Allen Glick lived a “full and wonderful life enjoying many global adventures,” said a death notice Thursday in The San Diego Union-Tribune, noting the longtime La Jollan’s Bronze Star from Vietnam as a helicopter pilot and role in special operations.
Not mentioned in the 670-word paid obituary: Glick being a formative figure in the Mafia takeover of Las Vegas.
In the Oscar-nominated film “Casino” starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, Glick was portrayed by actor Kevin Pollak as “Phillip Green” — a clueless nebbish.
In fact, FBI agents probing the casinos called him “Genius.”
Regarded as a squeaky clean businessman, the San Diego real-estate man unwittingly (he and others insist) used nearly $63 million in mob-controlled Teamsters pension funds to build a four-casino empire in the 1970s, including the iconic Stardust.
He eventually learned of his entanglement in a profit-skimming operation — but had no way of leaving.
“You couldn’t go to the mob and say: I want to quit,” said Nicholas Pileggi, whose nonfiction books inspired the classic gangster films “Goodfellas” and “Casino.”
“You would sign your death warrant.”
In a phone interview Friday, Pileggi said he was sorry to learn of Glick’s death from cancer Monday at age 79 at his home near Kate Sessions Park between La Jolla and Pacific Beach.
Pileggi, 88, spoke from Long Island, New York, saying he got to know Glick after the book came out in 1995 and even before the movie.
“He was kind enough to meet with me. He read the book. … some of it flattering, some of it not,” Pileggi said. “But he was gentleman enough to meet, and I was very impressed with him.”
He said Glick was a “fascinating element” in Las Vegas gaming because he was basically a legitimate businessman needed by the mob to operate.
Pileggi said few walk away from a chance to create a major industry — but it was a tightrope Glick had to walk.
“Not many people I came across … had the nerve to take the chance,” said the Oscar-nominated screenwriter. “It was only later that I realized he had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. He didn’t need nerve. He just had it.”
Despite accounts suggesting Glick was aware of the Teamsters’ mob ties, Pileggi accepts the notion of business innocence.
“This was before the ‘Godfather,’” Pileggi said. “This was before all that intelligence really became part of the American culture. It was a revelation to a lot of people just how much power the mob had. Because the mob was not advertising that.”
Sicilian gangs that came to America went from street thugs to “Great Gatsby” during Prohibition, he said, when the Mafia became ultrarich via bootlegging operations — and untouchable via corrupt bought-off police and politicians.
“So he was in a bind,” Pileggi said of Glick. But federal agents finally came up with something to recruit him as a witness in skimming cases against top Mafia bosses. “I don’t know what it was — but they were able to convince him to cooperate and convince him that they were honest.”
Granted immunity, Glick helped put mob leaders in prison.
At supreme peril.
“I got to know him over those later years and saw him as pretty much a heroic ballsy guy,” Pilleggi said. “You look at him — he wasn’t a big guy. He was a little nerdish. He didn’t have a lot of hair. He had these eyeglasses.”
Glick endured a “very, very dangerous period” when cases started going to trial, involving Mafia bosses in Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City.
But after the convictions — and gangland murders that took out other mob chiefs — the heat lessened for Glick, who had returned to San Diego amid tight security.
“He was as good as dead if they could have done it,” said Pileggi, who co-wrote the “Casino” screenplay with director Martin Scorsese. “So I think he had a huge amount of federal security. That’s probably one of the reasons he almost disappeared.”
But with no pending Mafia trials, he said, “there was no reason to kill him at that point. They don’t kill for vengeance. They kill because they don’t want you to go and testify.”
Some strands of the Glick story remain a mystery, however, including what he knew about what the San Diego Reader called “San Diego’s bloodiest and arguably most famous Mafia hit” — the murder of Glick partner Tamara Rand.
“On November 9, 1975, a wealthy fifty-five-year-old woman named Tamara Rand was shot five times in the head and killed in the kitchen of her house in the Mission Hills section of San Diego. It was a professional hit,” Pileggi wrote. “The killers used a .22-caliber with a silencer; there was no sign of forced entry, and nothing was missing. The body was found by Rand’s husband when he got home from work.”
Glick found out that Rand had been slain when he got off [his company] jet in Las Vegas and was “greeted by reporters and TV cameramen asking his reaction to the murder,” Pileggi wrote a quarter-century ago.
On Friday, Pileggi backed Glick’s protestations of innocence.
