Posts Tagged ‘lefty rosenthal’

The Death of Frank Bluestein

August 2, 2008

The Death of Frank Bluestein

A justified use of deadly force or a police execution?

 

In 1980, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was engaged in an intense investigation of Chicago Outfit made man and enforcer Tony Spilotro. The Outfit was the dominant organized crime family in Sin City at the time, and Spilotro had been keeping an eye on their interests there since 1971. This era was dramatized in the 1995 movie Casino, starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone.

Part of the police strategy was to keep Spilotro and his gang under almost constant surveillance. The detectives often conducted their observations overtly, as a method of keeping pressure on the gangsters and limiting their ability to engage in criminal activity.

That June an incident tool place in Las Vegas that had repercussions all the way to Chicago: Metro detectives shot and killed the son of a local labor union official who was a reputed Spilotro associate. The shooting generated accusations of a police execution, multiple civil lawsuits, and murder contracts being issued on the two detectives involved.

In Casino, a scene based on this incident shows a man exiting a vehicle holding a foil-wrapped hero sandwich. The pair of plain clothes detectives tailing him mistake the sandwich for a gun and shoot the man dead. When they realize their error, they plant a “drop piece” to make it appear the victim had been armed and the shooting was justified.

While researching for my book The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob, this was one of the occurrences I wanted to explore in detail. Sources of information were limited, however. There had been no independent witnesses to the shooting. The only people still living who had been present at the scene were the two now-retired detectives. I was able to interview both of them, and their stories were supported by the results of the coroner’s inquest. I also talked with several of their former co-workers. According to those sources, both officers were professional lawmen, and had been involved in other situations in which they could have fired their weapons had they been pre-disposed to do so. They didn’t.  

In the following paragraphs, I’ll provide the account of the shooting and its aftermath that resulted from my research for Battle. After that I’ll introduce information that came to light subsequently, and which provides additional corroboration for that scenario. 

 

The Shooting

 

On the evening of June 9, 1980, Detective David Groover and Sergeant Gene Smith were conducting another routine surveillance of the Tony Spilotro gang. On that night they were camped outside the Upper Crust pizza parlor and the adjoining My Place bar, located at Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway. Tony’s pal and right-hand man, Frank Cullotta, was co-owner of the restaurant. Both establishments had become hangouts for the mobsters. Spilotro, Cullotta, and one of their associates were sitting at a table outside the Upper Crust, but nothing exciting was going on. For the two veteran cops, it had all the makings of another uneventful shift.

“We put in a lot of long tedious hours watching those guys. But in that kind of work things could change very quickly, and that night they did,” David Groover said in 2003.

The changes began when a 1979 Lincoln with Illinois license plates pulled into a parking space in front of the eatery. The operator of the vehicle went inside, apparently to order a pizza to go, then came back out and joined Spilotro and the others at the table. They talked for several minutes until the new guy’s pizza was ready. At that point he got back in the Lincoln and drove away. The detectives weren’t sure who this new player was, but it was obvious that he was acquainted with the mobsters. Smith and Groover decided to follow the Lincoln to see what information they could gather about who the driver was and what he was up to.

“As soon as he pulled out onto Flamingo he started speeding, doing eighty or better, and driving recklessly. I was driving our unmarked car and Gene was in the passenger seat,” Groover remembered.

“Eventually, we figured we had enough probable cause on the traffic violations to pull the car over and check out the driver. By that time we were on McLeod near a new housing development called Sunrise Villas, and the Lincoln had slowed to the speed limit. I put the red light on the dash and activated it for the guy to pull over. The Lincoln turned onto Engresso, the street running into the development, went past an unmanned security booth, and stopped several yards beyond. I parked behind him, got out of the car and approached the Lincoln, verbally identifying myself as a police officer and displaying my badge. As I neared the other car, it pulled away at slow speed, stopping again a short distance away. I got back in our car and followed, angling the police car in and again getting out and approaching the Lincoln. This time Gene got out and took up a position by our passenger door.”

