The Chicago Syndicate: Frank Cullotta

Showing posts with label Frank Cullotta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Cullotta. Show all posts

Friday, April 13, 2007

Will Book Shed New Light on Old Gangland Tales?

For a guy considered a pariah by his old friends, mob hit-man-turned-government informant Frank Cullotta suddenly finds himself, or at least his bloodstained memories, quite popular these days.

After spending the past two decades in the shadows as a protected witness after his cooperation with the FBI and U.S. attorney against mobster Anthony Spilotro and members of his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Cullotta is close to bringing out his memoirs of time in and out of the Chicago Outfit. Published by Huntington Press, "Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness" is scheduled to officially hit bookstores July 1. The book is co-authored by the 68-year-old Cullotta and Dennis N. Griffin with credited contributions from former FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy. Arnoldy was Cullotta's handler after his defection from the heart of Spilotro's criminal crew.

The timing of Cullotta's project couldn't be more intriguing for those who have followed the rise and fall of traditional organized crime groups, especially the infamous Chicago Outfit. Cullotta is telling his story at the same time attorneys for reputed Chicago mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and a gaggle of co-defendants will be searching for outs and alibis in a sweeping criminal case in federal court in Chicago.

Reporters there are openly speculating that Cullotta, a former Lombardo associate, will be called as a witness. The trial is expected to start in May.

Word of the Cullotta manuscript's existence recently had both sides of the Lombardo case contacting Huntington Press publisher Anthony Curtis to request a copy. First, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars called. Then, FBI agent Michael Maseth contacted Curtis. Not long after, Lombardo defense attorney Rick Halprin called.

When Curtis declined to provide the manuscript on the advice of lawyer Andrew Norwood, on April 2 the feds came through with a promised subpoena. On Monday, Curtis said he would comply with the subpoena.

Although Halprin expressed doubt the manuscript would produce new information, the defense attorney admitted to Curtis, "There are things only Frankie knows." (That sentiment is a far cry from Halprin's wisecrack about Cullotta during a pre-trial hearing in a Chicago courtroom last week: "For all I know, he's Ann Coulter.")

Are the things that only Frankie knows in the book?

What can Cullotta say that he hasn't previously testified to under oath?

At 78, Lombardo has been around the track too many times to get nervous about the memories of an admitted killer and thief. But Cullotta's story already has a proven appeal with readers. His perspective was sprinkled throughout Nicholas Pileggi's best-seller "Casino," and Pileggi has provided the foreword for Cullotta's memoir. In fact, Cullotta is said to have received a handsome fee as a consultant on the Martin Scorsese movie that followed Pileggi's book.

What will Cullotta's own book reveal?

Hopefully, he'll give readers his authentic and disturbing eyewitness accounts of his own criminal activity and the countless felonies that swirled around his life in Chicago and Las Vegas. The fact he's detailed a lot of that bloody stuff as a government witness shouldn't diminish its impact on the public more than two decades after Spilotro's murder, as long as he's candid.

Considering he's admitted killing in cold blood, it's the least he can do.

When the FBI and Las Vegas police finally caught up with Cullotta after the botched Bertha's store heist in 1981, his lifelong friend Spilotro was under enormous pressure from law enforcement. Even Spilotro's former defense attorney, Mayor Oscar Goodman, admitted his client's failure to provide legal assistance to Cullotta helped lead to his defection.

More than two decades after the murders of Spilotro and his brother, Michael, their homicides are part of 18 killings, some dating to the 1970s, outlined in the indictment against Lombardo, Frankie "The German" Schweihs, current reputed Outfit leader James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and a dozen others.

Cullotta was a participant and front-row associate during the twilight of the Outfit's dominance in Chicago and influence in Las Vegas. He has a rare perspective on a lifestyle that has killed dozens of his pals as well as a number of government witnesses and innocent bystanders.

The last thing Lombardo and the gang should want is for Frank Cullotta to take a stroll down memory lane.

