Hank Greenspun

Hank Greenspun

Hank Greenspun was born in Brooklyn on the 27th August, 1909. He studied law before joining the United States Army and during the Second World War was sent to Europe. While in Northern Ireland he met his future wife, Barbara Ritchie. A member of the ordnance corps he served under General George Patton during the advance through France and Germany. Greenspun was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for his courage in the Battle of Falaise Gap.

By 1945 Greenspun reached the rank of major. After leaving the army Greenspun moved to Las Vegas where he joined forces with Ralph Pearl to establish Las Vegas Life, a weekly entertainment magazine. This was not a success and so he went to work for Bugsy Siegel as the publicity agent for his new Flamingo Hotel. Later Greenspun invested in a rival casino, The Desert Inn. These shares were eventually sold to Cleveland mobsters, Morris "Moe" Dalitz, Sam Tucker and Morris Kleinman.

Greenspun now began to invest in media enterprises. He became a partner in the radio station, KRAM, the television company, KLAS-TV and Channel 8, which he later sold to Howard Hughes.

In 1947 Greenspun was recruited by Haganah, the Jewish terrorist organization. Over the next couple of years Greenspun purchased artillery, machine-guns, rifles and airplane engines for Haganah. Greenspun was arrested in 1950 and charged with violating the Neutrality Act. He pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000.

Greenspun also became involved in domestic politics. In 1949 the International Typographical Union in Las Vegas became involved in a long-drawn out labour dispute. Frustrated by the way the dispute was being reported, the union established its own newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In 1950 Greenspun purchased this newspaper for $104,000. He renamed it the Las Vegas Sun, and turned it into a daily newspaper.

Greenspun's son later claimed that: "If he hadn't done that, Las Vegas would have remained a community completely in the grip of people who .... were focused on their own interests, instead of those of the community". Greenspun used the newspaper to attack politicians he considered to be anti-Semitic. This included Pat McCarran and the political machine he used to control Nevada.

Greenspun also used the Las Vegas Sun to attack Joe McCarthy during the height of McCarthyism. On 25th October, 1952, he wrote that: "It is common talk among homosexuals in Milwaukee who rendezvous in the White Horse Inn that Senator Joe McCarthy has often engaged in homosexual activities." McCarthy considered a libel suit against Greenspun but decided against it when he was told by his lawyers that if the case went ahead he would have to take the witness stand and answer questions about his sexuality. In an attempt to stop the rumours circulating, McCarthy married his secretary, Jeannie Kerr. Later the couple adopted a five-week old girl from the New York Foundling Home.

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy pardoned Greenspun's felony conviction, and therefore restored his right to stand for political office. The following year, Greenspun, a member of the Republican Party, attempted to obtain the Nevada gubernatorial nomination. However, he was defeated by the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oran Gragson.

Greenspun attempted to make the Las Vegas Sun the dominant daily in Las Vegas. He suffered a terrible setback when a fire destroyed the Sun's offices and production plant in November 1963. Greenspun suspected arson and later accused Tom Hanley, in prison for murdering a union boss, of starting the fire.

On 3rd July, 1972, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while placing electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. It later emerged that people working for Richard Nixon wanted to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

On 23rd May, 1973, James W. McCord later admitted that this group (known as the "Plumbers") had been involved in several covert activities. This included a plot to steal documents from Hank Greenspun's safe. McCord testified that Attorney General John N. Mitchell had told him that Greenspun had in his possession blackmail type information involving a Democratic candidate for President.

The break-in did not take place and therefore Sam Ervin demanded to see these documents. So also did the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, Greenspun took the case to the courts and got a ruling that these documents could remain private.

Carl Oglesby (The Yankee and Cowboy War) believes that this material had something to do with Richard Nixon, Robert Maheu and Howard Hughes: "Greenspun was an ally of Robert Maheu, the top Hughes aide who connected the CIA and the Mafia in 1960, who came to prominence in the Hughes empire during the Las Vegas period, and who then lost out in the Las Vegas power struggle that violently reconfigured the Hughes empire late in 1970."

Hank Greenspun died of cancer on 22nd July 1989. Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called Greenspun "a hero of our country and a fighter for freedom - a man of great spirit who fought with his mind and his soul; a man of great conviction and commitment."

Primary Sources

(1) Hank Greenspun, Las Vegas Sun (25th October, 1952)

It is common talk among homosexuals in Milwaukee who rendezvous in the White Horse Inn that Senator Joe McCarthy has often engaged in homosexual activities.

(2) Hank Greenspun, Las Vegas Sun (8th January, 1954)

I've never been one to make predictions but when a thing is inevitable, even I can foresee the future.

Sen. Joe McCarthy has to come to a violent end. Huey Long's death will be serene and peaceful compared with the demise of the sadistic bum from Wisconsin.

