Posts Tagged ‘las vegas’

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

 

 

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 Amazon.com.

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.

Fiction

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.

The Rise and Fall of Tony Spilotro

December 17, 2016

Former mobster Frank Cullotta and I have completed our third manuscript together and it is currently at the publisher. I’ll post the release date as soon as I know the production schedule.

This book will revisit some of Tony’s greatest hits because they are a part of his history. It will also  provide previously undisclosed insight into Tony the man, as well as Tony the enforcer; and Frank will name the killers in several Mob murders that have remained officially unsolved.

cruise-mobster

Denny Griffin, true crime author

Legendary Las Vegas Casino Figure Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal Dead at Age 79

October 19, 2008

 

From 1967 through 1982, Frank Rosenthal was a main player in the mob-controlled casinos of Las Vegas. He was the real power behind the Chicago Outfit’s front man Allen Glick, calling the shots from the Outfit’s headquarters at the Stardust Hotel & Casino. Rosenthal’s role in Sin City was dramatized in the 1995 movie Casino, in which actor Robert DeNiro played a character based on him. DeNiro’s co-star, Joe Pesci, portrayed Rosenthal’s buddy-turned-enemy, Chicago Outfit enforcer Tony Spilotro.

 

Although Lefty died of natural causes at his Florida home on October 13, his life had nearly been claimed by violence on at least two occasions during his Vegas heyday. He knew about one of those instances for sure, and may or may not have been aware of the other.

 

I’ll talk about those incidents shortly. But I’ll begin with a little background on Mr. Rosenthal.

 

 

This is my first gig with him and I’m anticipating a fun time.

 

Denny

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was born in Chicago in 1929, the son of a produce wholesaler. However, his father’s business didn’t appeal to young Frank, who, as he grew up, became more interested in what was going on at racetracks and ballparks than in the price of oranges. His innate talent for sports wagering caught the attention of professionals, and at the age of 19 Frank was offered a job as a clerk with Bill Kaplan of the Angel-Kaplan Sports Service in Chicago.

 

Lefty developed his oddsmaking skills with the help of Kaplan and some illegal bookmakers, and he did so quickly. He was a natural when it came to formulating betting lines on sporting events. As the years passed, Rosenthal gained a reputation as one of the premier handicappers in the country, and a top earner for the Chicago Outfit’s illegal gambling operations. Lefty was on top of his game, but fame and fortune had their price.

 

In 1960, Rosenthal’s name appeared on a series of lists of known gamblers produced by the Chicago Crime Commission, and he decided it was time to get out of town. The following year Frank moved to Miami, hoping to keep a lower profile.

 

But his reputation and known affiliation with organized-crime had preceded him to Florida.  It wasn’t long before the numbers guru came to the attention of the Senate’s McClellan Committee on gambling and organized crime.

 

In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy asked the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to look into illegal gambling activities. Lefty was called to testify before Senator McClellan’s committee. During his appearance, the bookmaker was less than candid, invoking the Fifth Amendment 37 times. A few months later, Rosenthal was among a large number of bookies and players arrested as part of an FBI crackdown on illegal gambling. The Miami police then got in on the act and were soon arresting the 32-year-old on a regular basis. The same cops who had initially turned a blind eye to his bookmaking activities were now putting on some big-time heat.

 

Things got worse for Rosenthal in 1962, when he was indicted for attempting to bribe a college basketball player. Although he maintained his innocence, he eventually pled no contest to the charges.

 

Despite his altercations with the law, Lefty persevered, and was still in Miami when his old buddy, Tony Spilotro, arrived in 1964. However, the FBI was keeping an eye on Rosenthal and the presence of Spilotro, a suspect in multiple murders in Chicago, only increased the gambler’s unwanted visibility and made his public life more difficult.

 

By 1966, Lefty had his fill of Miami and decided to move to a location where people in his line of work were treated with a little more respect. He settled on the booming gaming city in the desert, Las Vegas. Not long after his arrival in1967, he bought into the Rose Bowl Sports Book, later relocating on to the Strip and the mob-controlled Stardust. Lefty was moving up fast and his future looked bright. But in 1968, something happened that had a major impact on his life, and eventually the lives of several others. He fell in love.

