Archive for September, 2007

Brother Against Brother

September 30, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgTurmoil within the Chicago Outfit was exposed through the testimony of admitted mob hit man Nick Calabrese at the Operation Family Secrets trial in Chicago. Nick testified as a prosecution witness against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr.

You can read the details in the Sun-Times article at:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/mob/476766,CST-NWS-mob20.article

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The Outfit Gets Whacked Again

September 28, 2007

A Chicago jury has assigned responsibility for 10 old gangland murders to three aging mobsters. The latest findings mean the trio, who were convicted of racketeering charges on September 10, will more than likely never be free men again.

See the Sun-Times article at the link below for the complete story. 

http://www.suntimes.com/news/mob/578915,cst-nws-mob28.article

Who is Frank Cullotta?

September 28, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAs screenwriter Nick Pileggi says in the foreword to CULLOTTA, “Frank Cullotta is the real thing.”

Born in Chicago in 1938, Frank’s criminal career spanned over three decades. From approximately 1950 until 1982, he went from juvenile thief to master burglar, arsonist, armed robber, and killer. He spent his final three years as a bad guy in Las Vegas, where he served as the chief lieutenant to his childhood friend and the Chicago Outfit’s man in Sin City, Tony Spilotro.

In 1982, Frank and Spilotro had a falling out and a mob contract was issued on Frank’s life. Facing death at the hands of Outfit killers or a lengthy prison term on myriad charges, Frank flipped and became a government witness. His testimony over the next few years put several of his former associates behind bars.

After leaving the federal Witness Protection Program, Frank was contacted by Nick Pileggi regarding serving as a technical consultant during the production of the 1995 movie Casino. In the film actor Joe Pesci plays a part based on Tony Spilotro. Pesci’s main man, the character “Frankie,” is played by Frank Vincent and is based on Cullotta. In addition to his consultant duties, Cullotta appeared in several scenes as a mob hit man. And in one scene he recreated a murder he’d committed in real life.

Today he lives under a new identity and runs a successful small business. He also makes periodic appearances on TV organized crime documentaries.   

How did the Spilotro brothers die?

September 27, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgOne of the more memorable scenes in the 1995 movie Casino depicted the character based on Tony Spilotro (played by actor Joe Pesci) and his brother being beaten to death in a cornfield.

The actual killings of Tony and Michael took place in June 1986. After their bodies were found in an Indiana cornfield, there was some speculation that the two had been buried while still alive.

However, testimony given by various witnesses in the Operation Family Secrets trial in Chicago – including a forensic pathologist and a former Outfit hit man – show that the real murders didn’t occur exactly as shown on the big screen.

Below is part of an article that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 1, highlighting that testimony.

August 1, 2007

BY STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporter

A forensic pathologist who took part in the autopsies of mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro gave testimony on Wednesday that upended the Hollywood version of their deaths, which had the men beaten to death with bats and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield.

Dr. John Pless said at the Family Secrets trial that there was no evidence that the men had been buried alive. The grisly detail was popularized in the 1995 mob movie, “Casino.”

Pless said the injuries the men received were more likely from fists than bats.

Pless riveted jurors with a detailed list of the injuries both men received.

The Spilotros both died from multiple blunt trauma injuries and from having their lungs or airways so filled with blood from their wounds that they couldn’t breathe, according to Pless’ testimony.

The men had been lured to the basement of a Bensenville area home in June 1986 after a mob hit squad had unsuccessfully tried to kill Anthony Spilotro in Las Vegas, according to earlier trial testimony.

Spilotro had tried to blow up a mob associate without Outfit permission, had slept with that associate’s wife and had committed unauthorized murders, according to evidence at trial.

Mob officials lured the men to the basement on the promise that Tony Spilotro was to be promoted to a capo position in the mob, and Michael Spilotro was to be a “made” member of the Outfit.

Instead, a dozen killers were waiting for the men in the basement and jumped them as they came down.

Earlier in the trial, Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, who is testifying for the government, described his own role in the murders.

Calabrese testified he held Michael Spilotro while another man strangled him. Calabrese said he did not get a good look at how Anthony Spilotro was killed.

The forensic pathologist testified that he found abrasions around the neck of Michael Spilotro that could have come from a rope, but noted that the corpses had decomposed after being buried for at least a week in the cornfield, and it was difficult to find markings.

The attorney for reputed mob boss James Marcello jumped on the lack of clear strangulation marks.

Defense lawyer Thomas Breen hammered home that point to the jury and will likely use it to bolster his argument that Nicholas Calabrese wasn’t even at the Spilotro murders and made up his account of them.

Calabrese’s testimony is important to Marcello because Calabrese contends Marcello took part in the murders by driving him and other killers to the Bensenville area home.

