The Vagrants

In 1970, I was working business burglaries for the old sheriff’s department. One day, the Chief of Detectives, Gene Clark, recruited John DeMoss and me from our desks in the bureau and told us to meet detectives Phil Leone and Curt Lackey from the Intelligence Unit in the garage.

We joined them on the parking ramp, where Phil told us we were going to the executive terminal at McCarran International Airport. That’s all he said, and we didn’t ask for anything more.

When we arrived, Leone put his flashing red light on top of his unit and we followed Lackey and him across the tarmac where a plane had just finished loading passengers.

Hollywood couldn’t make up what happened next.

“The ones I point out, you escort them off the plane,” Leone said. He mounted the step-up gangway.

Just as we got to the plane’s door, the paddy wagon rolled up behind our units. I still had no idea what was going on. Leone showed his badge to the pilot. “Official business,” he said. He informed the pilot that he was holding up the flight. Looking left and right, Leone marched down the aisle. He pointed out a guy in the second row and told him to get up, that he was under arrest. Then he kept walking, pointing out another and then another. A couple protested that they wanted an attorney, but in the end they crawled out of their seats meekly.

As they came our way, DeMoss and I hooked them up and marched them down the steps to the paddy wagon. Before it was over, we’d arrested more than a dozen, all of them hoods here on a junket from Kansas City. They’d been staying at the Dunes. We separated them on the tarmac, loaded them into the paddy wagon and drove them to jail. I assumed we’d collared some serious felons—murderers or extortionists. It wasn’t until we were in the booking cage and starting the paperwork that I asked Leone what the charges were.


We still had vagrancy laws in place at the time.

“What kind of vagrancy?” I asked.

“Vagrancy loitering.”

Close enough. After all, they did loiter on the tarmac for a few minutes, albeit in handcuffs.

The first clown I booked, a grandfatherly type, pulled out a bankroll, smiled and told me to make sure every bit of it was accounted for. I counted out some $20,000, almost as much as I would earn in four-and-a-half years with the department. Others packed equally hefty amounts of cash, proof that even vacationing mobsters still have a little laundering to do.

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