The Chicago Syndicate: Tony Spilotro
Showing posts with label Tony Spilotro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tony Spilotro. Show all posts

Monday, August 05, 2019

Attend a One-Day Conference "The Summit" to Discuss the Mob in Las Vegas at the @TheMobMuseum

THE SUMMIT: THE MOB IN LAS VEGAS



Date: September 21, 2019
Time: 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Oscar B. Goodman Room
Cost: Regular price $225. Member price $180 (20% off).

RVSP Today!

Join us for a one-day conference that centers on the Mob’s four-decade-long reign in Las Vegas. Engage in conversations with historians, journalists, agents, regulators and others on the Mob’s arrival in Las Vegas, its control of the Strip and its eventual dislodging from the casino industry. Dig deep into subject matter involving mobsters such as Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro.

Breakfast, lunch, a tour of The Mob Museum’s distillery, and a gift bag are all included.

FEATURED SPEAKERS

Oscar Goodman, author of Being Oscar: From Mob Lawyer to Mayor of Las Vegas, keynote speaker

Known for his trademark, no-nonsense tell-it-like-it-is style, Oscar B. Goodman, the 19th mayor of Las Vegas, served for 12 years before swearing in his wife, Carolyn G. Goodman, as mayor in 2011. Passionate about downtown revitalization, Oscar Goodman is the primary visionary of The Mob Museum. As former chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, Oscar Goodman worked feverishly to promote Las Vegas as one of the most exciting destinations in the world. Today, he is still formally engaged with the LVCVA, promoting Las Vegas as the city’s official ambassador. This self-proclaimed “happiest mayor in the universe,” Oscar Goodman is one of the nation’s best criminal defense attorneys and was named one of the “15 Best Trial Lawyers in America” by the National Law Journal. He spent more than 35 years defending some of the most notorious alleged Mob figures, including Meyer Lansky, Frank Rosenthal, Anthony Spilotro and others. In 1995, he appeared as himself in the movie, Casino. Oscar Goodman has been honored with the Public Leadership in the Arts Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Leadership Award for Public Service from the International Economic Development Council.

George Knapp, journalist

George Knapp moved to Las Vegas in 1979. He has progressed from part-time studio cameraman to investigative reporter and is currently chief reporter for Channel 8’s I-Team investigative unit. During his career, Knapp has been the recipient of countless journalism awards—including the DuPont Award from Columbia University and the Peabody Award.

John L. Smith, journalist and Mob historian

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author of more than a dozen books on Nevada subjects, including:



The Nevada Press Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2016. That same year, Northwestern University awarded him the James Foley-Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism and he also received the National Society of Professional Journalists Ethics in Journalism Award and the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics from the University of Oregon. Smith’s biography of Las Vegas civil rights activist and politician Joe Neal is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2019. As a freelance writer, his work regularly appears in the Nevada Independent and CDC Gaming Reports, and he contributes commentary for Nevada Public Radio.

Herm Groman, retired FBI agent

Herman Groman, is a retired FBI Special Agent and former director of security at a large Las Vegas hotel/casino.  While in the FBI, he specialized in deep, long-term undercover operations as an undercover operative in the areas of organized crime and narcotics. Herman also served as the agent in charge of several high-profile public corruption investigations. Later, he worked as a team leader of an FBI Special Operations Group that conducted surveillances of major terrorist cells and their associates throughout the United States. Prior to his extensive FBI experience, Herman served in the infantry in Vietnam. He was awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor. He resides in Las Vegas with his wife. They have two daughters and four grandchildren. His first novel Pigeon Spring, a Nevada thriller mystery, was released in the summer of 2010 and is selling all over the U.S, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. He is writing his second action packed Nevada based novel, Yucca Pointe, which will be published by Total Recall Publishing. He can be contacted on line at his website www.hermangroman.com.

Larry Gragg, historian

Larry Gragg is curators’ teaching professor of history at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Missouri. He has made more than 40 research trips to Las Vegas. Among his eight books is Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Culture (2013) and Benjamin Bugsy Siegel: The Gangster, the Flamingo, and The Making of Modern Las Vegas (2015).

Michael Green, historian

Michael Green, Ph.D., is a noted historian and associate professor in UNLV’s Department of History. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNLV and obtained his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. Green is the author of nine books about the history of Las Vegas and Nevada as well as broader topics in American history.

His books on the Civil War era include:



His works on Nevada include:



His college-level textbook, Nevada: A History of the Silver State, is near publication and he is writing a history of the Great Basin in the twentieth century. Green is also active in writing and speaking in the community. He writes the Politics column and blog for Vegas Seven, Nevada Yesterdays for Nevada Humanities and KNPR, and Inside the Beltway and Books for a newsletter, Nevada’s Washington Watch.

Geoff Schumacher, Senior director of content, The Mob Museum

As the senior director of content, Geoff Schumacher is responsible for exhibits, artifacts and public programs. Schumacher earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his master’s degree in history from Arizona State University. He started his 25-year journalism career at the Las Vegas Sun, where he was a reporter, editorial writer and city editor. He was the editor of Las Vegas CityLife and founded and edited the Las Vegas Mercury. He served as director of community publications for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 10 years and also wrote a weekly public affairs column for the Review-Journal. He culminated his newspaper career by serving as publisher of the Ames (Iowa) Tribune.

Schumacher is the author of two books:



He served as editor of Nevada: 150 Years in the Silver State, the official book commemorating the state’s sesquicentennial.

Jeff Burbank, Content development specialist, The Mob Museum

Jeff Burbank is content development specialist for The Mob Museum. He is the author of four books, including:



Monday, June 10, 2019

Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness

From burglary to armed robbery and murder, infamous bad guy Frank Cullotta not only did it all, in Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, he admits to it--and in graphic detail.

This no-holds-barred biography chronicles the life of a career criminal who started out as a thug on the streets of Chicago and became a trusted lieutenant in Tony Spilotro's gang of organized lawbreakers in Las Vegas. Cullotta's was a world of high-profile heists, street muscle, and information--lots of it--about many of the FBI's most wanted. In the end, that information was his ticket out of crime, as he turned government witness and became one of a handful of mob insiders to enter the Witness Protection Program.

"Frank Cullotta is the real thing," says Nicholas Pileggi in the book's Foreword, and in these pages, Cullotta sets the record straight on organized crime, witness protection, and life and death in mobbed-up Las Vegas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Legitimate Wiseguy Movie to be Directed by Roland Joffe' Featuring the Story of Chicago Outfit Mobster Tony Spilotro and The Kid He Mentored

He was one of the most ruthless, feared and notorious criminals ever to come out of the Chicago Outfit: Anthony ‘Tony the Ant’ Spilotro. Now, Roland Joffé and Chicagoan Nicholas Celozzi, who is the grand nephew of the late mob boss Sam Giancana and thought of Spilotro as his second father, are bringing Celozzi’s personal story with the mobster to the big screen. The film, The Legitimate Wiseguy, will be directed by Joffé, who was nominated for two Oscars for his brilliant work in the 1980s with The Mission and The Killing Fields.

The film is being described as a contemporary Bronx Tale and was scripted by Celozzi and James McGrath.

Monaco Films, founded by Celozzi and partner Michael Sportelli, will co-produce with financier/developer John Vojtech. The producers will start casting for the film’s three main lead roles — Spilotro, Celozzi and Celozzi, Sr.

Once casting is complete and the film is fully financed, locations will be in Los Angeles. and Las Vegas (where Spilotro’s rise and fall unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s, first as a team of burglars known as the Hole in the Wall gang that operated out of the Gold Rush and later as Chicago’s man in Vegas).

Most audiences will remember Spilotro as portrayed by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese’s Casino which was based on the Mafioso’s life and work in Vegas during that time. Celozzi’s mentor and a father figure was an enforcer for the Chicago Outfit and oversaw illegal gaming profits, known as “the skim” on behalf of the Chicago mob at a Las Vegas hotel.

Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael Spilotro would eventually both end up dead, buried in a pre-dug grave in a cornfield in the Willow Slough preserve (which is close to the Indiana-Illinois state line) after they left from their homes in Oak Park, IL for a meeting and ended up in the basement of a house in Bensonville, IL only to be mercilessly beaten/murdered.

Celozzi has been in the film business for long while. His film producing and writing credits include the documentary Momo: The Sam Giancana Story, which provides a more personal glimpse into the life of Celozzi’s infamous grand uncle. He also served as executive producer on the 2018 installment of the Kickboxer film franchise, Kickboxer: Retaliation and produced the 2016 Kickboxer: Vengeance, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dave Bautista. Celozzi also wrote and produced, among numerous other films, the psycho-thriller The Lost Angel, Nightmare Boulevard and Shattered.

