Archive for October, 2007

The M&M Murders

October 31, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgA graphic scene from the 1995 movie Casino shows actor Joe Pesci’s character placing a man’s head in a vise, and squeezing until one of his eyeballs pops out. This was based on a real-life incident that took place in a Chicago suburb in 1962. The man who was being “squeezed” for information was named Billy McCarthy. The guy applying the pressure was Tony Spilotro. And the name he wanted McCarthy to give up was Jimmy Miraglia.

 

McCarthy and Miraglia were part of Frank Cullotta’s burglary crew. The pair had made the mistake of killing the Outfit-connected Scalvo brothers without permission. They compounded that sin by carrying out the hits in mobster-inhabited territory and killing an innocent person in the process. The Outfit bosses were outraged and wanted the perpetrators identified and brought to justice. In mob parlance, that meant killed. Whoever handled the job would certainly endear himself to the bosses.

 

Tony Spilotro, who had been toiling as an enforcer for depraved loanshark “Mad Sam” DeStefano, saw this as a chance to make his bones with the Outfit and attain his goal of becoming a “made man.” Tony’s sources told him that the Scalvos had roughed McCarthy up on a couple of occasions, and that he and his buddy Miraglia were more than likely responsible for the killings. It was speculated that their crew chief, Frank Cullotta, may have also been in on the hits.

 

 Tony called on Cullotta, his friend since they met as shoe shiners on the streets of the Windy City. He explained that while he didn’t think Frank had taken part in the murders, some people did. Frank could either prove himself by setting up McCarthy, or die along with his pals.

 

With no good options, Frank lured McCarthy to a meeting where the Irishman was captured by Spilotro. Before Tony killed McCarthy, he wanted him to confirm the name of his accomplice. McCarthy’s refusal to cooperate resulted in three days of beatings, ice pick stabbings, and finally the vise. After losing his eye, McCarthy provided Miraglia’s name and then begged Tony to kill him. It was a request that Tony promptly honored. A few days later Miraglia was disposed of, and his body joined McCarthy’s in the trunk of an abandoned car.

 

Tony Spilotro was well on his way to becoming one of the most feared enforcers in Chicago organized crime. 

 

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The M&M Boys

October 30, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgFrank participated in a $500,000 diamond robbery planned by Tony Spilotro. He then reluctantly accepted Tony’s offer to work as an Outfit loanshark, but soon tired of the job and decided to get into commercial burglaries. He joined forces with a couple of guys who would become known as the M&M boys.

 Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

After the jewel robbery Tony tried to convince Frank that he should go to work for the Outfit. Tony said he was making all kinds of money muscling Jews, loansharking, sports betting and running book joints.  He made a strong pitch, but Frank wasn’t particularly interested at first.

“Frankie, you’ve got all that money [from the diamond heist] now and you should put it to work for you. The stuff I’m involved in is better than robbing places all the time. Let me show you how to do it,” Tony said.

Frank knew that if he got into Tony’s rackets he’d have to start kicking back money to the Outfit, so he wasn’t overly enthusiastic in his response. “I don’t know. I do alright on my own and I don’t have to answer to anybody else.”

“Listen to me, Frankie. Let me set you up with a few accounts on the street where you can loan your money. You’ll get ten percent a week back in interest. Even after you give the Outfit their cut you’ll make out pretty good. Trust me, I wouldn’t steer you wrong.”

Reluctantly, Frank agreed. “Okay, I’ll give it a try.”

Tony set Frank up with four or five accounts and his money got out on the street. But the new loanshark wasn’t impressed with the business. He constantly had to chase guys to collect what they owed him. After about a year of having to holler, threaten and break some heads, Frank came to the conclusion that loansharking and working in the book joints just weren’t his bag.

He didn’t mind muscling the renegade bookies, but he was tired of tracking down delinquent borrowers and didn’t want to sit by a phone taking bets. He bid Tony farewell and hooked up with a couple of guys to do commercial burglaries. They were Billy McCarthy and Jimmy Miraglia. 