At that time, Groover and Smith didn’t know the Lincoln was being driven by Frank Bluestein, a 35-year-old maitre d’ at the Hacienda Hotel & Casino, one of the properties controlled by the Chicago Outfit. Also known as Frank Blue, Bluestein and his girlfriend lived in Sunrise Villas. His father, Steve Bluestein, was an official in the local Culinary Union and had been the subject of a 1978 search warrant as part of the FBI’s investigation of Tony Spilotro.

Groover continued, “This time as I neared the Lincoln the driver lowered his window. I again identified myself and displayed my badge. Suddenly Gene hollered, ‘Watch out, Dave! He’s got a gun.’ I returned to our car and took up a position behind the driver’s door. Gene and I continued to yell at the guy that we were cops and to put down his gun. He never said a word, but instead of getting rid of the weapon, he turned slightly in his seat, opened his door, and started to get out of the car. The gun was still in his hand and aimed toward Gene. Believing the guy was about to shoot, Gene and I opened fire.”

The shots rang out at approximately 11:45 p.m. and several rounds struck Bluestein. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died a couple of hours later. A .22 handgun was recovered at the scene. But as far as the Bluestein family, Tony Spilotro, and attorney Oscar Goodman were concerned, this was not a justified use of deadly force. It was a police execution, with the cops planting a gun on their victim to add legitimacy to their actions.

It was a time that David Groover will never forget. “There was a real firestorm over the Bluestein shooting. We were accused of murdering the guy, planting a gun, and all that stuff. We ran a check on the gun Bluestein had and traced it to his brother, Ronald. The gun had been purchased in Chicago. That pretty much blew the planted-gun charge out of the water. We didn’t release that information right away, though. We waited until the coroner’s inquest to make it public.”

Less than two weeks later, a coroner’s jury ruled the death of Frank Bluestein to be a case of justifiable homicide. The cops were okay in that regard, but the verdict didn’t prevent the filing of numerous civil suits against them. One was a $22 million whopper accusing the cops of violating Bluestein’s civil rights. All of the cases were eventually decided in favor of the police, but the civil- rights suit dragged on for five long years.

As the civil actions were being filed, Groover and Smith knew they had acted appropriately and were confident they would prevail in the end. Other than the annoyance of dealing with the lawsuits, they weren’t overly concerned. But they learned a few months later that whatever was being done to them by the Bluestein family’s attorneys was the least of their worries.

 

The Contracts

 

The courts are the legal mechanism for people seeking to redress perceived wrongs. The courts were used to go after the police in the Bluestein shooting case. But after the cops were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the coroner’s inquest, some people apparently didn’t feel the pending civil actions would provide the justice they sought. In late February 1981, Metro was informed by the FBI’s Chicago office that they’d picked up credible information that murder contracts had been put out on the lives of David Groover and Gene Smith. The two Intelligence Bureau officers were marked for death and a pair of hit men from Chicago was on their way to do the job. After stopping in Denver to obtain a clean weapon, the would-be cop killers would soon be in Las Vegas.

The news caught Metro by surprise. The mob tries to best the police by corrupting them or outsmarting them, not by killing them. People who prefer to stay below the law’s radar screen rarely order the murders of two cops. It brings down too much heat.

Kent Clifford, former commander of the Intel Bureau, remembers when he first heard about the contracts. “For quite a while after the Bluestein shooting there had been a verbal battle in the press between the department and the Bluestein lawyers. There had also been several civil cases filed, and I thought that was all that was going on. Then we got word that Groover and Smith are going to be killed.

“I went berserk. Spilotro knew my goal was to put him in prison for the rest of his life; I’d told him that more than once. We were adversaries, but there were certain rules we played by. You didn’t put contracts out on cops. And even if Tony didn’t actually order the hits, he damn sure knew about them. Nothing like that was done in Las Vegas without Spilotro’s knowledge and approval.”

Although Clifford, Groover and Smith, believed Tony Spilotro was involved in the threat one way or another, they were quite sure the hit men were acting on behalf of the Bluesteins. 