The Legitimate Wiseguy, based on the true coming-of-age story of veteran Hollywood writer/producer Celozzi, showcases his complex relationship with Spilotro while the Las Vegas gangster quarterbacked the young Celozzi’s acting career in Hollywood.

He credits Spilotro with getting him cast as an actor in The A-Team, Hunter, Magnum P.I. and Pretty Smart. The story of how will be told in the upcoming film.

The Legitimate Wiseguy is described as “a story about family loyalty, an influential but deadly uncle, an oppressed father and an impressionable young man who’s background clashes with his desire to succeed in Hollywood at any cost.”

“I didn’t have the best relationship with my father and he and I argued, and Tony filled that void for me. It was like a Bermuda triangle. The more my father and I argued, the closer I relied on Tony. My father cut me off, I didn’t have a dime, where was I supposed to go? He is the one who went to Tony to ask him to help me. He didn’t like me going to Vegas all the time, but what was I going to do? Though Tony and I had a father-son relationship, I was playing checkers while he was playing chess,” Celozzi told Deadline. “He was always many moves ahead of me. At some point, he brought me further in.”

Celozzi added, “People say he was a sociopath and I understand that and I do believe it and I’m not pretending that he wasn’t, but I also saw a different side to him so when he died, it was very rough for me.”

Monaco Films is currently overseeing development and production of several feature-length films, including 2 Days/1963 which explores the underbelly of the Chicago Mob and their role in the JFK assassination.

A saying during that time in the upper echelon of organized crime circles was: “Kill a man he dies once, kill his son, he dies 10,000 deaths” referring, of course, to the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination of the then 46 year-old President John F. Kennedy. Prior to the election, patriarch Joe Kennedy had asked for a favor from the Chicago Outfit via Frank Sinatra who, in turn, went to mob boss Sam Giancana. Chicago delivered by messing with voting process and destroying ballot boxes to ensure a win. The project is being developed with Mark Wolper at Warner Bros. as a six-hour, limited series.

Afterwards, Bobby Kennedy was appointed Attorney General by his brother (the President) with one of his main missions to expose and erase organized crime and dragged a number of people to testify against the mob in the Senate’s Rackets Committee. It was under Kennedy’s reign that the national organized crime syndicate came under attack and resulted in a number of convictions including Anthony ‘Tony Ducks’ Carello, John Ormento, Frankie Carbo, Carmine Galante, Frank ‘Blinky’ Palermo and Alfred Sica and a slew of other men were exposed for having connections. It was seen by the syndicate as the ultimate betrayal by Joe Kennedy, who was a former bootlegger during prohibition.

For 2 Days/1963, Celozzi will relay the story told to him by his Uncle Pepe, Sam Giancana’s brother. The project is being sold by The Exchange and executive produced by Bonnie Giancana (Sam’s daughter). Also, Monaco Films has a crime thriller Revelation (formerly known as 6ix) in pre-production.

David Gersh of The Gersh Agency and Craig Baumgarten of Zero Gravity Management brokered the deal between Joffé and Monaco Films for The Legitimate Wiseguy.

Thanks to Anita Busch.

Friday, January 11, 2019

THE OUTFIT'S GREATEST HITS

The Chicago Outfit's Greatest Hits from 1920 to 2001.

1920: Big Jim Colosimo is slain in his popular Wabash Avenue restaurant, making way for the rise of Al Capone. Largely credited with taking the steps to create what would become known as the "Chicago Outfit"

1924: Dion O'Banion is shot dead in his flower shop across from Holy Name Cathedral. Chief suspects are his beer war enemies, the Genna brothers. Started hijacking whiskey right before the start of prohibition kicked in.

1929: Seven members of the Bugs Moran gang are gunned down, allegedly on orders of Capone, at 2122 N. Clark in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Moran himself, lucky man, is late for the meeting at the S.M.C. Carting Co.


38 Detective Special1930: Jake Lingle, a Chicago Tribune reporter in the mob's pocket, is slain in the Illinois Central train station. He had crossed many mobsters, including Capone. Shot behind the ear with a 38 caliber detective's special on the way to the racetrack, Lingle was given a hero's funeral. It was only later that it was learned that he was really a legman for the mob.


1936: Capone gunman and bodyguard "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn is gunned down at a Milwaukee Avenue bowling alley, the day before Valentine's Day. Given the timing, the Moran gang was suspected. In addition to his skill with a machine gun, McGurn was also considered a scratch golfer who considered going pro and boxed as a welterweight where he was known as Battling Jack McGurn. He is credited with over 25 mob kills and McGurn was also suspected of being the principal gunner and planner of the St. Valentines Day Massacre.


1975: Mob boss Sam Giancana is killed, while cooking sausage, in the basement of his Oak Park home after he becomes a liability to the Outfit. "The Don" calls Giancana the Godfather of Godfathers - The Most Powerful Mafioso in America. Started as a hitman for Capone. Rose to boss of the Chicago crime family. Friend of celebrities such as Frank Sinatra & Marilyn Monroe. Rigged the Chicago vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960.


Joe Batters1978: Six burglars who struck at mob boss Anthony Accardo's (AKA Joe Batters by the FBI and THE Big Tuna by the Chicago media) house are found slain across the city.


1983: Worried he will sing to the feds, mobsters gun down crooked Chicago businessman Allen Dorfman outside the Hyatt Hotel in Lincolnwood. Dorfman had already been convicted under operation Pendorf: Pentration of Dorfman, along with Teamsters President Roy Williams and Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, when he was hit by the Outfit afraid he would look to reduce his sentence.


1983: Mob gambling lieutenant Ken Eto is shot three times in the head. Miraculously, he survives and testifies against old pals.


1986: The mob's man in Vegas, Anthony Spilotro, and his brother Michael Spilotro are beaten and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield. Glamorized in the movie Casino in which Joe Pesci played "Tony the Ant". Opened up a gift shop at the Circus-Cirus Hotel and Casino where he based his operations. The Family Secrets Trial revealed that the two were originally murdered by a crew led by James Marcello in a house in Bensonville. 


2001: Anthony "the Hatch" Chiaramonti, a vicious juice loan debt collector, is shot to death outside a restaurant in suburban Lyons by a man in a hooded sweat shirt. Chiaramonti had been caught on a tape played at the trial of Sam Carlisi, grabbing a trucking company owner, Anthony LaBarbera, by the throat, lifting him in the air and warning him not to be late in paying juice loan money. LaBarbera was wearing an FBI body recorder at the time. Interesting enough, the restaurant where he was shot was a Brown's Chicken and Pasta, where I have had lunch a handful of times.

Thanks to the Chicago SunTimes and additional various sources.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

John DiFronzo, Leader of The Chicago Outfit, is Dead

The leader of the Outfit for more than a decade, notorious for his nickname and his cagey demeanor, died on Sunday-the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

John "No Nose" DiFronzo was 89 years old. He had Alzheimer's disease, according to noted Chicago attorney Joe "the Shark" Lopez who counts mob leaders as clients. "I knew that he was extremely ill and I thought that the ending was going to come and it finally did" Lopez told the I-Team during an interview on Tuesday.

DiFronzo was awarded the mob moniker "No Nose" early in his career when part of his schnoz was sliced off as he jumped through the plate glass window of a Michigan Ave. clothing store window to escape after a burglary. That incident in 1949 happened in the middle of a gun battle with police and left DiFronzo with a mangled snout.

Eventually plastic surgery restored the mobster's nose, but the nickname stuck. Sometimes he was also called "Johnny Bananas" by associates.

"John DiFronzo was at the top during a much different era than other times in history" said Chicago mob expert John Binder. "I mean they were still killing quite a few guys pre-years during the 1960's. Starting in the 1990's that really slows down and by the late 1990's there's very few certifiable or agreed-on outfit hits" said Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit."

DiFronzo had been a longtime resident of River Grove. He would meet weekly with Outfit underlings at a local restaurant near the apartment he shared with his wife.

The I-Team put his regular midday meetings under surveillance in 2009 and conducted a rare interview with the mob boss as he was leaving one of the luncheons. "Lunch with No Nose" as it was coined, was a rare glimpse into Outfit operations and perhaps the last time DiFronzo was seen on television.