Live by the sword and you die by the sword! Destroy people and they in turn must destroy you! The chances are that McCarthy will eventually be laid to rest at the hands of some poor innocent slob whose reputation and life he has destroyed through his well-established smear technique.

The poor victim will feel he has little left to live for, so he'll get a gun and blast Joe to Hades. It might be a bit messy but Joe is used to messiness. He has created enough of it.

Really, I'm against Joe getting his head blown off, not because I don't believe in capital punishment or because he does not have it coming, but I would hate to see some simpleton get the chair for such a public service as getting rid of McCarthy.

It would be more befitting the dignity of Joe's position in society if he leaped from a 29-story building as one of his predecessors, Marion A. Zionchek, did two decades ago. The insane congressman from the state of Washington, and the Mad senator from the state of Wisconsin had a great deal in common -- namely, softening of the brain.

Joe's Republican buddies plus some Democratic opponents have decided to cut his appropriations off if he doesn't get out of the Red-hunting racket. They object to his stealing the headlines at the expense of other investigating phonies in the Congress.

Even his comrade in pilfering the United States treasury, Sen. Pat McCarran, thinks it's time Joe was cut down to size. Most likely, the McCarran statement will earn a retort from McCarthy, and if I can add any fuel to the fire, I would like to suggest that the ideal situation would be for McCarran and McCarthy to investigate each other. The results must end in a dead heat. Both must wind up in the penitentiary.

Information from Washington from a source very close to McCarthy - in fact one of his investigators - has tipped me off to a possible investigation that McCarthy intends to pursue of me.

I would like to save the senator from Wisconsin some effort and money, purely in the interests of the taxpayer who must foot the bills for these personal investigations.

I am as innocent as a new-born lamb; and if I were not, I would be the first to admit it, because there is nothing bad he can say about me that others haven't already said and more forcefully. I'm ready to plead guilty to anything, but does this excuse the disreputable pervert from answering for his crimes against society?

I would like to refer McCarthy to his colleague, Sen. Pat McCarran, for advice before he starts his probe. McCarran investigated me until his senile old brain turned to jelly, and he couldn't come up with anything. I've been interrogated by the Post Office department, Internal Revenue bureau, FBI, PDQ, OGPU, and all the other alphabetical agencies of government, and they all left talking to themselves.

(3) Drew Pearson, diary entry (28th May, 1957)

Hank Greenspun talked to me about Hoffa of the Teamsters. He wants me to ease up; said that Hoffa was a good man, and had been entrapped. I pointed out that I had given Hoffa a chance to reply to everything I had written before I had written it, but that the facts as given to me by his lawyers just not jibe with the true facts.

(4) Hank Greenspun, Las Vegas Sun (18th December, 1977)

There was no way to tell, from one day to another, while Mr. H. R. Hughes was resident among us earthlies, what would come from the mind and pen of the world's most famous recluse.

As in a memo introduced in the Mormon Will trial from a collection of original writing owned by this columnist, one day he would recommend you for a Nobel Peace Prize and the next day he would be plotting a means for your total destruction.

It would take a gyrating mind like his to keep up with the course he had laid out and which was subject to change at a moment's notice through will and caprice.

In the memo placed in evidence, and reproduced on the front page of Friday's SUN, he referred to the fact that "Hank has allied himself with us."

For the record, this editor had not allied himself with anyone but his own beliefs.

Hughes was discussing an editorial I had written suggesting we should proceed cautiously on nuclear testing until we learned what caused the sudden deaths before any more tests were made.

The mere suggestion that a slowdown is indicated caused Mr. Hughes immediately to assume that I now was in his corner insisting that the Test Site be shut down.

What I was indicating was most sensible and legitimate because a few days later, when news had come out that the sheep had died of a nerve gas being tested in Utah, I immediately wrote that the underground program in Nevada must proceed as long as Russia was continuing with nuclear exploration.

I did believe that we must not rush pell mell into radiation destruction until we learned what happened to the sheep. Humans should not be subjected to a similar fate.

There will be other memos produced in court before the trial is concluded which will show the almost irrational behavior of the man who caused more battles in the courts of the nation than any single individual or even corporate establishment.

Most of the legal involvements were instigated by his past General Counsel Chester Davis and also a few Las Vegas law firms, holdovers from the Davis-Bill Gay combine who are still sucking at Summa's financial resources for all they can get, but many were still caused by Hughes' own brilliance at one moment and his downright Machiavellian behavior the next without changing pens or paper.

One memo will show from his own writings how he tried to stop Kirk Kerkorian from building the International, now the Hilton, and other hotels from being built unless he had total control over the gaming industry.

