Black Book Blues: Meet ‘Company’ boss casinos didn’t want to keep By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports March 11, 2020 at 8:00 pm “One in an occasional series profiling a member of Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons, often referred to as “The Black Book.” Las Vegas has been known for more than a generation as “The Ninth Island” to Hawaiians who love to vacation there. Islanders like to party and play in every casino, but they have a special attachment to the California Hotel downtown in a tradition that began in the 1970s. Those familiar with Hawaii only as a tourist destination or through images on television are often surprised that the nation’s 50th state isn’t all luaus and umbrella drinks. In addition to its natural beauty and important place in the American story, Hawaii has also been home to a thriving organized crime subculture. So it was perhaps inevitable in the 1970s that some of Hawaii’s hoodlum element would wash ashore on The Ninth Island. And that meant that, sooner or later, those characters would come to the attention of Nevada Gaming Control Board investigators, detectives assigned to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, and FBI agents working organized crime in Las Vegas. On the fast streets of Honolulu, Asian organized crime groups representing factions of Japanese Yakuza, Chinese Triad and Korean and even Samoan groups were represented. Fights between crews were common and often produced grisly results, but a seismic shift occurred after the July 1967 murder of Korean gang boss George Soon Bock “Yobo” Chung, who had risen from near-anonymity as a house burglar in 1962 to become the leader of a vicious criminal crew that extorted local gambling game operators. Wilford “Nappy” Pulawa’s page in Nevada’s Black Book After finally making a name for himself, he walked into a busy Chinatown gambling hall and found the tables had turned. Tired of being pushed around and extorted, gamblers stopped the action and forced Chung and 40 other men to stand against the wall, as author Jason Ryan has described it. Chung was executed on the spot, an act that sent a message through the island underworld and signaled a change of the guard. Native Hawaiian Wilford “Nappy” Pulawa represented part of that change. He is largely credited in forming what became known as The Company, in part for the business-like manner in which he tried to operate. The Company was a racketeering enterprise that muscled illegal bookmakers and backroom card game operators, ran drug trafficking, prostitution, extortion, and loansharking operations, laundered money and was long suspected of paying off corrupt politicians. Its members may have worn flower-print shirts, but they were mobsters to the core and were known to use violence and even murder to maintain order. Pulawa dreamed big. He was suspected of laundering millions in gambling profits in Hawaii, Nevada, and California, where he attempted to insert himself in the hotel business. He was also suspected of eliminating the competition in a less-than-businesslike fashion. Charged with income tax evasion in 1975, he was eventually convicted and sentenced to serve 24 years in prison. He was paroled after a decade and returned to what he knew best, creating some problems and fixing others, inserting himself in labor disputes. Known to some for his generosity and colorful character, Pulawa was considered one of “Hawaii’s own” by many locals and engendered sympathy after his tax conviction. After one young golfer won the Public Links Championship in Kauai shortly after Pulawa’s conviction, he choked up during an interview and defended his friend from the country club, “Mister Nappy Pulawa.” He added, “They put the wrong man away. They put the wrong man away.” Born in 1935, in his prime Pulawa was built like a fullback and had an intimidating presence. Despite a two-decades-long criminal arrest record that included charges ranging from kidnapping to murder, he managed to avoid the penitentiary until getting tackled by 1974 tax evasion charges. He served a decade in mainland prisons before returning to the street and quietly working as an elevator operator on construction sites. Although Pulawa was not known as a high roller or a secret investor in a Strip casino in an era of hidden ownership, his mere association with two Hawaii-based Las Vegas gaming junket operators was enough to get them disqualified from bringing casino customers to Nevada. “Two of the men had ‘paid tribute’ to Pulawa, and when one of them stopped, his life was threatened, Of additional concern was that the men had agreed to testify against Pulawa and that there might be repercussions,” UNLV professors Ronald Farrell and Carole Case wrote in The Black Book and the Mob. “The board recommended denial of the junket representative licenses, stating that ‘the influence which dominates these particular individuals is an illegal, improper influence that we can’t tolerate.” Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Echeverria said of one of the junket operators merely associated with Pulawa, “the fact he is under the threat of death, the fact he is associated with the syndicate … that is certainly not consistent with the best interest of the State of Nevada. It is a volatile situation. What if that guy got knocked off right in front of Caesars Palace?” What, indeed. What received little press in Las Vegas was Pulawa’s reputation for violence. He was indicted on Feb. 13, 1974 and charged with murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping in a case that eventually ended in a mistrial with associate Alvin George Kaohu. When their reputation for violence and connection to the Hawaiian casino junket business was revealed, Pulawa and Kaohu were nominated for inclusion in Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons. They were placed in the Black Book on Jan. 23, 1975 and share the dubious distinction of being its longest-serving members. In the end, Pulawa’s Company was one Las Vegas casinos didn’t want to keep. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.