This article was last modified on March 7, 2019.

Dirty Slots: The Life and Murder of Herman Paster

Samuel Harry Taran, formerly Schmiel Taran, was born June 15, 1898, in Ivnica, Russia, and emigrated from Bremen, Germany, to the United States entering at Galveston, Texas, June 21, 1912.

Taran’s first known arrest was on September 4, 1918 for loitering outside of the St. Francis Hotel at 7th and Wabasha. Allegedly, Taran pushed a police officer and his defense was that the officer had a grudge against him. The sentence was 15 days in the workhouse, but was suspended. Already at this point, Taran was known by his boxing nickname, “The Fighting Tailor” (though he used the slight spelling variant of Sammy Terrin). His trainer was Mike Gibbons, who claimed Middleweight Champion of the World status in 1909 following Stanley Ketchel’s murder.

Taran, in April 1920, was charged with grand larceny, theft of an automobile, tried and found not guilty in the District Court of Hennepin County, Minnesota. He had allegedly stolen a Buick Roadster and the owner spotted the car in a garage while riding the trolley. Hopping off, the man found receipts in the car proving it was his. Taran was fined $100 in Minneapolis August 8, 1921, on a liquor law violation. Three days later, he and his wife Florence were sentenced to jail for receiving a stolen automobile. Their combined bond was $4,000, which was put up by Louis Goldstein and Philip Spiegell.

Taran was fined $10 in Minneapolis January 12, 1922, for assault and battery. His victim was none other than Spiegell, following an argument over the bond money. Taran was charged with grand larceny, theft of an automobile in Hennepin County, Minnesota, August 9, 1922, tried and acquitted. His father Alex had sold a stolen car that he said he received from Sammy. When Sammy applied for citizenship in May 1923, the INS rejected him because of his criminal record.

On February 2, 1924, Taran was caught in possession of liquor. A few days later, on February 8, he lead a day-time raid on the LaSalle Drug Company, stealing 97 cases of Old Crow whiskey valued at $85,000. About two weeks later, Taran was busted when cases of whiskey ere found in his car, stored in a garage at 155 South Street. The newspapers speculated he was part of a “ring” including thirty men, possibly some of whom were retail pharmacists. Taran was picked up at the Bilbow Pool Hall (406 Minnesota Street).

Taran was convicted of grand larceny, Minneapolis, in March, 1924, and sentenced to serve a term of thirty days in the Minneapolis Work House. A distilling operation was found in his home (817 North Wheeler) and Taran was again on trial in October 1925. Mysteriously, the physical evidence against him disappeared. His attorney, Thomas McMeekin, claimed that Taran was merely a landlord and had no control over what happened in the residence; the jury believed himand decided within twenty minutes he was not guilty.

In December 1925, Taran was involved in a “high-jacking fight” in an apartment in St. Paul in which he was shot and wounded. Harry “Hop” Carlin had stolen liquor from Taran’s business partner, Morris Goldberg. Taran went to Carlin’s home and hit him with the butt of a gun. On Christmas Eve, Carlin and William Alexander went to Taran’s apartment and shot him in the chest. Miraculously, Taran not only survived but was able to wrestle the gun away from his attackers and beat them. In this connection he was charged with assault in the second degree (Alexander had a fractured skull), tried and acquitted. Carlin went on trial in January 1926 for assaulting Taran, but Taran “couldn’t remember” who attacked him and Carlin blamed the whole thing on Alexander, who was in the hospital at the time of the trial. Shortly thereafter, Alexander jumped out the window in his hospital gown and fled.

December 3, 1927: Ransom of $75,000 was demanded for the release of Morris Roisner of Minneapolis, who was under sentence to serve a year in Federal prison in a liquor case, but after two days of captivity he was released following the arrest of a dozen men believed by the police to be implicated in the plot. Police also recovered $700,000 in stolen diamonds. One of the alleged kidnappers was Mike Atol, a bootlegger who later had partial ownership of the Eldorado Club and Flamingo in Las Vegas.

Florence Taran was divorced from her husband, Samuel Harry Taran, in the District Court of Ramsey County, Minnesota, on April 20, 1933, and he was married a second time to Diane Lomberg of Chicago June 5, 1933. The couple were second cousins once removed, as Taran’s grandmother and my Lomberg’s great grandmother were sisters.

Herman Paster was picked up in Milwaukee on November 13, 1933. He was wanted in Chicago for his role in a confidence game under the name Herman Pastoro, and was transferred to them. At the time of arrest, two fingers on his right hand were bandaged. A month later, the charges were dropped.

Taran was tried on a charge of assault and battery, St. Paul, and acquitted February 3, 1934. He was indicted in 1934 at Chicago, on charges of conspiracy and possession of stolen bonds. About the same time he was wanted in Nebraska and Kansas in connection with bank robberies, but he successfully resisted extradition.

Paster was picked up on July 12, 1935 in Minneapolis for grand larceny. The case was dismissed on August 23.

September 17, 1936: Morris Roisner, underworld character of St. Paul, Minn.; one of his alleged lieutenants and two New Yorkers were indicted by a Federal grand jury for conspiracy to violate the national stolen property act. Accused of Trying to Get $800,000 Federal Notes (bonds).

