Archive for the ‘bugsy siegel’ Category

Skimming the Las Vegas Casinos – Part III

September 11, 2008

While FBI agents and prosecutors from several offices participated in the investigations that brought down the mobsters and ended organized-crime’s hidden control over the Las Vegas casinos, personnel assigned to Sin City itself played a major role, albeit with one rather embarrassing moment.


The agents were confident that casino money was leaving Vegas illegally and ending up in Chicago, but they needed to prove it. The feds placed the Stardust and certain employees under physical surveillance. After months of investigation, they identified a pattern for one method of the skim involving Allen Glick’s Stardust and Fremont casinos. Their big break came in May 1981.


“One of the people we were watching was a guy named Bobby Stella,” former agent Emmett Michaels remembers. “One Tuesday afternoon my partner and I saw Stella leave the casino carrying a brown paper bag. We followed him to the parking lot of a hardware store on Maryland Parkway. This particular business had several locations in Las Vegas. A man identified as Phil Ponto, who was also employed by the Stardust, met Stella there. We found out later that Ponto was a ‘made man,’ affiliated with the Chicago Outfit. The two talked for a few minutes, then Stella passed the bag to Ponto and drove away. We stayed with Ponto and the bag.”


Ponto left the hardware store and drove to his home, located off Paradise Road near the Las Vegas Hilton. He went into his house, but emerged a few minutes later to retrieve the bag from his car. The surveillance continued, but there was no activity of importance the rest of the week. Things changed on Sunday, though.


“Ponto left his house around 7:30 that morning and placed the brown bag in the trunk of his car. For some reason he then moved the car across the street, and then went back inside,” Michaels continued. “He came back out a few minutes later and drove to church. After mass he drove around town for two hours with no apparent destination or purpose. He drove in and out of shopping malls and parking lots, but made no stops. Eventually, he pulled into another one of the hardware store locations; this one was on Tropicana. There he made contact with another man we weren’t familiar with. The new guy was wearing a suit and driving a rental car. They talked for a few minutes, and then Ponto handed the bag over to the new guy. We dropped Ponto and followed the stranger as he headed toward California on Interstate 15.”


With the agents watching, the guy in the rental car pulled into the second rest area outside of Las Vegas. There, he emptied bundles of money from the paper bag and placed them in special pockets sewn into the inside of his suit coat. When all the money had been transferred, the courier continued on to the Los Angeles airport where he caught a flight to Chicago. Agents from southern Nevada contacted the Chicago FBI office, asking agents there to pick up the surveillance of the subject when his flight arrived. After reaching Chicago, the man paid a visit to Outfit boss Joe Aiuppa, presumably to deliver the money. The courier was subsequently identified as Joseph Talerico, a Teamster official.


The agents had validated their theory of the skim, but they were a long way from having proof that would stand up in a court of law. Additional investigation indicated that money was also being skimmed from the Glick-controlled Fremont. The G-men believed the cash was taken from there on a monthly basis and delivered to Chicago. They developed a plan that called for the lawmen to get marked money into the skim pipeline. That meant agents would have to visit the Fremont the evening before a suspected shipment and do some gambling at the tables. Emmett Michaels, Charlie Parsons, and Michael Glass were tasked with getting the marked money into the system. In order to get a sufficient number of $100 bills into the drop boxes, they had to lose.


“I always had trouble losing when I was playing with government money,” Emmett Michaels recalled with a grin. “I played blackjack and often had some incredible runs of good luck. Sometimes I’d be so desperate to lose so that I’d have to buy more chips, that I’d play very recklessly. I’d throw even the most basic strategy out the window and call for a hit on a hand of nineteen. The dealer and the other players would look at me like I was crazy. But when I was on one of those streaks, I’d draw a damn deuce.”


Sometimes that kind of luck drew attention that wasn’t necessarily wanted. “There were times when I’d have stacks of chips piled up in front of me and the pit boss would come over and invite me to get some of the perks reserved for high rollers. It was usually a different story when I was spending a night out somewhere else and playing with my own money.”


In spite of his undesired prowess at the table, Michaels and his colleagues were able to drop enough money to accomplish what they wanted to do. Now that they knew their plan would work, the next step was to choose a time when the courier would be picked up and nabbed with the proof of the skim in his possession.