“I moved my family out of state for their protection,” Gene Smith recalls. “Cops were assigned to stay at my house. We were waiting for those guys [the alleged hit men] when they hit town and checked in at the Fremont Hotel downtown. They were under surveillance around the clock. One of the people they met with was Ron Bluestein, Frank’s brother. The supposed hit men were in Vegas for about a week, but only came near my place once. They stopped a couple of blocks away, then left the area. I don’t know what happened; maybe they got cold feet. We eventually confronted them and had a little chat. They headed back to Chicago almost immediately.”

But the police wanted more than to have the potential killers leave town. They believed the Bluesteins were behind the contracts and wanted them held accountable. In an effort to build a case against them, after the hit men arrived in town an application was made to wiretap the phone of Steve Bluestein. The tap was approved, but only after an altercation with the Clark County District Attorney, Bob Miller.

“The DA didn’t like to use wiretaps and I had other issues with him besides,” Kent Clifford said. “When we met to discuss the matter, he asked me why I didn’t like him. I said it wasn’t that I didn’t like him. It was that I had raw intelligence information that he was associating with one of the people who had organized the skim from the casinos. The DA said the guy was an old friend and that there was nothing the matter with them socializing. I argued that in his position as DA, he shouldn’t have that kind of a relationship with an organized crime figure. He said I could think what I wanted, but the association would continue.

“While the wiretap was running we made reports to the judge who had issued the warrant. On the second day of the tap, he told me that a high-ranking member of the DA’s office had called him and asked that the tap be shut down. After our conversation the judge refused the request. The next day a piece appeared in the Las Vegas Sun stating that an informant told them about the Bluestein wiretap. When that article appeared, Bluestein’s phone went dead. Besides Metro, the only other people who were aware of the tap were the DA’s office and the judge.” 

The investigation of the Bluesteins failed to result in any charges being filed.

Although the immediate threat to his detectives was over, Kent Clifford was concerned that someone else might show up to make an attempt on the lives of Groover and Smith. In Clifford’s mind, the only way to remove the danger once and for all was to have the contracts lifted. He was also reasonably confident that Spilotro had authorized the hits on his own and his bosses in Chicago weren’t aware of them. But there was only one way to find out for certain. In an unprecedented move, Clifford decided that he needed to go to Chicago and have a face-to-face with Tony’s superiors.

 

Trip to the Windy City

 

Commander Clifford took his plan to Sheriff John McCarthy, who agreed that Clifford and another detective could make the trip to Chicago. Distrusting the DA’s office, they decided not to consult with them or inform them of the pending visit. The department would pick up the tab for the plane fare; the officers had to pay for their own accommodations.

Clifford next called the FBI in Chicago and obtained the home addresses of Outfit bosses Joe Aiuppa, Tony Accardo, and Joseph Lombardo. It was time to head east.

In March, Clifford and his previous partner, Galen Kester, boarded a plane for Chicago. The people they planned to talk with were violent individuals, and meeting with them could prove dangerous. Both Clifford and Kester carried handguns in their briefcases in the event things didn’t go well. The cops checked into a motel and were on the road in a rental car early the next morning. Their first stop was at the home of Joseph “Doves” Aiuppa, the current head of the Chicago Outfit.

Kent Clifford recalls that eventful and sometimes frustrating day. “Aiuppa wasn’t home when we arrived; only his wife was there and she wouldn’t let us in. I told her it was very important that I talk with her husband. I left her the phone number for our motel and asked her to make sure he called me.

“Our next visit was to the home of Joseph ‘Joey the Clown’ Lombardo. He wasn’t home either, but his wife invited us into the house and we talked for about ten minutes. We left the same message with her as with Mrs. Aiuppa. From there we stopped at Tony Accardo’s, but he was out, too. Three stops and three misses.”

Not ready to give up, Clifford remembered a man from Chicago who had visited Spilotro in Las Vegas and was known to be mob-connected. He contacted the local FBI office and obtained the office address for Allen Dorfman.

