Posts Tagged ‘mafia’

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.

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



Teflon Tony

October 10, 2007

battle.jpgExcerpted from The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob 

Teflon Tony 

John Gotti, the infamous former head of New York City’s Gambino crime family, was dubbed the Teflon Don for his ability to gain acquittals whenever the law took him to court. In fact, from the time he ascended to the throne in 1985 until his conviction in 1992 for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Gotti and his lawyers had made a habit out of beating up on prosecutors. But Gotti had been convicted and served time while he was making his way up the career ladder. And the sentence for his only conviction while he was the boss was a beauty: life without the possibility of parole.

Although Tony Spilotro never officially attained “Don” status, the attention he received from the law was nearly the same as that bestowed on higher-ranking mobsters. 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. Part of the reason for that impressive run could be his skills as a criminal; another likely factor was that his reputation and willingness to use violence made witnesses against him scarce. A third and equally important aspect was his lawyer, Oscar Goodman.      

Goodman was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After moving to Las Vegas in 1964, he opened his own law practice. It wasn’t long before he became one of the city’s premier criminal defense attorneys, representing many high-profile clients. Among them were Harry Claiborne, a federal judge who was convicted of tax evasion in 1983 and impeached by the United States Senate, Allen Glick and his Argent Corporation, Lefty Rosenthal, and Tony Spilotro.

Goodman was a fiery advocate for his clients and he wasn’t shy about attacking his law-enforcement foes, both in and out of court. In Of Rats and Men, author John L. Smith chronicles the life and career of Oscar Goodman. At the beginning of that book are quotes from several people, including two from Goodman that may illustrate his attitude toward his opponents and the existence of organized crime. “I’d rather have my daughter date Tony Spilotro than an FBI agent,” and “There is no mob.”

Whether these words accurately reflected Mr. Goodman’s feelings or were only issued for public consumption, one can imagine that Tony, Allen, and Lefty appreciated hearing their legal representative say such things. But Goodman wasn’t merely rhetoric; he produced for those who placed their trust in him.

Together, Tony and Oscar, each using his own unique talents, made a team that prosecutors seemed unable to beat.

Brother Against Brother

September 30, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgTurmoil within the Chicago Outfit was exposed through the testimony of admitted mob hit man Nick Calabrese at the Operation Family Secrets trial in Chicago. Nick testified as a prosecution witness against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr.

You can read the details in the Sun-Times article at:,CST-NWS-mob20.article

The Outfit Gets Whacked Again

September 28, 2007

A Chicago jury has assigned responsibility for 10 old gangland murders to three aging mobsters. The latest findings mean the trio, who were convicted of racketeering charges on September 10, will more than likely never be free men again.

See the Sun-Times article at the link below for the complete story.,cst-nws-mob28.article

Who is Frank Cullotta?

September 28, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAs screenwriter Nick Pileggi says in the foreword to CULLOTTA, “Frank Cullotta is the real thing.”

Born in Chicago in 1938, Frank’s criminal career spanned over three decades. From approximately 1950 until 1982, he went from juvenile thief to master burglar, arsonist, armed robber, and killer. He spent his final three years as a bad guy in Las Vegas, where he served as the chief lieutenant to his childhood friend and the Chicago Outfit’s man in Sin City, Tony Spilotro.

In 1982, Frank and Spilotro had a falling out and a mob contract was issued on Frank’s life. Facing death at the hands of Outfit killers or a lengthy prison term on myriad charges, Frank flipped and became a government witness. His testimony over the next few years put several of his former associates behind bars.

After leaving the federal Witness Protection Program, Frank was contacted by Nick Pileggi regarding serving as a technical consultant during the production of the 1995 movie Casino. In the film actor Joe Pesci plays a part based on Tony Spilotro. Pesci’s main man, the character “Frankie,” is played by Frank Vincent and is based on Cullotta. In addition to his consultant duties, Cullotta appeared in several scenes as a mob hit man. And in one scene he recreated a murder he’d committed in real life.