For too many years since his departure, I have permitted myself to be pictured as the villain in the relationship waiting for some opportunity to prove by a jury of my community peers where the fault lay.

On national TV, whenever I was questioned as to the effect Hughes had on the Nevada scene, I would respond that it was positive in many areas but detrimental in others. By his own writings, the people of Las Vegas and the entire state will now be able to judge for themselves which man had the community interest at heart.

I was his strongest advocate in the good he wrought, but also his severest critic in his monopolistic endeavors and his attempt to corrupt every public official at every level in local, state and national government.

(5) Carl Oglesby, The Yankee and Cowboy War (1976)

Howard Hughes's name surfaced in the story of Watergate on May 20, 1973, when James McCord told the Ervin committee and its media audience of an abandoned 1972 White House plot to steal certain documents from the safe of editor Hank Greenspun's Las Vegas Sun. Greenspun was an ally of Robert Maheu, the top Hughes aide who connected the CIA and the Mafia in 1960, who came to prominence in the Hughes empire during the Las Vegas period, and who then lost out in the Las Vegas power struggle that violently reconfigured the Hughes empire late in 1970. McCord testified that his fellow Plumbers, Hunt and Liddy, were to have carried out the break-in and theft of the papers and that Hughes interests were to have supplied them with a getaway plane and a safe hideout in an unnamed Central American country.

What could the Greenspun documents have been? Why should both Hughes and Nixon have been interested enough in them to attempt a robbery?

Liddy said (testified McCord) that Attorney General John Mitchell had told him that Greenspun had in his possession blackmail type information involving a Democratic candidate for President, that Mitchell wanted that material, and Liddy said that this information was in some way racketeer-related, indicating that if this candidate became President, the racketeers or national crime syndicate could have a control or influence over him as President. My inclination at this point in time, speaking as of today, is to disbelieve the allegation against the Democratic candidate referred to above and to believe that there was in reality some other motive for wanting to get into Greenspun's safe.

(6) Hank Greenspun, Las Vegas Sun (16th November, 1986)

A little known fact of Watergate is that the seeds for exposure of the scandal might have been sown right here at the SUN.

Watergate brought down the president of the United States, the first ever to resign that office, and it was all over such absolute trivia.

G. Gordon Liddy was in Las Vegas this week when he appeared as a roastee and speaker at a meeting of the Saints and Sinners.

Liddy, a member of the White House Plumbers and the driving force of the conspirators, related how he planned a breakin at the SUN to crack my safe and retrieve Howard Hughes' memoranda and documents which were supposedly in my custody.

On orders from then Attorney General John Mitchell, the conspirators wanted to know how much money Howard Hughes had funneled to President Richard Nixon in cash and what role Larry O'Brien had played in the Hughes organization. Larry was the chairman of the national Democratic Party at the time and any plans or dirt they could dig up discrediting Democrats would be favorable to Nixon's re-election chances.

There was also some information on Edmund Muskie in my safe that held interest for the Committee to Re-elect the President.

I did have the information they sought as did Bob Maheu who was present at the Saints and Sinners roast and questioned Liddy on some aspects of Watergate. Maheu told him that if they wanted information, all they had to do was ask. I suppose my answer could have been the same. They didn't have to break into my safe.

Liddy told the Las Vegas audience that the plan for the breakin was aborted when the Hughes people failed to supply the support facilities. It included a plane for a getaway, fast cars to get them to the airport and plans for my office and safe.

If Liddy and Howard Hunt, his co-conspirator, did not break in, then the enigma continues. Someone did take a crack at the safe and came through a window. They must have been other bunglers because they cracked the cover but couldn't get in where the supposed loot was stashed.

I did receive a subpoena from the Senate of the United States commanding my appearance before the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, better known as the Ervin committee, to bring documents and testify.

I fully intended to comply and did meet with teams of investigators but under no circumstances would I furnish any documents, records or materials in my possession, custody and control.

What had been printed in the pages of the newspaper was available to them, but everything else which had not yet seen the light of day would be denied. That way unverified stories, guilt-by-association rumors, innuendoes and plain malicious gossip are cast out on the waters to swim in the rumor mills that destroy character and create other evils that no amount of retractions or apologies can repair.

The records of a newspaper, including sources of material, have a higher protection or, at the least, the same sanctity as a congressional committee. We both derive our same powers, rights and privileges from the Constitution of the U.S.

In a democracy, the profession of journalism is vastly more important than that of politics. From Thomas Jefferson down to the present, such fact has been established beyond refutation.

Discussions at that time with committee counsel including Chief Counsel Sam Dash did disclose that the little ol' SUN stuck away in Las Vegas, far from the capital of the nation with its big city newspapers, was indeed the first to start making inquiries about improper and queer usage of campaign funds in the 1972 election. Two years before any other paper heard of questionable campaign practices, this reporter asked Nixon's press secretary, Herb Klein, at at presidential press conference in Portland, Ore., about a $100,000 campaign contribution from Howard Hughes to Nixon delivered to Bebe Rebozo in cash.