The crime syndicate boss, who began as an enforcer, did serve prison sentences for burglary in 1950 and in 1993 for racketeering-and was a suspect in about three dozen Outfit crimes and some murder cases. But he was convicted only a few times and managed to escape the legal fate of many of his mob colleagues.

As the upper echelon of the Chicago Outfit went to prison for life in the 2007 Operation: Family Secrets case, DiFronzo was always thought to have been atop the list of those who would fall in the second round of federal indictments.

"I think about (mob hitman) Nick Calabrese saying that DiFronzo was there when they killed the Spilotro brothers" recalled Lopez. Anthony "Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael Spilotro were murdered by Outfit hitmen according to federal investigators and buried in an Indiana cornfield. The 1986 double murder was the subject of a Hollywood movie and has never been officially solved.

There never was a Family Secrets II and DiFronzo managed to hold the reins of power into his 80's.

After Lunch with No Nose, the octogenarian Outfit boss told the I-Team that he was "not concerned at all" about being prosecuted. As it turned out, he was correct. He met the fate of old age and a debilitating disease on Sunday morning, passing away less violently then some of those who crossed paths with the Outfit over the years.

"I would say John DiFronzo was no Tony Accardo" said Binder, referring to Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo the long-time Chicago consiglieri who died in 1992. "Now of course they (Outfit bosses) are working during different time periods. It's one thing to be leading an organization when its growing and it's at its peak. It's another thing to be leading an organization when it is clearly declining" Binder said.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff.

Reports that John "No Nose" DiFronzo, AKA Johnny Bananas, Chicago's Top Mobster has Died

Days earlier a “message” had been sent by Chicago mobsters, federal agents believed, when a small bomb exploded outside the home of the daughter of Outfit turncoat Lenny Patrick.

John DiFronzo was just one of a group of alleged mobsters for whom the Feds wanted to send a message back, immediately.

There was no hurry in DiFronzo that day as he breezed north on Dearborn as if it was a noon-time walk, declining to answer any questions.

DiFronzo climbed the ladder of the Outfit ranks from burglar to boss. Reporters nicknamed him “No-Nose” after he was cut jumping through a window in a Michigan Avenue burglary in the 1940s. But to his fellow organized crime brothers he was known as “Bananas” due to his complexion.

In January 1992, DiFronzo was indicted in California in a scheme to run a casino at the Rincon Indian Preservation near San Diego. He and fellow Chicagoan Donald Angelini, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy, though the conviction was over turned and he was released from prison.

By day DiFronzo worked as a car salesman at an Irving Park dealership and often by 4:00 he could be seen entering an Elmwood Park restaurant for his afternoon vodka.

DiFronzo’s name surfaced in the Operation Family Secrets trial in which mob heavy weights Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, Frank Calabrese, Sr. and James Marcello were convicted of taking part in a series of mob hits, including the murders of Tony Spilotro and Michael Spilotro.

During the trial, federal prosecutors named DiFronzo as part of the crew that killed “Tony the Ant” and his brother and buried them in an Indiana farm field. When asked during the course of the trial how prosecutors could name—and not charge—DiFronzo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars’ only response was “good question.”

The Elmwood Park mobster had reportedly been ill for some time. Within hours of the announcement of his death at the age of 89 his Wikipedia page was updated to list his birth as December 13, 1928 and his death as May 27, 2018.

Thanks to Carol Marin and Don Moseley.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Family Secrets Mob Book by @JeffCoen is Indispensable to Know How Chicago Truly Works

If you're interested in understanding the real Chicago—and there can be no serious understanding of this completely political city without examining the Chicago Outfit—then you'll soon have a great new book on your shelves:

"Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob" (Chicago Review Press) by Chicago Tribune federal courts reporter Jeff Coen.

Yes, Coen is a colleague of mine who is well-respected in our newsroom. But the reason I recommend this book is that I've followed Coen's work chronicling this case. His careful eye and clean writing style have produced years of compelling Tribune stories and now this authoritative account of one of the most amazing Chicago Outfit cases in history.

It involves the FBI's turning of Chicago Outfit hit man Nicholas Calabrese into a top witness and informer. Calabrese's access and insight into unsolved murders, offered up at trial by the expert killer and brother of a Chinatown Crew boss, were more than astounding. And, in a creepy but necessary way, illuminating.

Calabrese, a deadly though perpetually terrified hit man, testified against the bosses about more than 18 gangland murders in the federal Family Secrets case. Now mob bosses including his brother Frank, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Jimmy Marcello, and fellow hit man Paul Schiro will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Later this week an Outfit messenger boy—Anthony Doyle, a former Chicago police officer who worked in the evidence section and who visited Frank Calabrese in prison to discuss the FBI's interest in an old bloody glove—also will be sentenced.

From the witness stand, Doyle gave Chicago one of my favorite words, "chumbolone," the Chinatown Crew's slang for idiot or fool. He deserves a long sentence. Federal mob watchers consider him to be close to the Outfit's current overall reputed street boss, Frank "Toots" Caruso.

Outfit helpers like Doyle, placed in sensitive government posts, in politics, in law enforcement, in the judiciary, in city inspection and business licensing bureaucracies, have long allowed the Outfit to form the base of the iron triangle that runs things.

"Doyle was one of the most interesting aspects of the case," Coen told me this week. "Here you have a police officer as a mole telling the Outfit when evidence in a murder was being sought by the FBI. I don't think the public is aware of the effort that goes into placing people in low-key clerical positions that give them great access, people that can fly under the radar."

Doyle learned the FBI was interested in a glove worn by Nick Calabrese in the murder of John Fecarotta, who himself received an Outfit death sentence for botching the 1986 burial of brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro.

"If Nick doesn't drop that glove, the FBI doesn't have the physical evidence to tell him he'd be going away forever," Coen said. "Without the glove, they wouldn't have Nick."

Nick's testimony involved the planning and surveillance of his victims, and the final end that came to them, either by a remote-controlled car bomb on a suburban highway ramp, or shotguns from a van along a country road near Joliet, or the laying on of hands and feet and ropes in a suburban basement.

The movie "Casino" depicted Outfit brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro beaten to death in an Indiana cornfield. That's how many of us thought they were killed, until Family Secrets revealed that they were actually beaten and strangled in a Bensenville basement.

In the gangster movies, the hit men are usually the roughest characters. But Calabrese wasn't a movie hit man, he was a real one, so frightened that he wet himself during his first killing.

On the witness stand and in the book, he comes off like what he is, a nerd of homicide, a man plagued by a sickening fear that settled on him at the first one and became like a second skin, and he found one way to deal with that fear—meticulous planning.

"He was nothing like a movie hit man," Coen said. "During testimony, he looked like somebody you'd bump into at a store in your neighborhood. But if the bosses pointed him at somebody, they could sleep, knowing the murder would be done."

On my shelf, there are books I consider to be indispensable to truly knowing how Chicago works. There is:


And now, there is Jeff Coen's Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob.


Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Reveals the Inside Story of the Law's Battle to Remove the Influence and Corruption of Organized Crime from Sin City's Streets and Casinos

In 1971The Battle for Las Vegas, the Chicago mob, known as the Outfit, sent an enforcer to Las Vegas to keep an eye on its casino interests. When he wasn’t busy taking action against threats to their cash-skimming activities, he ran lucrative street rackets that included loan sharking, robbery, burglary, and fencing stolen goods. For the next 15 years nothing happened in the Las Vegas underworld without his knowledge and approval. His name was Tony Spilotro. In the 1995 movie Casino, Joe Pesci played a character based on Spilotro.

This book tells the real story of Tony’s time in Sin City and the law’s efforts to remove him. It was compiled from many sources, including books, public records, and newspaper archives. But in large part it is told by the former Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department detectives and FBI agents themselves; the men that actually conducted the investigations, and the current and former reporters who covered the organized crime beat.

In the pages of this book, the commander of Metro’s Intelligence Bureau tells what strategies were put in place to combat Spilotro and his ruthless gang. The reader rides along with a pair of Metro detectives as an evening of routine surveillance turns violent and deadly, and joins FBI agents as they track bags full of unreported cash from mob-controlled casinos in Vegas to the crime families in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Kansas City. It contains the inside details of the night Spilotro’s burglary crew broke into a business expecting a $1 million score, but instead walked into a joint Metro and FBI ambush. It also explains why one of Tony’s once-trusted lieutenants switched sides, sending shockwaves through organized crime families nationwide.