Today he lives under a new identity and runs a successful small business. He also makes periodic appearances on TV organized crime documentaries.   

How did the Spilotro brothers die?

September 27, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgOne of the more memorable scenes in the 1995 movie Casino depicted the character based on Tony Spilotro (played by actor Joe Pesci) and his brother being beaten to death in a cornfield.

The actual killings of Tony and Michael took place in June 1986. After their bodies were found in an Indiana cornfield, there was some speculation that the two had been buried while still alive.

However, testimony given by various witnesses in the Operation Family Secrets trial in Chicago – including a forensic pathologist and a former Outfit hit man – show that the real murders didn’t occur exactly as shown on the big screen.

Below is part of an article that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times on August 1, highlighting that testimony.

August 1, 2007


A forensic pathologist who took part in the autopsies of mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro gave testimony on Wednesday that upended the Hollywood version of their deaths, which had the men beaten to death with bats and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield.

Dr. John Pless said at the Family Secrets trial that there was no evidence that the men had been buried alive. The grisly detail was popularized in the 1995 mob movie, “Casino.”

Pless said the injuries the men received were more likely from fists than bats.

Pless riveted jurors with a detailed list of the injuries both men received.

The Spilotros both died from multiple blunt trauma injuries and from having their lungs or airways so filled with blood from their wounds that they couldn’t breathe, according to Pless’ testimony.

The men had been lured to the basement of a Bensenville area home in June 1986 after a mob hit squad had unsuccessfully tried to kill Anthony Spilotro in Las Vegas, according to earlier trial testimony.

Spilotro had tried to blow up a mob associate without Outfit permission, had slept with that associate’s wife and had committed unauthorized murders, according to evidence at trial.

Mob officials lured the men to the basement on the promise that Tony Spilotro was to be promoted to a capo position in the mob, and Michael Spilotro was to be a “made” member of the Outfit.

Instead, a dozen killers were waiting for the men in the basement and jumped them as they came down.

Earlier in the trial, Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, who is testifying for the government, described his own role in the murders.

Calabrese testified he held Michael Spilotro while another man strangled him. Calabrese said he did not get a good look at how Anthony Spilotro was killed.

The forensic pathologist testified that he found abrasions around the neck of Michael Spilotro that could have come from a rope, but noted that the corpses had decomposed after being buried for at least a week in the cornfield, and it was difficult to find markings.

The attorney for reputed mob boss James Marcello jumped on the lack of clear strangulation marks.

Defense lawyer Thomas Breen hammered home that point to the jury and will likely use it to bolster his argument that Nicholas Calabrese wasn’t even at the Spilotro murders and made up his account of them.

Calabrese’s testimony is important to Marcello because Calabrese contends Marcello took part in the murders by driving him and other killers to the Bensenville area home.

Review of CULLOTTA

September 26, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpg This review appeared on The Literary World site on July 17 2007.


July 17:
Jim Agnew On Crime
Cullotta–The Life Of A Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness (Huntington Press Publishing)
This is the best book written on the Chicago crime syndicate and I’ve read them all. Virgil Petersen summed up the Chicago crime syndicate in the title of his 1950’s book…”Barbarians In Our Midst”.
It’s the best book because its all first person, gloves off and very rough.
Frank Cullotta was a very active…bomber, killer, master burglar, fence, and criminal confidant to the mob lords of Chicago and Las Vegas. He describes these roles and capers as they happened with lots of play-by-play details.
Cullotta also describes real prison life and the Witness Protection Program…up close and personal.
I read Cullotta in one afternoon and so will any true-crime fan. Its just a real-good read about very dangerous professional criminals.

Who ordered the murder of Tony Spilotro?

September 26, 2007

cullotta-cover-web.jpgAccording to court testimony in Chicago, the hit on the Spilotro brothers was okayed by Outfit boss Joe Aiuppa.  The Sun-Times article can be seen at:,outfit071007.article

Review of CULLOTTA

September 24, 2007

The Megan Edwards site posted a review of CULLOTTA on August 13. 

The review can be see at: