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What's So Entertaining About the Mob?

By Clayton C. Knight · May 23rd, 2002 · Burning Questions
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Is Newport developing a sense of humor about its past?

The city will have a chance to laugh about the good old days with reputed mobster Tito Carinci, if restaurateur Jeff Ruby has his way. The theme of the Tropicana restaurant, scheduled to open Aug. 1 at Newport on the Levee, is a tribute to the city's wide-open days as a center of gambling, vice and political corruption.

For the grand opening, Ruby plans to assemble all the living participants of one of the city's most notorious scandals and stage a reenactment.

On May 9, 1961, George Ratterman was a candidate for Campbell County Sheriff when he was drugged, photographed in the company of stripper April Flowers and arrested on morals charges.

Carinci, manager of the original Newport Tropicana, led Ratterman into the trap, assisted by racketeers, club owners and Newport Police officers. The conspiracy was quickly exposed, and Ratterman won the election, signaling the beginning of the end for the mob's hold on the city.

"I'll have 'em all," Ruby says. "If Carinci's alive, I'll find him."

Well, maybe not all. Flowers might have limited appeal, according to Ruby.

"Who wants to look at an 80-year-old hooker?" he says. "If I can't get her, I'll get a show girl from L.A."

Ratterman and a detective are already lined up, according to Ruby.

"It's gonna be fucking hilarious," he says.

From the 1940s to the early 1960s Newport was Las Vegas-on-the-Ohio -- and worse. Monmouth Street's magnetism drew people from all over the Midwest.

Illegal gambling and assorted vices were the machinery of its industry. Bookies and madams tended the production line, under the supervision of politicians and police.

And the organized crime syndicates of Cleveland and New York stoked the engines that drove it all.

Back then it was the kind of place that brought to mind the "id" adjectives: lurid, torrid, sordid.

The war to extract Newport from the syndicates was hard won. The gangsters had a long reach.

Ratterman and the citizens of Campbell County needed a lot of help, and they got it, from the governor of Kentucky and the U.S. Department of Justice, all the way up to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

In 1965 Carinci was convicted on income tax evasion related to gambling at the Tropicana; he was sentenced to three years in prison. In the 1980s he received a 20-year sentence for heroin dealing, but was released in 1986.

The city Time magazine called "one of the nation's most blatant sin centers" has worked hard to transform its image.

The climate is different nowadays. The Newport Aquarium lends the city an aura of conscientious stewardship. The Newport Garden Walk contributes a feeling of urban gentility, providing a whiff of respectable history along with the petunias. The World Peace Bell projects the feeling of a city with global hopes.

So where do the mobsters fit in? Their crimes weren't exactly victimless. Why would anybody want to remember them at all?

Maybe it's because they lost the war and, with it, their power over the community.

"We don't feel one way or the other," says City Manager Phil Ciafardini. "We are very comfortable with where we are. It's just one part of the 207-year history of the city, and we can't change it."

Maybe the memory of boom times hasn't entirely disappeared.

"The perception of the community, of Monmouth Street and all that, was very different for the people who lived here," Ciafardini says.

Or maybe it's just business.

"Mr. Ruby has first-class operations throughout Cincinnati, and we have no reason to think this would be any different," Ciafardini says. "It's a part of the variety of entertainment we're trying to provide in the city."

Ruby's right. It's gonna be hilarious.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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