The Cookie Caper


In order to conduct electronic surveillance and searches and to make arrests, a judge had to approve and sign warrants. Some of the lawmen involved suspected that a certain judge might not be keeping the FBI’s operations a secret. They found it hard to believe, for example, that after bugging a table in a Stardust restaurant where the casino manager and assistant manager ate their meals every day, the only thing the men seemed to talk about was golf and women. But the government was required to follow the law and obtain the appropriate warrants and authorizations regardless of their suspicions.


“Harry,” a bail bondsman who came to Las Vegas in 1958, thinks he knows another method by which the bad guys found out about whose phones were being tapped. “I had a lot of juice with the phone company then. I know for a fact that a phone company employee regularly provided a list of numbers that were going to be tapped. I know because I received a copy of those lists myself. There were a lot of people who were very glad to get that kind of information.”


In addition to the phone company employee, Harry alleges there was an even better source for leaks. “There was a concern at the phone company that a phone might be tapped without having full legal authorization. So the company hired a lawyer to review all the paperwork for each tap. It turns out that the lawyer they retained worked out of Oscar Goodman’s office. Did you ever hear of anything so outrageous?”


Whether leaks resulted as Harry contends, were the work of an unscrupulous judge, or a combination of both, the bottom line is that the targets frequently knew ahead of time what the lawmen were planning.    


Stan Hunterton, the former Strike Force attorney, was involved in preparing and submitting warrant applications to the court and helping plan some of the law enforcement activities, including when arrest warrants would be served.


“Joseph Talerico was always the courier for the skim money from the Argent casinos,” Hunterton recalled. “The routine was for him to come to Vegas and get the money. His contact here was Phil Ponto. This Ponto was what we called a sleeper. That’s someone with no criminal record, but Ponto was actually a ‘made man’ out of Chicago. One of the agents thought he recognized Ponto’s name from a book written by mobster-turned-informant Jimmy Fratiano. It turned out the agent was right, only in the book the name had been misspelled as Ponti.


“On January 3, 1982, not long after the indictments in the Tropicana case, the FBI was ready to arrest Talerico and Ponto when they exchanged the skim money. The day started off with a variation on the part of Ponto; he was carrying a box instead of a paper bag. I guess everybody assumed they’d decided to put the money in a box that day and didn’t think too much of it. But when the arrests were made, there was no money. The box contained cookies and wine.


“It was obvious that the bad guys had become aware of what was coming down. They had set us up, no doubt about it. I can smile about it all these years later, but I can assure you there was nothing funny about it at the time. An awful lot of time and effort had been spent getting to that point, and then it all went down the toilet. Needless to say, we were the butt of a lot of jokes in what became known as the cookie caper.”


Hunterton hauled Talerico and Ponto before a grand jury in 1983. Their first effort to avoid talking was to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Hunterton countered that by granting both men immunity. Even with no legal reason to remain silent, the pair still refused to testify. They were each sent to jail for contempt, but their lips remained sealed. They never did answer the government’s questions.



Strawman case agent Lynn Ferrin remembers the skimming investigations very well. “They were exciting times,” he said.


“When we were watching Ponto and Talerico, we made high-quality films of their meetings. On one occasion we brought in three lip readers to try to figure out what their conversations had been. One of the experts came very close to what we believed had been said; we would have loved to be able to use his interpretation in an affidavit. But the other two had differing opinions. With that lack of agreement, we ended up disregarding all of their versions. I even rented an apartment next to Ponto’s residence for a while during the surveillance. I spoke with him occasionally. He was very quiet … a real sleeper.”


Regarding the cookie caper, “It was a real bad day for us and me personally. If I’d been living in feudal Japan I’d have been required to fall on my sword. We’d been doing these Sunday surveillances on those guys for several months and everything had always gone like clockwork. But on that day the crooks were so confident and comfortable; we’d never seen anything like that before. We didn’t know for sure who, how, or why, but someone had obviously ratted us out to the mob. We were highly confident that the leak wasn’t from any of our people. Many of us believed that the federal judge who signed the order authorizing the electronic surveillance at the Stardust was the culprit. That was only speculation, but after that it seemed like the bad guys were aware of what we were doing. We had to call Washington and tell them what happened and that we couldn’t say for certain why it had gone wrong.