Review of CULLOTTA

September 26, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpg This review appeared on The Literary World site on July 17 2007.

NOTES

                            
July 17:
Jim Agnew On Crime
Cullotta–The Life Of A Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness (Huntington Press Publishing)
This is the best book written on the Chicago crime syndicate and I’ve read them all. Virgil Petersen summed up the Chicago crime syndicate in the title of his 1950’s book…”Barbarians In Our Midst”.
It’s the best book because its all first person, gloves off and very rough.
Frank Cullotta was a very active…bomber, killer, master burglar, fence, and criminal confidant to the mob lords of Chicago and Las Vegas. He describes these roles and capers as they happened with lots of play-by-play details.
Cullotta also describes real prison life and the Witness Protection Program…up close and personal.
I read Cullotta in one afternoon and so will any true-crime fan. Its just a real-good read about very dangerous professional criminals.
 

Who ordered the murder of Tony Spilotro?

September 26, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAccording to court testimony in Chicago, the hit on the Spilotro brothers was okayed by Outfit boss Joe Aiuppa.  The Sun-Times article can be seen at: 

http://www.suntimes.com/news/mob/462425,outfit071007.article

Review of CULLOTTA

September 24, 2007

The Megan Edwards site posted a review of CULLOTTA on August 13. 

The review can be see at:

 http://www.meganedwards.com/books/Cullotta.htm
 

King of the Strip

September 10, 2007

battle-jpg.jpg“King of the Strip”

 

In the 1970s and thru the mid-1980s, the Chicago Outfit was the dominant organized crime family in Las Vegas, with business interests in several casinos.  During those years the Outfit and its colleagues in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland were using Sin City as a cash cow. Commonly referred to as the “skim,” unreported revenue from Outfit-controlled casinos was making its way out of Vegas by the bag full and ending up in the coffers of the crime bosses in those four locations.

 

The skim involved large amounts of money. The operation had to be properly set up and well managed to ensure a smooth cash flow. To accomplish that goal, the gangsters brought in a front man with no criminal record to purchase several casinos. Allen R. Glick, doing business as the Argent Corporation (Allen R. Glick Enterprises) purchased the Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda, and Marina. They next installed Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal as their inside man, and the real boss of the casino operations. Rosenthal was a Chicago native and considered to be a genius when it came to oddsmaking and sports betting. Under Lefty’s supervision the casino count rooms were accessible to mob couriers.

 

But even with the competent Rosenthal in charge, there remained room for problems. What if an outsider tried to muscle in on the operation? Or just as bad, suppose one of their own decided to skim the skim? To guard against such possibilities the Chicago bosses decided to send someone to Vegas to give Rosenthal a hand should trouble arise. The successful applicant had to be a person with the kind of reputation that would deter interlopers from horning in, and make internal theft too risky to try. But the mob’s outside man had to be capable of action as well as threats. In other words, he had to be a man who would do whatever it took to protect the Outfit’s interests. So, in 1971, 33-year-old Tony Spilotro, considered by many to be the “ultimate enforcer,” was sent to the burgeoning gambling and entertainment oasis in the desert. Spilotro, sometimes called “tough Tony,” or “the Ant,” was a made man of the Outfit and a childhood friend of Rosenthal. He was known as a man who could be counted on to get the job done.

 

Being an ambitious sort, Tony quickly recognized that there were other criminal opportunities in his new hometown besides skimming from the casinos. Street crimes ranging from loan sharking to burglary, robbery, and fencing stolen property were all in play. It wasn’t very long before Tony had his hands into every one of these areas. As the scope of his criminal endeavors grew, Tony brought in other heavies from Chicago to fill out his gang. The five-foot-six-inch gangster was soon being called the “King of the Strip.”

 

Federal and local law enforcement recognized the need to rid the casinos of the hidden ownership and control of the mob, and shut down Spilotro’s street rackets. They declared war on organized crime and the battle was on. It was a hard fight, with plenty of tough guys on both sides. But it was a confrontation the law knew it had to win.

 

The Battle for Las Vegas relates the story of that conflict, told in large part by the agents and detectives who lived it.

Writing CULLOTTA – The Author and the Hit Man

September 9, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgPeople often ask what it was like writing a book with a former mobster. Following is an excerpt from my newsletter describing the experience from my perspective.

Writing CULLOTTA – The Author and the Hit Man

by Dennis N. Griffin

In the spring of 2006, if anyone had told me I would become involved in a business relationship with a former hit man, I’d have said they were crazy. After all, a guy like me with 20 years working as a law officer and investigator, one who has always been a staunch supporter of law enforcement, would never allow himself to be associated with someone from the dark side. However, in a little over a year I not only co-authored a book with such a man, I’ve come to consider him a friend.

