William J. Raggio Papers
Scope and Contents
The William J. Raggio Papers cover the years 1916-2014. The collection consists of correspondence, legal documents, news clips, scrapbooks, photo albums, and photographs. Much of the material and information contained in this collection is derived from Raggio's career as the Washoe County District Attorney, his law practice, and publicity gained from his tenure as public official in Northern Nevada. These papers do offer insight into Raggio’s life and career, including his bouts of national notoriety following high-profile court cases, particularly his investigation of notorious vice kingpin Joe Conforte.
Raggio was Nevada's longest serving state senator, his career spanned from 1973-2011. In that time Raggio participated in 20 regular sessions and 19 special sessions, beginning with the 57th Nevada Legislature Session and ending right before the 76th Session began. Due to a flood in his home's basement where his political materials were being stored, his papers contain very little about his career in the state Senate aside from some photographs, newsletters, magazine articles, and newspaper clippings.
The Raggio Papers are divided into three series: 1) Legal Cases; 2) Senate Career; and 3) Personal and Biographical. The bulk of Series 2 consists of newspaper clippings, and much of Series 3 is made up of scrapbooks and materials that were intended to be placed in scrapbooks, campaign materials, and other materials that pertain to Raggio's personal life and family including records that date to his childhood. This series also includes awards and events programs honoring Raggio.
Series 1: Legal Cases, consists of materials accumulated by Bill Raggio during his three terms as the Washoe County District Attorney and his law practice, which he was able to maintain throughout his political career. These materials date from 1948-2006. These files correspond with several high-profile legal court cases that Raggio was involved in as either a defense lawyer or prosecutor.
Series 2: Senate Career is comprised mostly of newspaper clippings, some newsletters, and a few magazine articles that discuss Raggio's actions in the Nevada Senate. Other notable materials in this series include documents from the Nevada Legislature's hearing on Senate Joint Resolution no. 2, which dealt with the appointment rather than election of judges. These materials date from 1972-2012.
Series 3: Personal and Biographical, includes a variety of materials date from 1916-2014 and end with correspondence regarding Raggio's retirement from the Nevada State Senate in January 2011, including an article in the University of Nevada, Reno's Silver and Blue publication highlighting Raggio’s long career.
- Raggio, William John (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research. Materials must be used on-site; advance notice suggested. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.
William “Bill” John Raggio, Jr. was born in Reno, Nevada on October 30, 1926 to his parents William and Clara Raggio. His birth in a small maternity cottage located several blocks from the family’s residence on Vine Street came just a few hours shy of Nevada Day. Raggio was a fourth-generation Nevadan with his maternal great-grandfather Giobaptisto (Giobata) Avansino arriving in America via Genoa, Italy in the early 1860s. Not long after Giobata’s arrival in New York City, he headed west to San Francisco where he briefly worked before crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1867 and settling in newly-formed Washoe County. His paternal grandfather, Ben Raggio, also came from Genoa, Italy and settled in Washoe County in 1881.
Raggio’s father, William, Sr., held a variety of jobs until 1932 when he began working as a private contractor for the Sunshine Laundry Company. This job allowed him to purchase a route, own a truck, manage his own business accounts, and provide a relatively comfortable life for his family, even amid the Depression. During the 1930s the Raggio family was able to purchase a new vehicle, take vacations, and young Raggio was afforded the opportunity to learn how to hunt, ski, and take lessons on several musical instruments, including the piano and trumpet. It should also be noted that while the Raggios were not overly active church members, Clara did insist that the family attend mass regularly at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral, the only Catholic Church in Reno at that time.
When Raggio was old enough he began attending Orvis Ring Elementary School, where he excelled, and was able to skip most of the fourth grade and move onto the fifth. At the age of twelve he joined the Boy Scouts of America, Troop 4. The Boy Scouts provided a young Raggio with strong encouragement to achieve, and instilled in him an interest in outdoor activities such as camping and hiking. Raggio would go on to become an Eagle Scout, and he remained in the organization until the troop disbanded in 1941 due to America’s entrance into World War II. After elementary school in 1939, Raggio began attending Northside Junior High School, and in 1941 he entered Reno High School.