“Prior to that day I had been in favor of simply stopping Ponto one of those mornings and grabbing the bag from him. He certainly couldn’t have complained to the police and it would have given us the probable cause we were looking for. But headquarters and DOJ [Department of Justice] were afraid something would go wrong and never approved the snatch. If they had, it would have caused a lot of ripples in the various crime families. They may have even taken action against some of their own if they suspected them of being involved in stealing the skim.”


Another incident that Ferrin described as “sensitive” involved aerial surveillance. “Our plane developed some problems and was forced to land on the golf course at the Las Vegas Country Club. It turned out to not be a very discreet surveillance.” This scene was depicted in the movie Casino.


But other covert operations went very well. “Our guys did a tremendous job. Agents posing as maintenance men bugged a table in a restaurant at the Stardust in front of a room full of guests and casino employees. It was a good placement.”


After the cookie caper, the FBI changed tactics from covert to overt and went after the Stardust’s new owners, the Trans Sterling Corporation, openly. “We had enough information to start going over their records,” Ferrin said. “The Carl Thomas method of the skim primarily involved stealing from the count room. We found that another method of theft was also going on at the Stardust. This one involved the cashier’s cage.


“We looked at thousands of fill slips from the Stardust for the years that we knew the skim was going on. The fill slips were used when chips were removed from the cage to replenish the supplies at the gaming tables when they ran low on chips. The slips were required to have the signatures of four different casino employees. The money involved was about $20,000 per slip, and was presumed to reflect [casino] losses at the tables. We eventually discovered a pattern of forged signatures on the fill slips. That discovery led to the next step. We took handwriting samples from over two hundred Stardust employees and sent them to the FBI lab in Washington. Analysis revealed that the casino manager, Lou Salerno, was responsible for most of the forgeries.


“We got some good convictions in this phase. More important, though, through our investigation we were able to help the Nevada Gaming Control Board seize the Stardust. They revoked the licenses of the Trans Sterling people and fined them $1 million. The Stardust was eventually purchased by the Boyd Group, ending over a decade of mob control.”


That wasn’t the entire story for Lynn Ferrin, though. “The cage manager was a guy named Larry Carpenter. During the course of the investigation, he came to hate my guts. We lived in the same neighborhood and some mornings I’d come out to go to work and find that somebody had spit all over my car. I’d have to clean the car off before heading for the office. I suspected that Carpenter was responsible.


“Carpenter was gay and had full-blown AIDS. I thought maybe he was trying to infect me by having me come in contact with his body fluid and absorb it through my skin. Anyway, I stayed up all night to see if I could find out who was sliming my car. Around 5 a.m. I caught Carpenter coming around the corner on his bike. I could tell by the look on his face that he was the one. It never happened again after that morning. Carpenter later committed suicide, hanging himself when he went to jail.”


But there was more. “Lou DiMartini was a floorman at the Stardust. He claimed that during the investigation I caused him to suffer irreparable harm by asking his employer questions about him. He filed a $1 million civil suit against the government and me individually. It took seven years and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was decided in the government’s and my favor.”  


How does Ferrin sum up the results of the Strawman investigations?


“I think that our investigation basically broke the back of the mob’s efforts to control the casinos in Las Vegas.”


That last statement seems to say it all.            




The High Life

November 10, 2007

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

With his hijacking escapades on hold, Frank needed a replacement activity; it didn’t take him long to find one. This time he raised his sights, targeting upscale apartment buildings. Frank was out in a bar on Rush Street one night and got into a conversation with a guy named Barton. He was an accomplished burglar with a good reputation among other thieves.

“What are you up to these days?” Barton asked.

“I’m kind of in between things right now,” Frank said. “I’ve got a truck hijacking beef hanging over my head, so I’m staying clear of that business.”

“I’ve got a pretty good racket going doing high rise apartments. I usually work alone, but you’re welcome if you want to come along.”

“Where are you working at?”