The mob wouldn’t share their plans for Rand, he said.
“They kept him in the dark. I think the reason that she got killed is they were afraid she was going to tell him what was going on. … He was her partner. And she wanted something out of him (a 5% ownership stake in his business) that was maybe unfair,” Pileggi said.
“She had the edge on him because she knew stuff about the people he was dealing with that he didn’t know. The minute that that got back to them — that she was a potential danger, that she could tell him about stuff they didn’t want him to know — they had to get rid of her.”
Allen Robert Glick was born born April 11, 1942, in Pittsburgh, the son of Jack and Pearl Glick, his paid obituary said.
He attended The Kiski School, a private Pennsylvania boarding school, and earned a BA at Ohio State University and a law degree from Case-Western Reserve School of Law.
Entering the military in 1967 as a first lieutenant in the military police, he was transferred to Special Operations where he served as a captain in Vietnam.
“He learned to speak Vietnamese to aid the Army in military search and rescue operations,” his obit said. “His bravery there showed no bounds and for that was awarded The Bronze Star, three Combat Air Medals and the Vietnamese Medal of Honor.”
After dealing with other Southwest projects — including a post office in Texas, Pileggi says — Glick bought the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas.
As president of Argent Corp., Glick became one of the largest owners of casino and hotel properties in Nevada in the the mid-1970s, “bringing the first race and sports book operation to the Strip,” the obit contends.
“His company was also responsible for bringing the Siegfried and Roy show into prominence,” it continued. “Allen sold his Las Vegas holdings in 1980. He was second only to Howard Hughes in the ownership of hotels and casinos.”
He later had joint ventures with groups in Hong Kong and the Philippines and owned several casinos in Costa Rica, and “was responsible for the expansion of the successful lottery operation” in Caracas, Venezula, by introducing VLT machines, the obit added.
His board memberships included Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla,
Challenged Athletes, San Diego Honorary Sheriff’s Association and Kiski Board of Trustees.
“Even with his many business accomplishments, the greatest measure of his life was his devotion to his wife, Kathy, his family and friends,” the obit said. “Allen will always be remembered for his generosity and kindness.”
A celebration of life was Thursday at Congregation Beth Israel, followed by a graveside service at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley.
Former Union-Tribune business editor and San Diego Reader columnist Don Bauder said: “Truth doesn’t find its way into paid obits for those in the gambling industry.”
He said the last time he talked with Glick was in the 1990s.
“At the time, he was building a casino in the Philippines,” Bauder said from his home in Colorado. “I was calling him about the murder of [Rand] … Glick was booted out of Vegas by gaming regulators, but that may have been a favor to the gangsters who then controlled Vegas (and may still). … I recall he was head of the PTA — or something like that — at one of the most prestigious private school in La Jolla.”
He added: “These paid obits do a disservice to honest journalism. The only surprise in the obit is that it did mention his ownership of various casinos. I was not surprised that it did not mention his troubles with Nevada regulators, the murder [of Rand], etc.”
On Facebook, Glick was recalled by several people.
Said Nolan Dalla:
In the movie, Glick came across as a smarmy accountant and little more than a puppet with no personality. The truth was, Glick was a proud Vietnam veteran who was decorated in combat and later became largely a self-made man. … Given everything he was involved in, during arguably the darkest and most dangerous period of the Las Vegas Strip, it’s a miracle Glick wasn’t charged with any criminal activity. It’s even more of a miracle he wasn’t murdered. … Glick was certainly no saint. … But credit Glick for one thing — he was a survivor. Las Vegas has lost one of its last remaining links to the bad old days when one mob was replaced by another.
A Las Vegas Advisor account from 2011 noted intel from the Pileggi book: “If Glick was a prisoner of the Mob, his was a very gilded cage. The perks of being a Mob front included being able to afford a La Jolla, Calif., mansion as well as a private jet. Glick also reveled in a car collection that included … a Stutz Bearcat with mink carpets and upholstery.”
But Pileggi, who says he last spoke to Glick about 10 years ago, told Times of San Diego that he admired Glick and liked him as a person.
“Bunching around in that world, with the mob and all that corruption and stuff, you don’t come across a lot of people who really hold their dignity and even their honor,” he said. “And he’s one of the few who did. And managed to get through it and not get killed. He survived Vietnam in a helicopter and he survived Las Vegas with the mob.
“A pretty successful life. And a nice guy.”