Thanks to John L. Smith



Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mob All-Star Lineup for Family Secrets Trial

Friends of ours: Frank "The German" Schweihs, Frank Calabrese Sr.. James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, Nick Calabrese, Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel, Richard Mara, Daniel Bounds, Alfred Pilotto, Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro, James LaValley
Friends of mine: Frank Calabrese Jr., Michael Talarico

One man is a reputed Outfit killer and master thief who stormed jewelry stores with a crew so skilled it's been called "the New York Yankees of robbers." Another served as intermediary between illegal Asian gambling and an alleged Outfit hit man, Frank "The German" Schweihs. Still a third has run a well-known Bridgeport restaurant and was allegedly connected to the crew of brutal loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr. All three are expected to testify in what will be the most important mob trial in Chicago in decades.

Prosecutors have put the mob's top leaders on trial and tied them to 18 unsolved Outfit murders. Facing charges that could put them behind bars for life are reputed Chicago Outfit chief James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and top mobster Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, among others.

The star witnesses at trial will be the brother and son of Frank Calabrese Sr. The brother, Nick Calabrese, has admitted to 16 mob hits, many committed with his brother, he says. Calabrese Sr.'s son, Frank Calabrese Jr., secretly recorded his father while they were both in prison.

Details of other key witnesses expected at trial are in a federal court filing that is under seal. But the Sun-Times has learned who some of those witnesses will be.

Limoges JewelryAmong the top witnesses will be Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel. Siegel was part of a crew of mobbed-up robbers who hit jewelry stores across the country -- mainly in California and Florida -- taking in millions of dollars in loot over the years.

The robbers wore Halloween masks and body armor, used automatic weapons and performed their robberies with military-like precision, authorities said.

"We prosecuted them to the fullest. But we recognized they were the New York Yankees of robbers," said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmund Searby, who prosecuted Siegel and his cohorts in 1993 for a series of jewelry store robberies. A heavy prison sentence prompted Siegel to flip and spill all he knew to the feds, including several murders he allegedly committed or knew about, authorities said.

Another witness at the upcoming trial is expected to be Yu Lip Moy, a former head of the National On Leong Trading Association and a former Pittsburgh restaurant owner who was a key witness in the On Leong gambling case in Chicago the early 1990s. Moy has testified he paid off Schweihs as part of an agreement with the Outfit to allow illegal Asian gambling in Chicago to continue.

Another restaurant owner, Michael Talarico, is listed as a potential witness. Talarico has run the well-known Bridgeport restaurant Punchinello's for years and allegedly worked as a bookmaker. The Sun-Times has previously reported he was held in federal jail in Chicago for not testifying before a Family Secrets grand jury, but was later released.

While Talarico is still listed as the license holder for the restaurant, a phone message at the restaurant said it is under new management. Talarico is a part of the influential Roti family by marriage and once was married to Schweihs' daughter.

When asked about Talarico, Joseph Lopez, the attorney for Frank Calabrese Sr., said he expected Talarico's testimony to deal more with Nick Calabrese than Frank Calabrese Sr.

Lopez blasted Nick Calabrese as "a mass murderer."

"Instead of going after off-duty cops for fighting in bars, [Cook County State's Attorney] Dick Devine should be going after a mass murderer who has killed more people than the Brown's Chicken massacre and Richard Speck combined," Lopez said.

Nick Calabrese is cooperating with federal prosecutors but does not have a deal with them yet.

Prosecutors would not discuss witnesses, and defense attorneys declined to discuss the contents of the sealed court filing.

When asked about some of the potential witnesses, Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin said: "It's just round-up-the-usual-snitches, who have been telling the same stories for 20 years."

Other witnesses expected at trial include Outfit burglar Richard Mara; failed Outfit assassin Daniel Bounds, who turned himself into the FBI after botching the hit of south suburban mob boss Alfred Pilotto; Outfit killer and burglar Frank Cullotta, a close associate of Tony Spilotro; mob leg breaker James LaValley, and former adult bookstore owner, William "Red" Wemette, who was shaken down by Outfit thugs.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Anthony Pellicano Worked for Mobster Lombardo?

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank Cullotta
Friends of mine: Anthony Pellicano

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano shot to fame working for Hollywood stars. But when he worked in Chicago 30 years ago, Pellicano hustled for an alleged rising star of a different kind: Infamous Chicago mobster Joseph "Joey The Clown" Lombardo.