Paster decided to go into business for himself and early in 1937 rented a small place in St. Paul, bought some machines in Chicago and had them shipped c.o.d. He borrowed the money to pay for the machines from Samuel Taran, his wife’s uncle. Within approximately one month his funds were depleted and he was unable to continue the business. He reported the matter to Taran who took over the business and employed ??? to run it for him. ??? was to receive as compensation for such services $35 per week and 15 per cent of profits.

In April 1937, Taran was sentenced to one year in the Minneapolis workhouse for tax violations related to bootlegging. Soon after, rumors reached US Attorney Linus J. Hammond that Taran was given a job at the workhouse from midnight to 6:00am, but in reality he would simply go home for the night.

July 14, 1941: Leon Gleckman dies in a car crash.

Around August 1941, Mayflower Distributing had its grand opening in St. Paul. Sam Taran was company president, with his top men being Herman Paster, Jacob Nilva and Morris Roisner. By October, Mayflower had the Wurlitzer distribution contract for Minnesota and the Dakotas. Wurlitzer general sales manager M G Hammergren told the press, “I know of few firms so well equipped to serve Wurlitzer music merchants. Mayflower understands the problems of operators and knows how to solve them. I am sure that Sam Taran, Herman Paster and Morris Roisner will go all out to render a superior quality of service as Wurlitzer distributors.”

In April 1943 Taran rented a storeroom on the second floor of the Kedney Warehouse, 389 East 8th St., St. Paul, stating to the warehouse manager that he was “interested in a finance company” and that he desired storage space for liquor financed by this company. In June or July of 1943 he also rented room 420 and another fourth floor room at the same warehouse, at which time he stated that part of this space was desired for liquor being financed for the Snelling Liquor Store of St. Paul. Taran furnished his own locks for these storerooms and paid the rent on a flat monthly basis, thereby absolving the warehouse management of any responsibility for their contents as well as the duty of keeping records of storage withdrawals or additions. The liquor that was stored in these rooms was generally handled by an employee of the Mayflower Company, James Tiffin, who was sometimes assisted by a fellow employee, Lee, and occasionally by Herman Paster. Early in October of 1943 the St. Paul branch of the Federal Alcohol Tax Unit received reliable information that a wholesale liquor business was being conducted at the premises of the Mayflower Novelty Company and pursuant to such information two investigators were detailed to keep said premises under surveillance. While so engaged in the late afternoon of October 5th, they observed a large truck back into the loading station of the building, remain there a little over an hour, and then pull out preceded by Herman Paster in his car. The investigators followed the truck to the intersection of U. S. Highways Nos. 10 and 8, northwest of St. Paul, where they observed Paster turn around and head back toward St. Paul, the truck proceeding west on Highway 10. They continued to trail the truck to Fargo, North Dakota, where they stopped it and discovered that it contained a load of 380 cases of liquor. The driver and owner of the truck, Rex McCann, a contract trucker of Missoula, Montana, showed them a bill of lading therefor which listed “Idaho State Liquor Commission” as consignee and destination as “State Liq. Store No. 24, Wallace, Idaho”, which he alleged had been given him by Herman Paster. The investigators confiscated, inventoried, and stored this load of liquor at Fargo and then returned to St. Paul accompanied by McCann The latter, upon their arrival there, pointed out the Kedney Warehouse as the place where he, with the aid of Paster and Jim Tiffin, had loaded half of the confiscated liquor. He then told them that the remainder of the liquor had been transferred to his truck in the loading station of the Mayflower Company building, another truck having immediately prior thereto unloaded such liquor therein. McCann also gave the information that he was hauling the liquor for R. E. McDonel, a tavern operator of Wallace, Idaho, as he had done with a previous load from the Kedney Warehouse in late September of 1943, and that he had no idea why the bill of lading was made out as it was, but that he knew that he was not to deliver the load to Liquor Store No. 24 in Wallace. As a result of this information, two Alcohol Tax agents went to the Mayflower premises on October 6th and asked Sam Taran for permission to inspect the premises, which was given. In two different rooms in the building, a total of 142 cases of distilled spirits and wines were found. These cases were inventoried and each room placed under a “detainer” notice. These notices were signed by Taran and were regularly renewed until the liquor was removed from the premises. Taran claimed he had bought the liquor from various dealers for the purpose of entertaining and furnishing gifts for his customers. On October 8th several Alcohol Tax Unit agents went to the Kedney Warehouse without a search warrant and inquired about any liquor that might be stored there by the Mayflower Company and were informed that the records were kept at the main office on University Avenue. While these records were being checked two agents remained at the warehouse and, upon inquiry as to the identity of two men who came into the premises, were informed that they were employees of the Mayflower Company — Tiffin and Lee. The latter obtained several hand trucks and followed by the agents went to the second floor storeroom, where they remained standing before the locked door for a considerable period of time. One of the government agents then went up to them, identified himself and asked Tiffin to open the door, which he did. The agents observed that the room contained a considerable number of cases of liquor and then ordered the door to be locked again. The agents took these two employees into custody and also Paster when he arrived about an hour later. The three were then taken to the Alcohol Tax Unit where a statement was obtained from Paster. Later on that same afternoon the hinges were removed from the door on room 420 of the Kedney Warehouse, where more liquor was found. The contents of both rooms were inventoried and detainer notices signed by Paster were posted on the doors and such notices were regularly renewed until October 14th, when the 531 cases contained in the Kedney Warehouse room and the 142 cases at the Mayflower Company premises were removed to government storage.