Dorfman ran a business as an insurance broker, but his real forte was obtaining Teamster Pension Fund money to finance the Outfit’s Las Vegas interests. He’d been tried along with Jimmy Hoffa in 1964 for diverting pension-fund money for their personal use. Dorfman was acquitted, but Hoffa was found guilty. The broker was convicted in 1971 of accepting a $55,000 kickback to arrange a Teamster loan and spent nine months in prison. Not long after getting out of stir he was a co-defendant with Tony Spilotro and Joe Lombardo on another pension-fund-related fraud charge. All three got off the hook when the government’s chief witness against them was murdered.

“When we got to Dorfman’s office I walked past the reception desk looking for him. The secretary said I couldn’t do that and I told her to watch me. I guess it was quite an entrance,” Clifford continued. “Anyway, we got to see Dorfman and explained the situation to him. He said to go back to the motel and someone would be in touch.

“That afternoon a lawyer representing the mobsters called. I ran the whole scenario by him and requested a personal meeting with his clients. He said he’d talk with them and get back to me. He called back a while later and said there would be a meeting that evening, but I wasn’t invited. Although that didn’t make me very happy, there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. I told the lawyer to relay a message to his clients just like I gave it to him. I said, ‘If you kill my cops I’ll bring forty men back here and kill everything that moves, walks, or crawls around all the houses I visited today. And that is not a threat, but a promise.’ The lawyer said he’d deliver my message exactly as I gave it. If the contracts were lifted, he said I’d get a phone message saying, ‘Have a safe journey home, Commander.’ If I didn’t get a call, it meant all bets were off.

“I dozed off and around two in the morning the phone rang. A voice I couldn’t identify told me to have a safe trip home. The contracts were lifted.”

 

Frank Cullotta weighs in

 

Shortly after Battle was released in July 2006, I had the opportunity to meet Tony Spilotro’s former friend and lieutenant, Frank Cullotta. The two men had a falling out in 1982 and a contract was issued on Cullotta’s life. Facing the likelihood of death at the hands of the mob or life in prison, Cullotta flipped and became a government witness. Now out of the federal Witness Protection Program and living under a new identity, Cullotta was looking for an author to write his biography. We reached an agreement and CULLOTTA was published in July 2007.

While Cullotta and I were working on the manuscript, I asked him about the night Frank Bluestein was killed. I reminded him that the Bluestein family had originally contended that Frank had been unarmed the night he was shot, and a gun was planted on him by the police. After it was revealed that the gun had been purchased by the dead man’s brother, the family altered their position. They then said Frank had never held a gun in his life. Even if the weapon had been in the car, he certainly wasn’t aware of it. The pistol had no doubt been found when the cops searched Bluestein’s car after the shooting.

Following is Cullotta’s recollection of what transpired while Bluestein was at the Upper Crust minutes before his death:

“Tony, I and another guy, were sitting at a table outside the restaurant. We knew the cops were watching us. In fact, we made gestures at them to make sure they knew they’d been detected.  It was a game that we played all the time.”

The baiting was interrupted when a white and blue Lincoln pulled in and Frank Bluestein got out of the car. Bluestein was acquainted with the gangsters through his father, Steve. He’d moved into town from Chicago a few months earlier and was working in the showroom of the Hacienda. He went inside and ordered a pizza to go, and then came out and joined Frank and Tony.

After exchanging pleasantries Frank said to him, “I see you’ve still got Illinois plates on your car. Are you going to get a Nevada registration?”

“Someday I will. I just haven’t had the time yet.”

“You’d better get it done pretty soon,” Frank warned. “These fuckin’ cops here are real cowboys. Any time they see a car with Illinois plates they think you’re a gangster from Chicago.”

“You know, I think somebody’s been following me around,” Bluestein said.

“It’s probably the goddamn cops,” Frank told him.

“No, I don’t think so; I think it’s somebody looking to rob me. Anyway, I’ve got a gun in the car. If anybody tries anything I’ll be able to take care of myself.”

“Do yourself a favor. Get that gun the fuck out of your car. I’m telling you these fucking cops are nuts. If they think you’ve got a gun they’ll shoot you,” Frank said.

When Bluestein’s pizza was ready he got up to leave. “Get rid of that piece and get the right plates on your car,” Frank warned again as Bluestein walked away.