Throughout his primary and secondary schooling Raggio maintained high marks, played sports, participated in extracurricular activities, and worked several jobs, including selling newspapers on the corner in front of the Golden Hotel. His other jobs included working in the produce section at the Washoe Market and in the stock room of J.C. Penny's. Most of the money he earned from those jobs went toward clothing. Throughout his lifetime Raggio was noted for being an impeccable dresser. As a state senator, some of his colleagues even referred to him as the best-dressed man in the Nevada Legislature. During the summer months of high school, Raggio and his friends were employed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). As a result they were sent to outlying areas around Reno to perform manual labor and fight forest fires.
While in high school, Reno High required all physically fit boys to enroll in the ROTC program. Raggio took ROTC courses for three years and received an officer's commission of Second Lieutenant during his senior year. His first assignment was to conduct court-martials. Raggio later recalled that this was technically his first experience as a prosecutor. A military placement examination put Raggio in line for the Naval Officer Training Program. In January 1944, while waiting to enter the program, Raggio enrolled at the University of Nevada where he completed one semester of courses and became a member of the ATO fraternity.
Later that year, Raggio was sent to Ruston, Louisiana to begin his rigorous officer training. After completing the equivalent of three college semesters at Louisiana Tech, Raggio transferred to the University of Oklahoma in July 1945. By the time of his arrival in Norman, the war in Europe was over, but fighting in the Pacific continued. However, a month later with Japan’s unconditional surrender, the war ended. Despite the war being over, Raggio was required to complete his military obligations.
After three more semesters at the University of Oklahoma, Raggio was given the opportunity to become an officer in the Marine Corps. He accepted and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina. This did not last long however, due to extensive military downsizing in 1946. Raggio was given the option of discharge, which he accepted. By January 1947 he was back in Reno and enrolled at the University of Nevada again. A year later in 1948 he earned his BA and married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy “Dottie” Brigman. Not long after the wedding the couple moved to San Francisco for Raggio to attend the Hastings School of Law. After graduating from Hastings, Raggio immediately enrolled at Boalt Hall, the Law School at the University of California in Berkley to work on his master’s degree. In 1952, Raggio returned to Reno and was admitted to the Nevada State Bar.
After being admitted to the state bar, Raggio’s legal career finally began. Like most lawyers in Reno, Raggio’s career started out with taking on divorce cases. Other cases came in off the streets because Raggio's name was well known in the Truckee Meadows, due to the family’s long presence in the area. These early cases and the guidance from other well-established lawyers in town provided Raggio with valuable experience. In August of 1952, Washoe County District Attorney Jack Streeter offered Raggio the deputy district attorney position, which he accepted after some careful consideration. Though the salary was low, Raggio was able to supplement his income by continuing to handle divorce cases on the side. He remained in the position of deputy district attorney from 1952 until 1958 when he decided to run for Washoe County District Attorney as the Republican candidate. Raggio easily defeated the Democrat opponent, Murray Dolan, and as Raggio biographer Michael Archer states, "the organization would never be the same."
For three terms (1958-1970) Raggio served as the Washoe County District Attorney. His first order of business was to restructure and modernize the operations of the District Attorney office. Raggio showed foresight and innovation early in his career when he anticipated the impending crisis of crimes associated with drug use. Hoping to educate the community, he spent many hours addressing service clubs and other organizations on the nature of narcotics. Raggio also addressed the epidemic of juvenile delinquency early in his career. While Raggio was initially admired for being innovative, resourceful, and energetic, a series of high-profile (and sensational) cases in the late 1950s and early 1960s would propel his reputation as one of America’s toughest and most capable prosecutors into the national consciousness.
