Gangster in the White House

Sep 11, 2009 - by Don Fulsom - 0 Comments

Charles Gregory “Bebe” Rebozo and Richard Nixon

Charles Gregory “Bebe” Rebozo and Richard Nixon

Bebe Rebozo came in and out of the Nixon White House as he pleased, without being logged in by the Secret Service. At 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he had his own private office with a telephone and a designated bedroom always at his disposal. He was both Nixon’s best friend and his bag man to the Mafia and Howard Hughes.

by Don Fulsom

When Richard Nixon was president, a disreputable character named Charles Gregory “Bebe” Rebozo (a.k.a. Charles Gregory) all but lived in the White House. Not known beyond the executive mansion at that time—or to most people even now—Rebozo had working and sleeping quarters there. And he was plugged into the White House switchboard, which knew how to reach him anywhere at any time.

Rebozo was not a high-ranking government employee who deserved or required such free space or services. In fact, the only government entity that knew much about Bebe was the FBI, which said he was cozy with Mafia biggies—especially Tampa Godfather Santos Trafficante and Alfred (“Big Al”) Polizzi of Cleveland.  Big Al was a drug trafficker associated with the Syndicate’s financial genius, Meyer Lansky.  In 1964, the Bureau of Narcotics branded Polizzi “one of the most influential members of the underworld in the United States.”

Rebozo and Polizzi were partners in developing a Cuban shopping center in Miami.

Bebe purchased land in Florida with a reputed front man for Lansky, Robert Fincher.Telephone records, according to the Spartacus Education web site, show Fincher was in regular contact with Trafficante and New Orleans Godfather Carlos Marcello.

Investigative journalist Anthony Summers notes that, by the 1960s, there was no doubt among G-men that Bebe was pals with a who’s who of the country’s major gangsters:

·A former FBI agent who specialized in organized crime in the Miami area, Charles Stanley, identified Rebozo as a “non-member associate of organized crime figures.” This designation applied to individuals determined to have significant, witting association with “made members” of La Cosa Nostra.

·Vincent (“Jimmy Blue Eyes”) Alo—a close cohort of Meyer Lansky—told Summers in 1997: “Everyone knew Rebozo would take a hot stove…He was the one who picked up the money for Nixon.”

Indeed, Rebozo was Nixon’s No. 1 bagman for payoffs from not only the Mafia—but from mobbed-up loopy billionaire Howard Hughes, a longtime “Daddy Warbucks” to Nixon.  Rebozo came under investigation during Watergate for accepting a $100,000 bribe from Hughes for Nixon.

That bribe—delivered in two installments—was turned over to the President’s best buddy under the most secure of circumstances—behind the walls of the Secret Service-guarded Florida and California White Houses.  The Watergate Special Prosecution Force went out of business before completing its Rebozo probe.

Bebe Rebozo was profoundly more important to the President than one of Nixon’s ex-aides recently professed, “He was just the guy who mixed the martinis.”

The real Bebe, an American-born Cuban land speculator and banker, was not only Nixon’s chief ambassador to the Mafia and Hughes.  He’d also been a principal secret Mob/CIA go-between in assassination plots hatched by Vice President Richard Nixon against Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  He was a big deal in the Cuban exile community in Miami.

Bebe did business in Florida with at least two of the Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez. And Rebozo arranged for Nixon’s chief spy and Watergate supervisor E. Howard Hunt to investigate Hoke Maroon, a former partner of Rebozo, who had inside information on Nixon’s early business investments in Cuba. Maroon also claimed Nixon was once the part owner of Rebozo’s Coral Gables Motel.

High school grad Rebozo’s first big job was as a steward with Pan-American Airways. He served patrons on flying boats that shuttled between Miami, the Caribbean and Panama.

Later he owned a gas station; got into re-treading old tires for a time; and then purchased a coin laundry—from which he allegedly ran a numbers racket.  Eventually Bebe opened a bank near his home on upscale Key Biscayne, a small island just South of Miami.

Richard Nixon led 1964 dedication ceremonies for the bank and held Savings Account No. 1.  The bank reputedly laundered Mob money—mostly the “skim” from gambling casinos in the Bahamas. Vincent Teresa, a high-ranking Mafioso, admitted using Rebozo’s bank to launder stolen money.

After three very brief marriages (twice to the same woman), Rebozo became active in Miami’s homosexual community. Small, dark, handsome and unctuous, he is said to have had a longtime affair with an airline steward.  He often threw male-only barbecues at his Key Biscayne home.

Newsday investigative reporter Robert Greene has said, “My own particular thought was that (Rebozo) was one of those guys who has an extremely low sex drive.  He had a tendency to keep the company of whiskey-drinking, fishing, rather masculine-type men, with the exception of Nixon.  Nixon studied the part, but he really wasn’t.”

