Las Vegas Sun

June 24, 2021

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Columnist Jeff German: Doumani brothers will be back in the headlines in 1998

WHEN ED AND Fred Doumani make their New Year's resolutions, staying out of the news may be at the top of their list.

Resolutions, however, are made to be broken.

The well-known Las Vegas brothers, linked by lawmen to various mob figures over the years, are a sure bet to make the newspapers next month, as the government's criminal case against them heats up.

The Doumanis, former landlords of the Tropicana hotel-casino, are among those charged with diverting millions from a $34 million judgment the brothers won in a breach of contract suit a decade after their 1979 sale of the Strip hotel-casino.

Most of the money in the 1989 judgment was supposed to go to Hotel Conquistador Inc., the bankrupt Doumani-owned company that once operated the Tropicana. But millions allegedly wound up in the hands of reputed Midwest mobsters and their associates.

The case is one of the remaining links at the federal courthouse to a colorful era of mob influence on the Strip that no longer exists.

Before the Doumanis sold the Tropicana, the resort was the target of a massive Justice Department investigation into alleged casino skimming by the Kansas City mob. Several Mafia bosses were convicted and sent to jail in the probe. The Doumanis, however, never were charged.

Last week, in the courtroom of visiting U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush of Washington state, the public got a taste of the importance of the Doumani case.

Two of the Justice Department's most senior mob fighters, Frank Marine and J. Kenneth Lowrie, have been dispatched from Washington to handle the prosecution.

The duo is fending off some sensational defense claims that have the potential to embarrass the government.

Through his attorney, Richard Wright, co-defendant Harold Gewerter last week asked Quackenbush to dismiss the charges against him.

Gewerter, a lawyer who obtained a $5.1 million fee for winning the court judgment for the Doumanis, contends he never should have been indicted.

The reason? He was one of the FBI's main snitches.

Gewerter insists the FBI reneged on a promise of immunity from prosecution for his help in the investigation.

Though he was smart enough to win the $34 million judgment for Hotel Conquistador, Gewerter neglected to get his grant of immunity in writing. It gave the FBI the freedom to charge him for his role in the criminal conspiracy.

It also left Gewerter in the unenviable position of being a defendant with the very people he had helped the FBI bust. At one point in the probe, Gewerter had allowed the FBI secretly to monitor conversations with his co-defendants in his office.

Quackenbush decided last week to give Gewerter and Wright a full-blown evidentiary hearing to make their case. The hearing, scheduled for Jan. 7, promises to be a doozy.

Gewerter contends he began cooperating with lawmen after a night of hell at his home in August 1990, just prior to collecting his multimillion-dollar legal fee.

On that night, Gewerter is said to have received a surprise visit from reputed mob associate Joey Cusumano and his cousin, topless nightclub owner Rick Rizzolo.

Gewerter has alleged that Cusumano, a longtime Doumani friend, threatened to harm him physically if he didn't turn over a third of the $5.1 million for introducing the lawyer to the brothers.

Though Gewerter filed a crime report and sought police protection after the alleged threat, Cusumano never was charged. Cusumano also was not among those indicted in the Tropicana investigation.

Many believe the Tropicana probe was born the night Gewerter got scared and rolled over. The Doumanis certainly believe it. They have denied wrongdoing and hired the best legal talent money can buy to fight the charges.

The Doumanis, who no longer have Gewerter on their Christmas card list, are convinced their former attorney and another government witness, ex-Hotel Conquistador President Deil Gustafson, are the real bad guys in the probe. The brothers anxiously are awaiting a chance a prove it in court.

In the meantime, it turns out that Gewerter isn't the only defendant who has accused the FBI of going back on a promise.

Longtime businessman Nicholas Tanno contends his indictment was based on immunized testimony he gave in the old casino skimming case.

Tanno, long suspected by the FBI of having ties to the Kansas City mob, wants Quackenbush to dismiss his charges, too.

Other fascinating pretrial issues also must be resolved at the Jan. 7 hearing, which has the makings of a headline grabber.

It may be difficult, indeed, for the Doumani brothers to stay out of the news in the new year.