In October 1945, Herman Paster bought out Sam Taran and took over Mayflower Distributing (which was now also called Paster Distributing). Taran moved to Miami and started his own business there. As part of Paster taking over, the Pittsburgh office was sold to Jackie Fields. The Des Moines office, run by Irving Sandler, would still be under Paster’s supervision.

On February 1, 1946, Paster Distributing Company (2218 University Avenue) was incorporated. The incorporators were Jerome Hoffman, Joseph Donahue and C.A. Duffy.

In 1946 Allen Nilva suspended his private practice and became a full-time employee as attorney of the Mayflower Distributing Company and other Paster enterprises. His work was mainly in connection with real estate transactions.

On October 16, 1946, Mayflower Distributing (2218 University) was incorporated. The incorporators were Allen Nilva, M. H. Frisch, and F. U. Wilson.

According to author Gus Russo, the Wurlitzer company held a summit in Crosslake, Minnesota from June 15 through June 21, 1947 for the purpose of dividing up territory. Many of those attending had mob ties. Sam Taran was there (and received the Florida franchise); interestingly, he shared a cabin with Frank Garnett (real name Garnitz), son-in-law of Chicago mobster Jake Guzik.

On June 16, 1947, Progress Finance Company (302 Minnesota Building) was incorporated. The incorporators were Eugene Schway, M. H. Frisch and F. U. Wilson. Its exact relationship to Mayflower is unclear.

In August 1948, Taran was granted the AMI franchise for Florida and Cuba.

On April 25, 1949, the FBI put a mail cover on Herman Paster’s business (2218 University Avenue) and his home (1752 Pinehurst Avenue). He was suspected of being involved in an illegal lottery. The mail cover revealed “considerable correspondence” between his office in Minnesota with his Mayflower office in Omaha and Paster office in Milwaukee (2606 West Fond du Lac Ave). He was also in contact with Taran Distributing in Miami. None of this is unusual.

Shortly after the primary elections in June 1950, James Lincoln Brastrup (a car dealer active in North Dakota politics) was introduced to Elmo Christianson, NPL candidate for attorney general, by real estate dealer Henry Kennedy. Kennedy had suggested to Christianson that Brastrup would be an ideal campaign manager. Over the next few days, Christianson convinced Brastrup to take the job, informing him that he was responsible or raising the money and in exchange would get to pick some patronage positions. Christianson specifically wanted the slot machine operators targeted for fundraising, saying they could operate openly in exchange for continued contributions. Early on, Brastrup went so far as to introduce Christianson to Grand Forks attorney James Leo, saying Leo should be the “first assistant attorney general”. Christianson was open to this, but Leo told him it would have to be “special assistant” because he had no desire to move to Bismarck.

In October 1950, Elmo Christianson told James Brastrup he absolutely had to have money. Brastrup told him that he, Brastrup, understood there was some “out-of-state” money available. Christianson said he did not care where it came from as he had to have it. Brastrup told Christianson about a slot machine distributor and operator who might furnish funds. Brastrup had heard of Paster but did not know him or know how to communicate with him. Brastrup made inquiry about Paster, obtained a letter of introduction to Paster and made an appointment by telephone to meet Paster in St. Paul. Brastrup met Paster in St. Paul, October 20, 1950, told Paster that he, Brastrup, was representing Christianson, who was sure to be elected Attorney General of North Dakota, and that Brastrup wanted money for Christianson’s campaign. Paster told him that he, Paster, would not put up the money at that time, but that if Brastrup would put up the money and Christianson was elected, Paster would see that the money was paid back, that all Christianson would have to do as Attorney General would be to make some rulings and give some opinions “that would overlook the operation of machines in North Dakota.” Later Brastrup called Paster by telephone from North Dakota and verified this understanding with Paster. In that conversation Brastrup expressed optimism about Christianson’s campaign. Paster indicated satisfaction and told Brastrup to come to see him after the election.

On October 24, 1950, machine operator George Binek of Devils Lake gave Brastrup a campaign contribution in exchange for his friend Alex Wolf getting an appointment as a liquor inspector. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Wolf, a former law enforcement officer, would overlook infractions in his district. (Later on, Christianson asked for $3,000 from Wolf, which Wolf refused to pay, and he never received his position.)

At least as early as November 1950 (probably earlier), Sam Taran purchased Trija Golf Clubs, a company that made affordable golf clubs by having one shaft with interchangeable heads.

Early in November 1950, prior to the election on November 7, 1950, Brastrup met Christianson and Cy Bechtel in Minot, North Dakota. Christianson told Bechtel that he, Bechtel, would be transferred from the Laboratories Department to a liquor inspector’s position and that Bechtel’s job would be to collect money from private clubs for the operation of slot machines and punch boards.

Elmo Christianson was elected at the election held November 7, 1950. After the election Allan Nilva called Brastrup on November 15, congratulated him on Christianson’s election, and in the same telephone conversation Paster told Brastrup he would like to meet Christianson. Brastrup so informed Christianson. Christianson and Brastrup went to St. Paul the following day by plane. Brastrup purchased the tickets, giving Christianson’s name as “Nelson” at Christianson’s direction. They went to Paster’s office in St. Paul. Paster was busy and kept them waiting. Christianson expressed uneasiness about being there so long and asked Brastrup if they couldn’t just get the money and get out “right away”. However, they soon saw Paster, who told Christianson that he had a bright political future if he would “do things right, take good advice and stay out of trouble.” While they were talking, Paster had a long distance telephone call, during which Paster said to the other party that “he’s right here now,” and looking to Christianson and Brastrup asked if they could go to Chicago. The latter agreed.

