“When The Strip Was Under Siege” The Wynns of Sin City, The Duponts of Delaware, and The Crips of Compton


Let’s go back in time, a few decades, to a different world.  Las Vegas, 1990 – the “New Vegas”. When The Strip Was Under Siege.

The actual birthday was November 22, 1989, the day the grandiose, lavish, sparkling-new Mirage was unveiled to the world.  The Strip had been reinvented, with an exploding volcano, dolphins, white tigers, and sharks looming in a huge tank behind the reception desk.

The architect of it all was the young, toothsome, always-tanned entrepreneur named Steve Wynn.

The naysayers said Wynn would never be able to generate the $1 million each day that would be required to keep the lights on.  They were wrong.

In fact, Wynn’s empire would soon expand to his Treasure Island property, the opening of which was heralded in a made-for-TV movie that featured the implosion of an old Vegas icon, The Dunes.  Prophetic, to some, ominous.  Then came the Bellagio.  Next, the Wynn and then its twin sister, Encore. (He’d already owned the Golden Nugget down on Fremont Street.)

However, just as Steve Wynn’s Vegas dreams rocketed  in an upward trajectory like a missile, orbited the world for almost 30 years, it ultimately crashed and burned.

But in the years between, especially the early days, there were challenges for the new Vegas, and some serious growing pains.  One might say the Strip was, for a time, in critical condition – something known, at least at first, by only the patient and its attending physicians.  There was an unwritten rule that precluded the media from highlighting news that would be bad for business.  An early iteration of “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.


The threats to the New Vegas during that first decade were predators who came in a variety of manifestations;  kidnappers, murderers-for-hire; and brutal, masked armed robbers, to name a few.  The most dangerous were not native to Las Vegas, but traveled there to inflict pain, fear, and death… for profit.

The targets, too, would vary.  An heir to the DuPont Chemical fortune, who found himself in Vegas with the girlfriend his Delaware family despised – enough to have her murdered, in a seedy old Strip motel.

The very lifeblood Las Vegas, the gaming industry, subjected to a series of violent takeover robberies by LA gang members, the crimes captured on surveillance videotape to be shared via worldwide media.


Even Kevyn Wynn, the young, innocent daughter of Mr. Vegas himself, kidnapped and held for ransom – $1.45 million in hundred dollar bills, to be exact.

I was a witness to all of this.   Well, more than a witness; I was one of the metaphorical medical staff working to save a patient who was in extremis.  Cancellations threatened the bottom-line after the Harrah’s take-over robbery surveillance videos were aired on programs like the Today Show and Good Morning America.

Local newspapers wrote gloomily about the growing fear among the city’s moguls in the wake of Kevyn Wynn’s kidnapping.


This was also a time when the trafficking of juveniles by pimps, the proliferation of meth, and illegal gun crimes were hitting record highs in Las Vegas.  As the Chief of the Narcotics and Violent Crime Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s office, it was my job not only to address individual crimes but to try to shut down, or at least disrupt, these persistent, systematic criminal epidemics.

Problem: I was just another ex-cop and Assistant D.A. from Long Island, facing some pretty damn daunting tasks.

Solution: fortunately, there were invaluable resources I could turn to for assistance.

Some of the best prosecutors in the country were but a few doors down from my office in the old Bridger Law Building, and they were only too happy to help the cause.   A small circle of us enjoyed a military-like camaraderie.

Likewise, there were a handful of fantastic agents.   Their talents and dedication managed to outweigh the larger number of “ROD” (retired on duty) federal law enforcement personnel assigned to Tinsel Town, who were primarily concerned with currying favor with the city’s big shots in an effort to feather their future, post-retirement nests.

Then there were the local cops – a HUGE pool of largely ignored investigative power and intel.  As a former Assistant DA who shared office space with our Rackets Squad detectives in New York,  I made a point of cultivating this invaluable resource.