The adulterous relationship between Spilotro and the wife of his long-time pal and mob associate, Lefty Rosenthal is delved into. Rosenthal was considered to be a sports betting genius, and had been a major power in the Vegas gaming business until Tony arrived in town. After that, what could have been a panacea for both men turned into a nightmare. The affair between Tony and Geri Rosenthal was more than likely a contributing factor in the Outfit’s decision that Tony was expendable, resulting in his being beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

An intriguing mix of people are unveiled as the author takes his readers back in time to the mob days in Vegas : Lawmen that were heroes, and other cops that were rogues. There are gangsters who robbed and murdered; rats and informants who played both sides, crooked hotel and casino employees, dedicated prosecutors, and journalists that had to walk a fine line to maintain credibility with both the lawmen and the mobsters.

The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob, contains many photos and insights that won’t be found elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dennis Griffin's The Battle for Las Vegas (The Law vs. The Mob)

The inside story of the law's battle to remove the influence and corruption of organized crime from Sin City's streets and casinos.

In the 1970s and thru the mid-1980s, the Chicago Outfit was the dominant organized crime family in Las Vegas, with business interests in several casinos. During those years the Outfit and its colleagues in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cleveland were using Sin City as a cash cow. Commonly referred to as the "skim," unreported revenue from Outfit-controlled casinos was making its way out of Vegas by the bag full and ending up in the coffers of the crime bosses in those four locations.

The skim involved large amounts of money. The operation had to be properly set up and well managed to ensure a smooth cash flow. To accomplish that goal, the gangsters brought in a front man with no criminal record to purchase several casinos. Allen R. Glick, doing business as the Argent Corporation (Allen R. Glick Enterprises) purchased the Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda, and Marina. They next installed Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal as their inside man, and the real boss of the casino operations. Rosenthal was a Chicago native and considered to be a genius when it came to oddsmaking and sports betting. Under Lefty's supervision the casino count rooms were accessible to mob couriers.

But even with the competent Rosenthal in charge, there remained room for problems. What if an outsider tried to muscle in on the operation? Or just as bad, suppose one of their own decided to skim the skim? To guard against such possibilities the Chicago bosses decided to send someone to Vegas to give Rosenthal a hand should trouble arise. The successful applicant had to be a person with the kind of reputation that would deter interlopers from horning in, and make internal theft too risky to try. But the mob's outside man had to be capable of action as well as threats. In other words, he had to be a man who would do whatever it took to protect the Outfit's interests. So, in 1971, 33-year-old Tony Spilotro, considered by many to be the "ultimate enforcer," was sent to the burgeoning gambling and entertainment oasis in the desert. Spilotro, sometimes called "tough Tony," or "the Ant," was a made man of the Outfit and a childhood friend of Rosenthal. He was known as a man who could be counted on to get the job done.

Being an ambitious sort, Tony quickly recognized that there were other criminal opportunities in his new hometown besides skimming from the casinos. Street crimes ranging from loan sharking to burglary, robbery, and fencing stolen property were all in play. It wasn't very long before Tony had his hands into every one of these areas. As the scope of his criminal endeavors grew, Tony brought in other heavies from Chicago to fill out his gang. The five-foot-six-inch gangster was soon being called the "King of the Strip."

Federal and local law enforcement recognized the need to rid the casinos of the hidden ownership and control of the mob, and shut down Spilotro's street rackets. They declared war on organized crime and the battle was on. It was a hard fight, with plenty of tough guys on both sides. But it was a confrontation the law knew it had to win.

The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law Vs. the Mob relates the story of that conflict, told in large part by the agents and detectives who lived it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Was Lefty Rosenthal a Double Agent for the FBI and the Chicago Mob?

Retired FBI agent and author Gary Magnesen has changed his mind.

He no longer believes the late U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne was leaking materials from FBI search warrant affidavits to the mob in the early 1980s, as he wrote in his 2010 book, "Straw Men: A Former Agent Recounts how the FBI Crushed the Mob in Las Vegas."

He thinks Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal was a double agent, providing information to the FBI, then turning around and telling the Chicago mob what agents would be doing.

That way the good guys and the bad guys ended up protecting him while he played them.

In Magnesen's opinion, "Oscar Goodman, The Outfit and the FBI were all duped by the master oddsmaker and manipulator, Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal." Goodman was Rosenthal's attorney.

One example of Rosenthal's double agent role came to be known as "the Cookie Caper" and proved to be a huge embarrassment to the FBI in January 1982 during an investigation into skimming at the Stardust.

Rosenthal, as a top echelon informant, provided information to the FBI about how millions of dollars were skimmed and transported from the Stardust when businessman Allen Glick owned four Las Vegas hotels between 1974 and 1979, but Rosenthal actually ran them. The ownership changed, but the skimming continued until the Boyd Gaming Group bought the hotels in 1985. Glick was just a front, a straw man, for the mob. But he testified against the mob in the Kansas City trials in 1985, portraying himself as an unwitting victim.

Rosenthal neither testified against the mob nor was indicted in the skimming investigations.

Rosenthal told the FBI how the money was moved from the Stardust to the Chicago mob.

Magnesen detailed how agents watched as Stardust casino manager Bobby Stella carried a grocery bag from the casino on Tuesday afternoons and met Phil Ponto, another Stardust employee, and gave him the paper bag, which he took to his apartment. On Sundays, agents watched as Ponto would put the bag in his car trunk and drive to church. Afterward, he traveled to another store parking lot and met Joe Talerico, a Teamster, who put the bag in his trunk.

Talerico then flew to Chicago via Los Angeles and met with mob boss Joseph Aiuppa in a restaurant. After dinner, the much traveled bag landed in Aiuppa's trunk.

Mob money on the move wasn't enough to build a case. The FBI applied for a search warrant for Talerico's car, and Claiborne gave his approval. Magnesen now believes Rosenthal tipped the mobsters about the upcoming search. In January 1982, agents moved in, only to find cookies and a bottle of wine. No cash. Plenty of embarrassment.

In "Straw Men," Magnesen suspected that the judge, who committed suicide in 2004, was leaking information from FBI search warrant affidavits.

Another time, based on Rosenthal's information, agents decided to bug the executive booth at a Stardust restaurant, Aku Aku, hoping to catch Stella talking about the skim. Again, they sought approval from Judge Claiborne. Once the listening device was installed, the executives talked about innocuous subjects. Women. Weather. Golf. Almost as if they were taunting the FBI, Magnesen said.

Who leaked the information about the Aku Aku bug and Talerico's travels is akin to the other never-answered question: Who planted the bomb under Rosenthal's car in October 1982?

Theories are rampant. It's almost a trivial pursuit question for locals to theorize on who did it. Was it Spilotro, who had an affair with Rosenthal's wife, Geri? Was it the Chicago Outfit? Once again, Magnesen has a theory.

He believes it was ordered by Nick Civella, the Kansas City mob boss, who was tired of all the trouble Rosenthal had been creating in Las Vegas with his TV show and his seemingly endless quest for a gaming license. "Civella was dying of cancer and didn't care what Chicago thought about Lefty," Magnesen wrote in an email summary of his views. The bombing was 1982, Civella died in 1983.

Magnesen said he interviewed mob figure Joe Agosto a few weeks before he died in August 1983. Agosto said he had told Civella in 1977, "That Lefty. He's getting out of hand. He's stirring up dirt all over Vegas. He's dangerous. He could cause big problems with his big mouth and his TV show."

My favorite story of the bombing was from retired UPI Correspondent Myram Borders, who was driving home from the UPI office and passed Tony Roma's restaurant on Sahara Avenue. She heard a boom and saw Rosenthal's car blow up. She quickly turned into the parking lot.

"He scrambled out of the car and was jumping up and down patting his clothes. His hair was standing straight up … I didn't know if it was because of his recent hair transplant or the explosion that made it stand up so straight," she wrote in an email. "When I ran up and asked him what was going on, Lefty said 'They are trying to kill me.' When I asked who, he shut up."

Rosenthal died a natural death in 2008 in Florida. He was 79.

Magnesen said he wouldn't have said these things publicly about Rosenthal, but now it is widely known that Rosenthal was an informant. (I was the first to report it after his death.)

Of course, when Rosenthal cooperated with author Nick Pileggi for the book "Casino," he didn't reveal his informant status. Nor did that make it into the 1995 movie.

When the movie came out, Rosenthal said, "The way you saw it in the movie is just the way it happened."

Well, not exactly. He left a few historical holes.

Thanks to Jane Ann Morrison.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Frank Cullotta is At Peace with His Past

Frank Cullotta keeps reaching toward his face, trying to adjust something no longer there. His glasses.