Pellicano's investigative work from 1974 on Lombardo's behalf could provide Lombardo an alibi for the brutal murder of Daniel Seifert, who was to be a key witness against Lombardo in a Teamster fund embezzlement case. Lombardo is charged in Seifert's death in the upcoming Family Secrets mob trial in Chicago.

These days, Pellicano has his own problems as he sits in jail awaiting trial on charges he illegally wiretapped the conversations of the enemies of his rich and famous clients. Those allegations have rocked the Hollywood elite. But in 1974, Pellicano was working for Lombardo, compiling information to show Lombardo was far away when Seifert was gunned down the morning of Sept. 27 outside his Bensenville factory.

Prosecutors are expected to tie Lombardo to the Seifert murder by pointing to his fingerprint on a title application for a car used in the slaying.

Pellicano's investigation, though, contends Lombardo was at the International House of Pancakes in the 2800 block of West Diversey the morning of the murder. After Lombardo left the restaurant, he noticed someone had stolen his wallet from his car's glove compartment. Lombardo went back inside the IHOP and reported the theft to two cops having breakfast. They wrote a report, which is included in Pellicano's work. There's a signed statement from one of the cops and another from a driver's license facility supervisor who says Lombardo came in the morning of the murder for a duplicate license.

Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, called his client's alibi "rock solid." He said Pellicano's current difficulties have no impact on his work for Lombardo.

In another court document obtained by the Sun-Times, a government informant, former mobster Alva Johnson Rodgers, a Lombardo associate, alleges in late 1973 or early 1974 that Pellicano asked him to burn down a Mount Prospect building. Rodgers alleges he did just that, but Pellicano was never charged.

Pellicano is being held in custody because he allegedly asked unnamed Chicago mobsters to put a hit on a witness against him, according to a government court filing.

Pellicano's attorney, Steven F. Gruel, disputed the allegations and said he's seen nothing to buttress claims his client is tied to the mob.

Also, on Monday, Lombardo's attorney filed a motion asking the feds for a pre-publication copy of a book by a government informant, mobster Frank Cullotta. Cullotta may be a witness at the Family Secrets trial, and his book could provide fodder for the defense.

Prosecutors should have access to Cullotta, who is hiding under a new identity, Halprin noted. "For all I know, he's Ann Coulter," Halprin quipped.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A-List Could Testify about Mob Family Secrets

Friends of ours: James LaValley, Lenny Patrick, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Sal Romano, Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro

A former adult bookstore owner and an ex-juice loan enforcer who once threatened to cut off the remaining arm of an amputee are among the witnesses who could testify in the upcoming blockbuster Family Secrets mob trial in Chicago, the Sun-Times has learned.

Federal prosecutors are expected to put forward a parade of former wiseguys in the trial, beginning in May, that aims to solve 18 mob hits and puts some of the top reputed mobsters in Chicago on the hot seat.

Former enforcer James LaValley, who once belonged to the street crew of one-time top mobster Lenny Patrick, has cooperated with the government for more than 15 years after a career in which he specialized in so-called "hard-to-collect" debts.

LaValley, an intimidating, sizable man, testified in an earlier mob trial that he cut the hand of one deadbeat gambler and threatened to cut off the arm of a bookie who was an amputee.

Another potential witness in the Family Secrets case is former adult bookstore owner William "Red" Wemette, according to sources familiar with the matter. Wemette repeatedly helped record one defendant in the case, reputed mob killer Frank "The German" Schweihs, who was convicted of extorting Wemette during the 1980s.

Also on tap as potential witnesses are two former members of the burglary crew run by Anthony Spilotro, the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. Both Sal Romano and Frank Cullotta have testified previously at mob trials.

It's unclear exactly what the witnesses would testify about at trial, but they could provide jurors with expansive views of their slice of mob life in Chicago.

Attorney Joseph Lopez, who represents reputed mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. in the Family Secrets case, said he had seen LaValley testify in another case years ago and did not share the government's estimation of him. LaValley is "a real character," Lopez said. LaValley "loves himself to death. If he could look at himself in the mirror all day, that's all he'd do."

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Battle of Thieves?

