Archive for November, 2007

Phone Power

November 19, 2007

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

While Frank was working in the psych unit a decision was made to open an inmate phone room in the front end of the prison. The idea was that all inmates would be allowed to make one personal phone call weekly. In addition to correctional staff, the phone room would require inmate workers. Vince had already transferred from the main barber shop to the psych unit barber shop, and at Frank’s recommendation he applied for and got a clerk’s position in the phone room.

This new job was a position of power for Vince. He was responsible for scheduling the phone calls and could make sure his friends got more than one call per week. Other inmates who wanted extra phone time had to pay Vince for that privilege. Some of the prisoners had cash, which Vince gladly accepted. But the most common method of payment was cigarettes, which could be smoked or traded for other items.

 Frank and Vince also cultivated a relationship with one of the guards assigned to the phone room. They had him visit their friends or relatives while off duty and pick up items of clothing or food that they wanted brought into the prison. The guard collected a cash compensation for his services from those sources as well as the contraband.  

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The Goon Squad

November 18, 2007

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

Frank subsequently heard about an opportunity that he thought would improve his lot: an opening came up in the psychiatric ward for the criminally insane. The unit was located in the front end of the prison, out of general population. Prisoners assigned to jobs in the front were on the honor system. Eight white and one black inmate were assigned to work in the psych ward. They had their own TV, exercise room and kitchen, got better food and clothes, and had a lot more freedom. Frank met with Vince and Mikey and let them in on what he was thinking about doing. “I found out there’s an opening in the psychiatric ward and I’m thinking about putting in for it,” he said.

His friends thought it was a crazy idea. “You’re out of your fucking mind,” Mikey said.

Vince agreed. “Everybody hates the guys that work there. They call them the goddamn goon squad. If you work in the unit and then go back in population you’ll end up with a fuckin’ shiv in your back.”

“I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks of me,” Frank said. “And if I get that job I have no intention of coming back in population.”

Frank submitted for the psych ward opening and was interviewed by a captain. After the interview the officer gave Frank his decision. “Cullotta, you’re just a wiseguy dago. If I give you that job you’ll spend all your time plotting and scheming. The answer is no. You’re staying in population where you belong.”

If Frank was nothing else, he was resourceful. Determined to circumvent the captain, he did some research on the captain’s boss, the warden. It turned out that the warden had started his law enforcement career as a street cop. As such, he might be susceptible to the request of another lawman. Frank sent word of his predicament to an old police department contact: CIU boss Bill Hanhardt. The cop contacted the warden. In a short time the captain received orders to assign Frank to the psych unit.

The inmates housed in the psych ward included those who had committed heinous crimes — like chopping people up — and other crazies. The child molesters were also in there because they would probably be killed if they were in the general population. One of the things the inmates assigned to work in the ward were responsible for was suicide prevention; there were four hangings while Frank was there. They also gave out medications and, when necessary, went into the cells in general population to restrain inmates who were acting up and remove them to the ward. That’s where the name goon squad came from.

It was common for the patients to rip their sinks off the walls and the toilets from the floor. They would also urinate and defecate all over their cells. On those occasions the goon squad would be sent into action. Carrying shields to protect themselves from thrown excrement or other material, they rolled in on the culprit. The offender was often beaten, sometimes severely. However, the guards didn’t seem to care. For the most part they were afraid of the crazies, and didn’t really give a damn what happened to baby rapers and other sub-human prisoners. Working in the psych unit was not for the faint hearted, but Frank was up to it and thought it was a good job overall.

The assignment also gave him an opportunity to cement his relationship with the Blackstone Rangers. Gang members would come in for treatment from time to time and Frank always took good care of them while they were there. When they got back in population they in turn took care of his friends. It was a one hand washes the other situation.

Another advantage was that Frank liked most of his inmate co-workers, one of whom was Lawrence Neumann. Neumann was doing over a 100-year sentence for a triple murder in a Chicago tavern. In Illinois, no matter what his sentence, the convict appeared before the Illinois Parole Board in eleven years. At that time, Neumann had four more years to go before his parole hearing. The two men became friends and would later join forces in Las Vegas.  

A Tipster Comes Through

November 17, 2007

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

Frank’s choice for his personal vehicle was usually a Buick, and he had become acquainted with a salesman at one of the dealerships. It turned out to be a man who was interested in supplementing his commissions.

One day the salesman asked Frank, “If I provide you with information for a robbery, how much would it be worth to you?”

“I pay my tipsters ten percent of the take. What have you got in mind?”

“Most of the down payment money we receive is cash, usually several thousand dollars for each car sold. Whatever we take in on Friday or Saturday stays in the safe until Monday; so Sunday would be a good day to do something. Are you interested?”

