A 'Mouthpiece' Becomes Mayor

One Of His Clients Allegedly Killed 22

When 60 Minutes first met Las Vegas lawyer Oscar Goodman 13 years ago, he was called the "mouthpiece for the Mob" because of the alleged gangsters he had represented, among them Meyer Lansky, Nick Civella, and Tony "The Ant" Spilotro -- men the FBI had identified as one-time Mob leaders.

Last year, Goodman became mayor of the city. Correspondent Mike Wallace talked to Goodman recently to find out what he thought of all the changes. But first, find out what Goodman was like in 1986.

Click here to read the two segments:

  • 1986 Profile
  • 1999 Update

  • 1986 Profile

    Goodman welcomed Wallace to his lavish Las Vegas law office -- dubbed by law enforcement people "The house the Mob built."

    Goodman says that he is not a Mob lawyer: "I'm a good lawyer. I'm a lawyer who defends citizens who are accused of crimeÂ….Period. Now, I can't help it if these monkeys out there want to call me a Mob lawyer. That's their problem." Goodman says that his clients are scapegoats, targets for frustrated law enforcers who cannot control crime.

    Goodman says that he has so many clients who are accused of being mobsters because they "feel that they can trust me. They know that I won't give them up. They know that when they come to me, I'm not going to be representing other clients who are cooperating against them." He says that witnesses who testify against their former colleagues for money are paid to perjure themselves.

    But how did Tony Spilotro, for example, get the money to pay Goodman? Goodman says that he doesn't know. "All I know is when Mr. Spilotro is with me, he's a kind, decent, attentive, genteel person." Spilotro was alleged to have put a rival's head in a vise and tightened it until his eyes popped out. It's not relevant as to where they get their money, as far as I'm concerned," says Goodman.

    Oscar Goodman as he looked 13 years ago
    But a lawyer who defends racketeers also has his nervous moments. "There were a couple of clients who had a dispute; and, instead of going to the courts over their dispute, they went to me as an arbiter. And we were in my office, and one of the clients was sitting over here, one of the clients was sitting over there, and I closed the door, and I wanted to hear what the problem wasÂ…I leaned against the light switch, and the lights went out. And I gotta be honest with you, I was a little concerned at that point. I hit the floor."

    Classic Update

    Since then, Goodman has taken a radically different tack.

    "Through my entire professional life I was fighting the government from the outside, and I said to my wife one morning, I said, 'You know, sweetheart, wouldn't it be great if I could fight them from the inside and keep them honest?' And she said, "Go for it.'"

    Oscar Goodman has his own official mayoral Web site. Send him email if you want!

    When Goodman announced his mayoral candidacy, the oddsmakers called him a long shot. The 60-year-old Goodman had no political experience, and many argued that his list of former clients made him an extremely unlikely candidate. Las Vegas' daily newspaper came out against him.

    One scribe wrote that "Considering Mr. Goodman as the official spokesman for Las Vegas is like considering Bill Clinton as headmaster of the school for wayward girls." There were other quips and headlines, among them: "Is Vegas Remarrying the Mob?"

    But the new mayor says that he won't repudiate his past: "People want me to apologize for my background, really, it's amazingÂ….To be honest with you I never had a bad day. [I] always looked at myself in the mirror, didn't see a particularly pretty face, but I was always proud of what I did."

    Some worried that Goodman would dredge up the "old" Vegas, which had a reputation as being run by the Mob, and ruin the new family-friendly version. Goodman, though, thinks that people come to Las Vegas for the same reasons they did 20 years ago. If people wanted to go to Disneyland, they could drive another 200 miles," he says. "When they come out there they don't wanna see Mickey Mouse under a rock, they wanna see a little Bugsy Siegal, I really believe that."

    His campaign did not get off to a promising start. At his first debate, someone asked him how many city council meetings he had been to. The answer was none. After the questioner was finished, he turned away. Goodman didn't like that: "I said, 'Wait a second, come on back here. If you're gonna ask me a question like that look at me when I'm answering you.' Well, I can't believe what the public said about that one. 'You can't speak to people that way.' Sure I can. Why be something other than yourself?"

    Goodman didn't shy away from his image either. During the campaign it was reported that Goodman said, with a big grin: "I'm running for mayor, I need your financial support. And if you don't give it to me I'll have you whacked."

    Goodman put forward a rarely-seen side of himself. He embraced family values with a TV commercial featuring him in his role as a father. And it didn't hurt when some of his former courtroom dversaries endorsed him.

    When all was said and done, Goodman won in a landslide, capturing 64 percent of the vote. Soon, Goodman had been honored by the gambling industry, which put his face on a negotiable casino chip.

    After Goodman won the election, the gaming industry created a chip celebrating his accomplishment.
    Goodman now spends long hours learning the ropes of running a city, talking to his constituents, and thoroughly enjoying the perks of his job. As mayor of Las Vegas, Goodman greeted President Clinton on a recent trip there.

    They had actually spoken before. The day he was elected his secretary told him that the White House had called. He didn't believe her, until she gave him his messages. As he recalls, he "had one message at 4:55, and one at five o'clock. The one at five o'clock was the White House and President Clinton. The one at 4:55 was a former drug dealer that I represented, both congratulating me, " he says, laughing.

    As mayor, Goodman has limited power. He has just one vote on a five-member city council. But the council allows him to use his vaunted persuasive powers. Goodman says he wants very much to become the best mayor Las Vegas has ever had.

    "I didn't need this job. I wanted this job. But I really wanna make a mark," Goodman says. "I wanna leave a legacy that this place is better because I was the mayor."

    Broadcast produced by Debbie Deluca-Sheh; Web site produced by David Kohn;