About twenty minutes later, the waitress told Tony he had an important phone call. Tony went inside and came back out with a shocked look on his face. He said, “That was Herb Blitzstein [a Chicago criminal who had joined Spilotro in Vegas] on the phone; the cops just killed Frankie Blue.”

 

 

Based on Cullotta’s account, Frank Bluestein not only knew there was a gun was in the car, he was prepared to use it if he felt threatened. Is it possible he mistook the cops—who were in plain clothes and driving an unmarked car with Arizona plates—for the robbers he thought were following him?

Many years from now when I get the opportunity to interview Frank Bluestein in the next life, that’s the first question I’m going to ask him.

 

 

 

 

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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.

The Sting – Part Two

January 18, 2008

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

Frank liked Lisner’s idea to prepare a case of flash money to deceive the victim. He doubted Lisner had $400,000 to put up for show; he certainly didn’t. Setting up the dummy case was the only way to go. And even if he’d had that kind of cash, he wouldn’t have put it at risk. Frank knew from experience that things didn’t always go as planned. If an honest cop, or a crooked cop not in on the deal, somehow ended up in possession of the bait case, all the money in it would be lost. In a situation like this, if the target insisted on counting the money before switching cases, the best thing would be to simply rob him. But questions remained. “I still don’t see what you need me for. Why not just do it yourself?”

“This guy in Florida is slightly connected and I know you’re with Tony Spilotro. Having you involved will give me some credibility and make it more likely he’ll go for the deal.”

“What makes you think I’m tied in with Tony?”

 “That’s what I hear.”

Frank decided to stall. “Let me think it over and I’ll get back to you.”

 

Frank went to Tony and told him Lisner’s pitch. “Sounds a little corny, doesn’t it?” Tony said. “On the other hand, some people are so greedy they’d go for a deal like that. But us? As much as I love money, we’re a little sharper than them guys. We wouldn’t go for a deal like that. We’d know right away this guy was trying to fuck us. Here’s what I want you to do. Go back and tell him you thought it over and it sounds like a good idea. Whatever you do, don’t tell him you talked with me about it. Tell him you want seventy-five thousand dollars, because you have to take care of your people. He can have the hundred and take care of his people. If he don’t want to go for that, tell him to go fuck himself.”

The Sting – Part One

January 11, 2008

cullotta-cover-web.jpgThe Plan 

Excerpted from CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness. 

Frank was in the Jubilation lounge one night when he was introduced to Sherwin “Jerry” Lisner, known in the Las Vegas underworld as a scam artist. He disliked Lisner from the start. In his opinion, Lisner was a flamboyant braggart, and a scheming little weasel. To Frank, Lisner wasn’t a real crook, only a wannabe. Personal feelings aside, he kept an open mind regarding possible future business deals.

Lisner contacted Frank later and asked him to come in on a scam he wanted to work on a man in Florida.  “This guy’s got a lot of money,” Lisner said. “I’m sure we can take him in a money- laundering deal.”

Frank was curious. “What kind of money are we talking?”

“I think we can get a hundred and seventy-five thousand out of him.”

“How? How are you going to do it?”

“Here’s the setup. I’ll tell him I’ve got some money, about four hundred thousand, that I want to wash because the serial numbers are in sequence. I’ll say I’m willing to swap my cash for a hundred and seventy-five thousand in clean money. Once the guy bites, we’ll pull the scam. I know how to do it, and I’ve got a brother-in-law that’s a cop in Washington, D.C. who’ll work with us.”

Frank digested the information for a few moments. “How do I fit in?”

 

“You’d help me set it up and then come with me to D. C. to exchange the money. We’ll fix up an attaché case with a row of hundred dollar bills on top of stacks of singles. You give the guy a quick peek in the case and it will look like it holds a lot more money than it does. You’ll swap cases and we’ll leave with the hundred and seventy-five grand. As the other guy is walking away with the case he got from us, my brother-in-law will arrest him. He’ll confiscate the money and then turn him loose. The victim will be thankful he didn’t go to jail. We end up with both cases and the sucker will never even realize what happened. We’ll all be clean.”   