Cullotta just finished a series of Lasik surgeries to right his vision. Gone are his recognizable, oversized frames. He now sees clearly but continues to focus his memory in the long-ago past.

Cullotta was a famous hit man for the Chicago Outfit, a self-described former “gangster, burglar, murderer, extortionist, arsonist” who admitted to the 1979 killing of con man Sherwin “Jerry” Lisner in Las Vegas. As was customary in those days, Cullotta acted on the order of Chicago Outfit overlord Tony Spilotro. The murder scene was depicted in the film “Casino.”

Cullotta was a consultant on the film, as he edged his way back into society while living under an assumed name. He spent two years in the federal witness-protection program after cutting a deal with the federal government in exchange for information about his former associates.

Today, the 76-year-old Cullotta earns a legal living as an expert in the culture that led him underground. He works as a guide for the Mob Museum, leading “Casino” tours of the primary points of interest featured in the 20-year-old mob movie, most of which was set in Las Vegas. The tours begin at the Mob Museum with a private walk-around hosted by mob historian Robert George Allen and include a bus tour of the city’s famous mob locations. The five-hour tours run monthly and cost $180, including a champagne toast and pizza dinner.

Guests visit such locations as the Casino House, where Cullotta carried out the Lisner murder; the setting for the Frankie “Blue” death scene in the film; the Las Vegas Country Club clubhouse where Spilotro and Moe Dalitz used to play cards; and the site of the Hole in the Wall Gang’s botched Bertha’s Household Products robbery on July 4, 1981, which led to Cullotta’s arrest. The bus also pulls into Piero’s Italian Cuisine, also used in “Casino.”

You see, too, the spot at Tony Roma’s on Sahara Avenue where in 1982, Lefty Rosenthal was nearly killed in a car-bomb explosion, spared by the hard-metal plate under the driver’s seat of his ’81 Cadillac Eldorado.

“I tell people that Lefty was a creature of habit,” Culotta said. “He always liked to have his ribs at Roma’s, once a week. He was an easy target.”

Cullotta is introduced to those on the tour by “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas” book author Nicholas Pileggi. “He brags about me, saying there would have been no book or movie ‘Casino’ if it was not for me,” Cullotta said.

Cullotta considers the obvious: He is the rare (hopefully) person taking these tours who actually has committed a murder.

How does it feel to be walking around with that experience, even more than 35 years later?

“Honestly, it never wakes me up,” Cullotta said. “If you do think about it, it’ll put you in the (effing) nuthouse. When I do these tours, then everything pops up into my head; people want to know if it bothers me. Of course. But if I thought about it 24 hours a day, I’d wind up in my car with a gun in my mouth.”

Cullotta says he compares his experience to that of a serviceman carrying out an order for his government.

“It’s like fighting a war,” he said. “I hate to use the military as a comparison, but that’s how it felt; I was carrying out an order.

“People are fascinated by me, and I understand that, but there’s a big difference in me today than there used to be. I mean, I used to be surrounded by celebrities, showgirls, politicians, a lot of money, people wanting to attach themselves to you. But it came at a price.”

Which was?

“I lost my freedom,” Cullotta said. “I had to change my life completely. But I have paid my debt to society. I’m under no pressure. I used to have headaches all the time, from tension, and I don’t have headaches anymore. I’m clean today. I’m very clean.”

Thanks to John Katsilometes.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Revisiting the Mob Career of Tony Spilotro

Tony Spilotro, who would eventually be portrayed by Joe Pesci in the Martin Scorcese film "Casino," was born and raised in “The Patch,” a near west side Chicago neighborhood that was a haven for Italian immigrants in the 1940s and 50sTony Spilotro. Spilotro entered high school at Steinmetz, but when his father had a stroke and died the next year, he dropped out and started a full-time life of crime. All but one of his five brothers, along with a number of neighbors, became members of the Chicago mob, and a few played starring roles.

During the 1970s, Tony Spilotro was fronted in Las Vegas by childhood friend Frank Rosenthal (portrayed by Robert DeNiro in "Casino"), who ran numerous mob-backed gambling operations, to become the enforcer for Chicago. Spilotro was already known for his brutality and quickly established an embezzling scheme that took a cut for mob families in Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

Leo Foreman was the first brutal murder that Spilotro was accused of, supposedly in retribution because the loan shark (Foreman) had disrespected Chicago mob boss Sam DeStefano. Spilotro also is thought to have murdered Tamara Rand, a California real estate broker, in 1975, because she was suing over an unpaid $2 million loan to Spilotro’s Las Vegas associate Allen Glick.

When Tony was blacklisted by the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1979, which barred him from being physically present in a casino, Spilotro’s role of enforcer was curtailed. By that time, he had branched out into other activities like fencing stolen property and conducting a burglary operation with his brother Michael. The first Chicago mob informants flipped by the FBI named Spilotro in the murder of Leo Foreman, and a half dozen other close associates who accused Spilotro of ordering or carrying out mob murders.

By the early 1980s, Spilotro had already broke with Rosenthal after he had an affair with Rosenthal’s wife. When Frank Cullotta, a childhood friend who had remained an insider, began to fear that Spilotro was going to kill him, Cullotta began talking to the FBI.

Spilotro was acquitted in Chicago on a murder charge stemming in part from Cullotta’s testimony, but by 1986 the mobster had been implicated in about 22 murders and had lots of enemies in and out of jail.  Among other high-profile killings, Spilotro was suspected of being involved in the murder of his mentor Sam DeStefano and mob kingpin Sam Giancana.

There are several theories about how Tony and his brother Michael were lured to a summit meeting likely in Bensenville or North Riverside, Ill., and subsequently beaten and killed on June, 14, 1986.

About 10 days after the murders, the partially decomposed bodies of Tony and Michael Spilotro were found buried in a cornfield within the 12,000-acre Willow Slough preserve, in Newton County, Indiana. The farmer who spotted the site of the burial investigated at first because he thought a poacher had buried a deer killed out of season. The coroner noted that the bodies appeared to have been beaten to death by several people, and numerous people were eventually convicted. Of the 7-8 suspects in the Spilotro killings, several were convicted, others flipped and received lighter sentences in later cases, but everyone who was known to be at the meeting where the brothers were murdered, went to jail or died.

Thanks to Pat Collander.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sam Giancana Memorabilia Subject of Courtroom Fight in Las Vegas

A defunct Mafia museum claims an auction house sold dozens of articles once owned by Sam Giancana, though the museum owns them - having bought them from the late Chicago boss's daughter.

The Mafia Collection LLC sued Munari Auctions and William Woolery on Monday, in Clark County Court. The Mafia Collection claims that it warned Munari that it owned the Giancana collection, but Munari auctioned them off on Nov. 22 anyway. It's a rather tangled tale.

The Mafia Collection claims in the lawsuit that it paid $23,300 to buy the artifacts from Giancana's daughter, Antoinette McDonnell, in 2009, and that has the bill of sale. It bought the articles for the now-closed Las Vegas Mob Experience, which featured artifacts from many prominent gangsters. The artifacts include photographs, court documents, furnishings and personal effects once owned by Giancana and passed on to his daughter.

McDonnell initially was a paid consultant for the Las Vegas Mob Experience, which was owned and operated by Murder Inc., according to a Las Vegas Review article on a previous lawsuit 2011.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience was an interactive exhibit housed in the Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and casino from 2011 to 2013. It featured artifacts from Giancana, Bugsy Siegel, Anthony Spilotro and others.

Before that exhibit opened, McDonnell sued Murder Inc. and the Mafia Collection in Clark County Court. McDonnell claimed the Mafia Collection never paid her for Giancana's items and that the selling price was too low.

In the present lawsuit, the Mafia Collection calls that lawsuit "frivolous," and says that a judge ruled against McDonnell in July this year and ordered her not to get rid of the artifacts in question. But McDonnell turned over the stuff to Munari Auctions, according to the lawsuit, and Munari sold some or all of them in November.

The Sam Giancana Estate Auction featured 152 "lots," including photos, documents, furniture and police and coroner reports about the mobster's 1975 murder in his Chicago home, according to the auction catalog.

The Mafia Collection claims that Munari's auction was "reckless and done in circumvention of the law, court order and the directive of the artifacts' owner" and done "for the gain and profit of both McDonnell and itself."

Some or all of the artifacts are housed and controlled by McDonnell's "appointed agent in fact," William R. Woolery, according to the lawsuit.

Mafia Collection seeks declaratory judgment that it owns the articles, possession of it, and damages for conversion.

