The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob

The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob by Dennis Griffin

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Authors: Dennis Griffin
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forget so quickly, however. Attempts to deconsolidate Metro continued from time to time for years to come.
    The fledgling agency had other difficulties, too. Rumors circulated of corruption within the department, and that Sheriff Lamb himself was less than honest. In 1977, Lamb was indicted on charges of income-tax evasion. The IRS alleged that Lamb spent more money than he earned and had accepted “loans” from casino owner Benny Binion—loans that were never intended to be repaid.
    The tarnished image of the department didn’t sit well with some, including Commander John McCarthy, head of the Vice, Narcotics and Juvenile Bureau. The New Jersey native and former Las Vegas Police Department cop decided to do something about it: challenge his boss—the nearly legendary Ralph Lamb—in the 1978 election. It was a bold decision, to say the least. Had Lefty Rosenthal handicapped McCarthy’s chances of beating Lamb at that early point, he would likely have made him a substantial underdog. But, odds aside, McCarthy had made up his mind.
    John McCarthy
    John D. McCarthy was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, on March 4, 1934. His father died when he was seven and times were tough financially. The young McCarthy earned spending money selling newspapers on the street and shining shoes in the local bars. As a teen he got a job at the Gibraltar Paper Box Company, going to high school during the day and working the afternoon shift at the plant. After paying his mother $15 per week for room and board, he was able to save enough money to buy a car.
    Upon completing high school in 1952, McCarthy took a better paying job at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles from his home. But the Korean War was still raging, and knowing he was likely to be drafted at any time, he elected to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1953. Hostilities in Korea ended while McCarthy was still undergoing infantry training at Camp Pendleton, California. He was subsequently assigned to the Marine base at Lake Mead, Nevada, and spent the next 18 months guarding some of America’s deadliest weapons.
    During his tour in Nevada, he met a girl and fell in love. When he was discharged in February 1956, he headed back to New Jersey, but vowed to return as soon as he saved some money. True to his word, McCarthy was back five months later.
    The ex-Marine took a job as a mechanic for the Las Vegas, Tonopah & Reno Bus Line. One day while he was servicing a bus, a Las Vegas police car pulled up. The officer behind the wheel was one of his former Marine Corps buddies; he asked McCarthy if he’d ever considered getting into police work. Later that same day the cop returned with an application for his friend to fill out. Within a few weeks McCarthy had taken and passed a civil service test and a physical exam. He was hired as a police officer on September 13, 1956.
    The new cop was issued a couple of used uniforms and was loaned a .38 revolver, handcuffs, and leather gear. His pay was $360 per month, which figured out to $2.25 an hour. There was no provision for overtime pay at that time.
    McCarthy had gained a new job, but shortly after being hired he and his girlfriend split up. He wasn’t unattached for long, though. While on patrol one night, he handled a call that led to a stop at Memorial, the town’s only hospital in those days. While there he met a nurse, Marjorie McHale, and began dating her almost immediately. They were married in January 1958. Their first son, Michael, was born on July 3, 1959. A second son, Brian, was born on June 2, 1962.
    On the job, McCarthy moved from patrol duty to the Detective Bureau in 1961. He worked the burglary and robbery details. At that time his shift supervisor was also the chief homicide investigator. As a result, McCarthy assisted in the investigation of 24 homicides that year.
    In 1963, McCarthy’s mother passed away. While he was back in New Jersey for her funeral, he met a childhood friend who was

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