Tony Spilotro Makes His Bones

October 29, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgExcerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness

While Frank made sure to stay independent of the Outfit, his pal Tony Spilotro was determined to become part of it. He worked as a thief for Outfit-connected crews, and began to develop his reputation as an enforcer when he went to work for a mob associate named Sam DeStefano.

DeStefano, known as “Mad Sam,” was connected to the Outfit and operated a loansharking business. He was known to friend and foe as being completely insane. When he dealt with his enemies, his depravity knew no bounds. Mad Sam preferred to use an ice pick on his victims, but wasn’t above slicing, shooting, or incinerating them, depending on his mood. Although he was unstable, the bosses kept him around because he was a good earner. In addition to being an accomplished torturer and killer, Sam reputedly had another talent. He could spot young up-and-comers who had the same capacity for brutality that he had. DeStefano apparently liked what he saw in Tony Spilotro and recruited him to help collect money from delinquent borrowers and assist in other enforcement matters. In that capacity, Tony was allegedly involved in the 1961 murder of a man named William “Action” Jackson.

Jackson was part of Mad Sam’s loansharking operation and apparently became greedy. Sam thought Jackson was skimming money and had to be made an example of. It is believed that Spilotro and tough guy Chuckie Grimaldi, who later turned government witness, were part of the team Sam assigned to the task. According to sources familiar with the case, Jackson was taken prisoner by DeStefano’s men and tortured for two days.

 

Jackson, who weighed over 300 pounds, was stripped naked and hung on a meat hook. He was beaten, stabbed with ice picks, strips of his skin were peeled off with a razor, and a blow-torch was used on his genitals. The inquisition ended when Jackson’s heart finally gave out. Presumably, the grisly discovery of his mutilated body sent a clear message to any one considering stealing from Mad Sam.

 

Frank first met Sam DeStefano when he and Tony were in the North Avenue Steak House. Tony was working for Sam and was tight with Sam’s brother Mario. They were sitting at the bar when Sam came over and started talking to Tony. Sam must have been drunk, because he was ranting and raving about future Outfit underboss Jackie Cerone  — who was later convicted for skimming money from Las Vegas casinos — and picking on everybody in the place. Frank found Sam to be an obnoxious blowhard and told Tony they had to leave because he couldn’t stand being around him.

 

Tony apparently didn’t find Mad Sam as offensive as Frank did. He continued to work for him, but took a break in early 1961 to marry Nancy Stuart. The Milwaukee-born Nancy was living in Chicago when they met.

 

In 1962, Tony allegedly participated in a pair of murders that propelled him to the status of made man in the Outfit. Those killings involved Frank Cullotta and will be addressed in detail later on.

 

In 1963, Mad Sam got into a dispute with Leo Foreman, a real estate broker and one of his collectors. Not long after, Spilotro and Chuck Grimaldi reportedly lured Foreman to the home of Mario DeStefano, Sam’s brother, in Cicero. The two beat Foreman, then dragged him into the cellar, where Mad Sam was waiting. Skipping an exchange of pleasantries, Sam got right down to business. He took a hammer to Foreman’s knees, head, groin and ribs. Next came twenty ice-pick thrusts, followed by a bullet to the head. The realtor’s battered body was later found in the trunk of an abandoned car.

 

So, by the early 1960s, Tony Spilotro — only in his mid-20s — had risen from school bully to a made man in the powerful Chicago Outfit. His reputation as a ruthless enforcer was in place, and some of his best years were still ahead.

  

Jewelry Heists

October 28, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgExcerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

Jewelry stores were lucrative targets for thieves. Always on the lookout for good scores, Frank wasn’t shy about hitting a jewelry store now and then. However, they weren’t easy to burglarize and those jobs required special planning. Frank came up with two ideas and used them both.

For the first plan Frank had his partner, a guy named Duke, dress up in a painter’s uniform, complete with paint sprinkles on it. He even used a van with lettering on it to make it look like a painter’s work vehicle. The scheme called for Duke to enter the store and ask to see a piece of jewelry, and then to mace both clerks. At that point Frank would come in and they’d tie up the clerks, put a closed for remodeling sign in the window and do the robbery.

