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The Nation

March 30, 2011

Las Vegas embraces mob roots with new attractions

(Continued)

LAS VEGAS —

At the same time, the mob museum has been hounded by criticism that Goodman, a longtime mob ally, is glamorizing organized crime.

"Why are any of these brutal killers being honored? This is nothing but gross sensationalism," said William Donati, an English professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the author of "Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss."

"This is the image of Las Vegas that we want to portray?" Donati said. "What are they going to do next, have a show honoring the drug cartels of Mexico?"

To appease critics and burnish its academic credentials, the mob museum brought in historians, law enforcement officials and acclaimed museum leaders to help build its collection.

Ellen Knowlton, a former FBI agent based in Las Vegas, said she initially worried the project would romanticize mob culture after Goodman asked her to head the not-for-profit museum. She focused on the consequences of crime and persuaded collectors and federal investigators to provide photographs, transcripts of wiretaps and other materials from various mob investigations.

"If you thought organized crime was a glamorous lifestyle when you walked into the museum, you won't feel that way when you walk out," she said.

Like many of America's colorful cities, Las Vegas boasts a rich history of hustlers, gangsters and hoodlums.

The city's backroom deals and money laundering schemes gained worldwide notoriety because of criminal legends such as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, who ran the Flamingo hotel in the 1940s and named it after his mistress. The racketeer was implicated in at least 30 murders, according to the FBI.

In later years, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal ran the Chicago mob-owned Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina casinos.

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