Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2019

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Joe Agosto death cripples Mafia probe

Former Las Vegas show producer Joseph Agosto, 61, who had become a key government witness against the mob, died of an apparent heart attack Monday while in federal custody at a Kansas City area hospital.

Las Vegas FBI spokesman Bill Jansen confirmed Agosto died of apparent "natural causes."

His death was described by Mafia watchers as devastating blow to the Justice Department's massive investigation into the crime syndicate's alleged influence over several Las Vegas casinos. Agosto had figured prominently in the government's hopes of obtaining indictments next month in Kansas City of top Midwest Mafia leaders.

Federal authorities were mum on Agosto's death, but Los Angeles attorney Stanley Greenberg was quick to blame the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis for his client's fatal heart attack. Agosto turned government witness last APril after a bank fraud conviction in Minnesota.

Greenberg, who had negotiated Agosto's deal with the government, said "bad faith" by Minneapolis prosecutors this past weekend contributed to his ailing client's death. Agosto had suffered from heart problems, high blood pressure and a severe case of diabetes in recent years.

"He received a communication Friday which we interpreted to be an indication of bad faith on the part of the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis," Greenberg told the SUN in a telephone interview.

Minneapolis Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Kelley, who prosecuted Agosto, said he told Agosto in a letter last week that the government would again oppose his efforts to obtain a release from jail on a bond.

"We told him it was just premature to think about that," Kelley said. "We felt that seven months of a 20-year sentence was insufficient time to serve to justify his release. We also thought it would be unsafe for him to be on the street considering his concerns about the Mafia."

Kelley said the letter should not have come as a surprise to Agosto because he was well aware of Kelley's opposition to Agosto's efforts to gain freedom.

But Greenberg said Agosto was deeply disturbed about the letter when he was received it, and was preparing to challenge it in court.

The defense lawyer said Agosto was taken to a Kansas City area hospital last Friday where he later suffered a mild heart attack. He was hit with a second heart attack Sunday and then a massive, fatal one about 6 a.m. Monday. He apparently died about 9:30 a.m. in Kansas City.

Greenberg said Agosto's last words to him Sunday were, "it's in your hands." He said his client was referring to the latest dispute with the Minneapolis prosecutors.

"They were well aware of the fragile nature of Mr. Agosto's health because they received ample court testimony regarding it," he said. "But they kept ignoring it and treating it as a dirty trick. They continued to treat him in a fashion which showed they had no regards for his health."

Agosto had agreed to become a government witness last April after he was convicted in Minneapolis of using several local banks in a check-floating scheme while he worked as a show producer at the Tropicana Hotel in the late 1970s.

The former "Folies Bergere" producer, who had been identified by the FBI as the Kansas City Mafia's overseer in Las Vegas, later pleaded guilty in Kansas City to a $280,000 casino skimming conspiracy at the Tropicana as part of his deal with the government.

His testimony led to the convictions in Kansas City last July of high-ranking Kansas City mobsters who participated in the skimming conspiracy. During the trial, Agosto testified that he took orders from the late Kansas City Mafia kingpin Nick Civella.

Las Vegas attorney Oscar B. Goodman, the late Civella's attorney, described Agosto as the "backbone" of the government's theory in that case. Goodman represented another suspected Mafioso, Carl DeLuna, in that trial.

Goodman said Agosto's death marks a "debilitating, crushing blow to the government," which apparently was hoping to use Agosto in the same manner in its current Kansas City probe of alleged underworld influence at Las Vegas casinos once owned by Allen R. Glick's Argent Corp.

Federal prosecutors were expected to seek indictments against Mafia leaders in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Kansas City in that investigation towards the end of September.

But now those efforts apparently have been stung by the loss of Agosto as a witness.

"I don't know that they can do anything without him," Goodman said. "They can continue with their efforts, but without Agosto they have to fail."

Goodman said prosecutors also were planning to use Agosto to launch new investigations in Las Vegas.

"It will be a blow all the way around," Metro Police Intelligence Cmdr. Preston Hubbs said. "I'm sorry we never got a chance to debrief him. It's a source of information that we've lost."