stories. Using the audio podcast format, Gary tells true crime stories from his experience and obtains guests who have either committed crimes or investigated crimes.   

Gary's most recent project is his book documenting the investigation into Las Vegas skimming activities. Gary uses actual wiretap transcripts to tell the story of this investigation. The book is titled Leaving Vegas: The True Story of How the F.B.I. Wiretaps Ended Mob Domination of Las Vegas Casinos

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