Giancana was boss of the Chicago mob from 1957 to 1966. His alleged ties to President John F. Kennedy and the CIA are the stuff of legend. The CIA allegedly sought his help to assassinate Fidel Castro. Giancana was shot in the head in his Chicago home in 1975. He was 67.

Thanks to Mike Heuer.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Review of "A History of Violence: An Encyclopedia of 1,400 Chicago Mob Murders"

From his boyhood memories of the raid on a bookie joint under the Chicago apartment where he grew up to the murder cases he worked on as an officer with the Chicago Police Department's organized crime division, Harper College professor Wayne A. Johnson has been steeped in the violence of mobsters.

Isolated murders, such as the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre or the beating deaths of brothers Anthony "Tony the Ant" and Michael Spilotro, have become scenes in mob movies. "But nobody ever put it in one place before," says Johnson, who has done that with his new book, "A History of Violence:: An Encyclopedia of 1400 Chicago Mob Murders.1st Edition."

From the stabbing death of Harry Bush during the newspaper "circulation war" on July 6, 1900, to the Aug. 31, 2006, disappearance of 71-year-old Anthony "Little Tony" Zizzo of Westmont, Johnson has used court documents, police records, newspaper accounts and 14 years of personal research to compile more than a century of suspected mob murders.

"You know what makes it so insidious? Their ability to get into places that affect every aspect of our lives," says Johnson, who notes cases where politicians, judges and police officers cooperated with mobsters. "Once you are into these guys, they own you."

Appearing in countless articles and TV shows as an expert on the mob, Johnson spent 25 years as a Chicago police officer and served as chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission before getting his doctoral degree in education. He's now an associate professor and program coordinator of law enforcement programs at Harper College.

The stereotype of the Chicago mob as the Italian Mafia known as Cosa Nostra is a myth, says Johnson, who says organized crime boasts a diverse collection of people, including many immigrants, who learned how to make money through illegal methods. The criminal groups formed partnerships and cut deals with each other, he says.

Of the 1,401 murders Johnson details, he lists only 278 as "solved," and the number of people convicted of those murders is even lower. "Just because they weren't charged doesn't mean it's not solved," says Johnson.

In teaching his "Organized Crime" class, Johnson tells the Harper students that reputed mob boss Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, who died in 1992 at the age of 86, lived the last years of his life just a short drive away, on Algonquin Road in Barrington Hills.

Student Jackie Cooney, 30, of McHenry wrote a research paper that ended up adding early 20th-century murders to Johnson's book.

"I logged 108 murders, and, of those murders, a portion of them were mob murders," says Cooney, who says she's been interested in the mob since she got her bachelor's degree in history from Roosevelt University in 2008. "I find it fascinating how people make alternative choices to provide for themselves and their families."

Studying A History of Violence: An Encyclopedia of 1,400 Chicago Mob Murdersto become a physical anthropologist while excelling in her art classes at Harper, Daniella Boyd, 21, of Wheeling responded to Johnson's request to draw a grisly scene for the cover of his book. "I did some research," says Boyd, who spent about 12 hours making a graphite drawing of the toe tag on the left foot of mobster Sam Giancana, who was gunned down in his Oak Park home in 1975.

The suburbs are home to some of the most infamous mob murders. On Feb. 12, 1985, the body of 48-year-old Hal Smith of Prospect Heights was found in the trunk of his Cadillac in the parking lot of an Arlington Heights hotel. Suspected of being a sports bookie who had run afoul of the mob, Smith was lured to the Long Grove home of his friend William B.J. Jahoda and was tortured, had his throat cut and was strangled. Jahoda, who became a friend of Johnson's before his death of natural causes in 2004, testified against the mob and helped send reputed mob leaders including Ernest Rocco Infelice and Salvatore DeLaurentis of Lake County to prison.

Another gambling operator who angered the mob, Robert Plummer, 51, was found dead in a car trunk in Mundelein in 1982. He was murdered in a Libertyville house already notorious before it was purchased by a mobster and turned into an illicit casino. In 1980, in a crime that went unsolved for more than 15 years, William Rouse, 15, used a shotgun to murder his millionaire parents, Bruce and Darlene Rouse, in a bedroom of the family home.

"Some people romanticize the mob," says Johnson, who adds that he hopes his book not only makes people recognize the heinous brutality of mobster killings, but might also help solve some of the remaining mysteries. "I hope they read my book and say, 'Yeah, it was 20 years ago, but I know who killed so-and-so.' Maybe we can still do something."

Friday, November 09, 2012

R.I.P. Wishes for True-Crime Author Edward W. Baumann

Edward W. Baumann, a prolific reporter and author of true-crime books, worked at five Chicago-area newspapers over a career that spanned nearly four decades.

Mr. Baumann's specialty was covering crime, from trials and executions to the exploits of the Chicago Outfit. Often working with Tribune reporters John O'Brien and Ronald Koziol, Mr. Baumann's wealth of sources led to myriad front-page stories covering the city's underworld.

"He covered the rough-and-tumble life down in Chicago," said Harlan Draeger, a former reporter for the Chicago Daily News and the Sun-Times. "And he really dug into the history and spirit of the newspaper, during the glory days of newspapering in Chicago."

Mr. Baumann, 86, died Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the home of stepdaughter Lisa McCammon in Paxton, Ind., said another stepdaughter, Leslie Ferraro. He had been suffering from a blood disorder and heart disease, Ferraro said. He was a lifelong resident of Kenosha, Wis.

Edward Weston Baumann attended Bradford High School in Kenosha and served with the Army Air Forces in the South Pacific during World War II. He then earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin.

He began his newspaper career in 1951 at the Waukegan News-Sun and soon became the Waukegan correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. In 1956, Mr. Baumann joined the Daily News full time, covering criminal courts. He worked on the paper's rewrite desk and was an assistant city editor before joining Chicago's American in 1962. He later became the American's city editor and then the administrative assistant to the publisher of a successor paper, Chicago Today.

"I have very positive memories of him as an editor and a rewrite man," said former American reporter Len Aronson. "He was a very good writer, and he was very much always interested in a good story. And he managed a tumult of rogues at the American. There were more curmudgeons and characters in that newsroom than I've ever met in my life, and he seemed to ride that wave with good equanimity and good humor."

In 1974, Chicago Today was absorbed into the Tribune, which Mr. Baumann joined as a senior staff writer.Mr. Baumann covered a host of high-profile crimes, including ones that were planned but never happened. He wrote a front-page article for the Tribune in 1984 about a mob plot to assassinate former Mayor Jane Byrne for failing to push hard enough for legalized casino gambling in Chicago.

He covered the 1986 slayings of Chicago Outfit member Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael. That same year, Mr. Baumann wrote a detailed analysis of the top 10 Chicago mob figures featured in a celebrated 1976 photo, which authorities seized during a raid of an alleged mobster's home.

The photo, taken at a suburban restaurant, has often been referred to by law enforcement figures as "The Last Supper." Mr. Baumann described each of the 10 figures' fates after the photo was taken, riffing off Agatha Christie's novel "Ten Little Indians."

Mr. Baumann also edited the Tribune's INC. gossip column after the column's founder, Aaron Gold, died. "We always called Ed 'Invisible INC.,' because he didn't want his name associated with a gossip column," said retired Tribune reporter and WGN radio host Kathy O'Malley. "He was the essence of the grumpy old man, but he also was one of the funniest people I have ever met. He had a wonderful sense of humor."

Retired Tribune reporter Michael Hirsley recalled Mr. Baumann as a "very competent, very bright newspaperman" with little ego. "He could be very understated and self-effacing," Hirsley said.

A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Mr. Baumann also was active in the Chicago journalism community, serving as president of the Chicago Press Club and a director of the Chicago Newspaper Reporters Association. Both before and after retiring from the Tribune, Mr. Baumann and Ray Shlemon prepared the paper's Pulitzer Prize submissions each year.

Mr. Baumann wrote or co-wrote 10 true-crime books, including a profile of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

"I really admired Ed's writing style," Draeger said. "He had a nice, flowing style with a nice, journalistic touch. His books all had that characteristic, too."

Mr. Baumann spent almost his entire career commuting from Kenosha to Chicago, and he once calculated that the miles he rode daily in his career added up to circumnavigating the globe 42 times.

After retiring from the Tribune in 1988, Mr. Baumann freelanced, writing travel articles and crime stories for the Tribune. He also spent 13 years as a volunteer with the Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee, working as a cowboy, a roustabout and an animal handler.

