The Chicago Syndicate: Cullotta

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cullotta

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello
Friends of mine: Frank Cullotta, Michael Spilotro

Frank Cullotta first met Anthony Spilotro when they were rival shoeshine boys on Grand Avenue in Chicago.

Spilotro's introduction went something like this: "What the f--- are you lookin' at?"

The volatile pair nearly brawled that day, but they became friends after realizing Cullotta's gangster-father had helped Spilotro's dad out of a jam once. The boys also became associates in crime, beating up enemies, sticking up bank messengers and -- as Spilotro rose to power as the Chicago mob's Las Vegas overseer -- robbing and killing people.

Cullotta's life is the subject of a soon-to-be-released autobiography titled Cullotta, from Nevada's Huntington Press Publishing.

The book is slated to hit stores this summer, possibly during the Family Secrets trial. The case aims to solve a host of old mob hits, including the 1986 murders of Spilotro and his brother Michael.

By the time of the Spilotros' demise -- they allegedly were killed by reputed mob boss James Marcello and others -- Cullotta already had flipped for the government, entered witness protection and begun testifying against fellow hoodlums, including Spilotro.

Cullotta, a hit man and burglar who ran Spilotro's infamous "Hole in the Wall Gang," left the mob 25 years ago this May as the law was bearing down and his relationship with Spilotro deteriorated to the point that Cullotta feared getting whacked.

Now, Cullotta might be called by the government to testify in the Family Secrets trial, expected to get under way in May.

Cullotta's book -- co-written with former cop Dennis Griffin with help from Cullotta's former FBI handler, Dennis Arnoldy -- is light on many details but does offer some nuggets for mob buffs, saying:

• • Cullotta had a strong inclination that associate Sal Romano was a snitch, and didn't want him along on the 1981 heist of Bertha's furniture and jewelry store that led to the gang's capture. But Spilotro reportedly insisted, and Romano indeed was an informant. Then Spilotro didn't bail out Cullotta or help him much in his legal troubles, slights that further soured Cullotta on Spilotro.

• • Reputed mob leader Joey "The Clown" Lombardo allegedly settled a dispute between Cullotta and another alleged mobster by letting the man beat Cullotta with a brick. Lombardo allegedly handled the matter this way because he feared the retribution would be worse when mob boss Joseph Aiuppa returned from vacation. Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, however, called the story "fantasy" and said it had been discredited at a long-ago court hearing.

• • Cullotta befriended members of the Blackstone Rangers while in jail, and Spilotro once considered enlisting the gang to kill Las Vegas cops in retaliation for an earlier police shooting, the book says. The scheme never materialized, but Cullotta says he was hired by the gang to blow up a South Side business so the owner could collect insurance.

• • When Cullotta was in prison and wanted a plum assignment, he reached out to then-Chicago cop William Hanhardt to intervene because they knew each other from the street and Hanhardt was friendly with the warden. Cullotta ended up getting the assignment, he said. Years later, Hanhardt was convicted of running a jewelry theft ring with alleged ties to the mob.

• • Cullotta's father, Joe, a now-dead robber and getaway driver, allegedly helped Spilotro's restaurateur-dad Patsy out of a "Black Hand" extortion scheme. The elder Cullotta "and his crew hid in the back room of the restaurant until the Black Handers came in for the payoff," according to the book. "Then they burst out and killed them. After that Patsy wasn't bothered anymore."

If the book gets across one point, it's that Cullotta, 68, is a survivor -- because of his cunning, and luck. At least 44 pals or cohorts were killed by the mob or police.

Today, he has a new identity and lives out "west." He owns a business that leaves him "well off," although the book doesn't go deeply into the present day. He also is a partner in a new Las Vegas tour group that -- what else -- visits old mob haunts. He'll be making cameo appearances on the tour bus, but they won't be announced in advance.

Thanks to Robert C. Herguth

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