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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.

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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.

Oops

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. 

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. 

Tony Spilotro Makes His Bones

October 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  

Jewelry Heists

October 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witness Protection

October 27, 2007

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

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