A federal jury in Las Vegas convicted two reputed Buffalo mafia figures May 21 of extortion. Stephen Cino and Robert Panaro, Sr., conspired to extort Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein, a once-powerful mob loan shark. Prosecutors claimed the extortion was part of scam to take over Blitzstein’s loan-sharking and insurance-fraud operations. Blitzstein was the right-hand man of Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, who was the subject of the movie Casino. Blitzstein was fatally shot in Jan. 1997. Prosecutors believe that Cino and Panaro’s extortion at least led to Blitzstein’s shooting.
Reportedly, Cino and Panaro were prominent members of a group of Buffalo mafia figures who moved to Las Vegas. Both have been in Las Vegas for at least a decade. In 1996, Panaro was one of seventeen bosses ousted from LIUNA Local 210 for allegedly associating with organized crime figures, as part of LIUNA’s “internal reform effort.” When he was indicted in 1997 on the Las Vegas extortion charges, authorities said Panaro was still part of the Buffalo crime family, and that he was then running an auto dealership known as Good Fellows. [Buffalo News 5/23/99]
Being booted from a union and being convicted of crime are not equal punishments; thus, Panaro is another example of the failure of LIUNA’s “internal reform effort.” Had the Dep’t of Justice, instead of LIUNA, been “cleaning up” Local 210 in 1996, there is a far better chance that Panaro’s illegal and questionable activities would have been stopped by conviction sooner.