Archive for the ‘organized crime’ Category

The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster

March 16, 2017

Tony Spilotro was very popular with the ladies, as shown in the movie Casino. In fact, his many affairs cost him some difficult times with his wife Nancy. And one affair in particular, his involvement with Geri Rosenthal, contributed to his death.

The Mob frowned on its members and associates fooling around with the wives of other mobsters. Lefty Rosenthal was running Chicago’s Mob-controlled casinos that were generating millions of dollars for the Midwest bosses. Tony compounded that sin by letting news of the affair get into the newspapers, a definite no-no to an organization committed to flying below the radar. As Tony’s friend Frank Cullotta said about Tony, “When one head gets hard the other goes soft.”

You can read more about Tony and how his poor decisions contributed to the Mob losing control of Vegas in my new book, The Rise And Fall Of A ‘Casino’ Mobster, scheduled for  release on April 26, by WildBlue Press.

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.

Meet Burl Barer and Ken Eurell, co-authors of Betrayal In Blue.

February 21, 2017

Crime Wire on February 22.
BETRAYAL IN BLUE: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked The NYPD is the story of Mike Dowd and Ken Eurell, two cops who ran the most powerful gang in New York’s dangerous 75th Precinct, the crack cocaine capitol of 1980s America. These “Cocaine Cops” formed a lucrative alliance with Adam Diaz, the kingpin of an ever-expanding Dominican drug cartel. Soon Mike and Ken were buying fancy cars no cop could afford, and treating their wives to levels of luxury not associated with a patrol officer’s salary.

They were daring, dangerous and untouchable. Then “the biggest police scandal in New York history” exploded into the headlines with the arrest of Mike, Ken, and their fellow crooked cops. Released on bail, Mike offered Ken a long shot at escape to Central America—a bizarre plan involving robbery, kidnapping, and murder—forcing Ken to choose between two forms of betrayal.

Adapted from Ken Eurell’s shocking personal memoir, plus hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews with the major players, including former international drug lord, Adam Diaz, BETRAYAL IN BLUE reveals the truth behind what you didn’t see in the hit documentary THE SEVEN FIVE.

9:00 p.m. Eastern at


BETRAYAL IN BLUE: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal That Rocked The NYPD is the story of Mike Dowd and Ken Eurell, two cops who ran the most powerful gang in New York’s dangerous 75th Precinct, the crack cocaine capitol of 1980s America.

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.


Denny Griffin, true crime author


A Mother’s Resolve

February 2, 2017

The Debi Whitlock Case

On March 25, 1988, 32-year-old Debi Whitlock was murdered at her home in Modesto, California. Her throat was slit and her dead body sexually assaulted while her three-year-old daughter slept in a nearby bedroom. Initially, Harold Whitlock, Debi’s husband, was the chief suspect in his wife’s death. But he wasn’t charged and no arrests were made. For the next nine years Debi’s mother, Jacque MacDonald waged a determined but uphill battle to get justice for her daughter.

Jacque knew that the best chance to develop new investigative leads required keeping the case alive in the minds of the public. In order to do that she had to get the media involved. She reached out to programs such as America’s Most Wanted again and again without success. The frustration Jacque experienced could have caused her to give up, to accept that her daughter’s murder might never be solved. It could have, but it didn’t. If anything, she became even more determined.

As she fought to get Debi’s case the attention it deserved, Jacque realized there were probably other parents—she prefers to call them “walking wounded” rather than victims—who were going through the same things she was. To help others she created her own local radio and TV shows called The Victim’s Voice ( The show profiled unsolved homicide cases and included interviews with police officials and members of the victim’s family. Jacque felt it was very important to have a family member involved to give a face and voice to their deceased loved one.

Setting up and running her show took a lot of time. But Jacque didn’t let that interfere with her efforts to track down Debi’s killer. She learned what resources were available to her in the community. Among them were the Merced County Victim/Witness Program and Citizens Against Homicide ( Both proved invaluable to her in her struggle.

Not long afterward Jacque had something she’d long desired. A billboard was put up with Debi’s photo and a plea for help in finding her murderer. Eventually that billboard would pay huge dividends. After that America’s Most Wanted and other national shows picked up the story.