On the day of the caper there were only a couple of minor snags. When Frank walked into the store the mace was still in the air and he and Duke both got it in their faces. It was annoying, but not debilitating. And as Frank was locking the door a guy wanted to come in to get a bracelet. Frank told him the store was closed and sent him on his way. He and Duke cleaned out the vault and got away with a pretty good haul.

The second plot required Frank to do something he never thought he’d do: dress as a Chicago cop. He had the whole uniform, belt, badge and gun, everything issued to real cops. Frank took two other men on the job with him. One of them would assist Frank inside the store after he gained control of the employees; the other manned the work car.

Frank entered the store and asked to see the manager. He told him his car was parked illegally and he had to move it right away or get a ticket. When the manager and the clerks came out from behind the counter to check the parking situation, Frank pulled his gun and ordered them to the floor. He told them not to move and that no one would get hurt if they behaved. The manager finally began to realize that something was fishy, and was slow to comply. He looked at Frank and said, “You’ve gotta be kidding. I don’t even think you’re a real police officer.”

Frank snarled, “It doesn’t make any difference who the fuck I am. You’d better get on the goddamn floor, stay quiet and don’t look up.”

When all the employees were under control, Frank used a walkie-talkie to contact the work car. His assistant came in and they loaded a duffle bag with merchandise. In jewelry store robberies the safe was always emptied first to assure making off with the most valuable stuff — the diamonds. And then, time permitting, lesser items were taken. Watches were a low priority because they could be easily traced.

 After cleaning the place out, the employees were taken into a back room and tied up with duct tape. The phones were pulled out of the wall and the bandits left with a good score. 

Witness Protection

October 27, 2007

my-mob-photo.jpgABC News ran a story about the Witness Protection Program. You can see the piece at:

http://www.abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3781361&page=1

Personal Matters

October 27, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpg Frank’s criminal career progressed he had more contact with the police and the justice system. But he was able to get the most serious charges against him dismissed or bargained down to misdemeanors. Although he and Tony had different career goals, they kept in contact.

Excerpted from CULLOTTAThe Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness

Although Frank and Tony had gone separate ways in their careers, with Tony pursuing an association with the Outfit while Frank preferred to remain independent, the two stayed in contact and worked together on occasion.

One of those times was when Tony needed help in settling a personal matter. Tony stopped by Frank’s house. “Frankie, there’s a guy trying to give me a fuckin’ and I want to teach him a lesson. I figure you, me and maybe one other guy ought to scoop this bastard up and give him a beating. What do you say?”

Frank asked, “Who is this guy? What did he do?”

“His name is Robin Dragon. He was supposed to arrange to have some legal work done for me. He told me the lawyers wanted three grand [three thousand dollars], but I found out they were only charging half that much. This prick Dragon was planning to pocket the extra fifteen hundred. We’ll pick him up and take him to your garage and work him over.”

“Sure, I’ll help you out,” Frank said.

Tony contacted Dragon and said he needed to meet with him. Tony, Frank and one of their friends, went to pick the victim up; Frank was driving. Dragon got in the car without realizing what was going on. Tony and his helper went to work on him right away, tying him up and taping his mouth shut. Then they beat on him while Frank drove to his place. Once inside the garage they yanked Dragon out of the car and continued the beating. Tony snarled, “You think you’re going to rob me, you rotten prick? Who do you think you’re fuckin’ with, you cocksucker?” He then hit the prisoner so hard with his .38 that it bent the trigger guard. Dragon went into convulsions, and then soiled his pants.

When the beating was over Dragon got down on his knees and thanked his captors for not killing him. The battered man was taken back to his neighborhood and dumped down a sewer. The following day the newspapers reported that a passerby had heard somebody hollering for help from the sewer. The police came and found Dragon all beat up. He told them he’d been mugged by unknown assailants.

