Archive for the ‘casino’ Category

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 29, 2017

Former Chicago Outfit Mobster Implicates Tony Spilotro in Numerous Unsolved Murders

DENVER, May 28, 2017:

“…There are probably more killings I don’t know about,” wrote former Chicago Outfit hitman Frank Cullotta in his new book The Rise and Fall of a ‘Casino’ Mobster. The killer he referenced was Tony Spilotro, one of the Outfit’s most notorious enforcers.

Cullotta’s book implicates Spilotro in over twenty murders—most of them still thought of as usnolved. But in Cullotta’s mind, Spilotro was the clear culprit.

One of the murders Cullotta attributed to Spilotro is former Chicago police officer Richard Cain. In his book, Cullotta wrote:

Some called him [Cain] the most corrupt cop in Chicago history because he was also a hit man for the Outfit… In late December 1973, while I was locked up in the federal prison in Terre Haute, the story broke that Cain was murdered in Chicago on December 20 in Rosie’s Sandwich Shop at 1117 West Grand Avenue. Reports were that three masked gunmen entered Rosie’s and shot him twice in the head with a shotgun at close range, virtually decapitating him.

During one of the many conversations I had with Tony after I got out of prison in 1974, Cain’s murder came up. Tony said, “You were in jail with him weren’t you?”

“Yeah, we were in Cook County together for a while. Why?”

“What did that jackoff have to say?”

“Not much, Tony. He was a real quiet guy, but I knew he was tight with Giancana [Outfit Boss] and Willie Potatoes [Outfit big shot William Daddano]. I had a connection with the deputy warden and got him to give Cain extra visits with his wife, and we teased him about the bathrobe he always wore. Other than that, I don’t remember much about him.”

Tony laughed. “Me, the Little Guy, and the German [Frankie Schweihs] whacked him.”

I was surprised he said it like that, kind of a boast. It made sense, though. As I said, Tony came to my mind as one of the hitters as soon as I heard about the murder. I assumed the “Little Guy” Tony mentioned was Saint. He and Tony did a lot of things together, and Saint was the only guy Tony worked with who was shorter than he was.

Was Tony just blowing smoke that day for some reason?

My money is on he was telling the truth.

“Oftentimes mob hits go unsolved because no one’s willing to talk,” said WildBlue Press co-owner and New York Times bestselling author Steve Jackson. “But Cullotta is done covering for Spilotro, for Giancana, for all those guys. The book truly exposes one of Chicago’s most dangerous eras.”

The Rise and Fall of a ‘Casino’ Mobster is now available from WildBlue Press. Promotions for the book will take place in Chicago this summer. To arrange an interview with the author, please contact WildBlue Press at Promos@WildBluePress.com.

Frank Cullotta is a former enforcer for the Chicago Outfit. He is now an author and has been involved in making documentaries. In 2012, he was inducted into the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

Dennis N. Griffin is an award winning true crime author, focusing on organized crime in Las Vegas and the Tony Spilotro era in particular. His books have been the basis for multiple organized crime documentaries, and he has frequently been a featured speaker at the Las Vegas-Clark County Library’s Mob Month.

Contact:

Michael Cordova

promos@wildbluepress.com

(303) 744-2178

Note: Review copies of this book are available by emailing promos@wildbluepress.com. Interviews can also be arranged with the authors. Please include your mailing address and note the web address where you post your reviews/interviews. Thank you.

 

 

 

