Sunday, October 02, 2011

Las Vegas Dinner with Real Mobsters

If you've ever wondered whether retired gangsters such as Henry Hill and Frank Cullotta know which fork to use at dinner, here's a chance to find out at point-blank range.

Next Tuesday, Hill and Cullotta will join their pal Tony Montana for a good old Italian feast at the restaurant inside the Royal Resort on Convention Center Drive. Tickets to what the mob wishes was their last supper are on sale at the hotel.

For Hill, who turned on his former compatriots in the Lucchese crime family in a life story that later became the subject of Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas," the dinner is a chance to get together with friends, entertain some mob aficionados and make a little scratch in the process. No longer in the Witness Protection Program, he lives quietly in Southern California and spends much of his day painting and drawing. And maybe looking over his shoulder once in a while.

The motivation for the dinner is simple. Even a retired wiseguy has to earn a living -- and a legal one, unless he wants to return to prison.

"No. 1, I kind of enjoy it," Hill says. "I like to sit down with some of my fans, tell stories and let them get up close and personal with me. I don't get rich, but it pays my gas money to Vegas and back.

"It's a legitimate hustle."

For years as a loyal member of Lucchese capo Paul Vario's crew, Hill would have sprinted from legitimate work. He was too busy committing a long list of felonies, serving prison time and generally living the life of successful mob associate. Even after he testified against his old friends, he had difficulty staying out of trouble. But he has obviously slowed down as he has gotten older. He is 68 and has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. In the Witness Protection Program, he also had difficulty earning a legal living. Federal authorities weren't keen on him surfacing for book signings and spaghetti dinners with fascinated fans.

"I was forbidden to do it by the Witness Protection people and the FBI," he says. "But I had to earn a living."

And unless you're an undertaker, there aren't a lot of square employment possibilities for guys with expertise in burying bodies.

His celebrity as a former hoodlum not only helps keep a roof over his head, it's taking him to the Sands convention center in October for a signing at the World Gaming Expo. Later this year, he'll meet fans in England.

He also gets to Las Vegas to play the slots. But times have changed for the former big-tipping gangster. He mostly plays quarters and observes wryly that it's a long way between drink comps at some Strip properties that cater to high rollers.

Cullotta, meanwhile, is the former Anthony Spilotro pal and admitted killer who eventually testified against his childhood friend. The fact Spilotro was looking to eliminate him might have been a motivating factor for Cullotta.

Of the three, Montana has remained most under the radar. The former Chicago Outfit and Spilotro associate is also the former proprietor of a dandy Italian restaurant at the Boulder City Hotel. Montana knows his marinara as well as he knows his mobsters.

Hill says of his new running mates in organized-crime marketing, "We're like the Three Amigos."

You know, only with felony records.

Speaking of felonious fellows, I hear former Gambino soldier Andrew DiDonato, also the author of a tell-all biography, will make an appearance at the mobster meatball fest.

While some locals will surely be repulsed by the concept, Hill notes, "A lot of people are fascinated with it. They're fans. To tell you the truth, I enjoy meeting them and seeing them have a good time."

Between his painting and public appearances, Hill sounds like he's finally found his niche outside the underworld.

"What can I say?" he says. "It keeps me out of trouble."

Thanks to John L. Smith


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