Another incident of addressing a perceived injustice involved Crazy Bob Sprodak, Frank’s first armed robbery partner. Sprodak came to Frank and complained that members of a gang known as the K Knights had roughed him up. He said these were some big, mean guys and he needed help in getting his revenge.

 Tony and Frank told Bob they’d help him. The trio put together some Molotov cocktails, got a couple of rifles and stole a car. With Tony driving they pulled up in front of the K Knights’ hangout, got out of the car, fired a few shots through the window and tossed in the Molotovs. As the cops closed in Tony and Bob got away, but Frank was arrested. He was charged with arson and attempted murder. His lawyer was able to get the arson rap dropped completely and the attempted murder reduced to a misdemeanor. For the third straight time Frank had avoided a felony conviction. He drew another year of incarceration, this time in the county jail. 

The Robber Meets the Cops

October 26, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgFrank and one of his crew robbed a bank messenger in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. It had been an easy score; too easy as it turned out. In the aftermath, Frank had his first interrogation by the police as an adult. It was an experience he’ll never forget.

Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

At the time of the Oak Park incident, the Chicago Police Department’s robbery detail was under the command of Frank Pape. The legendary cop is credited with killing nine alleged criminals in the line of duty, and was responsible for sending 300 more to prison. He survived a 39-year law enforcement career and passed away in March 2000, at the age of 91.

One of Pape’s detectives was Tom Durso, who was also a tough guy. He and an associate named Mike Gargano used to shake down the thieves, demanding a cut of their scores. The word on the street was that if you failed to pay you could end up dead. If you were a crook, these were good men to stay away from. Frank Cullotta had the misfortune of having encounters with all three of them as a result of the Oak Park bank messenger job. It was his first adult interrogation by the Chicago cops, and was not a very pleasant experience.

Things began to unravel for Frank when witnesses passed the license plate number of his friend’s Lincoln to the police. The cops traced the registration to Frank’s partner, who was known to them. Durso and Gargano went on the prowl and picked Frank and his buddy up on the street. They first handcuffed Frank’s pal and gave him a beating. He denied being involved in the Oak Park situation and stuck to his story. Eventually he was released.

Next it was Frank’s turn.  Durso and Gargano put him in their car and then Durso stuck a gun in his face. The cop said, “Where’s the fuckin’ money?” 

Frank acted confused. “What money?”

“Cut the shit. You know goddamn well what I’m talking about. Where is it?”

“I don’t know nothin’ about any money. You must have me mixed up with somebody else.”

“Listen you prick, we could whack you right now and dump you out on the street. Nobody’d know any better; they wouldn’t miss you because you’re just a scumbag crook.”

Frank hung tough. “I tell you I don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about.”

Frank’s denials didn’t set well and a beating ensued. Further demands that he admit to the robbery and divulge the location of the messenger’s money were unsuccessful. Frank was then transported to the station and up to the detective’s office on the eleventh floor. He was handcuffed to the back of a chair. A few minutes later Frank Pape walked in. He said, “How ya doin?”

Assuming the question had been directed at him, Frank answered. “I’m doin’ pretty good.”

Pape had apparently been talking to Durso. He grabbed a phone book from a desk and hit Frank in the head with it. “Who’s talkin’ to you, you no good cocksucker? When I tell you to talk, you talk. Otherwise, shut the fuck up. Understand?”

Frank’s failure to answer resulted in another crack in the head with the phone book. That was followed by a punch in the chest, knocking him and his chair over. Looking up at Pape, Frank said, “I haven’t done anything wrong and don’t even know why I’m here.”

Pape said to Durso, “Get the cattle prods in here. I’m going to make this son of a bitch talk.”

A few minutes later the cattle prods were applied near Frank’s testicles. The same questions were asked over and over: Tell us about the robbery. Who was with you? Where’s the money? Each time, the prisoner answered that he didn’t know what his interrogators were talking about. Every denial was followed by a zap with the cattle prods. Screaming in agony, Frank told the cops what he thought of them, generating additional pain. But through it all he didn’t talk, he didn’t admit to anything.