Tony & Geri

January 1, 2008

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

Although the Stardust was one of Frank’s favorite hangouts, he got to Las Vegas too late to experience Lefty Rosenthal’s management style. Lefty had lost his lengthy battle with the Nevada gaming regulators and been replaced as casino boss by Al Sachs of Detroit. But Rosenthal was still in town and maintained some clout with the Chicago bosses and Frank learned quickly that the relationship between Lefty and Tony had deteriorated to a dangerous point.

When Frank arrived in Las Vegas, Tony told him to keep away from Rosenthal, but Lefty used to hang out at some of the same spots the gangsters did, so they were often in the same place at the same time. In Frank’s eyes, Lefty was even more arrogant than when he’d first met him in Chicago. The oddsmaker acted like he thought he was God. He had an entourage of guys and women following him around like he was an emperor. The attention Rosenthal received got under Tony’s skin big time.

One night Tony and Frank were in the Jubilation, a lounge located at Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane, having a few drinks. Who walked in but Lefty, with six showgirls and a couple of his male stooges. Lefty looked in their direction, but didn’t acknowledge them. Tony said, “Look at that Jew cocksucker. You’d think he’d at least wave at me, or wink, or something. But no, he don’t do shit. Look at him; who the fuck does he think he is, this guy? Believe me, Frankie, he’s got me so fucking mad that if he didn’t have the juice he’s got, I’d have corked him a long time ago.”

Frank never fully understood the rift between Tony and Lefty until he found out Tony had been having an affair with Geri Rosenthal. It was a fact that seemed to be known by everyone but him. Even the local cops and the FBI were aware of it. But Frank didn’t find out until the day Geri stopped at the Upper Crust looking for Tony.

 She seemed upset and said, “Where’s Tony? I’ve got to talk to him right away.”

Frank told her a semi-lie. “He’s not here right now. I can try to find him for you if you’d like.”

“Please. It’s very important.”

Frank went next door to the My Place, where Tony was hanging out. “Geri Rosenthal’s in the restaurant looking for you.”

“What the fuck does she want?”

“I don’t know. She only said it’s real important that she talk with you.”

Ernie Davino was also in the bar. Tony told him to move Geri’s car behind the restaurant. Tony then went to get Geri and brought her back to the lounge. Half an hour later she left.

Afterward Tony came into the Upper Crust shaking his head. He said to Frank, “Boy, have I fucked up. I’ve been banging this broad and I shouldn’t have. You know how it is; the dick gets hard and the mind goes soft. I have no respect for that Jew and that made it a little easier. But now they’re arguing and she admitted she already told him about us. If this ever gets back to Chicago I’ll have nothing but headaches.”

 

As Frank listened to Tony’s admission he smelled trouble. He wasn’t surprised about the affair; he knew that Tony lacked control when it came to women. But he was concerned about how the Outfit would react if they heard about it. Frank told Tony, “Those people have got millions of dollars invested in these casinos. They aren’t going to be very happy if they think you’ve done anything to screw it up. We might end up with a war on our hands, and we could lose.”

Inquiring Mobsters Want to Know

December 26, 2007

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

Every so often Frank went back to Chicago to deliver the money Tony was sending the bosses. On one trip after finding out about Lefty’s wife, he made a delivery to Joe Ferriola, one of the big shots. Ferriola had a question for him. “Frankie, you’ve gotta level with me. Is the little guy fucking the Jew’s wife?”

“No way. I know Tony and Lefty ain’t gettin’ along, but as far as I know Tony’s not fucking Lefty’s old lady,” Frank said quickly and with a straight face.

“‘I believe you, Frankie. You know we’ve got a lot of money riding out there and we can’t have some cunt fucking everything up just because some guy gets a hard-on. If that happens a lot of people will be mad, including me.”

“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Frank assured him. “Tony’s not doin’ anything wrong.”

That night Frank was in a restaurant with Larry Neumann, who was in Chicago on other business, and Wayne Matecki. Outfit underboss Jackie Cerone happened to be in the same place. He came over to their table to talk. “How’s Tony doing out there?” he asked.

