Chapter 4: Enter the Mob
Billy Wilkerson & Benjamin Siegel had been friendly since the mid-1930's, when Siegel had been a regular at Wilkerson's "Ciro's" on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
Early in their partnership, things went well. They met almost-daily; Wilkerson passed on tasks to Siegel & Siegel provided Wilkerson with suggestions for the the Flamingo. Bugsy also proved helpful in obtaining black market construction materials that were hard to come by due to shortages caused by World War II.
But, as the project progressed, Bugsy began to resent Billy Wilkerson's talent and vision. Siegel became intimidated, jealous & paranoid. And as time passed, he regressed into the role he was all too well-known for: the big-shot & the bully.
Siegel started making decisions on his own, ordering changes that didn't match the blueprints and he started taking credit for Wilkerson's ideas, claiming that the Flamingo had been HIS idea.
Siegel began demanding more involvement in the project and eventually, Wilkerson agreed to split the project 50/50. He'd oversee the building of the casino, restaurants & shops while Siegel would handle the construction of the hotel.
The Flamingo under construction, circa 1946
Photo Credit: Cool Vegas
With no communication between the two sides, things began to fall apart - and quickly. Construction costs were skyrocketing and within a month, Siegel had blown through his share of the budget and was demanding money from Wilkerson's share.
As more time passed, Bugsy's ambitions turned into full-blown greed and upon deciding his agreement with Wilkerson was a mistake, he wanted it changed so he had full control over the Flamingo. To do so, Siegel bought out Wilkerson's share with corporate stock (an additional 5% ownership in the operation) and created "The Nevada Project Corporation of California", naming himself the President.
And, being the single-largest stockholder in the corporation meant that Bugsy now owned the Flamingo, making it a mob-run operation.
Stock certificate for the Nevada Project Corporation feat. Bugsy Siegel's signature (bottom right)
Photo Credit: Just Collecting News
The very first thing Siegel did was fire all of Wilkerson's people. He brought in new architects, re-designed portions of the project and shifted all the responsibility for interior design to Virginia Hill.
However, Siegel was NOT a good manager. All the changes he was making were costing a lot of money. And after he managed to convince federal officials to let him get his hands on building materials in short supply following the war, he found himself under the watchful eye of the FBI.
After Siegel took over, the Flamingo project was upwards of a million dollars over budget (a massive amount of money for the time). The bosses in the syndicate - Siegel's "investors" - were getting antsy and most of them had had enough of Bugsy & the Flamingo. They were convinced that Siegel - or Virginia Hill - were skimming money off the project.
Siegel began feeling the heat and despite the fact that the Flamingo was still months away from being completed, he went ahead and held the hotel's Grand Opening.