This was not easily accomplished.  There was a predisposition to distrust (or worse) “the feds” out in the Wild West of the early 90’s.   However, after a massive effort to convince a handful of good men that we could do the job – with their help – they came through with results beyond our expectations.


We got a lot done.   The programs I initiated were all hugely successful.

It was exciting, rewarding work.

But…major cases were fraught with incredible unforced errors by the “elite” of federal law enforcement (you will hear nearly unbelievable stories of carelessness, laziness, and abject disinterest on the part of some of them).

Vegas has changed.   I’m retired, as are most of my colleagues.  But crime, and the work, goes on.

If anyone reading this material gleans even some helpful information by our example – including (maybe especially)  our mistakes, this effort will be a worthwhile one.


I have completed a book, “When The Strip Was Under Siege”, chronicling this period (Copyright 2023, Tom O’Connell).

I will soon publish it, perhaps here.

Congratulations – you have won a free preview!

Part 1 In 1992, I tried and convicted four Los Angeles Crip gang members, including Calvin Springer, a member of the notorious “Springer Family” (identified as such by the FBI) of Conspiracy, Armed Bank Robbery, and Use of Firearms in the first of what would become a string of violent gang takeover robberies perpetrated in Las Vegas. At the time, “takeover” robberies, while common in L.A., were a terrifying new crime in Las Vegas. The court, stating that the victim tellers could only have been abused more had they been killed, granted several upward departure motions, and sentences of up to thirty years were imposed. U.S. v Edmond, 43 F3d 472 (9th Cir. 1994) (published opinion)  

Part 2  In 1994, I tried the men who extorted $1.45 million from the Mirage Hotel and Casino in 1993 by kidnapping the daughter of Mirage Resorts CEO Steve Wynn. A third defendant pled and cooperated with the Government. Cuddy was the ringleader and a failed Newport Beach, California, businessman; the accomplices he recruited were young gang members. This crime occurred in July, 1993, during the height of the 1992-1994 onslaught of Las Vegas casinos, banks, and jewelry stores by Los Angeles gang members. The late, venerable Judge Lloyd D. George (for whom the Federal Courthouse in Las Vegas is named) stated that in all his years on the bench, the best witness he had ever observed was Steve Wynn, whose emotional testimony riveted all who were present in the courtroom. After an extremely high profile and contentious trial, the defendants were convicted of Conspiracy, Hobbs Act, Use of Firearms, and Money Laundering offenses, and received sentences of 19 and 24 years respectively. See U.S v Sherwood, 982 (9th Cir. 1996), U.S. v. Cuddy, (147 F3d111 (9th Cir, 1998)  (published opinion)

Part 3 In 1996, I prosecuted five Los Angeles Crips, including the first juvenile transferred to District Court in Nevada, for the takeover robbery of Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. The surveillance video of the thugs jumping into the casino cage, with one holding around the neck with a gun to his head, was shown extensively on national media, creating a furor in Las Vegas. The exceedingly violent 1994 crime, which occurred during the trial of the Wynn kidnappers referenced supra, was followed by a similar “takeover” robbery of The Flamingo Hotel and Casino by other L.A. gangsters the very next night. When the Wynn trial ended in convictions on all counts, I launched an extensive investigation of the dozen takeover robberies committed between 1992 and 1994 to ascertain possibility of common leader/organizers. We ultimately prosecuted several defendants for perjury and false statements; turned insiders; coordinated FBI, IRS and ATF with Southern California law enforcement agencies and ultimately dismantled the enterprise. We also provided Louisiana authorities with evidence which resulted in a life sentence in Angola State Prison for one of leaders in a drug case; another was killed when his girlfriend, charged with perjury, agreed to cooperate; two proceeded to trial – Melvin Foster pled the second day of trial; Chet Govan was convicted after trial, received 22 year sentence. The gang takeovers ended and the local press rightfully credited U.S. Attorneys Office. I was personally nominated for an Attorney General Award as a result. See U.S. v Govan, 152 F3d 1088 (9th Cir. 1998) (published opinion)

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