The Chicago Syndicate: Hitman Could be Key Operation Family Secrets Witness
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hitman Could be Key Operation Family Secrets Witness

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

One of the largest Mafia trials in American history is slated to begin in Chicago in May, and a key witness could be a former killer and thief who roamed Las Vegas during the heyday of the local mob.

His name is Frank Cullotta. He's been in hiding since the early '80s but agreed to meet with the I-Team's George Knapp to talk about the bad old days and about the secrets he's ready to spill.

The I-Team first interviewed Frank Cullotta on camera five years ago. At the time, he said he was working on a book about his life of crime. The book is just about complete, and with the trial of the Chicago Mafia just around the corner, the I-Team located Cullotta again, even though he still lives under an assumed name, still lives in a place that can't be revealed, and still has people who want him dead.

George Knapp: "If it had happened in the old days?"

Frank Cullotta: "I'da went there and killed everybody in the hospital and that is a fact."

There's still a bit of the old Frank Cullotta tucked way down inside the new version. He's been on the run from his former mob associates for more than 20 years, but he still slips in and out of Las Vegas from time to time, most recently to visit the grave of his teenage granddaughter, who's death last year Cullotta blames on St. Rose hospital. Lucky for them Cullotta is out of the life.

Frank Cullotta: "I do miss them days but I'm glad I'm in this situation and not in that situation."

George Knapp: "If you'd stayed in that life?"

Frank Cullotta: "I'da been dead or in prison. One of the two. Take your choice."

Death and prison are the dual fates that most of his former Las Vegas associates met. The I-Team arranged to meet Cullotta in a West Coast city to talk about the book he's written and about the upcoming Mafia trial in Chicago.

He won't say where he lives or what name he uses, even though he left the witness protection program years ago after giving testimony that helped put more than a dozen higher ranking mobsters behind bars. He's had three phony names and more addresses than he can count.

Frank Cullotta: "I lived in the south for quite a while. I went as far as Biloxi, Mississippi, Gulfport, Texas, Virginia. All over the place."

George Knapp: "You must have stuck out like a sore thumb?"

Frank Cullotta: "Terrible. Terrible, especially Texas. This is the way I sound. They knew right away I didn't belong there. As soon as I was off parole, I was outta there."

But he stays in touch with the FBI and has been interviewed twice about the Chicago trial, where 14 alleged Mafia figures will be tried for 18 gangland murders, including the slaying of Cullotta's boyhood friend and former tough boss Tony Spilotro, the reputed rackets boss of Las Vegas.

Cullotta followed Spilotro to Las Vegas along with other members of what came to be known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. These men helped Spilotro protect the flow of money skimmed from mob-tainted casinos, but then branched out into other enterprises -- arson for hire, strong arming bookies and drug dealers, and burglaries accomplished by cutting holes in walls to bypass alarms, which inspired a nickname Cullotta hates to this day.

Cullotta said, "Everybody was knocking holes in the wall. You get a rap for every one with a hole in the wall. They had us doing a million places. Half of them scores we didn't do."

But they did their share. When federal and local lawmen turned up the heat, catching the gang in the act of a million dollar burglary, things fell apart. In his book, Cullotta reveals for the first time there was a plan to murder fellow gang member Ernie Davino to keep him from talking. Also on the hit list was former cop turned gangster Joe Blasko, for the same reason.

Cullotta personally carried out a hit on a mobster wannabe named Jerry Lisner and testified it was under orders from Tony Spilotro. And then, facing life behind bars himself, Cullotta learned that his name was on the list. The FBI played him tapes of Spilotro speaking to mob boss Joey Lombardo in Chicago.

Cullotta said, "And Joey told him in so many words, you gotta clean your laundry, because Joey asked him, what the hell is going on out there?"

George Knapp: "You were the laundry?"

Frank Cullotta: "Absolutely."

Cullotta says that if he testifies in the Chicago trial it won't be about specific murders, but rather about the mob hierarchy. He feels certain that Lombardo, who was Spilotro's boss, would have had to sign off on the 1986 murder of Spilotro and his brother Michael, whose bodies were buried in an Indiana cornfield. Cullotta is cagey about how many people he's killed himself but says his book, due out in late April, will solve a lot of mysteries.

Cullotta continued, "Anywhere from 36 to 50 guys I know who were murdered by our friends. And they were our friends who got murdered, and they were all killed for different reasons by different guys. The guys who killed the guys got killed by other guys."

Cullotta says there are a lot of people in Las Vegas who will likely be put on the spot when his book is released, people in the casino industry for example.

Thanks to George Knapp

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