 

Geri McGee moved from California to Las Vegas in the late 1950s. An attractive woman, she worked as a topless showgirl at the Tropicana and Dunes and as a cocktail waitress and hustler around the casinos. When Lefty met her it was love at first sight, at least on his part. He was in a hurry to tie the knot, but Geri had reservations about settling down. Her concerns faded when Lefty placed a hefty stash of cash and jewelry in a safe deposit box for her to keep if the marriage didn’t work out. The two were wed the following year.

 

Initially, everything went well for the newlyweds. Geri liked to spend money and her husband made plenty of it. But in 1970, Lefty was indicted again for bookmaking. This was the kind of thing that could jeopardize his eligibility to be licensed as a casino manager. His links to organized-crime figures posed a similar threat, since the Nevada Gaming Control Board was likely to deny licensing upon learning of such relationships.

 

Consequently, in 1971, as Lefty ascended to a manager’s position at the Stardust and struggled to keep his nose clean, it came as an unwelcome shock when his lifelong pal, the increasingly notorious Chicago gangster Tony Spilotro, moved into town.

 

Spilotro’s function in Vegas was to serve as Rosenthal’s muscle should anyone threaten the mob’s casino interests, including the lucrative cash-skimming operations that provided millions of dollars to the crime bosses. However, Tony was an ambitious guy and wasn’t satisfied to just hang around until Lefty needed his help. In short order he became involved in street crimes ranging from loansharking, robbery, burglary, and arson for hire, to murder.

 

As Tony’s power grew, he brought in other heavies to give him a hand. One of those was Frank Cullotta, an accomplished thief, arsonist and killer, from Chicago. Cullotta assembled a crew of crooks and murderers that became known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. Tony and his boys ruled the Las Vegas underworld.

 

As Tony’s influence expanded, so did his ego. He wanted even more power and sought Rosenthal’s support; but the bookie refused. That was a sure way to get on Spilotro’s bad side. And a rift developed between the two men. The situation became even more complicated when Tony began having an affair with Lefty’s wife, Geri. As time passed, Tony came to despise Lefty.

 

And Rosenthal was having other problems as well. He was locked in a battle with the Nevada Gaming Control Board over obtaining a gaming license. The Board was aware of his associations with organized crime figures—including Spilotro—and didn’t want to grant him a license. Lefty tried to bypass the licensing requirements by using various job titles, such as the Director of Food & Beverage and Entertainment Director. Those moves bought him some time, but would eventually be unsuccessful and end his career as one of the most powerful casino men in Las Vegas.

 

While this was going on, the relationship between Tony and Lefty deteriorated to a critical point. Tony told Cullotta that if not for Rosenthal’s standing with the mob bosses he’d “whack the Jew bastard.” However, as Lefty’s problems with the gaming regulators increased, his value to the Outfit decreased. Tony became more serious about getting rid of Lefty and began preparations.

 

Frank Cullotta recalls the conversation in which Tony informed him that he might want Rosenthal hit:

“I’ve got a job I might need to have done,” Tony said. “I want you to prepare for it. Make sure Larry [gang member Larry Neumann] is ready to go and get one other guy. Who else can you get?”

“What’s the job?”

“I might want to get rid of the Jew [Rosenthal].”

“For something like that, I can have Wayne [gang associate and killer Wayne Matecki] come in from Chicago.”

 

“I’m not sure right now I want to do this, so don’t do anything until I tell you. I’m going to bring in a couple of other guys, one from California and the other from Arizona. They’re going to dig a big hole in the desert. They’ll cover it with plywood and dirt. You’ll know where the hole is, because I’ll take you there and show you. When I’m ready to get rid of the Jew, I’ll tell you. Then you scoop him up from the street. Don’t kill him on the street, Frankie. Kill him when you get to the grave we’re going to dig. Then dump him in and cover him up. That will be the end of that.”

 

For reasons unknown to Cullotta, Tony never gave the final order. Lefty knew Spilotro detested him and was capable of killing him. But it is doubtful that he knew his erstwhile friend had actually set a plan in motion.