Paster obtained the plane tickets for Northwest Airlines, purchasing Christianson’s in the name of “Larson”. By sheer coincidence, Milton Hammergren was also on the flight; Hammergren had formerly been an executive at Wurlitzer and knew Paster well. Arriving in Chicago on November 16, Brastrup, Christianson and Paster went to hotel rooms maintained by the Bally Manufacturing Company and there met a Mr. Maloney, the owner of that company, which manufactured coin machines. They spent the evening there. During the evening Paster and Maloney called Christianson into a small room where they remained for some time. When they came out, Brastrup asked Christianson if they had fixed him up. Christianson replied, “Yes. You don’t need to worry; everything is going fine. They’re going to carry out their end of the agreement.” Both stayed there that night. Both were given presents, a supply of which was kept in the rooms for customers. Paster offended Brastrup by asking Christianson in Brastrup’s presence if Christianson knew Brastrup well and cautioning Christianson to be sure Brastrup did not get drunk and tell everything he knew. The next day they returned to St. Paul. Arriving at Paster’s office, Paster handed Christianson an envelope, saying “Here is the other thousand dollars and that makes it.” Christianson replied, “That’s right”, and put the envelope in his pocket. Paster then told Christianson that if Christianson lived up to his part of the bargain he would live up to his and that although Christianson would be offered a lot of money while he was in office, it did not matter what he was offered, he, Paster, would always do better and would keep him out of trouble. On the plane going back to Grand Forks, North Dakota, from St. Paul, Brastrup asked Christianson if he needed all of the $2,000 and Christianson said he did, that he was buying a house.

In the latter part of November 1950, Brastrup was called by Paster to a meeting of “machine operators” at St. Paul. Paster was undertaking to sell machines and get them into North Dakota before the Johnson Act became effective. A number of such operators from North Dakota were there, including Neil VanBerkom and Robert Sande. VanBerkom was a close confidant of Lou and James Stearns, and had a long criminal record including bastardy and cattle smuggling (for which he served time in Leavenworth).

Isadore Francis LaFleur and Stanley Baeder arrived late, because Baeder had business at the S. L. London Company (2605 Hennepin Avenue). Paster told them that Brastrup was Christianson’s representative in North Dakota and the man to whom they were to pay the money for operating the machines. Paster said that a “great windfall” had happened to the North Dakota operators and there was “going to be a lot of cake out there” — that the arrangement had been made in that room only a few days before. At that meeting some concern was privately expressed by one of the North Dakota operators to Brastrup over the “Syndicate”, referring to Paster, moving into North Dakota. The question was raised as to whether it would not be better to permit well-known gambler Louis Cass Stearns to handle such things instead of having an outside syndicate move in. (Lou Stearns had only a minor record of tax problems, whereas his brother James W. Stearns had served time in Leavenworth for smuggling sheep and cattle in from Canada.) Brastrup called Stearns by telephone. Stearns insisted that he was going to represent Christianson in western North Dakota and that no syndicate was going to move in. Paster said at the meeting that rumors had been circulated that Stearns, not Brastrup, was to be Christianson’s agent, but that he, Paster, “had it from the man’s own mouth” that Brastrup was to be the man and that Brastrup was the man the North Dakota operators were to pay.

Shortly after the meeting, LaFleur called his father in Portland. While his father did not think the arrangement sounded like a good idea, he advised his son to do what he felt was best. LaFleur then called Paster and ordered “6 or 7” machines.

December 4, 1950: Brastrup made a $955 down payment on a car for Christianson. A 1950 Buick was purchased from Dakota Motor Sales in Grand Forks.

Herman Paster called Neil VanBerkom on December 11, 1950. More calls came on December 15, December 26 and December 27. When questioned about this later, VanBerkom said the calls were probably Paster trying to get VanBerkom to pay some outstanding bills, and had nothing to do with any kind of conspiracy.

Later in December 1950, Brastrup told Christianson about the rumors that had been going around concerning Lou Stearns and that Paster had called him, saying that he, Paster, had been getting a number of calls from people saying that Christianson had changed his mind and was going to deal through someone else. Christianson said he would go with Brastrup to St. Paul and straighten Paster out “once and for all”. They went to St. Paul, saw Paster, and Christianson reaffirmed the arrangement theretofore made. On that occasion Paster bought Christianson a new suit to wear at his inauguration.

Late in December 1950, Paster called Brastrup saying that a law was going into effect soon which would prohibit moving the machines from Minnesota to North Dakota and suggested that storage space be obtained for the machines in North Dakota or near the state line so they could be easily moved in. No such arrangement was actually made. On December 20, Christianson showed Brastrup $2,000 which was allegedly given to him by Lou Sterns in exchange for not enforcing the new gambling laws.

Brastrup went to St. Paul, December 26, 1950, and complained to Paster that he was getting many calls from North Dakota operators inquiring how the machines were to be handled and through whom they were to be purchased, that he could not answer those questions and that the procedure agreed upon was not good. Paster took a gun from his desk drawer and informed Brastrup that if he talked too much, double-crossed him, or lost his nerve that he could “easily be taken care of”. At the same meeting it was agreed that Christianson, Paster and Brastrup would operate the machines at the clubs and share the proceeds.