“He’s doing a good job; everything’s fine,” Frank answered.

“I’m glad to hear that. Give him a message from me. Tell him not to fuck up and to keep his nose clean,” Cerone said, then walked away.

Larry Neumann wasn’t impressed with Cerone or his message to Tony. “That bastard,” he fumed. “Do you realize how easy it would be to take him out? We could take out this whole fucking joint.”

“Take it easy, Larry. That’s not going to happen,” Frank said. He made it a point to never talk down to the volatile Neumann. Each recognized the other man’s capacity for violence, and they treated one another with respect.

  

When Frank got back to Vegas he told Tony what Ferriola asked him. Concerned, Tony asked, “What did you tell him?”

Frank teased his friend. “I told him you’ve been banging the broad.”  Both men laughed.

 

Then Frank turned serious. After delivering Cerone’s message he said, “I’ll tell you something. If those guys in Chicago ever find out I lied to them, they’ll dig two graves in the desert, one for you and one for me.”

  

Casino Clout

December 18, 2007

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

    Two of the Outfit-controlled casinos at that time were the Stardust and Fremont, and Frank’s connection to Tony Spilotro earned him a great deal of clout in both. He could get anything he wanted in either place, but he preferred to hang out at the Stardust. When he married Eileen on January 1, 1980, they had their reception there in one of the ballrooms. Everything was comped. Frank didn’t ask for it; Lou Salerno, the casino manager, did it on his own. 

However, Frank did have one rather awkward moment at the Stardust. The problem arose because of a burglar from Chicago named Joey whom Frank was associating with. Although Joey’s brother was a made man with the Outfit, Tony didn’t care for him, so Frank never brought him around the Upper Crust or My Place. The only thing about Joey that Frank didn’t like was that he sold drugs.

 

In addition to stealing and distributing narcotics, Joey was a gambler. One day he and Frank were shooting craps at the Stardust and lost $26,000. They left there and went to the Thunderbird, where each drew a $5,000 marker and hit the crap tables. Playing the don’t pass line they won $21,000. Then they went next door to the Sahara and won some more. They got all their money back and paid off the markers.

 

The experience prompted the pair to come up with a scheme involving markers that they used in several casinos. The way it worked was that Joey got some of his friends in Chicago to open bank accounts showing balances of $10,000 or $20,000. Using the friends’ names, Frank and Joey got a line of credit at the casinos and drew markers in the amount of the bank accounts in Chicago. As soon as their casino credit was approved, they notified the guys in Chicago, who closed their accounts and took their money out of risk. Working four casinos at a time gave them each at least $40,000 of casino money to play with. If Frank and Joey won, they won big, because they didn’t have a dime invested. If they lost, the casinos got stiffed. It was a good scam, but due to the limited number of casinos, they didn’t dare scam Outfit joints like the Stardust, Fremont, and Hacienda, it had a fairly short life.

 

But then Joey put Frank in an embarrassing situation by cheating at the Stardust. It wasn’t really the fact that he cheated; it was that he got caught by Stardust management. Because it was known that Frank and Joey were pretty close, he was asked to straighten things out. And with the Stardust being Outfit-connected, Frank had no choice but to tell Tony about it. The Ant wanted everyone brought in and questioned. But Joey got scared and ran off to Chicago. Then one of the Stardust pit bosses admitted to Frank that he was in on the cheat with Joey and another guy.

 

The players were now all identified. The next question was what Spilotro would do about it. Other people had suffered grievously for lesser offenses. But because of his brother’s status in the Outfit, Joey got a pass; his co-cheat was warned and banned from Outfit properties. Frank arranged for the pit boss to be fired, but got him another job at a nickel-and-dime joint. In the world of Tony Spilotro and the Outfit, where transgressions often proved fatal, this was a mild rebuke. Not everyone who ran afoul of Tony would be so lucky.

Text of Cullotta Interview

December 16, 2007

culllottefrankjpg413219.jpgBelow is the text of an interview of Frank Cullotta conducted by Chicago TV station NBC 5’s reporter Carol Marin.