“I’m interested. But what if we pick a slow week and there’s not much money? I don’t want to do a job unless I’m sure it’s worthwhile.” “How much money does it take to be worthwhile?”

“At least forty grand.” “I’ll tell you what; I’ll make sure there’s at least forty thousand or more in the safe so you don’t waste your time. But in return for that I’d like to get fifteen percent.”

Frank agreed. “You’ve got a deal. I’ll have my crew ready to move on short notice. You call me when you’re sure the money’s right.”

The salesman called when he was sure there would be about $45 thousand in the safe over the weekend. The gang made their move that Sunday.

The dealership didn’t have any alarms, making it an easy target. A car tire jack was used to open the overhead door in the service department enough to slide under it. The burglars used winches from the service department to get the safe out of the office and put it in the dealership station wagon that was parked inside. It was a big safe and was difficult to get into the wagon. They managed to do it, but did a lot of damage to the car in the process. After that the parts department was raided and all the spark plugs taken. The station wagon was used to transport the safe and then ditched.

The salesman had been right about the amount of money in the safe and got his 15 percent of the cash. The spark plugs were separate and he wasn’t involved in that, so he didn’t get a cut of those profits. Frank continued to buy two or three cars a year from that same dealership and salesman. He felt that for a while he was playing with house money.  

 

Revenge

November 16, 2007

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

As luck would have it, a couple of Frank’s old acquaintances were in the prison at the same time. They were none other than ex-cop Tom Durso and his buddy Mike Gargano. They’d been convicted of killing a drug dealer they were shaking down and sentenced to a couple of hundred years each. Gargano wasn’t a bad guy inside and Frank gave him a pass. But Durso was a real asshole. One day Frank saw him walking down a corridor; nobody else was around and security cameras were not yet in use. Frank picked up a stool and waited for Durso to pass his hiding place.

The former tormentor of Chicago’s thieves never knew what hit him. As the stool crashed into Durso’s skull he fell to the floor in a fetal position. Frank stood over his victim screaming at him. “Do you remember me you cocksucker? Do you remember me now? This time we’re on equal terms, you piece of shit.”

Durso spent some time in the hospital, but he didn’t identify Frank as his assailant. Neither did he attempt to retaliate. If anything happened to Frank the Blackstone Rangers would have killed him, and Durso knew it.  

The Law Gets Even

November 15, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAfter being convicted of a crime that to this day Frank swears they didn’t commit, he and two of his buddies went off to prison.

 

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

Frank, Mikey and Vince, entered Stateville prison in Joliet, Illinois, on September 13, 1968. Frank found the conditions there to be much harsher than the Cook County Jail or the House of Corrections, where he’d previously done time. To survive in that environment required mental and physical toughness. And having some equally hard-nosed allies didn’t hurt.

The inmate population in Stateville was predominantly black. There were fights, stabbings, and rapes. It was a very hard place for white inmates to get along in, especially if they had to go it alone. Fortunately for Frank, there were several Italians in the prison and they stuck together and looked out for each other. But for the other white guys, it was a terrible, terrible place. With Frank’s extensive criminal background one could argue that he deserved to be there. But being incarcerated for something he hadn’t done caused him to become a very bitter man. The time he spent in the penitentiary made him a more cautious and intelligent crook, but a worse person.

After a while Frank made friends with some of the blacks. There was a group of them called the Blackstone Rangers that he became tight with. The Rangers had their own moral standards. They treated him right, but were cold blooded killers.

Inmates were able to work in the prison. Vince went to the barber shop and Mikey worked in the receiving area clothing room outfitting new inmates. At that time it was Frank’s intention to go straight when he was released and he wanted to learn a trade he could get into on the outside. He hoped to get into a program that would teach him more about electronics, but there wasn’t an opening for him. That resulted in an initial assignment to the coal pile.  Later he was transferred to the barber shop as a clerk. His job there was to give tests to inmates that wanted to become barbers after they got out. Frank didn’t particularly care for those duties and kept an eye out for something better.  

Frank Goes Grocery Shopping

November 14, 2007

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

Large grocery stores take in a lot of money. Frank thought it would be a good idea to burgle one and see what kind of score could be made. He decided to go after one of the Jewel Supermarket outlets.

  

Frank found a store he liked and watched it for several days. He learned that the last money truck stop of the week was on Friday. That meant by Sunday night the store’s safe would be pretty full. He went inside the store and found out where the safe was located. On the outside he found an alarm box mounted on a wall. The next question was whether the alarm was wired into the police station. To get the answer he did a night break-in, making sure the alarm went off. He took a couple of cartons of cigarettes to make it look like a kid’s job. And then he watched the store and listened to the police radio. There were no police calls and no cops came. Finally, a neighbor must have reported the alarm and a patrol car showed up to check things out.

