Colorful Character Jimmy Chagra Dead at 63

by , Sep 5, 2008 | 9:20 am

The story of Jimmy Chagra’s life is a colorful one, to say the least. His early years included a heavy investment in the drug business, high-stakes gambling, which included poker with the likes of Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese, and crime.

It was the drug trade that seemed to make Jimmy’s word go ’round. By all accounts, he took his drug profits to the casinos and lost large sums of money at the poker and gaming tables, then made it all back with drugs – living on the edge in a whirlwind of activity that finally took him to prison. He plead guilty to charges of heading up an assassination attempt on the Assistant US Attorney in 1978, and he was alleged to have set up another hit – this one successful – on Judge Wood, the man who handed down his first prison sentence. The story gained great publicity because the hit man supposedly hired by Jimmy was Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson.

Jimmy’s prison stint was finally ended in 2003 for health reasons, and he was placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program. But living in hiding didn’t sit well with the notorious criminal/gambler because he showed up at the 2007 WSOP to play a little and conduct a few interviews.

His sister reported that Jimmy died on August 19 at the age of 63 after a battle with cancer.

11 Comments to “Colorful Character Jimmy Chagra Dead at 63”

  1. shronk

    We have to treasure every moment we have with scumbag drug kingpins, for they are always gone too soon.

  2. ben matlock

    pos imo.

  3. California Jen

    I’m guessing Chagra didn’t have a lot of fans…

  4. Kevin Mathers

    Seems strange the date of death was reported as August 19, when there was a thread on 2+2 about his death back at the end of July,

  5. California Jen

    Strange. Maybe his sister just found out on August 19th. Maybe he was sick prior to that date and reports of his death were wildly exaggerated.

  6. Johnny Hughes

    The story also gained a tiny bit of publicity because the Federal Judge was the first one killed in U.S. history. It was the most expensive FBI investigation in history, before they knew who did it.

    Dirty Dealing by Gary Cartwright tells the whole story. It is one terrific Texas book. Have I ever lied to you before?

    Johnny Hughes

  7. Johnny Hughes

    He created the first poker book, circa 1977, pumping up Slim, Sailor, Doyle, Moss…snow ball in hell time. Back when Hold ’em was still mostly a Texas thing. Read the book, honest.

  8. Johnny Hughes

    Supposed to have said created the first poker boom.

  9. DanM

    Hey, I know Gary Cartwright! Didn’t realize at the time what a classic Texas storyteller he was.

  10. Carolyn Wolford

    I will add a little fuel to the flame, his sister needs to get a grip, he isn’t in witness protection anymore and he died in July.
    I thought it was interesting that the NY Times covered the story as well as many more papers. He died in a trailer park in Az and played golf there often, regardless of his colorful and @#$%^& past, he will always be a gambling legend, some for the reasons stated and somewhat for those that saw him in action etc. The story of the reason he left Caesar’s and went downtown to the Shoe is certainly one of the classic Vegas stories.

    Only in Las Vegas.
    The death of one of the biggest drug dealers in American history, who arranged the murder of a federal judge, is being met with tears. Why? Because he was a GREAT tipper and a degenerate gambler.
    Jimmy Chagra was known as one of the most prolific pot dealers ever. The saying goes if you smoked marijuana in the 60’s or 70’s, chances are you got it from Jimmy Chagra. Chagra was the “undisputed marijuana kingpin of the Western world.”
    When Chagra was eventually nailed by the Feds he had over $100 million dollars in foreign accounts. The government took it all. Las Vegas casinos loved Chagra because he laundered that money through them.
    Chagra was known as one of the biggest high rollers in Las Vegas history. He often lost millions of dollars (of drug money) in a single night. Chagra may also have been one of the most generous tippers in Las Vegas history. He was such an extravagent tipper that journalist George Knapp tells the story of how the card dealers at Caesar’s Palace once bought Chagra a giant trophy in honor of the “gargantuan” tips the drug kingpin left.
    One of the most interesting aspects of Chagra’s death was his connection to Charles Harrelson. Harrelson was the father of actor Woody Harrelson and known as one of the most famous hitmen and murderers in American history. He was convicted of killing federal judge “Maximum John” Wood. Harrelson once confessed to having a role in the Kennedy assassination (which he later recanted.) Conspiracy theorists have said Harrelson was one of the “Three Tramps” hiding in a box car on the railroad tracks behind Dealey Plaza just after Kennedy’s shooting.
    Charles Harrelson died in the federal Supermax prison while serving a life sentence. Chagra, who confessed to hiring Harrelson to kill Wood, was acquitted of murder charges after hiring defense attorney Oscar Goodman. Goodman is now the mayor of Las Vegas. In later years Chagra tried denying hiring Harrelson. The fact is Chagra’s wife was arrested delivering $250,000 to him. Chagra was also on tape talking about hiring Harrelson for the hit while he was in prison (a tape Goodman got thrown out of court.)


  11. DanM

    Thanks for sharing this story, Carolyn. There’s a place for this good gambling lore that sometimes gets lost in our daily yakking. Always good to see you ’round these parts. 🙂