The mob and sports. Together, they conjure images of Vegas, bookies and game-fixing. After all, mobster Bugsy Siegel (pictured) practically built Las Vegas. But as the stories of Al Capone being a Cubs fan and Whitey Bulger following his beloved Boston Bruins remind us, the ties between organized crime and our beloved games run far deeper. Take a look back at our favorite marriages of mob and sport.
L-R: Hulton Archive & Glenn Pinkerton, Las Vegas News BureauL-R: Hulton Archive & Glenn Pinkerton, Las Vegas News Bureau
While on the lam from the feds, the alleged mob boss fled to California from Boston. Turns out while they were tailing him, the FBI allegedly followed Bulger on a 20-plus hour drive from California to Vancouver -- where he purchased a ticket and watched his beloved Bruins take Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks and hoist the Stanley Cup. Riots broke out in the streets of Vancouver that night, though Bulger has not been tied to any of the unlawfulness -- yet.
WBUR 90.9, FileWBUR 90.9, File
Henry Hill (pictured) was an active member of the infamous Lucchese crime family in the 1970s, when he helped orchestrate a point-shaving scheme with members of the Boston College basketball team. Rick Kuhn, leading scorer Ernie Cobb and other members of the Eagles' 1978-79 team helped rig results, mostly to fall short of covering point spreads, and were paid $2,500 per game for their efforts. When police later arrested Hill on drug trafficking charges, he turned informant and revealed details of the scheme, resulting in the imprisonment of several of the figures involved, including Kuhn. Hill received full immunity for his information. He was later played by Ray Liotta in the film 'Goodfellas.'
Rebecca SappRebecca Sapp
Hard to imagine TV's most famous crime boss being much of the sport-viewing type, but the man who played him, James Gandolfini (center) ... now that's a different story. Gandolfini, a New Jersey native, Rutgers alum and Hollywood regular, would frequent sporting events from coast to coast, often with his son Michael. But Gandolfini, who died in June 2013, was always a Jersey guy first. See more of James Gandolfini, Superfan.
OK, so the famed head of the Teamsters was never proven to be a mobster. And we don't really know what happened to him in that restaurant parking lot on July 30, 1975. But his supposed mob ties were legendary -- and Robert Kennedy drove himself batty trying to prove them. The most infamous Hoffa legend ties him to the mob and sports -- and tries to answer the whole 'what happened to him' thing. In 1989, a mob hit man claimed that Hoffa was killed by mobsters and his remains ultimately dumped in the construction of Giants Stadium, which was being built at the time of Hoffa's disappearance. To this day, many believe Hoffa 'rested' under Section 107 until the stadium's demolition in 2010.
Hulton ArchiveHulton Archive
Alas, the mob's most famous ties to sports lie within the field of play, and the most recent high-profile example came in the NBA. Donaghy was a referee in the league for 13 years until the FBI, conducting a larger-scale organized crime investigation, stumbled upon him. They discovered that Donaghy bet on games which he officiated for the 2005-06 and 06-07 seasons, and that he was paid by organized crime to provide them with the correct picks for games he would officiate. In 2008, he was sentenced to a federal prison camp after pleading guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce in the tips-for-payoffs scheme. He has since been set free and now provides betting tips for gamblers.
Joe MurphyJoe Murphy
The Russian mob and the NHL
In the late 1990s, reports surfaced that the Russian mafia was exerting its power over Russian players in the NHL, extorting them with alleged threats of violence to the players and their families. That was the case of defenseman Alexei Zhitnik (left), who at one time said, 'I have little problem with Russian mafia. They say things like, 'Blow up your car,' and different (stuff).' Others alleged some players had questionable relationships with people associated with Russian organized crime. Among those players was Pavel Bure (right), of whom ESPN reported it 'has learned, and American intelligence and Senate investigators have learned independently ... [that Canucks F Pavel Bure] is a corporate officer in a company suspected [of] being a major front for the Russian mafia.'
L-R: Steve Babineau, NHLI & Andy HaytL-R: Steve Babineau, NHLI & Andy Hayt
The Black Sox Scandal
In the United States, this is the granddaddy of gambling scandals. The 1919 Chicago White Sox were considered the best team in baseball at that time, and viewed by many as a lock to win the World Series. But Chicago lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 5 games to 3. A year later, eight Chicago players were accused of losing the games intentionally, in bed with New York mobsters who were betting on the series. Though some players' exact involvement was disputed, including superstar 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, the eight players were banned from organized baseball for life (though they were all acquitted in court). The scandal's impact was so great, the next season baseball seated its first commissioner and the team was forever dubbed the Black Sox. Nearly 70 years later, Hollywood glamorized the scandal in the film 'Eight Men Out.'
New York Times Co.New York Times Co.
Do we really need to explain this one? The sport headquartered in Las Vegas has long been the subject of rumors, investigations, jokes -- you name it -- about organized crime's influence over the outcome of fights. But perhaps no one explained the mob's influence more succinctly than Bernard 'The Executioner' Hopkins (pictured). 'The mob, to me, in boxing means the entity of powerful people that runs and calls the shots to make things happen when they want it to happen. Now you fill in the dots. ... let me define mob, so everybody understands. Mob is a group of powerful people that have their goal is to make things happen when they want it to happen.'
Maddie MeyerMaddie Meyer
The recent FIFA scandal has no reported mob ties, but he Beautiful Game has seen suspensions, bans and prison terms for people all over the world on charges related to match-fixing for organized crime. And no level is safe, with a Bosnian referee banned for life by UEFA for his part in a betting scam involving a Croatian syndicate during a World Cup qualifier in 2009. One of the biggest busts came in 2013, when European investigators claimed to have uncovered a syndicate that fixed nearly 400 matches in Europe and 300 more in other continents from 2008-11, with a Singapore-based crime syndicate involved in some of it. Pictured is Aziz Yildirim, president of Turkish football club Fenerbahce, being greeted by supporters after his release from prison in 2012. He was incarcerated for his part in a match-fixing scandal in Turkey.