  

Knowing the store wasn’t directly alarmed to the police station, Frank had to figure a way to silence the system when he and his crew did the real burglary. It wasn’t difficult. It could be done by using a fire extinguisher to freeze the alarm’s batteries, shoot it with a .357 magnum to knock it out, or tie a cable around the alarm and rip it off the wall. Frank opted to rip it off the wall.

  

The safe was removed from the store using a truck with a winch. Then it was taken to Frank’s house where the doors were opened with a torch. People paid for their groceries in cash then. Checks were used infrequently and credit cards were like foreign objects, so the safe was bulging with money. The gang hit almost every Jewel store in the city. Their take on those jobs was always between $30 thousand and $80 thousand.

  

These were easy scores, with the exception of one night when the police stopped the thieves after the burglary. They pulled over the truck with the safe in it; Frank was behind driving the follow car. It happened that he knew one of the officers and that he could be dealt with.

  

“I was just telling my partner that Cullotta would be coming around the corner any minute,” the cop said.

  

“Look, let us get the safe to where we can open it and see what we’ve got. I’ll give you guys ten percent of whatever’s in there,” Frank suggested.

  The cops were agreeable. Two days later they received their cut. 

Juice Customers

November 13, 2007

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

Frank didn’t like loansharking, but he did try it a couple of times. He found there was one primary reason why people had to borrow money from him: gambling. He estimates that nine out of 10 people on juice with him were in trouble because they couldn’t control their betting habits. Frank believes getting hooked on gambling is akin to having a disease, a sickness like being a drug addict. Many of his customers were married guys with kids that gambled away the rent and food money. They had to come to him in order to have money to give to their wives to pay the bills. They didn’t dare tell their women they’d blown the money at the track or betting with a bookie. For the most part he felt sorry for them. There were times when a borrower was unable to pay off his loan or interest. If he came to Frank and explained the situation he wouldn’t be abused.

Most of Frank’s customers got off the juice by insurance fraud. They’d get rid of their own car, report it stolen and collect on their insurance. Or they’d fake a burglary and make a claim on their homeowners. They’d pay Frank off, but be right back for another loan. It seemed they just couldn’t help themselves. 

Online Interview

November 12, 2007

my-mob-photo.jpgThe People’s Media Company site posted my interview today. It can be seen at:

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/444874/interview_with_dennis_griffin_and_the.html?page=6

Mad Sam

November 12, 2007

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

 Although Frank didn’t particularly care about Sam DeStefano, his relationship with Tony Spilotro sometimes brought him into contact with Mad Sam.

One day Tony asked Frank to take a ride with him. Sam was having trouble with a lawyer that was on juice with him. He wanted Tony to bring the guy in for a talking to. They picked up the slow-payer and took him to Sam’s house. Sam started on him, calling him every name in the book and threatening him. He even brought the attorney’s wife and children into the conversation. Most people would have gone to the cops or tried to kill Sam. Not this lawyer, though. He just took the abuse and kept his mouth shut. When Sam finished with him he asked to be dropped off at a cab stand. But at least he got out of the house alive.

To Frank, Sam was a definite head case, capable of most anything. He liked to have people tortured before they were killed, as in the murders of Action Jackson and Leo Foreman. He even killed one of his own brothers.

The last time Frank saw Sam was when they were both in prison. Frank was working in the psychiatric hospital and Sam came in to have some work done on the veins in his legs. He was wearing long johns and a hat, his standard attire while in the joint. Frank noticed one thing: Sam wasn’t the same tough guy inside that he was on the street. That happened to a lot of them, though. When they got inside those walls they lost their swagger.  

Overhead

November 11, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpg 

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

  Frank had now been stealing for years and had made some big money. Did he have a nice nest egg set up? According to him, he didn’t. That wasn’t the way things worked in his world.

 Most normal people would think that a successful thief like Frank would have had tons of money. Not true. There are twenty-four hours in a day and regular people work eight of them. After that, they usually have dinner, watch a little TV and go to bed. They aren’t spending a lot of money every day.

On the other hand, a thief has all 24 hours to play with. He may be on the streets 16 or 17 hours a day. Some scores only take a couple of hours and he’s got his money. And then he’s got the rest of the time to spend it on foolish things. That money can go pretty damn quick.

And a thief has expenses that the average guy doesn’t. Unless he worked alone, the score had to be split with his crew. And if he made a lot of money, the Outfit had to be cut in. Tipsters had to be taken care of; cops had to be paid off on occasion; lawyers and bail bondsmen cost a lot of money, and there were the expenses of getting fictitious registrations for the work cars and so forth. To keep up appearances a professional thief had to dress well, have nice legit cars, and hang out in the right places. Those costs were in addition to rent, food, and utilities. And in Frank’s case, he was pretty free with his money, taking care of family and friends. Maybe he should have had a lot of money, but he didn’t.