CHICAGOIn the high profile mob trial that began Tuesday in Chicago, one witness for the government is expected to be Frank Cullotta. For more than 25 years, Cullotta was part of the Chicago mob. Unit 5’s Carol Marin got a rare glimpse into the mind of a mobster. Her report is presented here verbatim:

 The story of Frank Cullotta is a disturbing and twisted tale. The son of a gangster, he became one himself. He befriended many of the Outfit’s top leaders. He stole. He beat people. And he killed twice – all with little thought of the consequences of his actions.

Cullotta: “There were times that I muscled people.”

Frank Cullotta loved the life of the mob. He loved the scores.

Marin: “How many burglaries would you estimate?”

Cullotta: “Minimum 300. Robberies, maybe 200.”

He loved the thrills.

Marin: “Your two killings, how were they done?”

Cullotta: “One was a car explosion, and the other was a guy getting shot in the head.”

Cullotta shot his victim in the side, back and front of the head.

Marin: “So, you shot him three times?”

Cullotta: “About 10 times.”

Cullotta: “I come from a good family, loving mother, loving father. But my father was a shady guy.”

Joe Cullotta was a thief and wheelman for the mob, who died in a high speed chase with police in hot pursuit.

Frank Cullotta: “I just felt like he was the model I wanted to follow after.”

Over the years, Frank Cullotta graduated from small time thug to big time mobster, aided by his friendship with Tony “The Ant” Spilotro.

Cullotta: “We met each other on Grand Avenue in Chicago … we became friends.”

But Cullotta was soon to learn a lesson about friendship and the mob — a lesson that years later helped him make the biggest decision of his life. Jimmy Miraglia and John “Billy” McCarthy were members of Cullotta’s burglary crew. When they carried out an unauthorized hit, they were tortured. The M&M boys fell victim to mob justice. McCarthy was the first to die.

Cullotta: “They stuck his head in a vice and start turning the vice. They didn’t think the eyeball was going to pop out or whatever, and his eyeball popped out. And then he gave up Jimmy’s name. Then they just cut his throat.”

Cullotta lead McCarthy and then Miraglia to their deaths.

Cullotta: “It bothered me for a long time. But you know, you live in that world and you say, ‘You know, if I don’t give ’em up … they are going to whack me.”

When we met Cullotta two weeks ago in Las Vegas, we asked how the mob justifies killing another person. Cullotta: “First of all you are told this guy could hurt you … he’s no good so you kill ’em.”

Marin: “What if you know them or their family?”

Cullotta: “You just justify it, you are doing his family a favor by getting rid of this scumbag.”

Marin: “Do you think about it? Does it stay with you?”

Cullotta: “You just forget about it.”

In 1979, Cullotta moved to Vegas. He and his crew, the Hole in the Wall gang, stole with abandon under the protection of his pal, Tony Spilotro.

Cullotta: “He was a good friend. For many years, he was a good friend.”

But in 1982, Cullotta says, he learned Spilotro was plotting to have him killed. He quit the mob and became a government witness against his former friends.

Today, it’s a pen and not a pistol you will find in Cullotta’s hand. In Las Vegas, he was signing autographs in a new book about his life.

Rick Halprin: “It’s just a cheap, trashy book full of stories, which he knows are not true.”

Rick Halprin is the lawyer for Joey “The Clown” Lombardo.

Cullotta says he will testify in the “Family Secrets” trial that Lombardo has long been a leader in the outfit.

Halprin: “Frank Cullotta is a two-bit burglar who has been telling the same story since 1982.”

Cullotta: “I’m old now.”  A grandfather, today he is cashing in on his notoriety. He’s served as a technical advisor to the mob movie “Casino,” and hopes the book will spawn a movie deal.

Marin: “But you are a killer, a burglar, a thug — I mean you robbed big people and little people, didn’t you?”  

Cullotta: “I was, I was … I probably couldn’t kill a fly now, really. I’ve changed … They tried to kill me … I wasn’t going to become part of the list of guys that were all murdered by their friends. I was a little smarter than them.”