 

However, Lefty had a near death experience that he was painfully aware of on October 4, 1982, when he left Tony Roma’s restaurant on East Sahara. He got into his Cadillac and turned the key in the ignition. In the past, this action had always resulted in the Caddy’s engine coming to life and settling into a smooth purr. Things were a bit different this time, though. A charge of C-4 explosive had been placed under the trunk next to the gas tank and wired to the ignition. When Lefty turned the key the bomb ignited. Had he been in any other car, the gambler would no doubt have been killed instantly. But the Caddy was built with a steel plate under the driver’s seat as standard equipment. The steel barrier diverted the blast toward the passenger side of the vehicle and gave Lefty a chance to jump out of the car before the interior became fully engulfed. The gas tank exploded seconds later, sending the car’s roof 60 feet into the air. The lucky Lefty escaped the inferno with only some singed clothes and minor injuries. He was alive, but someone had sent a strong message.

 

Who was responsible for the attempt on Lefty’s life? The theories vary. Those who believe Tony Spilotro was behind the incident admit that the Tony wasn’t known for using explosives. But they argue that he had motive and could have brought in an outside expert to handle the bombing. Others think the Chicago bosses, with pressure from their Kansas City colleagues, ordered the hit because they felt Lefty might turn on them and begin cooperating with the authorities. Those who support this idea point out that car bombings were common in assassinations by mob families throughout the Midwest. 

 

Others attribute the bombing to Geri Rosenthal’s biker-gang and drug friends in California. Their rationale is that Geri—who had fled to California after cleaning out the safety deposit boxes loaded with cash and jewelry—was rapidly going through the loot she’d left Las Vegas with. Her new associates no doubt believed she stood to gain a windfall from Lefty’s estate should he suffer a premature demise. In that case, the free-spending Geri would be able to support their bad habits for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it made sense that these unsavory characters would attempt to knock Lefty off.

 

Not long after the bombing, the gambler departed Las Vegas for California, and eventually Florida. Like so many of the killings and attempted killings in the realm of the mobsters, no one was ever charged in the attack.

 

The late Lefty Rosenthal has been described by many who dealt with him as having been extremely egotistical with an abrasive personality. He was not a very nice guy, according to them. With his passing, another chapter of Vegas history comes to a close.

 

 

Favors

February 27, 2008

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

Frank’s duties working for Tony Spilotro included helping connected guys moving to Las Vegas from Chicago, find employment. He also made sure visiting wiseguys had a good time.

 

Tony had been black-booked from the casinos. Acting in his stead, Frank took over the responsibility of getting new arrivals from Chicago jobs in the Outfit-controlled joints. He didn’t take care of just anybody from Chicago, though. They had to either be Outfit guys or their friends or relatives. He’d tell them which dealer school to go to and when they finished their training, he sent them downtown to the Fremont to apply. Working through the casino manager, Frank’s referrals were hired and dealt at the Fremont until they became proficient, then many of them transferred to the Stardust on the Las Vegas Strip. Neither Frank nor Tony charged for this assistance; it was done strictly as a favor.

 

In addition to connected guys moving to Vegas, many of them went there for vacation. In those cases Frank got them comped into the Stardust through the casino manager. These wiseguys did a lot of gambling and most of the time would drop $20,000 or so during their stay, so the casino wasn’t really giving up anything. The visitors were well taken care of and went back to Chicago feeling like big shots.

 

An Easy Score

February 4, 2008

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

Prior to marrying Eileen, Frank had a girlfriend named Janet, who moved in with him for a short time. Janet was good looking and self-sufficient financially. She made her money as a hooker, a fact that didn’t bother Frank in the least. She wanted to give Frank some of her money, but he told her no way; he wasn’t a pimp, had never been a pimp, and had no intention of becoming one. But she was free to do whatever she wanted. The only promise he made to her was that he’d bail her out if she ever got busted. Janet went out every night and made between five hundred and a thousand dollars turning tricks. She screwed about every guy in town, and there were some big names on her list of clients.

