Entertainer Says Network Report Caused Mafia Death Threat
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) _ Singer Wayne Newton testified he wore a bulletproof vest for two weeks after being told of a Mafia death threat because of an NBC television report that he was a star witness in the trial of two reputed mobsters.
Newton said he feared for his life after watching a June 12, 1981, news broadcast that listed him as a government witness in the trial of reputed mobsters Guido Penosi and Frank Piccolo.
″I said, ’I’m a dead man,‴ Newton testified he told his wife.
Newton said he was called a month later in Los Angeles by Las Vegas police, who told him there was indeed a contract out on his life. He said he returned to Las Vegas where authorities gave him a bulletproof vest.
The entertainer said that for two weeks he stayed in a suite at the Aladdin Hotel, which he co-owned at the time, leaving only to do nightly shows in the hotel’s showroom.
″When you’re told you’re on a hit list for the Mafia it doesn’t exactly make your day,″ Newton said.
Newton filed a multimillion-dollar defamation suit against the network, reporter Brian Ross and producer Ira Silverman in April 1981. The trial began last week and is expected to run up to four months.
Newton charged Tuesday that the NBC news team used ″Gestapo tactics″ in putting together a report, originally broadcast Oct. 6, 1980, linking him to organized crime.
Newton appeared angry as he watched videotapes of himself being pursued by a network camera crew and reporter.
He said his performances in Las Vegas dropped from 36 weeks a year to eight weeks a year following the broadcast, he developed a bleeding ulcer and some hotel owners began to shun him because of the adverse publicity.
NBC attorneys said in opening statements that the Oct. 6 broadcast and three subsequent stories never said Newton was involved in organized crime, but that he was not truthful about his relationship with Penosi.
Newton has admitted turning to Penosi, an alleged crime figure, to halt death threats against his daughter in 1980.
Ross and Silverman have said they stand by the story as it was reported.
Videotapes showed Ross trailing Newton down a corridor, asking questions about Penosi, following Newton’s gaming licensing hearing in September 1980 when he purchased the Aladdin hotel. He sold his interest two years later.
″He was accostive, he was on the verge of badgering me,″ Newton said of Ross. ″He was almost frantic. He didn’t give me a chance to answer.
″I was bewildered. It was Gestapo tactics at work. I was angry because of the way I was being attacked in the hall.″
Jurors were also shown videotapes of Richard Blumenthal, who was the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, announcing the indictment of Penosi and Frank Piccolo, a well-known East Coast crime figure who was gunned down in Bridgeport, Conn., in 1981.
In the videotape, Blumenthal said Penosi and Piccolo were part of a conspiracy that involved mob figures in New York City who made threats against Newton and entertainer Lola Falana. Blumenthal said the men interceded for Newton to stop the threats, then planned to extort money from him.
Newton has testified he met Penosi as a teen-ager while performing at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City in 1973. He said he talked with Penosi several times over the years but considered him nothing more than a fan. He said he turned to Penosi for help after death threats were made on his 4-year- old daughter, Erin. He said the death threats stopped after he called Penosi for help.