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Meeting Frank Cullotta

May 25, 2017

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Jim Cooley describes meeting Frank Cullotta
Meeting Frank
I sat with my head on a pivot and my heart in my chest. It was early for me as I was up late the night before announcing an MMA event in this amazingly over-the-top town, Las Vegas. I was not sure what to expect or how to act. What do I say to him? What will he ask me? My friends had made the usual sarcastic comments upon hearing of who I was meeting. Things like, “Don’t go to his car with him,” and “Don’t make him angry.” I laughed and smiled, but it did get me thinking. Of course they were only joking and he was not going to kill me. Yet, I still had no idea what to expect.
My line of work brings me into contact with some very famous people. I have enjoyed a casual cocktail with people like Mike Tyson and interviewed A-list celebrities including actors, athletes and musicians on numerous occasions. Having traveled all over the United States while announcing in front of huge raucous crowds, I have come into contact with people from every walk of life. It has given me a unique perspective on people and left me almost numb when in the face of fame and celebrity, as a result I rarely get nervous or flustered in any situation. I consider myself cool and collected and a bit of a chameleon. I can attend an event with outlaw bikers at their clubhouse in the afternoon and in the evening go to a black tie affair with someone like Evander Holyfield. From a t-shirt and jeans to a suit and tie, I am thoroughly comfortable around any person from any culture.
I found out very quickly though, that nothing had prepared me for this day. This was not breakfast with a celebrated athlete or a first meeting with a well-known actor. This was a meal with an admitted killer. A sit down, so to speak, with a real-life Mafioso.
I was sitting in a half circle booth waiting for the gangster who once ran Vegas. The man who stood up and did not back down from the very Mob he was part of when his life was on the line. The restaurant was a who’s who of Vegas stereotypes. There were the locals who looked like they could have eaten in this place every day, the ones who smoke cigarette after cigarette and sit in front of a video poker machine with dreams of wealth. There were tourists who were taking in the scenery of this storied restaurant while having their photos taken by the staff. There were the twenty something weekend warriors who had clearly had a bit too much to drink the night before and were hoping to find solace and headache relief in mimosas and scrambled eggs. Perhaps they had received their hangover from the bar in this very building. The one that was recognizable to anyone who has seen the movie Casino. This was the Peppermill in Las Vegas and I was here to meet him.
To say I was nervous would be a serious understatement. Truth be told, I was more nervous than I can ever recall being at any time when meeting another human being. However, that is exactly what I had to remind myself of, this is a human being, a man just like me. His past is just that, his past. The difference was this was a man I had studied; a man I had wanted to meet for some time. This was a man whose books had intrigued me and left me wanting more of the story. As I pondered all of this in my head I happened to look up and I saw a figure making his way toward the booth. He was graying but somehow still seemed young and spry. A shorter than average man who obviously had lived his life to the fullest, yet he was still stout and solid. At 78 years old you would assume he was past his prime, but upon seeing him I was not sure that was true. On any other day I would say this was merely an older gentleman who happened to be a snappy dresser. However, this gentleman was different. Once known for being a feared fighter, a stone killer and a master thief who had connections to the storied Chicago Outfit. Best friend and cohort of famed Mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro. I had seen this man’s life play out on the silver screen. I had read of his experiences in books and been amazed at the life he had lived. This however, was no book, nor movie, this was real life.
As he approached the table I stood up to greet him. Keep in mind I am six foot two inches tall and weigh 240 pounds. As an ex bouncer and mixed martial artist I do not rattle easily. But at this moment none of that mattered. I was scared. I was intimidated. This man was probably 7 or 8 inches shorter than me and 32 years my senior. Yet I was close to puking from nerves. Just as I felt I was going to stumble over my words and come off like a blundering idiot fan boy, Frank Cullotta reached out his hand and said “You must be Jim.” His smile and demeanor were very disarming. All of the sudden I was comfortable. I was relaxed as we sat for our meal. I had been worried over nothing. This was not the 70s or the 80s, this was 2016 and Frank Cullotta was a different person. A Las Vegas Mob Tour guide and an author with a family and a contagious smile.
Over the next couple of hours, we shared stories and he told me things I never knew about the Chicago Outfit, his life and the mafia in general. I was enthralled. Not only was I sharing a meal with the former “Boss of Vegas,” but very quickly I realized something. This man was an encyclopedia of organized crime. In addition to living it and being there he also had clearly studied and in the process become one of the most knowledgeable people I had ever come across on his chosen subject. I have heard the so called “Experts” speak and have learned what I could from them. But it is apples and oranges between these guys and Frank.
My belief has always been that reading a book written by an expert on a subject is the quickest way to gain facts. However, reading a book written by someone who lived the material is life- changing and the quickest way to feel the history. In this case, when you read a Frank Cullotta book you have the unusual advantage of being treated to both. A man who lived it and is also an expert on the topic. This is the reason I maintain that reading a Frank Cullotta book is a must for any mafia fan (for lack of a better term), true crime buff or those just intrigued by biographies and history. This man doesn’t just write about history he is a living piece of history and is an expert at sharing it in the most creative and engaging ways. I left that day feeling like I had been one of the luckiest people alive. I had the opportunity to break bread with and learn about one of the most interesting figures alive today.
In the past year I have become friends with Frank and I consider him to be one of the most genuine and honest men I have ever met. He has given me life advice, shared with me things he has not to my knowledge even written in his various books. Hell, the guy even flirted with my mother right in front of me! It was tongue in cheek and I took it as such, but that is Frank You never know what you will get. He is all at once funny, intriguing and real. So if this is not your first Cullotta authored book then you know what to expect, unbelievable stories, amazing insight into the world of organized crime and the history of both Chicago and Las Vegas all rolled into one. Comedy mixed in with heart pounding drama and a historical account of when organized crime ruled the United States.
In his new book, The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster, Frank tells his the inside story of Tony Spilotro and the days when they ran Las Vegas. In the process he names the killers in many murders that are currently listed as unsolved. So get the book and sit back and enjoy as you delve into the mind of a gentleman, a family man, a thief, a killer, and a man who today has nothing to hide.
Jim Cooley “The Voice Of Champions”
VOC NETWORK
(925) 389-0138
www,lastroundpod.com