Beginning in 1959, Raggio became embroiled in a long-standing and bitter feud with the popular vice kingpin, Joe Conforte. After being arrested repeatedly for vagrancy in Washoe County, Conforte felt that Raggio was picking on him. In an audacious plot to exact revenge on Raggio, Conforte attempted to extort him by sending an underage girl to drink with him in public and possibly seduce him afterward. The sensational series of events created a scandal, which drew national attention to the feud. In the aftermath of the situation, with the help of a clandestinely recorded conversation, Conforte was sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to extort a public official. Even after his imprisonment, Conforte’s cronies coordinated a smear campaign that nearly cost Raggio reelection in 1962. Tensions between the two men continued for decades afterward, reemerging again in an important federal court case in the mid-1980s.
Raggio handled two notable high-profile cases in 1963. The first was the brutal murder of Olympic skier Sonja McCaskie, which shocked the Reno community and the nation at large. The other was the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr. from Harrah’s at Lake Tahoe. These cases added to Raggio’s reputation as a well-respected and capable prosecutor. In 1964 he was honored by his peers as the Outstanding Prosecutor in the United States. He was also subsequently elected as President of the National District Attorney's Association. Known for his courage and integrity, Raggio continued to win over the Washoe County electorate and by his third and final term he was running unopposed.
Raggio remained in his position as district attorney of Washoe County until 1970. In 1968, amid a surge of popularity, Raggio announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, but lost the primary election to Republican Lieutenant Governor Ed Fike. Two years later in 1970, at the insistence of former Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt and Vice President Spiro Agnew, Raggio hesitantly entered the U.S. Senate race. Although Raggio had initially intended to run for the governorship of Nevada in 1970, he was persuaded that his chances for a seat in the U.S. Senate looked more favorable. After some consideration he agreed to run, knowing that he would have to resign as district attorney to do so. Despite a vigorous campaign and support from the Nixon Administration, Raggio lost to his opponent U.S. Senator Howard Cannon (D-NV) by a 58 per cent margin. Raggio's popularity in Nevada was largely localized to the northern portion of the state. Following his defeat Raggio was, for the first time in his adult life, out of a job.
It did not take long however, for Raggio to be invited to become a partner in the well-established Las Vegas law firm, Wiener, Goldwater, and Galatz. Raggio accepted and moved to Las Vegas in 1971. The same year Raggio was experiencing some political fallout from comments made the previous year against the Nevada Supreme Court when he publicly criticized the court for commuting the death sentence of Sonja McCaskie’s murderer, Thomas Lee Bean. Amid a closed hearing, Raggio received an official reprimand, but that had little effect on his ability to continue practicing law. After a brief stint in Vegas, Raggio returned to Reno in order to establish his law practice. Nevada's biennial "citizen legislature" allowed men like Raggio to build their law firms while still serving the public. As a result, in 1972 Raggio decided to run as a Republican candidate for one of the two open seats representing Washoe-Storey Senate District 1. Raggio and Cliff Young won the two state Senate seats over the other two opponents by wide margins. This victory would set the course for the rest of Bill Raggio's political career. He remained in the Nevada State Senate until his resignation in January 2011, making him the longest-serving state senator in Nevada history. His service included 20 regular sessions and 13 special sessions.
In 1974, Raggio again considered running for the governorship of Nevada, but decided against it when Democrat Governor Mike O'Callaghan announced plans to run for reelection. Given the national disillusionment with the Republican Party in the United States during this time, Raggio was well aware of O'Callaghan's state-wide popularity. Undeterred, Raggio chose to put in his bid to run for the office of lieutenant governor. He won the primary by a margin of 10 per cent, but lost the election to Democrat incumbent Harry Reid. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Raggio maintained his law practice and expanded it into new avenues that would eventually earn him a reputation as one of the country's preeminent attorneys in gambling law. In the 1980s, Raggio also served on the defense team of Judge Harry Claiborne during his trial for tax evasion and corruption. All of these events occurred while Raggio continued to serve as a Nevada State Senator.