“On Lake Shore Drive, mostly. I’m getting a lot of tips and making some good scores.”  Lake Shore Drive was the “Gold Coast” of Chicago. Anybody with a condo on Lake Shore had to have megabucks. But Frank knew there were drawbacks attacking high rises. Those buildings had tight security, and if you were able to get up to the apartments without being spotted you still had to get back out with the merchandise. There was no other way out, either. If the cops showed up while you were on an upper floor, you were trapped. In spite of the risks, Frank told Barton he’d go along.

Frank always figured that a man’s home was his castle while he was in it, and didn’t particularly like to do home invasions or have to confront tenants. But there were times when there was no alternative. On one occasion the tenant came home while Frank and Barton were in his apartment. They heard him put the key in the lock and were waiting when he opened the door. Frank had a pillow covering his face and was wearing a topcoat and fedora — you couldn’t dress like a bum when you went in those places. He stuck a gun in the man’s face, took him to the floor, and tied him up. The burglars took what they wanted and left. Afterward Frank went to a pay phone and called the cops. He told them that a man was tied up in his condo and gave them the address. 

Frank and Barton made some nice paydays hitting the high rises, but they knew they couldn’t rob them indefinitely without getting caught. When they figured the risks outweighed the rewards they let it go.

Moon Shot

November 7, 2007

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

Being a rising star in the crime arena brought Frank into the law enforcement spotlight. He recalls that the notoriety was an annoyance, and carried a financial cost as well. At least once a week he’d be pulled over and questioned. Sometimes he was held in the lockup overnight, other times they’d keep him for forty-eight hours. After a while he got tired of it. He found that nine out of ten times he could bribe the cops. He believed that in most cases that was all they were looking for anyway, a little extra cash. Usually fifty or a hundred bucks would work. Sometimes, if he was short on money or just didn’t feel like paying, he’d give them the dodge. But then he’d have to keep out of that jurisdiction for a few days, and the cops wanted more money when they caught up with him.


During one arrest Frank was in a particularly defiant mood and refused to have his mug shot taken. He told the officers to go fuck themselves, pulled his pants down and mooned them. Reinforcements were called in and Frank was handcuffed and punched around. And then they told him he was going to the lockup until he let them take a picture. They said if they had to frame him for something to hold him on, they would. They got their mug shot.

  Some of the cops, especially the detectives, liked to play hard ball. Frank always figured the ones that gave you a beating while they had you cuffed were cowards. He didn’t have much respect for them and would challenge them to take the cuffs off him and see how tough they were. He felt it was the ones that didn’t rough you up that you had to watch out for; they were the dangerous ones.  

Podcast Interview

November 5, 2007

my-mob-photo.jpgMy interview with The Vegas Tourist can now be accessed through my new site at: 


November 5, 2007

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

Staying true to his habit of frequently changing his method of operation, Frank temporarily returned to doing residential burglaries. He and his partners concentrated on the well-to-do sections of town and utilized tipsters to gather intelligence on potential victims.

Using tips from people who sold jewelry insurance to homeowners, Frank and his crew tore up the suburbs. They knew what valuables would be in the house. And in the neighborhoods they were working in they usually found a lot more than jewelry. People hid money in the strangest places, but Frank and his boys always seemed to find the cash.

One time they burglarized a house in Elmwood Park. Unbeknownst to them, it belonged to an Outfit-connected bookie. They found jewelry and about five hundred dollars in cash taped to the bottoms of dresser drawers in the bedroom. They took all that and a few furs, too.

The next day word was out on the street that the house of a man that worked for the Outfit had been hit. Frank knew he’d better not fence the stuff and should probably give it back. He went to an Outfit guy he knew and explained the situation. The mobster said, “Don’t you know better than to do burglaries out here in Elmwood Park? A lot of our people live here.”

“I wasn’t aware of that or I wouldn’t have done it,” Frank told him.

“Okay, I’ll take your word on that. I’m going to give you a pass this time, but don’t let it happen again. Consider yourself warned.”

Frank gave him all of the bookie’s property back and that was the end of it. But after that incident he decided to abandon residential burglaries for a while.

Sears and Roebuck stores bore the brunt of Frank’s decision to resume commercial thefts. He and his crew were after fur coats, and Sears had a number of outlets in Chicago and its suburbs. One of the gang would enter the target store near closing time and hide, usually under a bed, until all the employees had left. Having a man already inside the building made these relatively easy scores.