Mr. Baumann's first wife, Caroline, died in 1975. A daughter, Amy Cairo, died in 2010. In addition to his stepdaughters, Mr. Baumann is survived by his wife, Lenore; a son, Corey; another stepdaughter, Carole Reid; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandson.

After private services, a public luncheon is set for noon Saturday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 7104 39th Ave., Kenosha.

Thanks to Bob Goldsborough.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sale of James Marcelle's Reputed Ranch Could Get Expensive for Former Owners

Being married to the mob can get expensive. For one senior citizen couple, William and Ann Galioto, it could wind up costing them $473,485.62. Plus interest.

The potentially big bill marks the end of a fascinating tale involving a horse ranch in Big Rock, just west of Aurora, a chatty mistress, and the head of the Chicago mob.

It begins as many sad stories do, as a love story — or at least as a story of mutual attraction in the flattering lighting of a Cicero strip club more than 25 years ago. That 's where a young woman, tending bar, met an up-and-coming Chicago mobster named James “Little Jimmy” Marcello. Marcello fell hard for the bartender, so hard he began a relationship with her lasting for decades.

In 1986, Marcello signed a contract to buy a ranch in Big Rock for him and his mistress. They used assumed names, Connie and James Donofrio, and even gave the property a cute name — the C&J Ranch, records show.

Marcello paid his mistress thousands of dollars a month for living expenses. He figured she would never rat on him, even though Marcello learned early on that his mistress had once been a snitch for the federal government. Little Jimmy was wrong.

Just how wrong he would learn in 2007, as he sat in a federal courtroom in Chicago, as a defendant in the historic Family Secrets mob trial, watching his former mistress testify against him.

By then, Marcello ran organized crime in Chicago. His conviction in the Family Secrets case would send him to prison for life. Marcello helped murder several people for the Chicago mob, including setting up Anthony and Michael Spilotro. In 1986, Marcello drove the brothers to the Bensenville area home where they thought they were receiving promotions within the mob. Instead, they were beaten to death.

As part of Marcello’s sentence, a federal judge ordered him to pay more than $4.4 million in restitution. The court order would create complications for the Galiotos.

Ann Galioto is James Marcello’s sister and an entrepreneur in her own right. She is listed as the president of a company that ran a strip joint, Allstars Gentlemen’s Club, for years in west suburban Northlake, before the club burned down in 2010. At the time, the fire attracted the attention of federal investigators, as did the financially creative way some of the club’s strippers were allegedly being paid, according to a law enforcement source.

Ann’s husband, William, is a former Chicago cop, who made headlines in 1995 when Mayor Daley killed a multimillion-dollar low-interest city loan to him and his partners to build a movie studio on the West Side, over concerns about Galioto’s past.

More recently, William Galioto had his name on another real estate deal — Marcello’s horse ranch in Big Rock, the feds say.

While the feds allege Marcello bought the property, it was put in William Galioto’s name. At one point, while Marcello was in prison, he was secretly taped by the feds discussing whether the property should be transferred out of his brother-in-law’s name to one of Marcello’s flunkies. Marcello was worried he couldn’t trust the Galiotos, according to the feds.

That never happened, and in 2008, after Marcello was convicted in the Family Secrets case, Galioto sold the ranch for about $500,000. The feds contend that William Galioto was merely acting as a front for his brother-in-law, Little Jimmy. Prosecutors call William Galioto nothing more than Marcello’s “alter ego” in the ranch sale. The feds want those sale proceeds, however they can get it.

A federal judge will decide if the Galiotos will be on the hook for the money. An attorney for the Galiotos declined to comment Monday.

So for now, the federal tab goes to the couple — $473,485.62. Plus interest.

Thanks to CST.

Friday, March 30, 2012

5 West Coast Mob Travel Spots

With a roster of names like Jimmy the Weasel, Tony the Ant, and Flipper Milano, you might think of characters from a kids cartoon. Well, fuhgeddaboudit. They're all West Coast mobsters. And, while cement shoes and "made men" are typically associated with New Jersey, New York and Chicago, plenty of Cosa Nostra action went down in the West. Here are five hideouts where you can get a piece of the "family" business.

1. The Mob Museum, Las Vegas
Located in the former federal courthouse where mobsters such as Tony Spilotro and Lefty Rosenthal were prosecuted, this museum tells the story of organized crime and the authorities who tried to shut it down. Listen to wire-taps of mobsters, join a police lineup and wince at graphic photos of mob hits. 300 Stewart Ave., (702) 229-2734, www.themobmuseum.org.

2. Romolo's Cannoli, San Mateo
After icing Paulie in "The Godfather," Peter Clemenza turns to Rocco and says, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." Drop in and bump off a couple of these rich Sicilian pastries. Filled with bourbon vanilla bean ice cream, or ricotta cream blended with sugar and spice, this is an offer you can't refuse. Closed Monday and Tuesday. 81 37th Ave., (650) 574-0625, www.romolosfactory.com.

3. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood
When Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was suspected of skimming money from the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, his East Coast pals gave him the Moe Green Special - death by bullet in the eye - at his girlfriend's Beverly Hills home. Come pay your respects at the tomb where Bugsy is taking a permanent "dirt nap"; the inscription reads "In loving memory from the family." 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 469-1181, www.hollywoodforever.com.

4. Capo's, Las Vegas
Knock on the door; a peephole pops open, and a heavy Italian accent asks if "You gotta reservashun?" With blood-red booths, chandeliers dripping crystals, and live Sinatra music daily, this "luxury mafia-chic" restaurant is the perfect spot for a couple of goodfellas and their molls to grab a bite. 5675 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 364-2276, www.caposrestaurant.com.

5. Cal Neva Resort, Crystal Bay, Nevada
Looking to hide out? Head for the tunnels below Cal Neva, the first legal casino in the United States. When Frank Sinatra owned this pad in the '60s, he dug tunnels from the casino to private cottages, so he and his favorite guys and dolls - including Marilyn Monroe, Joe Kennedy and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana - could move about discreetly. Tour the tunnels Tue.-Sun. 2 Stateline Road, (800) 233-5551, www.calnevaresort.com.

Thanks to Diane Susan Petty

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Meeting Frank Calabrese Jr.

It was a tattoo that almost got Frank Calabrese killed. He'd had it etched across his back while he was in Milan prison in Michigan: a large map of America over which prison bars have been superimposed with a pair of hands reaching out through them in handcuffs. He'd designed it himself, to make a point, he says, about "how you are free in America but somehow not free".

The tattoo was drawn by a fellow inmate, against prison regulations, with the connivance of a guard whom they bribed to look the other way.

Soon after he'd had it done, Calabrese was walking around the prison exercise yard. He was wearing a wire, his torso wrapped in recording equipment like a Christmas tree. Walking beside him was one of the world's most dangerous men – a killing machine from the Chicago mob whose preferred method of assassination was the rope and knife.

Calabrese had just succeeded in enticing the other man into telling him about a succession of murders he'd committed, including that of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael, immortalised by the film Casino. The unwitting confession was captured by the wire and recorded for later analysis by the FBI.

Suddenly the older man stopped and asked to see Calabrese's new tattoo. "Why've you been covering it up? Let me see it," he said. It was an instant death warrant. If Calabrese lifted up his shirt and revealed the wire, the older man, who was shorter than him but immensely powerful, would know he had been betrayed and would kill him on the spot with his bare hands. It was 300 yards to the prison door and Calabrese calculated he wouldn't make it, deciding instead to stand his ground and bluff it. He pulled his shirt down and refused, saying it would get him into trouble. The older man looked puzzled for a second, then relaxed and backed off.

Should Calabrese have been exposed at that moment as an FBI informant, it would have put an end to the largest mafia investigation in American history. As it was, he went on to hold many more hours of taped conversations with the older man that helped to blow apart the Chicago mob. The Outfit, the organised crime syndicate of Al Capone that had terrorised the city for 100 years, had finally got its comeuppance.

That exchange in the prison yard was significant for another, more personal, reason. The older man whom Calabrese was secretly recording, condemning him in the process to spending the rest of his life in prison, had the same name as him: Frank Calabrese. Senior. His father.

Hollywood revealed to Frank Calabrese Jr the truth about his father. Until he saw his own domestic life play out on screen, he'd assumed he was from a normal family.

Home life in the heavily Italian and mafia-frequented neighbourhood of Elmwood Park was dominated by his father's Sicilian roots. Three generations of Italian-Americans – his grandparents, parents and uncles, brothers and cousins – were crammed into the house they called the Compound. Frank Jr was the eldest of three sons, and his father's favourite.