Bobby Baker—a top aide to Senator Lyndon Johnson—said Nixon and Rebozo were “close like lovers.” Rebozo friend Jake Jernigan is quoted as saying that Bebe “loved Nixon more than he loved anybody. He worshipped Nixon. Nixon was his God … his Little Jesus.”

Nixon and Rebozo first met, by one credible account, in Florida in 1947.  Richard Danner—a Miamian with very close ties to Rebozo and Mafia boss Santos Trafficante—made the introductions.

Nixon was also a good friend of Danner, an ex-FBI agent who had fallen under Mob control. In 1952, Nixon and Danner secretly visited Havana and gambled at a Syndicate-run casino. Danner later credited Nixon for using his clout with the Mafia to ultimately land him a cushy job at a Las Vegas casino. During Nixon’s presidency, Danner was the payoff man for bribes from Hughes to Nixon, through Rebozo.

Rebozo and Congressman Nixon didn’t hit it off immediately when they met in Florida, but as Rebozo friend Sen. George Smathers put it: ‘I don’t want to say that Bebe’s level of liking Nixon increased as Nixon’s (political) position increased, but it had a lot to do with it.”

Within months of their first Florida cruise aboard Bebe’s $18,000 houseboat, the Cocolobo, the two men became almost inseparable. And quite playful, especially when loaded.  One White House aide recalls seeing the two grown men playing a child’s game called “King of the Pool” at Key Biscayne.  “It was late at night,” according to Watergate authority J. Anthony Lukas.  “The two men had been drinking.  Nixon mounted a rubber raft in the pool while Rebozo tried to turn it over.  Then, laughing and shouting, they’d change places and Nixon tried to upset Rebozo.”

Rebozo lent moral as well as financial support to his idol through Nixon’s many political highs and lows.

He was there in Key Biscayne in 1952 when Nixon celebrated his election to the vice presidency; Rebozo was in Los Angeles in 1960 when Nixon learned that Senator John Kennedy had edged him out for the presidency; he comforted Nixon after his crushing 1962 loss to incumbent Edmund “Pat” Brown for California governor; and Rebozo and Nixon drank and sunbathed together in Key Biscayne after Nixon narrowly defeated Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election.

During Nixon’s White House years, rough estimates show Rebozo was at Nixon’s side one out of every 10 days.  The president made 50 trips to Key Biscayne—most of them without family members—to be with Bebe.

Known as “Uncle Bebe” to Nixon’s two children, Trisha and Julie, Rebozo frequently bought the girls—and Nixon’s wife Pat—expensive gifts.  “Beeb” as Nixon referred to Rebozo (who always called Nixon “Mr. President”) purchased a $100,000 house in the suburbs for Julie after she married David Eisenhower.  Rebozo paid for bowling alleys to be put in the White House and Camp David.

In pre-presidential times on Key Biscayne, Nixon and Rebozo were always given their special spot at their favorite restaurant, the Jamaica Inn.  They were seated at a cosy, dark out-of-the way booth near a waterfall.  A martini or two usually preceded chopped steaks, medium rare.  Bebe always picked up the tab and left a big tip.  After all, the fancy eatery with the British décor was owned by their old friend Donald Berg—who gave Nixon a cut-rate deal on the land for his Key Biscayne vacation home as a favor for posing for a promotional picture with Berg in 1967.

Like Rebozo, Berg had been indicted in stolen stock deals but never prosecuted. The Secret Service eventually asked the President to find a more suitable restaurant after uncovering Berg’s ties to the Mafia.  But, for some reason, the President’s protectors issued no similar warning about socializing with Rebozo.

Bebe Rebozo came in and out of the White House as he pleased, without being logged in by the Secret Service. Though, as noted, he had no official government position, Rebozo had his own private office with a telephone and a designated bedroom always at his disposal at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

In Florida, his home was right next door to Nixon’s. It was equipped with free worldwide telephone service through the White House Office of Communications. The same was true at Rebozo’s private villa on the grounds of the San Clemente White House.

Behind the scenes, Rebozo was “deeply involved” with expensive government-funded remodeling plans at both of the President’s vacation homes, according to White House aide John Ehrlichman in Witness to Power:

He flew to Los Angeles for meetings with the General Services Administration official in charge of the (San Clemente) project.  Over the months, he so successfully co-opted the GSA project manager, that the GSA began carrying out Rebozo’s instructions without question.  If there was undue government expenditure, at either the San Clemente or the Key Biscayne house, Mr. Rebozo should be given full credit for his persuasive involvement.