Friends of ours: Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal

Since 1995, George Knapp has been the chief reporter on the Las Vegas Channel 8's I-Team investigative unit. In that capacity, he has earned two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a national Edward R. Murrow award for his investigative stories on the voter registration fraud in the Clark County election of 2004. Knapp has won eleven Emmy Awards. Seven were for his "Street Talk" commentaries and one was for an investigative story. Seven times, he has won the Mark Twain Award for best news writing from the Associated Press. Recently Knapp ran a series (Part 1 and Part 2) that covered his interview with Frank Cullotta, a former thief/mob hitman who turned government informant.

Slick Hanner has shared with me an email that he has sent to Knapp in which he challenges the credibility of Cullotta. In addition to providing examples, Hanner proposes a sitdown in which Knapp moderates a discussion between the Cullotta and Hanner as a "Battle of Thieves". It is a compelling idea and one that I hope that Knapp embraces. Below you will find Hanner's email to Knapp. Feel free to pass along your thoughts on this to both myself and directly to Knapp.

Dear Mr. Knapp,

The last couple of nights I watched your show on Frank Cullotta with my mouth open in disbelief. This guy is trying to whitewash every lousy thing he did. I admit to being a thief all my life. But I was an honorable thief, meaning I never snitched on my friends or turned states evidence against anyone. You will see that I'm telling the truth when you read my life story in my newly released non-fiction book, Thief! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist (Barricade Books.) In the book, I reveal my life of crime with the mob, prostitution and gambling when I lived in Chicago (Outfit headquarters,) Miami and Las Vegas. And I hold nothing back about what kind of a guy I was. I wrote THIEF to straighten out the public on Cullotta and Rosenthal's lies (Pileggi's main informants) in the book Casino.

Cullotta was the worst kind of thief. He thought nothing of betraying his friends and even turned on his brother in order to save his own neck. Now he's on your program telling so many lies, which I will be happy to refute.

For instance, Cullotta said Tony Spilotro brought him to Las Vegas to be in his Hole in the Wall Gang. But the truth is that Cullotta came to town as a pimp for his girlfriend, Debbie, who worked at the Dunes. Then Cullotta hooked up with his boyhood friend, Tony Spilotro, and asked Tony if he could bring his own burglary crew to Las Vegas. Tony said yes as long as he got a piece of Cullotta's action.

Mr. Knapp, this is only one example but there's much more. I can recite chapter and verse on the truth about Frank Cullotta. I also have a friend who is willing to step forward with more evidence of Cullotta's lies, and he was in a position to know. Together, we have an arsenal of information that has never come out previously. Should you want more information from me or care to have me on your show, I will be happy to give names, places, dates, etc., as would my friend.

Why would I even bother to do this? Cullotta makes the Hole in the Wall Gang seem like Robin and his merry men, just a bunch of innocent pranksters. What a joke! Let's get some facts on the table. Maybe you could have me and Cullotta on your show together in a "battle of the thieves?"

William "Slick" Hanner

Is a Mob Hitman Revealing Family Secrets?

Friends of ours: Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal

The Mafia bosses who once controlled Las Vegas are long gone, but their ghosts are about to be resurrected. Federal prosecutors in Chicago are working on one of the largest, and perhaps last, trials of organized crime kingpins in America, targeting some of the men who pulled the strings in Las Vegas during the darkest days of mob influence in the city.

At least 18 unsolved gangland murders could finally be solved. One former Las Vegas mobster says he's ready to tell the court what he knows about those crimes. Frank Cullotta has been in hiding for 25 years but he surfaced long enough to give an exclusive interview to the I-Team's George Knapp. (Part 1)

George Knapp: "Do you think of yourself as a hitman?"

Frank Cullotta: "Not really. I guess if you kill one person you're a hitman. I don't think of myself as a hitman."

But hitman or not, Frank Cullotta did kill people on orders from the mob. He murdered a man named Jerry Lisner in this house on Rawhide and left the body in the swimming pool. Cullotta won't say how many others he may have killed, but it's more than just Lisner.