In 1997 Scott Avery Fizzell was arrested for Debi’s murder. The friend of Fizzell who gave the police the information that led to the arrest explained why he finally came forward. Debi’s photo on the billboard haunted him to the point he felt compelled to name the killer. On May 26, 1999 Fizzell pled guilty to the murder.

In addition to accomplishing what she’d set out to do, Jacque’s tenacity earned her the National Crime Victim’s Service Award from the United States attorney general. And in 2009 the story of Debi’s murder and Jacque’s quest was released in a book authored by Debi’s step-daughter, Angela Dove, titled No Room For Doubt (

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.


Denny Griffin, true crime author



Crime Wire Internet Radio Announces Crime Wire Case Review Services

January 21, 2017

Mission Statement

The purpose of Crime Wire Case Review Services (CWCRS) is to provide answers to questions and concerns regarding the death investigation of your loved one. A volunteer panel of forensic, law enforcement and investigative professionals will provide an independent objective viewpoint based on existing evidence and/or records submitted to CWCRS for review. These experts evaluate materials looking for evidence that needs to be followed up, findings that may have been misinterpreted, areas that need further investigation and inconsistencies or conflicting information.

CWCRS is not an investigative agency and it does not charge any fees for its services. Below are things we are unable or able to do.CWCRS Volunteers Cannot:

 Investigate a case

 Serve as an “expert” witness

 Identify a suspect

CWCRS Volunteers CAN:

 Seek additional expert opinions as needed

 Provide answers

 Offer suggestions regarding further action

 Provide information to help re-open a case

 Help a family obtain a sense of resolution about a loved one’s sudden death

 Concur with original findings

In most cases, families will receive a written opinion of the case.

Please keep in m mind that CWCRS reviews cases—we do not investigate. That means the value of the review—or whether we can even perform one—will depend on the number of reports, other documents and photos you are able to provide. The more information the Panel members have to look at, the better.

If you are interested in having a review done and believe you have in your possession or can gather sufficient materials, please send an email requesting submission guidelines to with “Case Review” in the Subject line.


Denny Griffin, co-host of Crime Wire





The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

December 29, 2016

When Frank Cullotta and I began writing this manuscript we used the working title, Tony Spilotro- How the Chicago Mob Lost Las Vegas. It was true that Tony had made some bad decisions while functioning as the boss of Las Vegas. Those decisions helped cost the Mob control of Las Vegas and they also cost Tony his life.

As we proceeded with the story we knew the original title didn’t exactly capture what we wanted to say. We wanted to talk about Tony and what made him tick; about the chinks in the armor of the otherwise perfect Mob enforcer that made him expendable. We wanted to explain how Tony came to be the Mob’s man in Vegas, Arizona and Southern California and then lose it all and his life along with it. We changed the title, but included the Chicago Outfit’s ouster from Sin City with the story of Tony’s personal demise.

Books Make Great Gifts & Stocking Stuffers

December 18, 2016

See if any of my works tickle your fancy or satisfy your need as a gift for someone else. They are all available on

True Crime/History

Note: Fans of the movie Casino and/or Las Vegas will be interested in The Battle for Las Vegas or CULLOTTA. Surviving The Mob is a true story from the streets of New York.

The Battle for Las Vegas–The Law vs. the Mob. The real story of the era dramatized in the 1995 blockbuster movie Casino.

CULLOTTA–Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness. The biography of Chicago Outfit associate Frank Cullotta and his decades-long career as a master thief and Mob killer.

Surviving The Mob. The story of Gambino crime family associate Andrew DiDonato.

La Bella Mafia is the inspiring true story of a girl who overcame years of verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her own family.

Policing Las Vegas. A history of law enforcement in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada.


The Morgue. My very first published book is a fact-based story of a medical examiner run amok.

A three-book series featuring a male/female team of Las Vegas Metro homicide detectives Steve Garneau and Terry Bolton in the order published: Killer In Pair-A-Dice, One-Armed Bandit and Vegas Vixen.

Bumping Off Fat Vinny: A tongue-in-cheek story of three writers who want to murder their publisher.