Between December 27 and 29, 1950, Mayflower shipped five orders of “coin-operated games” via Dakota Trucking to one Neal VanBerkom in Minot, North Dakota.

On December 29, 1950, Brastrup called LaFleur and asked for $500, telling him Christianson needed the money. LaFleur objected, saying he didn’t have many machines, but compromised and sent a $300 check under the belief he might be raided if he didn’t comply. Brastrup also called Braeder asking for $600, citing “unexpected expenses”. Braeder sent a check for $300.

On January 2 or 3, 1951, while Willard Normack was in Bismarck to be sworn in as inspector of the attorney general’s office, he was handed a slip of paper by Christianson’s secretary, Mabel Gulling. The paper told Normack to meet James Brastrup at the Patterson Hotel in Bismarck, which he did. While there, another man was in the hotel room but they were not introduced. Normack never told Christianson of this meeting and never saw Brastrup again. (What was discussed has been redacted in FBI records.)

An order of slot machines left Mayflower on January 2, 1951 and arrived at Neil vanBerkom’s place of business on January 4. Being after the first of the year, this interstate shipment was illegal.

Forty-three slot machines were sold to Elmo Christianson on January 25, 1951. Transportation charges were paid by the Mayflower Distributing Company.

On February 1, 1951, Brastrup was in Devils Lake, North Dakota and demanded money of LaFleur. A $150 check was written, and Brastrup added the notation “payment in full” despite there being no transaction.

Brastrup called Braeder on February 2 asking for $400. Braeder objected, saying he was waiting for the AG to release a favorable statement. Brastrup said it was coming, and Braeder sent him $200. This same day, operator jack Backus was in Bismarck an ran into Robert Sande and Neil VanBerkom. They took him to see Brastrup at the Patteron Hotel. Brastrup asked for $500 and Backus said no way. Brastrup insisted, saying the other operators had “fallen in line” and Backus then gave him $200. While in the hotel room, he also witnessed Brastrup talking to “Elmo” on the phone about money.

In the latter part of February 1951, Brastrup, Cy Bechtel and Christianson met in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Bechtel told Christianson that a number of small clubs were objecting to the amount of money demanded of them and asked Christianson if it would be all right to collect only 10 per cent. Christianson agreed. Bechtel said that he had heard rumors that Christianson and Brastrup were “all through” and asked Christianson whom he should turn the money over to. Brastrup said it was agreeable with him for Bechtel to pay it direct to Christianson, but Christianson said for Bechtel to turn the money over to Brastrup and that the latter would deal with him.

A representative of the Paster Distributing Company (but not Herman Paster) stayed at Room 1525 of the Schroeder Hotel (509 West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee) on February 15, 1951 and made a few phone calls (now redacted). He checked out the next day. Herman Paster was registered at the Schroeder Hotel on February 21, 1951, stayed in Room 1104, made a phone call to his residence in St. Paul and checked out the next day.

A phone call from Room 931 the Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport, Iowa came in to HILLTOP 4-5425, at 10:58am on March 2, 1951. This phone number was registered to the Paster Distributing Company of 2606 West Fond du Lac Avenue. Also using this number were the Paster Novelty Company and AMI Phonograph Sales and Service Company.

In March 1951, Sam Taran visited Puerto Rico.

On March 12, 1951, Brastrup again visited LaFleur in Devils Lake and asked for money. LaFleur gave him $100 as a check and $50 in cash. Brastrup called Braeder on March 14 asking for money and Braeder sent him $100. Braeder told Brastrup to never both him again unless the slot machines they had could be operated legally.

In April 1951, Bechtel told Christianson that Brastrup was collecting too much money and that they couldn’t get away with it.

On April 20, 1951, AG Christianson sent a memo to all state’s attorneys on the issue of gambling. Rather than allow it (as he lead many to believe), he instead cited Middleman v. Strutz (1941) to show that slot machines were illegal. Even if they did not pay cash but merely free games, they were still illegal. He wrote that “these machines should be taken out of circulation.” Amazingly, he went so far as to write, “It is rumored that persons are going about the state offering immunity for the operation of these machines for a consideration. This cannot be tolerated.”

On April 26, 1951, Christianson had an hour-long meeting with his assistant Helgi Johannson and a DOJ gambling agent. Christianson told the DOJ agent that $50,000 worth of slot machines had recently been sent to North Dakota by the Mayflower Distributing Company and he wanted these machines gone. The agent said he oversaw machine dealers, but could do very little about people owning machines. The agent said the machines would have to be removed through state law, and federal law would be there in the future to prevent further interstate shipments.
June 19, 1951: Sam Taran was arrested by immigration authorities. He had been on vacation in Puerto Rico and claimed on his papers to be a US citizen, which was false. He was released on $10,000 bond and authorities sought to deport him. This court saga dragged on for two years before the deportation order was thrown out.

Taran was at the Dyckman Hotel in Minneapolis on July 11, 1951. On July 17, INS agent Frank Gill spoke to FBI agent Glen Dornfield in Minneapolis about Taran. Their intelligence suggested Taran expected to get a full pardon as soon as Minnesota Governor Luther Youngdahl “leaves town”. Harry Truman has appointed Youngdhal a judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Herman and his wife returned from Hawaii in April 1952.