When things began to unravel for the mob in Las Vegas, everyone was expendable, even the other members of the Hole in the Wall Gang, like Ernie Devino and Joe Blasko, both of who were slated for death. And the boss himself, tough Tony Spilotro, who was beaten to death in front of his brother Michael and then both were dumped in a cornfield. Even though Spilotro okayed a hit on his pal Cullotta, Cullotta still winces when he thinks of the brutal way Spilotro died.

Frank Cullotta said, "I know that Tony was a violent person himself and that he killed a lot of people and hurt a lot of people, but I grew up with this guy. I just don't think if I had to kill him, I could kill him that way. I'da just shot him."

The murder of the Spilotro brothers is one of the charges now facing 14 Mafia figures in Chicago, including longtime mob kingpin Joey The Clown Lombardo, the boss to whom Spilotro reported. Cullotta thinks Lombardo had to okay the Spilotro murders, as well as the murder of the mobster who botched the burial of the bodies. He's pretty sure a Mafia soldier named Al Tocco was also in on the hit and that the upcoming trial just might be the end of the line for the Chicago mob.

Frank Cullotta said, "I would think it's the end. I don't think it will ever be as strong or as organized as it was."

What about certain Las Vegas mysteries? Who tried to kill Frank Lefty Rosenthal by planting a bomb under his car on Sahara Avenue?

Contrary to law enforcement suspicions, Cullotta says it wasn't Spilotro for the simple reason that if Tough Tony had done it, Lefty wouldn't have escaped. What about their former lawyer, now Mayor Oscar Goodman? Might he have anything to fear from a tell-all book by Cullotta? Did he ever cross the line?

Cullotta said, "Nah, he's just got a big mouth. I got nothing to say about him. He's got the right job. He likes everyone to see him and hear him."

For the record, the mayor is no fan of Cullotta's either and says the former gangster is a notorious liar. Former strike force prosecutor Don Campbell who helped turn Cullotta from killer to witness says Cullotta's testimony was critical in the conviction of numerous mob figures, but he scoffs at Cullotta's suggestion that the Hole in the Wall members were modern Robin Hoods who only stole from other crooks.

Don Campbell, former federal prosecutor, said, "Like hell. They were absolute scum of the earth. They would turn on anyone. Themselves. They would rob their own mother. They were despicable human beings."

Cullotta says he's a much different person since going straight. He owns a business in an undisclosed town and says some of his new neighbors have figured out who he is from seeing old TV footage.

Cullotta said, "They know I'm a changed guy. I live a legitimate life. I don't harm nobody. They don't feel uncomfortable around me. As a matter of fact, they feel protected. Don't ask me why."

Cullotta's tell-all book is slated for release in late April. The Chicago mob trial is expected to begin in May.

Thanks to George Knapp

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

Saturday, January 20, 2007

JIM POWERS (1928-2007)

When Jim Powers took over the Las Vegas FBI office in 1977, he inherited a department in disarray and a town of well-entrenched mobsters. He vowed to address both problems.

One of his primary targets was Gold Rush Ltd., a jewelry store/fencing operation near the Strip. The FBI's raid of the place set the table for the demise of its owner, mobster Tony Spilotro, and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

James M. Powers, who later served as security chief for Steve Wynn's Golden Nugget and helped bring to justice the kidnappers of Wynn's daughter Kevyn in 1993, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 78.

"Jim was the best of what you would call Old Bureau FBI agents, those who had worked under J. Edgar Hoover," said former federal prosecutor Stan Hunterton, who is a local defense attorney. "He was disciplined and hardworking. Jim treated everyone with decency, and his integrity was above reproach."

Although Powers served just two years as special agent-in-charge of the Las Vegas FBI office, it was a pivotal time in Southern Nevada history - the beginning of the end of the mob's great influence on the region.

A year before Powers took the job, Spilotro had formed the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang with younger brother Michael Spilotro, boyhood chum Frank Culotta, Joey Cusumano, "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein, former Metro Police Detective Joe Blasko and others. The gang got its nickname by drilling through the walls of the buildings that it burglarized. Its headquarters was the Gold Rush - a block from the Strip - which also had opened in 1976.

