LAS VEGAS — An organized crime expert testified in Wayne Newton's defamation lawsuit against NBC Tuesday that organized crime figures often try to establish ties with celebrities "so they will not appear to be as sinister as they are."
G. Robert Blakey, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the jury that organized crime figures like to link themselves to public charities, entertainers, political figures and well-known athletes to develop an "innocence by association."
Blakey was called to the stand by attorneys for Newton, who has filed a multimillion-dollar suit against the network in connection with 1980 and 1981 news reports that linked him to organized crime figures.
Newton has contended that he went to crime figure Guido Penosi and asked for help in getting threats against his daughter stopped. Newton has testified that he first met Penosi while entertaining at New York City's Copacabana nightclub.
Newton also has testified that Penosi was able to stop the death threats and asked for nothing in return.
Blakey testified that such a scenario is entirely feasible based on his lengthly studies of organized crime.
Later, former Nevada Gov. Robert List testified that he dropped the idea of asking Newton to run for lieutenant governor after the NBC broadcast. List, a Republican governor from 1978 to 1982, said he talked with Newton in the late 1970s about the entertainer possibly entering politics.
But List said the broadcast ruined any chance Newton had of becoming elected.
"Wayne no longer enjoys the kind of image and reputation that the ideal candidate wants to have," List said. "Today it's a fact Wayne is a controversial figure. He no longer enjoys that reputation of purity and wholesomeness; he's no longer free of criticism."
In testimony earlier, an NBC attorney told jurors that Newton's lawsuit "lies in ruins." Attorney Floyd Abrams, in his weekly summation to the jury Monday, contended that testimony by Newton and his own witnesses has vindicated NBC for the series of reports linking Newton to crime figures.
Newton's attorney, Morton Galane, contended the most important testimony last week was that given by banker E. Parry Thomas, who said Newton purchased the Aladdin Hotel with a $5-million loan from Valley Bank. The network, in a promotion of one of its broadcasts, raised the question of whether mob money was used in the purchase of the Las Vegas Strip resort.
Abrams cited testimony last week by a former Nevada gaming investigator as the key in the trial to date. The investigator, Fred Balmer, told the court he did not believe that Newton told him everything he knew about two organized crime figures when Newton sought a gaming license to buy the Aladdin Hotel in 1980.
Galane, in his summation, claimed that Balmer's testimony was not particularly relevant to the case. "Let's pay attention to what he really said other than a few isolated headline-grabbing comments," Galane said.