North Dakota Attorney General Elmo T. Christianson, Herman Paster, and Allen Nilva were indicted October 7, 1952, for conspiracy to violate the Johnson Act, which prohibits the interstate transportation of gambling devices. Paster was a big player in the jukebox trade of Minnesota and would soon set his sights on Milwaukee. Christianson turned himself in to authorities and was immediately released on $2,500 bond. Paster and Nilva each had $10,000 bonds, which they posted in Minnesota.

The day after the indictment, Christianson told reporter Roy Johnson he was “shocked” by the charges. “This comes after we have cleaned up gambling in the state. There are no gambling devices in the state and yet I am indicted.” Christianson told Johnson he had no intention of resigning. Later, he issued a press release expanding on his thoughts. “I see this as an attempt to smear my character and ruin my political career by a political party so ridden with crime, corruption and communism that they seek to hide their own crookedness by accusing innocent people.”

On October 31, 1952, the SAC in Minneapolis fired off a memo to Hoover. Hoover had said he “objects” to the Bureau being involved in the Christianson matter and thought of it as a tax matter. The SAC disagreed, arguing that the FBI clearly had jurisdiction and furthermore, “This case is attracting a lot of attention in North Dakota, and there will be some who, unless we do conduct an investigation, will accuse of of jumping through Senator Langer’s hoop.”

On December 12, 1952, slot machine dealer Harry Goldberg said that machines were being sent to Havana by Sammy Taran, Ted Buck and Joe Mangone, but Cuba was sending them back. US authorities stopped them at the borer and found the machines to be legal under the current gambling laws.

(when? 1953?) Frank Ferreri, one of Santo Trafficante’s bolita operatives in Ybor City (Tampa), was shotgunned to death. Though the murder likely had no connection to the Taran-Paster family, an envelope with Sammy Taran’s name was found in the backseat of Ferreri’s car. Inside was a single dollar bill. At the time, Taran operated the Taran Distributing Company on Northwest 36th Street in Miami, but also made frequent trips to Tampa. According to author Scott Deitsche, Taran was “close with two Trafficante associates”, Joe “Scootch” Indelicato of New York, and Stefano Randazzo of Cleveland.

On February 13, 1953, two FBI agents spoke with Raymond T. Maloney, the president of Lion Manufacturing Company of Chicago. Maloney explained that Lion was the parent company of a few other Chicago businesses: Comar Electric, Marlin Electric, National Scientific Products, Ravenswood Machine, Grand Woodworking and Como Manufacturing. The agents asked Maloney about an alleged meeting between Maloney and Christianson at the Sherman Hotel. Maloney had no recollection of ever meeting Christianson and was certain he never contributed any money to the man. Maloney explained that his company kept two rooms at the Sherman Hotel that they used as a showroom, so it would be quite possible thy met in passing and he never caught the man’s name. While he would not give a stranger cash, Maloney did explain to the agents that they had a large supply of gifts — TV sets, watches, purses — that were given to distributors in order to maintain goodwill.

On February 16, 1953, Special Agent Harry Berglund informed Herman Paster that he would be interested in an interview and would like to examine the records of Mayflower. However, Berglund was told by US Attorney P.W. Lanier that such an interview and search could only be done with Paster’s attorney present, and told Paster as much. This same date, Berglund spoke to defense attorney William Murphy. Murphy informed Berglund that he has filed a motion requesting any evidence prior to 1951 be thrown out, as the gambling laws were not in effect before that time. He also said that he knew James Brastrup and found him to be very questionable, so if he was the government’s star witness there wasn’t much for the defendants to fear. Murphy said he was perfectly fine with Berglund searching Mayflower’s records, but asked that the search come after the decision on his motion.

Agent Berglund spoke to Mayflower salesman Matt Engel on February 17, 1953, and asked about shipments of slot machines on or around January 1951. Engel said he would not know about this without checking the records, and added that he would not like to say anything against his employer, Herman Paster, as it would obviously not be to his benefit as an employee. Berglund also spoke to Harold Lieberman, operator of the Lieberman Music Company in Minneapolis. Lieberman said he was no friend of Paster and would gladly furnish information if he had it, but knew nothing that was pertinent to the FBI’s investigation.

On February 20, 1953, Agents Walt Sirene and Anthony Reeder spoke to retired FBI agent George Longmire at Longmire’s hotel room. Longmire said he knew nothing about Christianson, but related a story about a former source of his, Clarence Torzeski. A few years prior, Longmire was offered incriminating tapes of NPL government figures in exchange for $5,000. Longmire refused to pay, and later Torzeski offered the tapes to the NPL themselves. In short, there was “hearsay” and “gossip” about NPL politicians taking payoffs, but nothing concrete.

That same evening, Torzeski was approached by the agents. According to Torzeski, he had been offered $15,000 to not testify in the Christianson case. He refused to say who made the offer. He told the agents he had once paid Christianson $1,000 for the right to operate punch boards. This transaction happened in a car, and Torzeski had a witness, though he refused to name the witness other than to say he was from Minneapolis. Torzeski said he felt double-crossed, and as such, might accept the $15,000 and then testify anyway as revenge. Allegedly, Christianson personally called Toreski and told him, “I want to give you a tip for whatever it’s worth. Why don’t you take a long trip and keep your mouth shut, otherwise you may get a ride in a long black automobile.” Torzeski also claimed he was shot at while in his car, but the bullet whizzed between him and his steering wheel. He was not going to tell the police because of his bad reputation, but his father (Nick Torzeski) convinced him to. If Torzeski is to be believed, the sheriff’s department investigated but got nowhere. (In fact, the FBI checked with the sheriff and some of the story was true – they did investigate a bullet hole, but were of the opinion that Torzeski shot his own car in order to stir up publicity.)