After a while Pape left the room. On his way out he said to Durso, “Throw this bastard out the window. Say he tried to escape.”

Frank was hung out the window by his ankles, praying he wouldn’t be dropped. There were more questions, but Frank kept his mouth shut. Eventually he was pulled back inside where Frank Pape was waiting. He said, “Was your father Joe Cullotta?”

“Yes,” Frank answered.

“Are you trying to be the man he was? You aren’t going to make it. You’ll never be the man he was.”

A little while later Frank was turned loose. He’d made it through the session, but had definitely gotten the worst of it. He would meet up with Durso and Gargano again, though, and under very different circumstances. 

The Bank Route

October 25, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgFrank soon had his own crew of armed robbers. They pulled lots of tavern jobs and were involved in shootouts with both civilians and cops. High speed police pursuits were not uncommon.Frank’s exploits came to the attention of Tony Spilotro. During a meeting one day, Tony mentioned an opportunity for Frank to expand his criminal endeavors. Tony called it the bank route.

Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

At that time Tony was pursuing his goal of working his way up the Outfit ladder and becoming a main man. He was then part of a crew run by Outfit guy James “Turk” Torello. However, unlike his buddy, Frank preferred to stay independent; and in that respect he was a renegade.  Although he was leery of getting involved with Tony because it might mean hooking up with the mobsters, he was intrigued and wanted to hear more.

He asked, “What kind of deal are you talking about?”

Tony said, “Turk’s got a thing going that’s safer and pays better than the robberies you’re doing. We call it the bank route.”

“You mean sticking up banks?”

“No. All we do is lay on [watch] the banks looking for messengers coming in to get money for businesses. These guys follow a routine. If you get behind them in line at the bank you can tell how much cash they’ll be carrying by the color of the bands holding the stacks of money they receive. Once you identify a messenger and know how big a score to expect, you can rob him a week or two later after he leaves the bank.”

Frank liked what he was hearing, but was concerned about getting involved with Torello. “You’re already with a crew. How do we fit in?”

Tony smiled. “I can work with Turk and you guys, too. There are a lot of banks around and I’m an ambitious guy.”

Frank glanced at his crew and got their nods of approval. “Okay, we’re in,” he said.

 A few days later, Tony, Frank and one of his crew, went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where they did their first bank messenger robbery. It was a $20 thousand score. The only drawback was the travel; the distance they had to drive to get back to Chicago increased their chances of getting caught. It was decided to do future jobs closer to home. 

Graduation to Major Crime

October 24, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgExcerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

With the anticipation of having large amounts of cash in his pockets, Frank Cullotta was ready for his first foray into major crime: he was about to become an armed robber. Along with the potential rewards, there were also greater risks. In the Chicago of that day, it would not have been unusual to encounter a tavern patron who was armed, and may not want to surrender his money without a fight. And if caught by the police, the criminal penalties for the robber were much more severe than pilfering from the paperboy’s moneybag.

Those concerns didn’t deter Frank, though. He contacted Crazy Bob Sprodak about a week after giving up his newspaper stand job and told him he was ready for action. The two decided they would stick up a saloon that same night. But as the score went down, Frank was haunted by his old nemesis: poor eyesight.

Sprodak assured Frank all that was needed for the job was gloves to avoid leaving any prints, a hot car and guns. Getting the gloves and car were no problem, and Bob said he’d supply the guns. Neither man had his picture on file anywhere. Bob was clean and Frank’s priors were all juvenile, so they wouldn’t cause him any grief. He was feeling pretty good about things until he thought about his glasses. His mother always told him that he should be a good boy because wearing glasses made him stand out in a crowd, and people would remember him if he acted up. Recalling that warning, when Frank went to rob the tavern that night he didn’t wear his glasses. It never entered his mind that the bar might not be very well lighted.

Frank and Crazy Bob charged into the tavern. Bob yelled, “Everybody put your hands up and behave.” For emphasis he let loose with a blast from his sawed-off shotgun. The pellets shattered several of the whiskey bottles behind the bar, creating a shower of broken glass and booze. Having gotten everyone’s attention, Bob ordered them to get down on the floor.