Frank and his men didn’t discriminate, however. They stole furs from other venues and robbed fur salesmen as well. 

The Best Laid Plans…

November 4, 2007

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

Hijacking full truckloads of merchandise could produce big scores, a fact not lost on Frank Cullotta. As with his other criminal endeavors, having inside information was a big asset for him and his crew. Color televisions were a hot item at the time and carried high price tags. Frank had a friend who was a dispatcher at a truck terminal. He told him to keep his eyes open for loads of color televisions. The dispatcher started calling Frank about once a month to give him information on what trucks to hijack. Once the load was taken it was sold at the best price available. But if the entire load was fenced at one time the take was minimal. To earn more money Frank gave television sets to ten legitimate people he knew. And then he gave them ten more sets on consignment to sell to their friends. After all the TVs were sold Frank collected the money and split it with his crew. Everybody made out on the deal.

One particular truck hijacking had the potential to be a major score. It didn’t involve televisions; it was a load of Max Factor lipstick with an estimated value of $350 thousand. Frank got involved when an acquaintance named Skeets contacted him. He said he had a big hijacking lined up and wanted to bring Frank and his crew in. He knew they had good work cars along with nerve and experience. The gang learned which exit ramp the truck would take and positioned their work car on that overpass. The actual hijacking worked this way: Skeets and one of his friends cruised the Kennedy Expressway until they spotted the rig with the lipstick. Then they sent an electronic signal to the work car and followed the truck. One of Frank’s men backed the work car down the exit ramp and stopped, forcing the truck to a halt. When the truck stopped, Frank jumped on the running board and stuck a gun in the driver’s face. He got the driver out of the cab and into the trunk of the work car, and then got back into the rig and drove it away.

A couple of miles down the road everyone pulled over and switched plates on their vehicles. Skeets unhooked the trailer, switched cabs and drove away with the full load of lipstick. The whole operation went as smooth as silk. Apparently nobody spotted the hijacking and there were no related calls heard on the police radios.

After three weeks Frank’s crew still hadn’t received their money. He kept bugging Skeets about it. Skeets said the merchandise was in a warehouse and he was just waiting for somebody to come along with the right price.

Meanwhile, Frank mentioned the hijacking to Tony. “I heard about that job, but I didn’t know you were part of it,” Tony said.

“Yeah, but this fuckin’ Skeets says he hasn’t sold the load yet and we haven’t seen our money.” “That’s true. He’s got the stuff stored where it’s safe. I’ll keep an eye on it and make sure you get the right cut,” Tony assured him.

About a week later Skeets took the load to Wisconsin to try to move it. The feds busted him and all that money went down the drain. Frank and his crew never got a dime out of it.  

Conflict Resolution

November 3, 2007

tour-banner.jpgFrank and his pal and co-thief, Mikey, weren’t big on tact or diplomacy when it came to dealing with people they had a beef with. Here’s how they planned to resolve a situation in which a guy was coming on to Mikey’s wife.  _________________________________________________________________________________ 

There was a tough Italian guy in their neighborhood named Tommy. He was considered to be slightly crazy and very dangerous. Tommy wasn’t part of the Outfit, and frequently argued with the mobsters. The very fact that he didn’t show the wiseguys any respect may have contributed to the perception that he wasn’t all there.

One day Mikey approached Frank seeking his help. “This fucking Tommy is hitting on my old lady,” Mikey explained. “I want to whack the bastard. Will you help me?”

“Sure,” Frank said. “How do you want to do it?”

The two men came up with a plan to do another car bombing. Tommy was security conscious and was very careful about who he let get close to him. He was also cautious about where he parked his car and took precautions to leave it in a secure place at night. It seemed the best chance to get a crack at the vehicle would be when Tommy was out driving around town and might park in a spot where the car would be vulnerable.

An avid card player, Tommy frequented various card rooms on an almost daily basis. Frank and Mikey watched him on and off for almost two months, but whenever he went to a card room or restaurant he always left his car where it would be visible from the establishment’s window.