Torzeski said he did not know if James Brastrup was bribed or offered a bribe, but had a “hunch” that Brastrup would take it if offered because he was in “dire financial straits”. Torzeski further said Christianson had once framed him in 1951, getting him convicted of grand larceny. He claimed that when the parole board heard his story, they gave him a “full pardon”. In fact, he has no pardon at all and was still on parole, reporting to a parole officer regularly. In short, Torzeski was a habitual liar and any truth he told would be hard to determine.

On February 21, 1953, agents spoke with Robert Vogel, a state’s attorney in North Dakota. Vogel told them that he had once seized “flat top” gambling devices from Neil Van Berkom in Minot, and at the time Van Berkom told him that the devices were declared legal by the Attorney General (Christianson). Vogel called the AG office and spoke to Pete Garberg, who told him to use his best judgment. Garberg said, in essence, “you’re on the scene and can make that determination”. Vogel also said although he never spoke to Christianson personally, the AG had sent a letter to all prosecutors telling them to “vigorously prosecute gambling”.

Also on February 21, 1953, the agents spoke with Agriculture Commissioner Matt Dahl. He had spoken with Nick Torzeski in 1951 and was told the story of how Clarence had been arrested for operating punch boards and complained to the prosecutor that he had the AG’s permission. The prosecutor (Robert Chesrown) said he didn’t give a damn who gave him permission, he was going to enforce the law. Dahl aid after he heard this story, he had a conference with Christianson and some influential NPL politicians and confronted Christianson. He not only denied the protection, but swore he never took money from Clarence Torzeski under any circumstances, even as a legal contribution. Dahl and the NPL leaders had no evidence, so they dropped the matter.

Judge Gudmundur Grimson was interviewed by SA Sirene and Reeder on February 26, 1953. Grimson said when Christianson took office, he (Grimson) offered his services for anything he might need. Christianson never took him up on that offer, except one time he mentioned to Grimson that Lou Sterns wanted a certain liquor inspector to have his job renewed. Grimson told the AG that if Lou Sterns was in favor of someone, that was enough reason to not re-appoint the man. Grimson did not recall the man’s name, but believed that he ended up resigning his position.

On February 26, 1953, FBI agent Leroy Sheets visited the Eagles Club in Minot, North Dakota, and spoke with R. R. Sich. It was explained the club had a gambling machine (Bally’s Triple Bell) supplied by Neil Van Berkom, but the payout was turned off. Instead, winners could get free games or turn in their free games for the money value of the game.

On March 7, 1953, Special Agent Arthur Reeder interviewed attorney Ronald Davies in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Davies explained that he had been the attorney for J. L. Brastrup when Brastrup had a deal with Elmo Christianson. He had in his possession a cashed $4,000 check written to Christianson by Brastrup dated January 2, 1951. The check was endorsed by both Christianson and Walter Wacker. Agent Reeder noted that Wacker had sold a house to Christianson in Bismarck. Davies further volunteered that Allen Nilva had stopped by only a few days before looking for information on Brastrup. Davies and Nilva knew each other from World War II, having served in the Army together. Davies agreed to go out to lunch with Nilva, but refused to divulge any information without Brastrup’s okay.

On March 12, 1953, agents spoke to Meade Arthur of J.H. Keeney Manufacturing in Chicago. Arthur said Keeney manufactured slot machines, but at no time did Herman Paster have an account with them for slot machines. He had in the past purchased cigarette vending machines and bowling games from Keeney. The slot machine account for Minnesota and the Dakotas was held by Billy “Sphinx” Cohen’s Silent Sales Distributing of Minneapolis. Arthur volunteered the information that “pinball king” Lou Welcher had two companies — one in San Francisco and one in Oregon — and had purchased a large number of machines. Arthur was aware that Welcher and Paster were friends and speculated that Paster could have bought slot machines from Welcher. It was not uncommon for Keeney machines to be resold, and sometimes sellers would even remove the serial numbers and add their own.

The FBI spoke to Dave Vogel, former salesman for Lou Sterns, on March 19, 1953. Vogel was not aware of Stearns paying Christianson, Paster or anyone in that circle. He clarified, however, that Stearns was something of a lobbyist and made many political contributions, but they came from his own pocket and not out of the company. Vogel believed that Stearns “controlled deals and political figures” for many years.

On April 8, 1953, the jury brought back its verdict on Christianson, Paster and Nilva after 24 hours of deliberation. Christianson and Paster were released by a hung jury, while Nilva was acquitted entirely. US Attorney P. W. Lanier wanted to try the case again, but also thought he was going to retire soon.

The defense filed a motion for acquittal (to avoid a retrial), but the motion was denied by Judge Charles Vogel on August 5, 1953. The retrial was tentatively set for March 1954.

On September 8, 1953, Jules Tavalin of Long Island went to the New York Office of the FBI and told them he had information that Sam Taran was involved in bankruptcy fraud. Tavalin had been the president of Sports Center retail store before it filed for bankruptcy. Taran filed a $2,000 claim for money owed on golf clubs, but Tavalin presented a receipt showing the clubs had been returned. Taran said the signature on the receipt did not match any of his employees and claimed the trucking company (Great Southern of Jacksonville) must have stolen the clubs.