Frank was positioned by the door to prevent anybody from running out. He watched as the bartender and patrons obeyed Bob’s instruction and went to the floor, all except one. The obstinate man just stood there. Frank yelled for him to get down, but he didn’t budge.

“What’s the problem?” Bob wanted to know.

Frank started toward the stubborn patron as he answered. “This bastard won’t do what he’s told. But he’s going down now, one way or another.”

After getting a few steps closer Frank realized the guy who wouldn’t follow his orders wasn’t a person at all; it was actually a coat rack. There were hats and coats on it, and with his bad eyes it had looked like a person. Embarrassed, he hit the coat rack and knocked it over. As the robbers ran out of the building with their loot, the sound of Crazy Bob’s laughter was ringing in Frank’s ears.

 Although Frank’s first armed robbery had been successful, he was concerned that if word got out about the coat rack he’d never live it down. He swore Crazy Bob to secrecy. Frank continued to shun wearing his glasses on scores, but from then on he didn’t go inside on tavern robberies unless he was sure there would be adequate lighting.  

Turning Point

October 23, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAfter dropping out of school, Frank’s life took a turn toward more serious crime.

Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness 

Josephine Cullotta cashed in some savings bonds her husband had left in Frank’s name and bought him a used car, an Oldsmobile 98. To Frank it was big and beautiful. He loved it and washed it all the time.

One day while he was giving the car a bath an old neighborhood acquaintance stopped by. The man’s name was Bob Sprodak, also known as “Crazy Bob.” Sprodak was a year or two older than Frank, and it was common knowledge on the street that he always carried a gun

“Nice lookin’ car you got there,” Crazy Bob said. “I’ve got a car parked down the street, but mine’s hot. You workin’ anywhere?”

“My uncle’s getting me a job at a newspaper stand downtown. I’ll be starting any day now.”

Then Sprodak did something that would change Frank’s life forever: he reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of money.

Frank was impressed and curious. “Where did you get that?”

“Sticking up places; I do armed robberies. I hold up taverns, restaurants, and gas stations. There’s a lot of money in it and it’s real easy,” Crazy Bob said.

Frank had more questions. “Do you work by yourself?”

“Usually, but you’re welcome to come with me sometime if you want. There are times when it’s better to have another guy along.”

“I don’t know…that sounds pretty dangerous,” Frank said. “What do you do if somebody fights back?”

“Then you shoot him.”

Frank wasn’t completely sold on the idea. “Okay, I’ll think about it,” he said.

The next day Frank’s uncle took him to the newspaper stand to start work. It was then that he learned there was a little more to the job than selling newspapers.

“This is very important,” the uncle said, holding up a cigar box. “Guys are going to come by here and give you money and slips of paper. They’ll be for their bets on horse races. You take the money and slip of paper and put it in this cigar box. Whatever you do, don’t mix the bet money up with the newspaper money. Got it?”

“Yeah, sure. What do I do with the bets and money after I collect them?”

“Just put them in the box like I told you. Somebody will stop around every so often and pick them up.”

Frank tried the job for a while. But the weather was turning cold, and he had to sell papers and collect the illegal bets while standing next to a fifty-five gallon drum with a fire in it in order to keep warm. From time to time a car pulled up and a guy got out to collect the betting slips and money from the cigar box.

As it got colder Frank thought more and more about Crazy Bob and that big wad of cash. He started to ask himself what the hell he was doing out there freezing to death for a few quarters when there was an easier way to make a lot more money. He told his uncle he was quitting.

“Quitting? What the fuck do you mean you’re quitting?” the uncle screamed at him.

Frank wasn’t intimidated. “This is bullshit. I know of better ways to make money than standing out here freezing to death. I’m all done.”

With that decision Frank’s life turned another corner. The days of stealing newspaper money and fighting with teachers and other kids were behind him. From then on, the cars he stole would be work cars, used in burglaries and armed robberies. The next phase of his career was about to begin.