Herbert Blitzstein: Las Vegas Mobster
Herbert Blitzstein, also called Fat Herbie, is a well-known mobster who did his best work from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Starting off in Chicago as a successful bookmaker, Blitzstein fled to Las Vegas to avoid prison time. His criminal activities in Las Vegas would get him listed on the Nevada State Gaming Commission's black book, making it nearly impossible for him to set foot in the casinos there.
To learn more about Blitzstein's childhood, his time in Las Vegas, and the mysterious events that lead to his murder, please read through his thorough biography. You'll be guaranteed to learn something you never knew before.
Herbert Blitzstein was born on November 2, 1934, in downtown Chicago. His family was very poor and hardly had enough money to afford groceries. His life of crime started young, as he would often steal food from the local grocery stores and fruit stands so that his family wouldn't starve. To make more money for his family, Blitzstein became an avid gambler. He would often be found hustling people at the pool tables of a nearby saloon. He would even play poker on occasion and was known for his skills at the table.
After dropping out of high school, Blitzstein joined a gang and became a well-known racketeer. Since he was both tall and hefty, no one dared to mess with him. It was around this time that Blitzstein met Henry Kushner, a bookmaker that worked for the mafia and was known for bringing in millions of dollars for them on a yearly basis. Since Kushner was going to be heading to prison shortly, he asked Blitzstein to take over his clients. After working under Kushner extensively for several weeks, he willingly agreed to take his place.
Blitzstein was a successful bookmaker for several years before he was forced to flee Chicago to avoid being arrested on account of illegal gambling. Having never left the state of Illinois before, he wasn't sure where to go. A man named Anthony Spilotro encouraged him to move to Las Vegas with him so that they could go into business together.
Blitzstein and Las Vegas
Blitzstein and Spilotro opened up a jewelry store named The Gold Rush. While they did sell jewelry there, its primary purpose was to help them launder money. They were part of the "Hole in the Wall" gang that managed to rob stores, banks, and casinos across Nevada. Their signature move was to punch holes in the walls of the places they stole from, hence their name.
Blitzstein would often take the money he earned while on the road with the gang to play poker at the nearby casinos. He was known to drop thousands of dollars every time he went. While he would win money every once in a while, he never seemed to be able to quit while he was ahead.
In 1981, several members of his gang got caught while attempting to rob a convenient store. In the hope of a lighter sentence, those caught told the police about Blitzstein's and Spilotro's criminal record and led them to their hideout. They were put on trial on accounts of money laundering and racketeering. A few members of the jury allegedly took a bribe from the mafia, making their first trial null and void. By the time the second trial took place, Spilotro had been killed.
Blitzstein, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including trespassing, money laundering, harboring stolen goods, and income tax evasion. His crimes earned him 8 years in federal prison. He spent the majority of those years in a private cell, having very little with the outside world. During his free time, he would play poker and various card games with the other prisoners. They would gamble with their possessions, giving Blitzstein the opportunity to win clothes, books, and sometimes even extra snack tokens.
Blitzstein was not given the proper medical attention he deserved while in prison. He was supposed to be on medicine for diabetes and heart palpitations, but the nurses at the prison refused to give it to him. As a result, he had a heart attack and had to undergo two emergency bypass surgeries. He also had to have 2 toes removed from his right foot. Blitzstein's experience in prison was mentioned in the 1991 congressional investigation of medical abuse in prisons.
When Blitzstein was released from prison, he noticed a significant decline in the Chicago mob's influence on Las Vegas. Blitzstein was determined to change that. He joined forces with Ted Binion, who had recently been put in the Nevada State Gaming Commission's black book. The two were known for distributing loans to people at the casinos who wanted more money to fund their gambling habits. Their loans came with high interest rates and short terms. When a client couldn't pay back the loan in time, they were often harassed or beaten in front of the casinos to be taught a lesson.
Many of their clients avoided going to the casinos until their debts were paid off entirely, which ultimately caused the casinos to lose out on business. After working with Binion for quite some time, Blitzstein's name would also be added to the commission's infamous black book. This was devastating news for Blitzstein, who enjoyed playing at the casinos during his free time.
He later teamed up with Joseph DeLuca to open an automobile repair shop called Any Auto Repair that would be the front for their auto insurance fraud operation. When customers brought their vehicles in to be repaired, they would quote an extremely high repair price to their insurance company. It was often almost double the price of what it actually cost to repair it. After they paid the mechanic they had on staff, they would pocket the rest of the money for themselves. They were able to make a substantial amount of money through doing this, which caused the Buffalo crime family and the Milano crime family to become envious.
On January 6, 1997, Blitzstein failed to show up to the auto body shop for work that morning. As it was out of character for Blitzstein not to come in, DeLuca went to his apartment to visit him. He found Blitzstein slumped over in a chair, looking as if he may have suffered from a heart attack. DeLuca called the police, and after the paramedics examined his body, they reported his cause of death was three bullet shots to the head.
His body was delivered back to Chicago so that he could be buried next to his mother. A private funeral service was held in his honor. Less than 20 people were present. Among those present were several of Blitzstein's cousins and a few members of the Chicago mob.
The FBI spent over two years investigating Blitzstein's murder. Blitzstein's neighbors weren't very helpful, claiming they didn't see anything suspicious the day he was shot. They did hear him speak his final words, though, which were evidently, "Why me?" He shouted this phrase 5 times before breathing his last breath.
About 5 months into the investigation, his former partner DeLuca came forward to reveal his part in the murder. He had been approached by several members of the Milano crime family who were anxious to get a part of Blitzstein's wealth. DeLuca agreed to help them take Blitzstein down by explaining to them the layout of his apartment and letting them know his sleep schedule. Louis Caruso and Anthony DeLulio, two members of the Milano crime family, pleaded guilty to breaking into Blitzstein's home in order to steal the jewelry he kept there. They denied firing any shots at him, though.
Several other members of the Milano crime family and the Buffalo crime family had to serve time in prison for conspiring to kill Blitzstein. The police were never able to pinpoint who actually pulled the trigger on Blitzstein, although they suspect it was one of the members of the Milano crime family.
After hearing about Blitzstein's death, his former attorney released this statement about his character: "Herbie was the last of a breed. He was not going to hurt anyone. This was the type of guy who was never going to give testimony against anyone. If he's convicted of a crime, he goes away and does the time. He's not a rat. He was a stand-up individual."
Impacting the Media
Blitzstein's life of crime has been mentioned in several popular films and novels. In the 1995 version of Casino, the character Bernie Blue was loosely based off of Blitzstein. He is portrayed by established actor Max Raven. In the 2008 film Sex and Lies in Sin City, Blitzstein is played by Gregg Merrill in a scene where he brutally beats someone on the head with a phonebook.
The well-known author Cathy Scott also wrote about Blitzstein and his murder in the 2012 book titled Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre. An entire chapter of the book, chapter 16, is dedicated to talking about Blitzstein and the events that lead up to his mysterious murder.