Sam Dash later wrote in his book that if it weren't for that question and the contents of my safe in Las Vegas, there never would have been a Watergate.

The Republic could survive the removal of a president and a vice-president at the same time because there is a line of succession set up in the Constitution. But the Republic can never survive without newspapers.

If nothing else, Watergate has proven that Thomas Jefferson was right.

Good ol' Tom said: The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

(7) Ed Koch, Las Vegas Sun (2005)

One of the last of the nation's old-time publisher/crusaders, Greenspun was an undying voice for the little guy, battling ferociously against those powerful forces that would dare attempt to trample the common man's rights.

In Greenspun's July 23, 1989, obituary in the Sun, it was written: "Though his sky-blue eyes usually twinkled with mirth, compassion and caring, they could transform into flinty daggers of a fighter pilot ready to do battle."

And the targets of his hard-charging style of journalism were some of the most powerful figures of his time, including Nevada political machine boss Sen. Pat McCarran, communist witch-hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the Internal Revenue Service.

"It (the early days of the Sun) was a tough time that required tough people -- people who were confident that what they were doing was right," said Hank's son, Brian Greenspun, who today is president and editor of the Sun.

"And that meant a guy who had a newspaper - who gave a damn about this community - had to stand up to some real bad people, whether they were in the mob or in the political mob like Pat McCarran and Joe McCarthy. Hank Greenspun just happened to be one of these guys who was well endowed in that area. He didn't mind standing up to the biggest bullies around."

Greenspun's interest in the gaming and tourism industry included his support for the construction of the Las Vegas Convention Center at a time when many doubted that such an expensive undertaking ever would turn a profit.

But Greenspun's most famous gaming association came when he arranged for industrialist billionaire Howard Hughes to stay - and remain in seclusion - in a Desert Inn penthouse.

Hughes, with Greenspun's help, subsequently bought the Desert Inn, other Strip resorts and Southern Nevada property, bringing Las Vegas into the corporate age and creating a real estate empire that still thrives. Because of Hughes, Las Vegas became a legitimate Wall Street investment and gaming stocks were sold publicly.

(8) A. D. Hopkins, Las Vegas Review-Journal (1999)

In later years the Greenspuns and O'Callaghan corrected many organizational problems, but the Sun had deteriorated too far to survive on its own. In the final months of his life, in 1989, Greenspun helped negotiate a joint operating agreement by which the rival Las Vegas Review-Journal sells the advertising for the Sun, prints it and distributes it. The Sun retains independent editorial control and demonstrates it regularly with bitter attacks on the Review-Journal. In mid-1999, the Sun retained 33,466 daily circulation to the Review-Journal's 156,382.

The newspaper was neglected because Greenspun had other fish to fry. For years, said Barbara Greenspun, every spare dime the family had went into land investments. "We didn't own a house for years, we rented, until about the 1960s." She owned a lot on prestigious Rancho Circle, but Hank refused to build on it, and it finally became so valuable that Barbara sold it and used the money to buy a penthouse in the Regency Towers complex, where they lived at Greenspun's death and where she still does.

But much of the Greenspun fortune was based on a single, controversial land deal. The city of Henderson was surrounded by federal land and had no room to grow. Congress released thousands of acres to the city. Greenspun asked Henderson to sell him a large share of the land, and instructed his own staff to write nothing of his proposal. Council members who opposed the deal were hammered mercilessly by the Henderson Home News, which was owned by Greenspun ally Morry Zenoff. Opponents of the deal ultimately were defeated in reelection bids.

In 1971 the newly constituted council sold the most desirable land - 4,720 acres lying near the upscale Paradise Valley suburb of Las Vegas - to Greenspun for $1.3 million, or about $280 an acre. They did so largely because he promised to include it in his proposed Green Valley development, increasing the city's tax base and establishing nearby residential areas and amenities, which would attract further development in the stagnating small town. Instead, Greenspun sold much of that land at $3,000 to $5,000 an acre.

Henderson had also extracted from Greenspun a timetable calling for 20 percent development by 1977 and completion in 1981. The agreement called for a penalty of $1.7 million if he did not comply. In fact, development of the former city land had not even begun by the promised completion date, but the city never enforced the penalty.

Instead, Green Valley was begun in 1973, on land Greenspun already owned, closer to Las Vegas. Although Henderson had annexed this land as part of its deal with Greenspun, this meant Green Valley became a suburb of Las Vegas, rather than of Henderson. Henderson did get its increased tax base, and also has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.