Unbeknown to the potential killers, Tommy was feuding with one of the Outfit bigwigs during the same time frame. When he was in a card room one day, two aspiring Outfit guys Tommy knew stopped in. They hung around a while making small talk and having a few laughs. When everyone was at ease, the two men pulled their guns and shot Tommy once through each eyeball. As a final touch a gun was put into Tommy’s mouth and another round fired.

By the time the police arrived at the scene all the patrons had fled. Although the killers had made no attempt to conceal their identities, they were never reported to the law and Tommy’s murder remains officially unsolved.     

Frank Comes Out a Winner

November 2, 2007

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

After the deaths of Billy McCarthy and Jimmy Miraglia, Frank continued his life as a thief. He and various accomplices regularly burglarized businesses and robbed stores and salesmen. It was on an occasion in which he was giving someone else a hand that he ran into trouble.

A man named Phil asked Frank to help him out with a burglary in nearby Bensonville. They got into the place and cleaned it out, but when Frank went out to get the car to load up, the police rolled by. They spotted the door cracked open; more cops and their dogs showed up. Frank ran away, leaving the car behind. He figured Phil got busted and contacted a bondsman to get him out. The bondsman told him it was too soon and to wait until the next day. Frank went to a friend’s house in Elmwood Park and left his car on the street out in front. The next thing he knew the Elmwood Park police were there. They said they had a warrant for his arrest for the burglary. He told them they were nuts, it was all bullshit. But they showed him the warrant, arrested him and took him to their station.

Eventually the Bensonville police picked Frank up and transported him to their place. One of the cops tried to get a confession out of him. He said, “If you don’t tell me what I want to know I’m going to send the dog in here. We sent the dog in after your friend Phil and look what happened, he gave you up. That’s why you’re here now.”

“You can stick your dog up your ass. If Phil gave you my name and you think you’ve got something on me, book me. If not, let me go.

They booked him. Frank and Phil were tried separately and both were found guilty. Phil got sentenced to three years and Frank got eight. Frank’s lawyer filed an appeal and he bonded out pending the results.

Frank fought that conviction for two years and used a total of four lawyers. The first one, the trial lawyer, wasn’t real good on appeals so he hired another one. When the court rejected the appeal the lawyer didn’t even tell him; he heard about it from the bondsman. Next he hired a pair of lawyers and they got a six month stay of his sentence to file another appeal. They said he’d probably have to take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and try to get a reversal on a civil rights violation. He had to come up with $1,600 to pay for transcripts and other things to get the process going.

Frank met with the lawyers again two days later. They said things were looking good, but he’d have to pay $14 thousand in “guaranteed” money over the next couple of months. “What the hell is guaranteed money?” he asked.

“That means if we win the appeal the money is ours. If we don’t, you get the money back.”

Frank thought that over for a few seconds. That arrangement seemed to give the lawyers an incentive for doing a good job. But if he got his money back, it meant the appeal was lost and he’d be going to prison. In reality, though, what choice did he have? “I’ll get you the money, you get me a reversal,” he said.

As the appeal process dragged on Frank had to keep his nose clean and couldn’t steal as often as he was accustomed to. With the extra legal expenses going out and less money coming in, he was forced to get back into the loansharking business. He put $18 thousand out on the streets at ten percent interest. This produced enough revenue for him to keep his head above water. In addition, he made a few extra dollars by putting the arm on renegade bookmakers, disrupting their business and forcing them to affiliate themselves with the Outfit.

A couple of years later Frank was in a lounge when an acquaintance gave him some good news. “Congratulations, Frankie, I see you won your appeal.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s in today’s paper. They threw your conviction out.”

Frank called one of his lawyers. “What’s this I hear about my case?”

“Yeah, we’ve been trying to get hold of you,” the lawyer said. “Your conviction has been reversed.”

“You don’t sound surprised.”

“I’m not. We knew you were going to win all the time; that’s why we went for the guaranteed money. We’re in business to make money, not give it back.”

It was now obvious to Frank that there had been more in play than the skill of his lawyers. But he didn’t really care how they had done it or who got paid off. By the time the decision was announced he’d invested almost $40 thousand in the case, about enough money to have bought every item in the place he had been convicted of burglarizing. But it was money well spent. 

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. 


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.