Among other organizations to which he belonged, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided him with a great deal of far-reaching influence and prestige. Raggio was also a member of the Legislative Commission from 1973-1975 and again from 1977-1997. From 1977-1979, 1983-1986, 1991, and again until his retirement in 2011 he served as Senate Minority Floor Leader. He was Senate Majority Floor Leader from 1987-1989, and then again from 1993-2007. Throughout his Senate tenure, Raggio served on a variety of committees and their accompanying subcommittees, including those on education (Chairman), government affairs, health and human services, finance (Chairman), and legislative operations. Raggio has been specifically noted for his unwavering dedication to education, his willingness to compromise on budgetary issues in spite of party lines, and his ability to outmaneuver his political opponents. During the 2000s Raggio had several disagreements with the no-taxes wing of the Republican Party. Raggio's approach to lawmaking has often been characterized by responsibility and pragmatism based on what seemed best for the state of Nevada.
For most of his senatorial career Raggio was widely considered to be the unequaled master of the legislative process. He acted as an advisor to governors and actively sought to protect Northern Nevada's interests against the growing power and influence of Las Vegas. In addition to numerous honors and awards over the years, The Ralston Report named Raggio the most effective state legislator several times over.
Personal changes came Raggio's way during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Dottie Raggio passed away in 1998 after battling lung cancer for more than four years. In 2003, Raggio married family friend Dale K. Checket in Reno. The two had first met 36 years earlier when she came to Reno and Raggio represented her in a court proceeding.
In 2010 Republican voters nominated conservative Republican Sharron Angle for the U.S. Senate. At this juncture, Raggio saw it necessary to cross party lines and instead endorsed incumbent U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). He argued that the Democratic Senate Majority Leader would better represent the state than Angle could. Following this decision, state Senate Republicans ousted Raggio from his position as their minority leader. This was a bold decision that many Nevadans, both Republicans and Democrats, applauded. Dogged by health problems and bothered by the decision of his colleagues to oust him, Senator Raggio resigned his seat shortly before the session started in January 2011. The following year, in February 2012, while vacationing with his wife, Dale, in Australia, Raggio fell ill. He died shortly afterward of respiratory illness in a hospital in Sydney. Raggio had remained active and outspoken in Nevada politics until the end, and his legacy lives on through his name and likeness throughout Northern Nevada.
Further information on William J. Raggio can be found in Michael Archer’s book entitled: A Man of His Word: The Life & Times of Nevada’s Senator William J. Raggio (Ashland, Or.: Hellgate Press, 2011).
38.667 Linear Feet (42 boxes)
Language of Materials
William J. Raggio, a Republican, was Nevada's longest serving state senator, his tenure lasted from 1972 until his resignation in 2011. For most of his senatorial career Raggio was widely considered to be the unequaled master of the legislative process. He served as the Assistant District Attorney of Washoe County from 1952-1958, and later as the District Attorney from 1958-1970. During his time in the District Attorney's office, he handled a number of high profile cases, including one with vice kingpin Joe Conforte. The collection contains his personal papers from his time as District Attorney and the Nevada State Senate.
Arranged into the following series: 1) Legal Cases; 2) Senate Career; 3) Personal and Biographical
Group 1: Legal Cases
- Series 1
- Joe Conforte Extortion and Vagrancy Cases
- Series 2
- Judge Harry Caliborne Corruption Case
- Series 3
- Sonja McCaskie Murder Case
- Series 4
- Other Cases and District Attorney Materials
Group 2: Senate Career
Group 3: Personal and Biographical
- Series 1
- Series 2
- Photos and Photo Albums
- Series 3
- Series 4
- Series 5
- Awards and Certificates
- Series 6
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Dale Raggio in 2013.
Photographs transferred to the Special Collections Photo Archive as collection number UNRS-P2014-14.
- Bean, Thomas Lee
- Conforte, Joseph
- Lawyers -- Nevada -- Reno
- Legislators -- Nevada
- McCaskie, Sonja
- Mustang Ranch
- Nevada -- Politics and government
- Politicians -- Nevada
- Prostitution -- Nevada
- Prostitution -- Nevada -- Storey County -- History -- 20th Century
- Prostitution -- Nevada -- Washoe County
- Public prosecutors -- Nevada
- Raggio, William John
- Washoe County (Nev.) -- Politics and government
- Guide to the William J. Raggio Papers
- Edan Strekal and Garnet Sanford
- May 2015
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description