Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mobster Frank Cullotta Gives Another "Exclusive" Interview

Friends of ours: Frank Cullotta, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner

Investigative reporter Chuck Goudie traveled to Las Vegas for an "exclusive" interview with the former mob hitman, Frank Cullotta, who will be a key witness in Chicago's upcoming mob murder trial. Recently, Frank Cullotta gave another "exclusive" interview to George Knapp. Chuck needs to head back to Las Vegas and interview Slick Hanner as well, which is what George did. Plus, who can pass up a business trip to Vegas?

There was a time about 25 years ago when the Las Vegas Strip was dominated by the Chicago outfit. History will be revisited during this summer's upcoming Operations Family Secrets trial in federal court in Chicago, largely through the testimony of a hoodlum named Frank Cullotta.

"I only had a few legitimate friends. They were like my best friends. But everybody I hung with I stole with; robbed with; killed with," said Frank Cullotta, mob informant.

For decades in Chicago and Las Vegas he was a robber by trade and a killer by necessity. But, since Frank Cullotta turned on the outfit 25 years ago, he has been a professional government witness. When Cullotta makes his next court appearance this summer in the case against 14 accused Chicago mobsters, prosecutors are expected to have him explain the outfit's historical hierarchy and testify how lead defendant Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo has been Chicago's top hoodlum.

"He knew everything that was going on, it had to go through him. This is what I would believe, he's the boss," said Cullotta.

Cullotta, an ex-con, is about to release a mob book, co-written with a crime author and a former FBI agent, timing that Lombardo's lawyer says is no coincidence. "There is no question that this was all orchestrated for the benefit of this horribly written book in terms of the writing style. Somebody said it was a third grade level. I think that is two grades above the level at which it's written," said Rick Halprin, Lombardo lawyer.

Much of the book and Cullotta's testimony will focus on Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro, the outfit's emissary in Las Vegas until the early 1980s. "To me, he was a friend...I grew up with this guy. I knew he was ruthless, he was mean, he was tough. He could kill easily," said Cullotta.

Cullotta ran Spilotro's burglary crew in Vegas, known as the "hole in the wall gang," and he helped collect on mob juice loans from broken down gamblers.

"Ya tell 'em, you know, 'We need the money. We're not gonna keep on waiting.' And after about the third time, if they didn't listen ,you just give 'em a beating," said Cullotta. "Or we'll make their wife a widow."

I-Team: "How many people did you take out?"

Cullotta: "Two direct, two indirect."

I-Team: "Who were the two direct?"

Cullotta: "Some guy, he was a union guy for the barbers union (in Chicago)."

Cullotta himself re-enacted the 1979 murder of Jerry Lisner (a small time drug dealer and hustler) in the movie Casino, shooting Lisner twice in the head, chasing him through his home and in real life strangling him with an electrical cord before dumping the body in a swimming pool.

"You become the judge, jury and executioner, so you justify that in your own mind so it makes it a little easier on you. Most of the guys who got whacked or got killed, I'd say the majority of them probably deserved it."

Cullotta has received immunity from prosecution for the murders and crimes he committed. The former FBI supervisor on Cullotta's case is now Cullotta's book partner. "In law enforcement you use the tools that are available. Sometimes you have to use tools like that. In fact, you want to use tools like that because I am not going get the information from you or anyone else. It has to be someone inside," said Dennis Arnoldy, former FBI agent and supervisor on Cullotta's case.

A few years after Cullotta turned on the mob, his former boss Tony Spilotro and Spilotro's brother were savagely beaten and buried in an Indiana cornfield. They are among the 18 murders that are central to this summer's Chicago trial. "If I had to, and I was ordered to kill him and his brother, I'd have just shot 'em...unless they told me to do opposite, then I'd find somebody else to do it," Cullotta said.

Tony Spilotro's widow calls Cullotta a liar and told the I-Team she would like to have a hand in administering justice for his killers.

"If I could do it myself I would," said Nancy Spilotro.

Cullotta still travels with a bodyguard, although he admits it is mainly for show. "I am sure somebody would like to whack me if they had the opportunity to try to make some points. I don't know if they were making any points. They would probably get whacked after they whacked me," Cullotta said.

There is not much whacking going on those days in the city of Las Vegas and hasn't been for the last 20 years or so. There are a lot of construction cranes and new buildings going up, including hotels and casinos.

For the record, defense lawyers in the Chicago case note that Cullotta's testimony has not always resulted in convictions, something they hope will be the case during this summer's trial.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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