The criminals who built the West

 

IDAHO

Jeffrey John Shaw was not what you'd call a "natural" rancher when he moved to Marsing, Idaho, population 890, in the mid-1990s. He had a thick Boston accent, knew beans about cattle, and wore bib overalls and straw hats that were a little over-the-top country, says a neighbor. But he gained the trust of nearby ranchers and even took charge of the area irrigation system, according to The New York Times. Over the years, Shaw -- whose real name was Enrico Ponzo -- also began raising a family and 12 cows of his own. But Ponzo's life as a "remade man" ended abruptly on Feb. 7, after federal agents arrested him for crimes dating back almost two decades, including attempted murder. Investigators searching Ponzo's house found a treasure trove of 39 guns, $15,000 in cash, a 100-ounce bar of silver and lots of books about how to change your identity.

NEVADA

Critics reacted with distaste to a new exhibit called the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana Hotel on the Strip, with one calling it "a gratuitous paean to criminality and a crass depiction of Italian-Americans." The interactive show certainly dramatizes organized crime -- whacking visitors in a hail of gunfire noise if they fail to kill somebody fingered by the Mob boss, praising them if they witness a crime yet keep their traps shut. But public relations director Spence Johnson points out that mobsters have legitimate ties to the desert city: They may have committed heinous crimes, he told aolnews.com, but "they played an important role in the development of Las Vegas."

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