Tavalin returned to the New York Office on September 22 with more information. According to the trucking company, they had difficulty finding Taran’s office because the building made no mention on its signage of being a sporting goods company, only a jukebox company. Taran’s attorney, Richard Stull, now argued that a notation on the receipt showed that Tavalin had sold 23 sets of clubs. Tavalin said the notation was not about how many were sold, merely ordered. In Fact, he had not sold the clubs because they did not meet the specifications of a sample set he had been shown before placing his order.

Taran was shown receipt copies on November 4, 1953 and now recalled the shipment of golf clubs from Sports Center. He acknowledged that the signature on the receipt was that of one of his employees, Solomon Mohre. Taran’s contention now was that part of the clubs were missing and some were damaged, making the items returned to him worth no more than $200.

At the Milwaukee common council meeting on Thursday, January 14, 1954, Alderman Fred P. Meyers said he received a “serious and sincere complaint” that St. Paul-based Herman Paster was seeking to join forces with a Milwaukee-based man to hold a monopoly over vending machines in Milwaukee. Meyers said, “I am trying to find out more about it” and he promised to discuss it more the following week. The newspaper speculated that the Milwaukee man was Joe Beck of the Mitchell Amusement Company, who owned 385 machines in the city. The Milwaukee Journal also called attention to Paster’s criminal record, having served a federal prison sentence during World War II for selling black market liquor and his later convictions for interstate transport of gambling machines.

The common council held a meeting on Friday, January 22, 1954 to discuss the jukebox trade in Milwaukee. Herman Paster of St. Paul was invited based on rumors that he was looking to become a major player in the area. Paster did not attend, but sent the vice president of Paster Distributing Company, Allen Nilva. Paster is not in the business of operating coin machines, he said. The firm is exclusively a wholesale distributor. Nilva stressed that there was no syndicate behind Paster and that they were not seeking a monopoly. Machines are only operated by Paster when they are repossessed, and even then only until they can find a new owner.

Paster entered Terre Haute prison on January 5, 1955 for conspiracy to transport gambling devices over state lines. On March 5, he was transferred to Leavenworth where he stayed until his release on October 22. In June 1956, he again in trouble for transporting gambling devices and was returned to Leavenworth June 6, 1956 for two years.

During the Congressional investigations into racketeering in February 1959, Milton Hammergren testified. Hammergren had worked for Wurlitzer and had trouble getting his jukeboxes into new territories, so he consulted his friend Al Goldberg. Through Goldberg, Wurlitzer had the strength of the mob behind it, with Jake Guzik in Chicago and Meyer Lansky in New York, among others. In Minneapolis, Hammergren dealt with Morris Roisner, who he described as a “two-time loser” he had known since childhood. Roisner “lined up” with Sam Taran, and in Hammergren’s opinion Taran was “probably the outstanding merchandiser in the coin machine business today.”

Paster, 57, flew from Milwaukee to St. Paul on Friday, October 28, 1960, arriving at the Wold Chamberlain airport around 6:30pm. His son Arnold picked up Herman and brother-in-law Allen Nilva, dropping Nilva off at his home (1830 Hillcrest Avenue) before continuing on to 1752 Pinehurst Avenue. Paster was shot in the head while reading a newspaper on the couch in his den. He had only been home a few minutes, just long enough to take his coat off. Three shots from a .38 pistol came in through his window, the third being fatal. Paster was actually facing the window at the time, but because a light was on in the house, the killer could see Paster clearly, but no one could see outside. He died on the way to Ancker Hospital. St. Paul Police Chief William Proetz called the murder one that “reaches high into the circles of national crime.” The yard was roped off to look for footprints or cartridges. Several neighbors reported hearing a car backfire, but didn’t recognize the sound of gunshots.

Shortly after the murder, police stood watch at Paster Enterprises (2227 University Avenue), Paster’s real estate business, in the case that someone tried to burglarize the building.

Pioneer Sales and Service (or Pioneer Vending) was incorporated on May 23, 1962 by Edward and Adel Ginsburg. They acquired the AMI franchise that had been held by Herman Paster until his murder. Rumors circulated that Pioneer had hidden owners in Cleveland or Chicago, but when questioned by the FBI, the Ginsburgs denied this. They did have a financial stake in Chicago’s Atlas Music Company, however, which was also owned by Samuel Gersh. Edward Ginsburg had previously been interviewed by the FBI in Chicago in September 1958. At that time, he admitted knowing Edward Vogel and had for many years , going back to when Ginsburg worked for Mills Manufacturing, a leading slot machine manufacturer. (Note: As of 2015, Pioneer still exists, with Jonathan Kleiman of Menomonee Falls as its registered agent. Jonathan took over from his father, Joel, though their connection to the Ginsburg family is unclear.)

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

2 Responses to “Dirty Slots: The Life and Murder of Herman Paster”

  1. Drew Hunkins Says:

    This is absolutely fascinating Gavin, thanks for posting this. I know that to this very day there’s a Pioneer Bowling alley up in the Menomonee Falls area that I’m almost certain was probably connected to all of this somehow back in the day.

    Keep up the terrific work Gavin.

  2. gavin Says:

    Thanks, Drew. There’s a lot more that will be added to this sooner or later. I have plenty more on Taran, Paster, etc. And quite a bit on Sam Cooper I’m not allowed to post publicly at this time.

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