This strange turn of events began for me when I was researching for my book The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob (Huntington Press, July 2006). In it I told the real story of Chicago Outfit enforcer Tony Spilotro’s Las Vegas reign. As I was writing the book I was fortunate to develop a number of now-retired FBI agents and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department detectives as sources. These were men who had actually been involved in the investigations of Spilotro and his gang.

I was very pleased with the information I obtained, but felt I was lacking one thing: a perspective from the bad guys. Spilotro’s crew was either dead, in prison, or their whereabouts were unknown, except one: Frank Cullotta. Tony’s one-time right hand man had turned against his friend and become a government witness. After a stint in the Witness Protection Program, Cullotta was around somewhere with a new identity. I thought if I could talk with him, I might be able to nail down additional details and maybe even come up with some previously undisclosed information. But how was I going to get in contact with Cullotta, and would he talk with me if I did?

I knew that one of my sources, retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy, had been Cullotta’s handler after the crook rolled. I figured he’d be a good place to start in my quest to locate the former mobster. It turned out that Dennis and Frank had remained in contact over the years and they spoke on a regular basis. Dennis said he couldn’t promise any results, but that he’d mention me to Frank and see what happened.

Several weeks later Dennis called and said Cullotta had agreed to speak with me by phone. The interview was brief; only a couple of questions. Although it was by no means the in-depth conversation I’d hoped for, it was better than nothing. I added Cullotta’s input to my manuscript and submitted it to the publisher. I then forgot about Frank Cullotta, at least for a while.

When chatting with Dennis Arnoldy a few months later an idea popped into my head. I asked him if Cullotta had ever thought about writing his life story. I opined that it would probably be a great read if he would be willing to be totally candid. Dennis said he’d ask Frank and let me know. Not too long after I got my answer: Frank had been thinking about doing his bio for several years. He’d already recorded cassette tapes of his memories and had them transcribed.  Now he was looking for a writer and wanted to meet with me.

After my initial excitement over the news faded, doubts began to surface. Cullotta had been a thug, thief, arsonist and murderer. All things I’d been against my entire adult life. If we reached an agreement about doing a book, would I be able to bring myself to work closely with him? I pushed those thoughts from my mind as I awaited my chance to meet the confessed killer in the flesh.

  

I learned almost immediately that when working with Frank, security was first and foremost.  For our initial meeting, Dennis Arnoldy told me the day Frank would be in Vegas, but not the time or place we’d get together. I got those details one hour before we met in a hotel room of a major casino. Dennis also informed me that I wouldn’t be able to learn Frank’s new identity, business, location or phone number. Any communication between Frank and me would have to go through Dennis.

Once inside the hotel room, Dennis introduced me to Frank Cullotta. He wasn’t a particularly imposing figure physically, although he looked like he could still take care of himself in a tussle. As we talked, what impressed me most about him was his demeanor. He talked about crimes he had committed, including murder, with no more emotion than a couple of co-workers standing around the office water cooler discussing the weather. I thought of the line from The Godfather: This is nothing personal. It’s strictly business.

After two hours, Frank and I reached an agreement. He’d provide the details of his career as a criminal and I’d do the writing. The story would begin on the streets of Chicago, and go through his days in Las Vegas, life as a government witness, and his involvement in the production of the movie Casino. All the criminal activity he would admit to would be that for which he had been granted immunity or the statute of limitations had long since run. We were in agreement that candor was key. His account had to provide information previously unknown to the general public and be as accurate as humanly possible. As the meeting wore on I became ever more confident that Frank was being up front with me and would fulfill his end of the bargain. We ironed out the financial arrangements and sealed our deal with a handshake. 

The project wasn’t very far along before it became clear that our method of communication wasn’t adequate. I needed to be in touch with Frank frequently, sometimes several times a day. Routing everything through Dennis Arnoldy was simply too cumbersome, resulting in delays and frustration for all of us. I was given a special phone number to contact Frank directly. That simplified the process, but also provided a clue as to Frank’s location. That meant I now had a role in Frank’s security, a fact that Dennis made sure I understood. 

My easier access to Frank certainly helped, but on occasion using the phone or mail wasn’t sufficient. There were times when getting together in person was the only way to go. We decided that the best place to have our meetings would be at my place. My wife, nicknamed Bear, wasn’t particularly enthused about me getting involved with Frank in the first place. When I announced his initial visit she was not a happy camper. The day Frank showed up, he came in one door and Bear went out the other. Eventually though, they’ve become buddies and she now looks forward to his calls and trips to town.

In summary, although there have been a few bumps along the way, co-authoring CULLOTTA has been an experience I wouldn’t trade, regardless of how the book sells.