Powers targeted the Gold Rush for a massive raid in which a large amount of evidence was gathered that helped lead to Spilotro's 1981 indictment on federal racketeering charges that eventually were dismissed. Spilotro was killed, presumably by mob associates, in 1986.

Born Oct. 4, 1928, in Springfield, Mass., Powers joined the Marine Corps in 1946 and served for two years. In 1953, he earned a bachelor of laws degree from Boston University School of Law. Powers joined the FBI in 1954, working in New York and Chicago before retiring in Las Vegas in 1979 and becoming vice president of corporate security for the Golden Nugget. He worked for Wynn until his retirement in the late 1990s.

Thanks to Ed Koch

The "Big Guy" From Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang Dies

The late Tony Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit's fearless, brutal soldier in Las Vegas, who once tortured a man by putting his head in a vise and squeezing it until one of his eyes popped out. But even Spilotro was unnerved by one man -- a member of Spilotro's own Hole in the Wall Gang, -- Lawrence Neumann.

Long before Neumann joined, he left a trail of violence.

In 1956, when Neumann thought he got shortchanged at an Uptown bar, he went back and shotgunned three people dead. Later, Neumann would be convicted of one more murder, and suspected in two others in McHenry County.

Neumann had a steady income from a trust fund, so he didn't need to steal, rob and kill to make money. Apparently, he just enjoyed it.

Now, his long history of violence has ended. Neumann, 79, in advanced stages of cardiac disease, died of natural causes Jan. 9 at Menard Correctional Center located Downstate. He was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m. in the medical unit of the prison where he was serving a life term for murder.

"As long as they don't remove the stake out of his f - - - - - - chest, we'll be all right," said onetime mobster Frank Cullotta during a telephone interview Wednesday from an undisclosed location. Cullotta was not particularly saddened to hear of Neumann's death.

Cullotta turned federal informant and testified against Neumann in a murder trial in 1983 that resulted in putting Neumann away for life. Neumann killed mob-connected jeweler Robert Brown during a robbery. Brown was strangled, hit on the head and when he wouldn't die, stabbed with a bayonet. "He was a real animal, the world's a better place without him -- a safer place I should say," Cullotta, who has written an autobiography that's soon to be released, said of Neumann.

Neumann was born in St. Louis, the son of a successful sporting goods salesman. He was kicked out of a Missouri military academy when he was 14, then attended Amundsen High School in Chicago, where he started running with a rough crowd and eventually dropped out, according to a published interview with his father in 1956.

It was in June of that year when Neumann went into Mickey's Miracle Bar with a shotgun he had bought on sale and unloaded on one of the owners, an employee and a patron, killing them all. He felt the bar had shorted him on change. The triple slaying sparked a citywide manhunt. Neumann's efforts to contact a "pretty divorcee" -- as she was described in news accounts -- helped police track him down. Neumann had vowed to kill one of the lead detectives trailing him. After a gun battle between Neumann and police, he surrendered peacefully. Neumann was sentenced to 125 years in prison but because of a change in parole laws, he was released after serving a little more than 10s.

Cullotta met Neumann when they were in Stateville Prison, and Neumann sought out Cullotta after both were released. "He wanted to be involved in my type of life," Cullotta said. So Neumann got into mob life, including Spilotro's burglary crew out in Las Vegas, called the "Hole in the Wall Gang" because members knocked holes through the walls of buildings to avoid alarm systems.

Dubbed "The Big Guy" and "Lurch," Neumann's hands were so big, authorities sometimes had trouble fingerprinting him. More than one top mobster -- who scared people for a living -- was frightened by Neumann, a fitness buff who reportedly did 1,000 sit-ups a day.

"Tony [Spilotro] was scared of him," Cullotta recalled. "He said, 'Please . . . don't ever get the The Big Guy mad at me or you.' "

Retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy said, "Larry would always go overboard," even by Spilotro's loose standards.

After Neumann died last week, no one claimed him. The state paid to cremate him, said Downstate funeral director Mike McClure. The prison chaplain will say a brief service next week over his cremated ashes in a plastic urn at Evergreen Cemetery in the nearby town of Chester.

