Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn got his start in the hotel and gaming industry with the help of the Detroit mafia. The 76-year old Wynn, who has been the corporate face of Sin City since 1990s, personally responsible for much of the New Millennium makeover on The Strip, was in the news this week after the Wall Street Journal published an investigative piece concentrating on years of alleged sexual misconduct he reportedly inflicted on his employees.

His entrée into Las Vegas was paved by deceased Detroit mob underboss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli back in the late 1960s. Zerilli and his wiseguy pals from the Midwest controlled the Frontier Hotel and Casino through a hidden ownership stake, using a West Coast land developer and promoter named Maurice Friedman as their front man.

Friedman knew Wynn through a friendship with Wynn’s dad, Mike, owner of a series of bingo halls in Maryland, and introduced him to Zerilli. Shortly following the introduction, Wynn was hired as the Frontier’s slot-machine manager and purchased a 5% interest in the hotel and casino for $45,000. He’s now worth billions.

“I put Steve Wynn in business, there’d be no Steve Wynn without me,” an aging Zerilli said in an interview in the weeks before he died of natural causes in 2015. “The guy took that job we gave him and that investment we allowed him to buy into and parlayed it into an empire. We legitimized him though. People knew he was suddenly a player because he had our backing to start.”

Zerilli’s dad, Joseph (Joe Uno) Zerilli served as the Godfather of the mob in Detroit for more than 40 years without ever doing a night behind bars. He was one of the only non-New York dons to hold a seat on the Commission, the mafia’s national board of directors.

When the government began breathing down his neck shortly thereafter, the younger Zerilli was forced to sell the Frontier to reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes, a man Wynn himself did future business with. The Frontier was torn down in 2008. Today, Wynn owns the property the casino once stood on.

Tony Zerilli

In 1971, Zerilli and several other Midwest mafia figures were federally indicted for skimming $6,000,000 from the Frontier. Friedman was the star witness at their trial in which they were convicted and all sentenced to five years in prison.

Following Zerilli being swept out of Las Vegas and the Frontier changing hands, Wynn turned his attention to the Golden Nugget, purchasing the iconic gambling palace and using it to transform the city’s then- downtrodden downtown area with mass renovations and a successful rebranding effort. By the early 1980s, the Golden Nugget was the most profitable casino in Las Vegas. Later in the decade, he changed gears and began a building campaign to rejuvenate the Strip, spearheaded by his construction of the Mirage and Treasure Island. The 1990s brought his opening of the opulent Bellagio, setting a trend for the long line of ultra-luxurious hotels and casinos you see dotting the Strip today.

Wynn has been hounded with rumors of mafia ties dating back decades. New York mob figure Anthony (Tony Cakes) Castelbouno was busted for laundering narcotics proceeds through a Wynn casino in Atlantic City 35 years ago. A conversation between former Genovese crime family street boss Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and one-time Cleveland mafia consigliere John (Peanuts) Tronolone was intercepted by an FBI wire planted in Salerno’s East Harlem headquarters in 1982 where Tronolone requested Salerno use his sway with Wynn to “rein him in,” and aid in sale negotiations related to a piece of property Wynn owned on the Strip. More recently, Boston Goodfellas Darin (Nino) Buffalino and Charles (Good Time Charlie) Lightbody were overheard on a wire talking about how they had Wynn “on their side,” in Las Vegas.

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