One night she called Frank and said she was with a man in a casino. “We’ve been gambling all night and this guy has an attaché case with him loaded with money. Do you think we should rob him?”

“You’re damn right. Take the guy to a room somewhere. After he goes to sleep, give me a call and I’ll come over.”

Janet and her customer wound up in a high-rise not far from the Marie Antoinette. She called Frank with the address and room number. She let him in the room and showed him the case. As she was getting dressed the guy woke up and saw Frank standing by the bed holding his attaché case. He started to say something and Frank whacked him in the head three or four times with his own money, then he and Janet ran out. There was $20,000 in the case and they split it down the middle.

Not long after the robbery, Janet told Frank she wanted to change her line of work. She was interested in becoming a card dealer in one of the casinos. Frank contacted Tony and discussed the matter. Tony said, “Tell her to go to a dealer school. When she finishes, we’ll give her the names of three casinos to apply at. One of them will hire her.” She did as instructed and was hired by the Dunes.

Janet later became involved with an older man who had money. She told Frank about her new interest and asked if he would mind if she moved out.

Frank wasn’t in love with her; to him she was just a piece of ass. He understood that she was like just about every other broad in Vegas: driven by money. He told her to go ahead and move.

  

The Sting – Part Three

January 28, 2008

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

Frank got back to Lisner and told him he was in. He then explained the money situation. Lisner put up an argument initially, but backed off. He said the target, also named Jerry, planned to come to town in a couple of days and would be staying at Caesars Palace. “Why don’t we meet in his room and work out the details?” Lisner suggested.

“I’m going to pass on that. You never know when a room might be bugged.”

“Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that. How about the Jubilation?”

“That sounds better. We’ll meet there.”

Florida Jerry was a New York–Florida guy, the kind that talked out of the side of his mouth. He asked Frank where the $400,000 he wanted to exchange came from. “I can’t tell you,” Frank said. “But it hasn’t been reported as missing yet, so I want to move it as soon as I can. If you want to make the deal, fine. If not, we’ll find somebody else.”

“I’ll have to talk this over with my father and get back to you,” Florida Jerry said. “I’ll let Lisner know what we decide.”

“Do what you gotta do. But I want to get this done within a week,” Frank said.

Florida Jerry agreed to the proposal and the next week Lisner and Frank were in D. C. They stayed at a big hotel for almost $300 a night waiting for Florida Jerry to arrive. On the second day there, Lisner called Florida to find out what was going on. Florida Jerry was apparently having second thoughts. He gave Lisner the run-around, wanting to put up less money. Lisner went back and forth with him. Frank finally told Lisner, “Tell him we’ll do it the way he wants. We’re not going to give him any money anyway, so what difference does it make?”

Even after they agreed to his terms, Florida Jerry still wouldn’t go for the deal. Frank got him on the phone and told him to go fuck himself, then he and Lisner flew back to Vegas.

Frank wasn’t happy and Lisner must have sensed it. While they were on the plane Lisner cried on his shoulder. “I’m real sorry about this thing blowing up on us. I thought for sure we had him.”

Frank masked his anger. “Time is money and we blew a lot of both. But shit happens, so forget about it.”

“I’ll tell you what, I’ve got a Quaalude deal in the works. I can cut you in on that and you’ll at least get your money back.”

 “I don’t handle drugs,” Frank said.

Lisner persisted, “There are a lot of outs for them and you won’t have to touch them yourself. I’ll get you five thousand Quaaludes for five grand. You’ll be able to sell them for ten, doubling your money.”

That sounded good to Frank, so he said okay. The next day he had the Quaaludes and told Tony about them. “Get rid of them fuckin’ things quick. I don’t want any drugs around,” Tony said.

 

Frank sold the Quaaludes to a local kid for $10,000, gave Tony half, and kept the other half for himself. Because Frank had no use for Lisner and didn’t consider him to be a business partner, he decided to stiff him. He told Lisner he had to dump the drugs because the cops were on him. Lisner probably didn’t believe him, and resented not getting paid. But there wasn’t much he could do about it, at least not then.