At his request, Neumann, who was Jewish, was cremated with his yarmulke on his head.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir and Robert C. Herguth

Friday, February 21, 2003

Chicago Outfit Bosses Dive for Cover as Enforcer Nick Calabrese Talks

Editor's note: John Kass broke the story of the federal investigation dubbed "Operation Family Secrets" in February 2003.

Until recently, the bosses of the Chicago Outfit felt relatively safe, with their connections in politics and local law enforcement. But now, they're on the verge of FBI-inspired paranoia.

They're not concerned where fellow mob boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo is hiding these days. There's a good reason for The Clown to keep a low profile: Formerly imprisoned mob loan shark and enforcer Nick Calabrese is talking to the FBI, sources said.

Investigators are being given a road map through crime and time, including unsolved Outfit murders going back over decades.

FBI agents have spread out across the country armed with search warrants to collect DNA evidence, hair cuttings and oral swabs, from dozens of Outfit bigwigs. Sources familiar with the investigation said search warrants for the mob DNA have been sealed.

This must aggravate some folks, including imprisoned Chicago street boss Jimmy Marcello, convicted of bookmaking and loan sharking. Marcello hopes to be released from a 12-year federal prison term in a few months.

Marcello, Calabrese and Calabrese's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr, a convicted loan shark, spent years together inside. When old friends talk in prison, they reminisce about dis and dat and dat other ting, don't they?

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Thursday that Nick Calabrese's federal prison records had disappeared. My highly educated guess is that he is now in the witness protection program.

"No comment," said the U.S. attorney's office. "No comment," said the Chicago FBI.

Some of the victims of unsolved Outfit hits being discussed with FBI agents might be familiar to you.

They include Anthony Spilotro and Michael Spilotro, the vicious gangster brothers beaten to death and dumped in an Indiana cornfield in 1986. If you saw the movie "Casino," you know how it happened. Joe Pesci, one of my favorite actors, played Tony. And if you're a faithful reader of this column, you know why the Spilotros were available to be murdered. A few weeks earlier, they beat a federal criminal case against them in Las Vegas.

The key federal witness against them had his testimony undercut by a then-heroic former Chicago police chief of detectives, William Hanhardt.

Hanhardt's surprise testimony as a top cop and defense witness undercut the credibility of hit man-turned-government informant Frank Cullotta. (Frankie got a bit part in "Casino," too, as a hit man).

During the Spilotro trial, Hanhardt was a hero cop, with friends in the newspapers and in Hollywood, where he was glorified in the TV show "Crime Story."

Now, though, Hanhardt is serving a long federal prison term for running an Outfit-sponsored jewelry theft ring. Still, Hollywood may make a movie about him. But nobody made a movie about hit man John Fecaratta. He was killed outside Brown's bingo parlor on Belmont Avenue three months to the day after the Spilotros' bodies were found. The Spilotros weren't supposed to be found. Federal investigators figured Fecoratta was punished for botching the planting of the Spilotros.

Outfit enforcer Billy Dauber and his wife, Charlotte, left a Will County courtroom in 1980. They were hacked to pieces by shotgun blasts during a high-speed chase along a lonely country road.

Daniel Siefert was murdered in front of his family at his plastics manufacturing plant in 1974. Siefert was a key government witness in a federal case against Lombardo, in connection with a scheme that bilked the Teamsters Union pension fund out of millions of dollars.

Siefert was with his wife and 4-year-old son when the Outfit came for him. He ran a short distance after the first shot, but it knocked him down. A gunman walked up to the fallen Siefert, pressed a shotgun against his head, pulled the trigger.

Lombardo and six others were acquitted two months after Siefert's murder.

Nick Calabrese is not as flashy and as loud as his brother, Frank. Nick is quiet. He was to be released this year. Then a strange thing happened. His prison records disappeared. They don't exist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Carla Wilson, a bureau spokeswoman, was helpful Thursday in finding Frank Calabrese, and prison records on his sons, Frank Jr. and Kurt. But no Uncle Nick.

"If he were in the witness protection program, then we would not be able to access that information," she said. Then she said she had to check something and later had a different story about Uncle Nick's vanished records.

"I really can't speculate about that," she said. "All I can tell you is that I don't have any public information on him."

That's OK. We'll wait.

Thanks to John Kass


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