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Memo to Attorney General,
May 22, 1962,
SUBJECT: The Johnny Rosselli Matter:
1. In August 1960 Mr. Richard Bissell approached the then Director of Security, Colonel Sheffield Edwards, to determine if the Office of Security had any assets that may assist in a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target was Fidel Castro.
2. Because of its extreme sensitivity, only a small group was knowledgeable of the project. The DCI was briefed and gave his approval. Colonel J.C. King, Chief, Western Hemisphere Division, was briefed, but all details were concealed from any of the JMWAVE officials. Certain TSD and Communications personnel participated in the initial planning stages but were not witting of the purpose of the mission.
3. Robert Maheu, a cleared source of the Office of Security was contacted, briefed generally on the project, and requested to ascertain if he could develop an entree into gangster elements as the first step toward accomplishing the desired goal.
4. Mr. Maheu advised that he had met one Johnny Rosselli on several occasions while visiting Las Vegas. Maheu knew Rosselli only casually through clients but had been given to understand that Rosselli was a high ranking member of the Syndicate and controlled all of the ice making machines on the Strip. Maheu reasoned that, if Rosselli was in fact a member of the clan, he undoubtedly had connections leading into Cuban gambling.
5. Maheu was asked to approach Rosselli, who knew Maheu as a personal relations executive handling domestic and foreign accounts. Maheu was to tell Rosselli that he had recently been retained by a client who represented several international business firms which were suffering heavy financial losses in Cuba as a result of Castro's action. These firms were convinced that Castro's removal was the answer to the problem and were willing to pay a price of $150,000 for its successful accomplishment. It was to be made clear to Rosselli that the United States Government was not and should not become aware of this operation.
6. The pitch was made to Rosselli on September 14, 1960, at the Hilton Plaza Hotel in
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New York City. Mr. James O'Connell, Office of Security, was present during this meeting and was identified to Rosselli as an employee of Maheu. O'Connell actively served as Rosselli's contact until May 1962 at which time he phased out due to an overseas assignment. Rosselli's initial reaction was to avoid getting involved, but through Maheu's persuasion he agreed to introduce him to a friend, Sam Gold, who knew the Cuban crowd. Rosselli made it clear that he would not want any money for his part, and he believed that Gold would feel the same way. Neither of these individuals were ever paid out of Agency funds.
7. During the week of September 25, 1960, Maheu was introduced to Gold at the Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach. During this meeting Maheu also met an individual identified as "Joe" who was supposedly a courier operating between Havana and Miami. Several weeks later Maheu saw photographs of both of these individuals in the Sunday Supplemental Parade. They were identified as Momo Salvatore Giancana and SANTOS TRAFFICANTE.
Both were on the list of the Attorney Generals ten most wanted men. Giancana was described as the Chicago Chieftain of the Cosa Nostra and successor to Al Capone. TRAFFICANTE was identified as the Cosa Nostra boss of Cuban operations. Maheu called this office immediately upon ascertaining this information.
8. In discussing the possible methods of accomplishing the mission, Sam suggested that they not resort to firearms but that he be furnished some type of potent pill that could be placed in Castro's food or drink. Gold indicated that he had a perspective nominee in the person of Juan Orta, a Cuban official who had been receiving kickback payments for a gambling interest and who still had access to Castro and was still in a financial bind.
9. TSD was requested to produce six pills of high lethal content which were then delivered to Orta by Joe. After several weeks of reported attempts, Orta apparently got cold feet and asked out of the assignment. He suggested another candidate who made several attempts without success.
10. Joe then indicated that Dr. Anthony Varona, one of the principal officers in the Cuban exile junta, had become disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the junta and was willing to handle
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the mission through his own resources. Varona asked that he be given $10,000 for his organization expenses and requested $1,000 worth of communications equipment. Dr. Varona's potential was never fully exploited as the mission was canceled shortly after the Bay of Pigs episode. Varona was advised the offer was withdrawn, and the pills were retrieved.
11. Of significant interest was an incident which involved a request levied by Sam upon Maheu. At the height of the project negotiations, Gold expressed concern about Dan Rowan who he learned was (Deleted). Gold asked Maheu to put a bug in Rowan's room to determine the extent of Rowan's relationship with Phyliss McGuire. The technician involved in the assignment was discovered in the process, arrested and taken to the Sheriff's Office for questioning. He called Maheu in the presence of Sheriff's personnel and informed him that he had been detained. Subsequently the Department of Justice announced its intention to prosecute Maheu along with the technician. On February 7, 1962 the Director of Security briefed the then Attorney General Robert Kennedy on the circumstances leading up to Maheu's involvement in the wiretap. At our request, prosecution was dropped.
12. In May 1962 Mr. William Harvey took over as Rosselli's case officer and it was not known if he was used officially from that point on. It was subsequently learned from the FBI that Rosselli had been convicted on six counts involving illegal entry into the United States some time during November 1967. On December 2, 1968, Rosselli, along with four other individuals, was convicted of conspiracy to cheat members of the Friar's Club of $400,000 in a rigged gin rummy game. Mr. Harvey reported his contacts with Rosselli to this office during November and December 1967 and January 1968. Rosselli was facing deportation at that time but felt he could win an appeal.
* On November 17, 1970, Mr. Maheu called James O'Connell, Rosselli's first case officer, to advise that Maheu’s attorney, Ed Morgan, had received a call from Thomas Waddin, Rosselli’s attorney, who stated that all avenues of appeal had been exhausted and Rosselli faced deportation. Waddin indicated that if someone did not intercede on Rosselli’s
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behalf, he would make a complete expose of his activity with the Agency. On November 13, 1970, Mr. Helms was briefed on this latest development and it was decided that the agency would not in any way assist Rosselli. Maheu was advised of the Agency’s position and was in complete agreement. He stated that he was not concerned about any publicity as it affected him personally should Rosselli decide to tell all. Subsequently Rosselli, or someone on his behalf, furnished Jack Anderson details of the operation. Anderson wrote two columns regarding this operation on January 13, 1971, and February 23, 1971. Rosselli was last known to be in the Federal Penitentiary in Seattle, Washington. [Memo for IG from Sidney D. Stembridge Acting Director of Security 3.16.76]
On May 9, 1962, Attorney General Robert Kennedy was advised by the CIA that Robert Maheu had been hired to approach Sam Giancana regarding an assassination plot against Fidel Castro. “Mr. Kennedy stated that upon learning CIA had not cleared its action in hiring Maheu and Giancana with the DOJ he issued orders that the CIA should never again take such steps with first checking with the DOJ.” [FBI 62-109060-4984]
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