Bebe was secretly put in charge of a reconstruction project at the presidential retreat at Camp David, where he also had his own cabin.  He purchased most of the President’s suits and sports clothes, and even picked the movies Nixon would watch.

Bebe was frequently sneaked in and out of Nixon’s suite when the President was travelling abroad.  On one such occasion, Nixon’s chief foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger cursed a blue streak and nearly threw a fit.  Rebozo’s presence was always a major distraction to the foreign policy issues Kissinger hoped to discuss with the President.

Kissinger was sometimes the target of late night drunken crank phone calls from the President offering Bebe’s foreign policy suggestions. In one of these calls, Nixon warned Kissinger that if he didn’t take Bebe’s advice, “It’ll be your ass, Henry.”

Kissinger got particularly perturbed when Rebozo flew on Air Force One, which was frequently. On such flights, Bebe—one of the most privileged gangsters in the land—like Kissinger, donned a blue Navy flight jacket bearing the Presidential Seal with his name stitched onto it. And Bebe was far more likely to be granted an airborne audience with the President than Henry.

Nixon biographer Fawn Brodie has observed that, “Nixon seems to have been willing to risk the kind of gossip that frequently accompanies close friendship with a perennial bachelor, this despite his known public aversion to homosexuals, and his acute sensitivity to the damage that the label of homosexual on a friend could bring to a public man.”

Brodie points out that after President Johnson’s right-hand man Walter Jenkins was arrested while administering sexual favors to a retired sailor in a staked-out YMCA restroom in Washington, Nixon publicly pounced on the scandal—saying that Jenkins “was ill.  But people with this kind of illness cannot be in places of high trust.”

In another comment on the Jenkins scandal, Nixon said:  “A cloud hangs over the White House this morning because of Lyndon Johnson and his selection of men.”  In Nixonland, Rick Perlstein observed the construction of that particular Nixon statement suggested Johnson “might as well have been right there in that men’s room with Jenkins.”

The 37th president’s intimate relationship with a mobster like Rebozo raises serious questions about just how deeply the country’s biggest and most profitable illegal business—the blood-soaked Mob—had gotten its sinister hooks into Nixon.

In the 1960s, crooked gambling operations alone brought in an estimated $50 billion a year. There were many additional billions the Mafia made through prostitution, narcotics trafficking, extortion, labor racketeering and political corruption. As Attorney General Robert Kennedy liked to say, “The racketeer is at his most dangerous not with a machine gun in his hands but with public officials in his pocket.”

In April 1969, Nixon put out a printed message describing the Mafia’s influence as “more secure than ever before” and warning that it “had deeply penetrated broad segments of American life.” Nixon stated, “The organized criminal relies on physical terror and psychological intimidation, on economic retaliation, on political bribery, on citizen indifference and governmental acquiescence.  He corrupts our governing institutions and subverts our democratic processes.”

Unfortunately, that printed presidential condemnation of the Mafia was a one-time call to arms by President Nixon.  It was a leftover boilerplate pronouncement from the Johnson administration.  Nixon never again issued a report on the dangers of the Mob. And in July 1970, he actually ordered that the government halt using the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” because they were demeaning to Italian-Americans.

Al Haig was a close match for Richard Nixon in deviousness.  In an apparent effort to assemble his own anti-Nixon file, Nixon’s final White House chief of staff ordered an old military buddy to conduct a super-secret probe of the President’s darkest, most secretive side. Most specifically, Haig wanted to know whether Nixon’s spies and bagmen Jack Caufield and Tony Ulasewicz had traveled to the Far East and brought back huge stacks of cash to Nixon.

Second, Haig wanted to know if the President was beholden to organized crime. Haig’s secret sleuth on the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command, Russell Bintliff, reported back that Caufield and Ulasewicz “probably had gone to Vietnam, and I considered there were strong indications of a history of Nixon connections with money from organized crime.”

This bizarre and overlooked tale of the President’s top aide mounting a secret criminal investigation against his boss didn’t surface until 1976, when it was disclosed by Jerry O’Leary, a Washington Star reporter with tight ties to U.S. intelligence.  Bintliff also disclosed that, in the early 1960’s that PepsiCo (Nixon’s legal client at the time) had set up a bottling plant in Laos that did not make Pepsi, but rather converted opium into heroin.  Could the first president to declare a war on drugs have been secretly profiting from the drug-of-choice among many of America’s troops in Vietnam?

And just what role did Nixon’s constant companion and chief link to the Syndicate, Bebe Rebozo, play in the President’s “history of connections with money from organized crime?” From all the circumstantial evidence, a major one it seems.

The ever-faithful Bebe was at Nixon’s bedside when the former president died in 1994. When Rebozo died in 1998, he left $19 million to the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif.

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