 

The Process

May 9, 2017

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After writing three manuscripts with Frank Cullotta, we have developed a process that allows us to write efficiently although we are 2,500 miles apart. Our primary tool is Free Conference Call (FCC). It’s a free program with many features, but I only use it for calls with more than three participants or if I want the call recorded, which is the case with Frank.

The way it works is that Frank makes notes of what he wants to talk about in a particular chapter. When he finishes putting his ideas on paper we schedule a day and time to get together on FCC and I activate the recorder. We go through his notes item by item. He lays out the bones and I ask him questions that will put the flesh on them.

When we’ve completed Frank’s list and I’ve elicited all the information I can from him, the ball is in my park. I do the necessary research to verify Frank’s information, such as finding newspaper articles or TV news clips that verify dates and the correct spelling of the names of persons involved with the specific incidents. As part of the process I replay our recording several times to make sure I haven’t missed anything and run any questions past Frank via phone or email.

When I’m satisfied I have sufficient and accurate information I begin the writing. I do a first draft and email it to Frank for his review. We go back and forth until he is satisfied that each event has been described as he remembers it; and I’m satisfied that I have ample corroboration.

However, there are times when available corroboration is lacking or it doesn’t precisely match Frank’s memory. When that happens we talk it over and decide what to do. If it is a minor detail that is not critical to the story, we will likely simply omit it. If it is something that needs to be included I’ll insert wording such as “approximately,” “around that time,” or “to the best of my recollection.”

When the first draft is completed we do a read through via telephone. Frank focuses primarily on the accuracy of the information while I look for organization, grammar, typos, etc. Depending on how many problems we find, the read through may take two or three sessions.

After that process is over I do a solo read through and then send the manuscript to one or more proofreaders I have confidence in. Upon making any suggested corrections or changes they find, it’s time to start submitting to a publisher.

 

The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster

April 28, 2017

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My latest book, The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster, has been released. Following is the background leading up to writing the book.

I first spoke with Frank Cullotta by phone in 2005 while doing research for my book The Battle for Las Vegas. The following year we met in person in Las Vegas and agreed to co-author Frank’s biography, CULLOTTA. Although Tony Spilotro, Frank’s one-time friend and criminal associate, was frequently mentioned in that book, it was Frank’s story. In 2013 Frank and I conspired on another book, Hole In The Wall Gang, which also included Tony but was again, Frank’s story.

In 2015 Frank asked me if I’d be interested in doing another book with him. He explained that he was getting up in age and wanted to set the record straight about Tony Spilotro—to correct the misinformation about Tony that is out there and provide his personal insights about the man, his rise in the Chicago crime family called the Outfit, his fall from grace and ultimate murder by his former associates.

Thinking I already knew pretty much all there was to know about Tony; I interrupted Frank and expressed my concerns.

