Posts Tagged ‘tony accardo’

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

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

 

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.