He said this book would be different, though, in that the focus would be on Tony and not him. It would include his personal knowledge and beliefs about murders that Tony committed, ordered, planned or was a suspect in. Much of that information would be disclosed for the first time—even to me—and several of the murders he’d discuss are still officially unsolved.

I was intrigued, but pointed out that several killings had been covered in CULLOTTA and Hole In The Wall Gang and I didn’t want to just do a rehash of what we’d already written. Frank said that although it would be necessary to talk about some of those killings again because they are part of Tony’s history, he assured me that anyone who read the book (including law enforcement) would learn a lot.

In addition to clarifying Tony’s role in various killings, Frank said he wanted to discuss the details of Tony’s own murder which were revealed in the Family Secrets trial in 2007. During that trial one of the killers took the stand and explained exactly how Tony and his brother Michael were murdered. Frank also said he planned to provide the inside story of Tony’s racketeering mistrial in 1986. Finally, the book would contain Frank’s opinion on how Tony’s poor decisions and ill-advised actions contributed to the Chicago Outfit losing control of Sin City. I told Frank I was in.

During the writing process I learned the rest of the story about Tony Spilotro’s rise from a Mob wannabe to a feared enforcer and boss. I also gained a better understanding of how his weakness for women and his quest for money and power eventually contributed to the Mob’s ouster from Las Vegas, and in the end cost him his life.

I’m glad I didn’t turn this project down.

Las Vegas & the Mob

March 5, 2017

In the 1970s several organized crime families had illegal business interests in Sin City. The most powerful operation there was run by the Chicago Outfit. The main earner for the mobsters was known as the skim, which was simply the removal of large amounts of cash from the casinos before it was recorded as revenue and transporting it back to the Midwest crime bosses.

In 1971 the Outfit sent one of its most fearsome enforcers, Tony Spilotro, to Vegas to make sure everything ran smoothly and any problems that arose would be dealt with swiftly, using any means necessary. Tony was a good choice or so it seemed. But his Vegas reign was marked by his thirst for power, weakness for women, and poor decisions that eventually cost the Mob its control over Vegas.

The Spilotro was dramatized in the blockbuster 1995 movie Casino, in which Joe Pesci played a character based on Tony. The film received accolades for its accuracy. One of the reasons for its realism was that director Martin Scorsese hired a man named Frank Cullotta as his technical consultant. Frank and Tony had been friends and criminal associates since childhood, and Frank was Tony’s underboss in Vegas – he knew the whole story. As screenwriter Nick Pileggi said, “If not for Frank Cullotta there would have been no Casino.”

For nearly a year Frank and I worked on a book that tells the true story behind the movie, and provides details about several unsolved murders.

That book is currently at the publisher with a tentative release date of April 26. We are planning a kickoff in Vegas shortly after the release. I’ll post more details as they become available.

Teflon Tony

February 19, 2017

In 1979, the two major agencies investigating Tony Spilotro—the FBI and Las Vegas Metro— resumed cooperating with each other. They both made bringing Spilotro down one of their top priorities. But by that time Tony had already been in Vegas and building his organization for almost eight years and was well entrenched as Sin City’s most powerful mobster. His gang was comprised of top notch professional criminals, and his ferocious reputation discouraged witnesses from coming forward.

In fact, a 1974 study by the Los Angeles Times found that in the three years Tony had been in Vegas, more gangland-style murders had been committed there than in the previous 25 years combined. A casino executive and his wife were gunned down in front of their home, another casino executive was murdered in a parking lot, a prominent lawyer was blown up in his Cadillac, a loan shark victim went missing, and another casino boss was beaten and crippled for life. It didn’t matter whether or not Spilotro was responsible for the violence. People, including the cops, believed he was, and his reputation for viciousness grew.

“Everybody on the Strip is scared to death of the little bastard. He struts in and out of the joints like Little Caesar,” the Los Angeles Times quoted one casino owner as saying at the time. The same piece also quotes a store owner who first met Spilotro when Tony stopped in to buy clothes for his son. “When he came in the store the first time, you almost wanted to pat him on the head, until you looked into his eyes.” Tony’s eyes, described as pale blue and reptilian, looked through people, and not at them. Many who dealt with Tony, including law-enforcement personnel, agreed you could find death in those eyes.

Among the homicides Tony was suspected of being involved in between 1971 and 1975, was the June 23, 1973 murder of William “Red” Klim. A Caesars Palace employee, Klim was shot and killed gangland style in the parking lot of the Churchill Downs Race Book. There were multiple theories regarding scenarios as to the motive for Klim’s murder. One held that the deceased was cooperating with authorities in an investigation of illegal bookmaking that targeted Lefty Rosenthal. Another suggested that the dead man had information pertaining to Spilotro’s implication in a fraud against the Teamsters Pension Fund. Yet another designated Klim as a loanshark who refused to pay the Ant a tribute. All three theories involved Tony either directly or as Rosenthal’s protector.

Although Spilotro was charged with Klim’s murder the following year, the case against him fell apart when witnesses were unable or unwilling to positively identify the killer.

And then there was Marty Buccieri, a pit boss at Caesars Palace and a distant relative of Chicago underboss Fiori “Fifi” Buccieri. He reportedly had connections to most of the Vegas crime figures worth knowing and had used those connections to facilitate the granting of a number of Teamster Pension Fund loans to Allen Glick, CEO of Argent (Allen R. Glick Enterprises), the Outfit-installed owner of the Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina casinos. In the summer of 1975, law-enforcement sources learned that Buccieri had approached Glick and demanded a $30,000 finder’s fee for his help in obtaining the loans. At one point he’s said to have physically threatened Glick. The Argent boss then informed Lefty Rosenthal—the behind-the-scenes power of the operation—of the incident.

A few days later Buccieri was found shot to death. The law immediately suspected that Tony Spilotro was involved.

Another killing—one that was depicted in the movie Casino—was the November 9, 1975 murder of Tamara Rand, an erstwhile friend and business partner of Allen Glick. She invested heavily in his Vegas casinos and, in spite of having no gaming experience, had signed a contract as a consultant at the Hacienda for $100,000 per year. Rand believed that through investments she had purchased five percent of Glick’s casinos, so when Glick denied such a deal, she filed suit against him for breach of contract and fraud. A court trial could have blown the lid off the mob’s hidden interests in the Las Vegas casinos. Consequently, just days after a bitter argument between her and Glick, Tamara Rand was murdered at her home in San Diego.

Although Tony was a prime suspect in the Rand killing, there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the murder.

As the years passed Tony’s status grew until he was the undisputed king of the Vegas underworld. He knew everything that went on within the Las Vegas criminal element. No one did anything—from contract killings to burglaries, robberies, fencing stolen property, or loan sharking — without his approval and without paying him a monetary tribute where appropriate.

Even before the FBI and Metro launched their cooperative effort, Spilotro had been a target of the agencies at various times. But he had proved to be a worthy adversary. In spite of being almost continuously under investigation, and a suspect in some 25 murders and countless other felonies, Tony conducted his affairs for more than a decade without being convicted of even a minor offense. No matter what the law threw at him, nothing stuck.

Part of the reason for that impressive run could have been his skills and reputation as a criminal. Another likely factor was the legal work done for him by his lawyer, Oscar Goodman. Together, Tony and Oscar, each using his own unique talents, made a team that prosecutors seemed unable to beat.

But as the old saying goes, nothing lasts forever.

 

The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

February 6, 2017

The manuscript is at the publisher and is in the second of three phases of editing. When the editing is completed, the cover will be designed and we’ll go on the production schedule. I’m hoping the book will be released by early May.

Our current plan is to do a kickoff book signing at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

cruise-mobster

Denny Griffin, true crime author

 

The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

January 26, 2017

The manuscript is currently undergoing Phase I editing with the publisher. There will be two more phases of editing followed by formatting and cover design. I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get on the production schedule by spring.

cruise-mobster

Denny Griffin, true crime author

 

 

Lefty Has Left Us

October 15, 2008

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal has gone the way of many of his former friends and associates. With his passing he’s joined deceased Chicago Outfit figures such as Tony Spilotro, Joey Aiuppa, and Joe Feriola. Even his former Las Vegas headquarters – the Stardust – is no longer with us, imploded last year to make room for something bigger and better.

As far as is known, whatever secrets Lefty knew about the mob will go to his grave with him.

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.