What his father did all day was a mystery to the young boy. When other kids at school asked him how his dad made a living, he was nonplussed.

"Tell them I'm an engineer," Frank Sr would say.

"What, like a choo-choo-train engineer?"

"No, tell them I'm an operating engineer."

Calabrese was 12 when The Godfather came out. The Corleone family it portrayed was strikingly similar to his own. Art was imitating life, or was it the other way round? His father was friendly with Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi, the Godfather's son-in-law, in the movie. One night, Russo was being interviewed on a show and pulled out a knife he said had been given to him by a mobster.

"I gave him that knife," Frank Sr said as they sat watching TV.

Years later, in one of the taped conversations Frank Jr had with his father, Calabrese Sr remarked that Mario Puzo's account in the original book of the initiation ceremony for "made men" was spot on. "Whoever wrote that book, either their father or their grandfather or somebody was in the organisation," said Calabrese Sr, who, as a "made man" himself, knew what he was talking about.

"So you mean they actually pricked the hand and the candles and all that stuff?" Frank Jr asked.

"Their fingers got cut and everybody puts the fingers together and all the blood running down. Then they take pictures, put them in your hand, burn them. Holy pictures."

A few years after The Godfather came out, Frank Sr began to draw his son into the family business. It was a slow, almost imperceptible process. "He started to involve me in little things," Calabrese said. "It was like, 'Hey, son, do this for your dad. Go take this envelope, go deliver this to a store.'"

Calabrese was encouraged to keep a low profile. "We were taught to blend, to fly under the radar. My father told me to drive Fords and Chevies, not Cadillacs or BMWs. Wear baseball caps, not fedoras, ski jackets, not trenchcoats."

At 19, Calabrese was allowed to take part in mob activities, starting with collecting money from peep shows and graduating into keeping the books. It was an education of sorts. "I learned all my maths through the juice loan business." As he became more central to his father's racketeering and gambling concerns, the lessons became more specific. Calabrese was shown by his father how to hug someone to see if they were carrying a gun or wearing a wire.

Calabrese embraced his new life. "When I bought into it, I bought into it strong. Whatever my father told me to do, that's what I did. I didn't fear law enforcement, or jail, or death. If my father told me to walk full-speed into that wall, I would."

Then, at the age of 26, Calabrese was invited to take part in an initiation ceremony all of its own – his first gangland murder.

For a key prosecution witness in a massive mob case that took down 14 top mafia bosses, Frank Calabrese Jr comes across as remarkably relaxed. He's not in a witness protection scheme, lives under his own name, and when I visit him in a condo apartment outside Phoenix in Arizona, he readily opens the door and welcomes me in without so much as a frisking. How does he know I'm not a hit man sent from Chicago to exact revenge? "I don't," he says.

Calabrese looks the part of a Chicago hard man. His head is shaved, accentuating his large ears and piercing blue eyes. He's wearing a sleeveless vest and slacks, which display the product of hours spent pumping iron. When he speaks, though, Calabrese does so with a surprising softness and introspection. It's a bit like listening to Tony Soprano talking to his therapist (Calabrese is a big Sopranos fan – he watched the whole series with his mother and ex-wife, wincing at the parallels with his own family).

Hanging on the wall of his apartment is a framed photograph of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr from the original Ocean's 11. His father, he explains, was friendly with Sinatra's bodyguard.

Frank Calabrese Sr – aka Frankie Breeze – was born in 1937 into a poor Italian family on the west side of Chicago. He left school at 13 and could barely read and write. By 16 he had begun to make money as a thief and later developed a "juice" loan business, extracting exorbitant rates of return. It was a lucrative enterprise: at its peak he had $1m out on loan with collections of up to 10% per week. After the trial ended and the elder Calabrese was given multiple life sentences, the FBI searched his home and found $2m-worth of diamonds and almost $800,000 in bills and property deeds.

In 1964, Calabrese Sr was "whistled in" to the Outfit by a much-feared mafia underboss called Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra. The nickname came from what LaPietra would do to anyone who fell behind with their loan repayments: hang them on a meat hook and torture them with a cattle prod or blowtorch. Cause of death – suffocation from screaming. The younger Calabrese grew up thinking of LaPietra as "Uncle Ang".

Together with LaPietra and his own brother, Nick, Calabrese Sr developed a specialist role as the Outfit's murder squad. Calabrese Jr was given an insight into that as a teenager one night when his father came home and hurried him into the bathroom. With the fan on and the water running so no one else could hear, he breathlessly recounted a hit he'd just carried out. "We got 'im… Our guy wasn't listening to the rules, so we shotgunned him."

Those who were "retired" by Calabrese Sr and his brother included Michael "Bones" Albergo; John Mendell, who rather foolishly robbed the home of the Outfit's consigliere, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo; a business rival called Michael Cagnoni, who was blown up in his car; rogue mobster Richard Ortiz; and Emil Vaci, a Las Vegas-based gangster the Outfit feared might inform against them. Then there were the Spilotros of Casino fame. Tony Spilotro was head of the Outfit's Vegas arm, running a gambling and "skimming" business (skimming off casino profits without telling the tax authorities). He got too big for his boots, and when the bosses found out he was having an affair with another made man's wife, they wanted him gone.

Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were lured to Chicago under the pretext that Michael would be "made" and Tony would be promoted to capo. Instead, they had ropes thrown around their necks and were strangled – the legendary "Calabrese necktie".

The younger Calabrese's own brush with murder came in 1986 when he was chosen to take part in a hit on John "Big Stoop" Fecarotta. He was to sit in the back seat of the getaway car. "I was ready to murder for my dad," Calabrese says. "You always need two guys in the car, and I was to go with my uncle Nick. If I'd crossed that line, there would have been no coming back. But my uncle talks me out of it. He tells me, 'This ain't for you. You don't want this life.' He saved me."

That was a turning point for Calabrese, in both his relationship with the mob and, by extension, with his father. When he was young, his father was loving towards him, always ready with a hug. But as Calabrese Sr came increasingly under the influence of the murderous LaPietra, he changed, growing colder and more brutal towards his son. "His temper became shorter, he would be quicker with his hands, more controlling. He didn't think twice about cracking you in the face."

The younger Calabrese came to see how manipulative his father was, switching personalities at the click of his fingers. "If you were sitting with him here right now, you'd love him. He'd charm you. But when you'd gone, he'd turn into his second personality – a controlling and abusive father. And his third personality was the killer."

To try to wriggle out of his father's tight embrace, Calabrese set up in business on his own. He opened Italian restaurants, and later began dealing cocaine. He kept that hidden from his father, knowing that if he was found out "the old man would have killed me". He also kept secret his own intensifying addiction to the drug. In a desperate move to break free and to keep his habit fed, Calabrese began stealing from a cache of about $700,000 in $50 notes his father had tucked behind a wall in his grandmother's basement.

Not a good idea. When his father discovered the losses, and who was responsible, he issued a decree. "From now on, I own you," he told his son. "The restaurants are mine, your house is mine, everything is mine."

A few months later his father asked Calabrese to join him for a coffee. They met at a lock-up garage used by the crew. "As I opened the door I realised, oh shit! He's setting me up. He slams the door, turns and sticks a gun in my cheek. Then he says: 'I would rather have you dead than disobey me.'"

Calabrese started sobbing and begging for forgiveness. "Somehow I got out of that garage. As we got back in the truck, he started punching me and back-handing me in the face. My tears were rolling down and all I could think about was how I could never trust this man again. From that day on, I have never trusted anybody. Nobody."

The decision to turn informant against his own father was taken in 1998 inside Milan prison where both Frank Calabreses were sent after being found guilty of racketeering and illegal gambling. Imprisonment was the best thing that happened to the younger man. It allowed him to kick his cocaine addiction, and to become healthy once again. Most important, it freed him from his father's control.

He became determined that as soon as he was released he would make a new life for himself. "I decided that I was going to quit the Outfit. I'd wound up in prison, on drugs. That wasn't what I wanted any more. I had to find a way to go straight when I came out."

But he knew a huge hurdle stood in his way: his father. He had a choice. Either he could wait until they were both out, then confront his father and tell him he wanted to leave the family business, in which case there would almost certainly be a showdown and one of them would end up dead. Or he could cooperate.

The FBI called their investigation Operation Family Secrets. The 2007 trial lasted three months and took into account 18 murders. In addition to his father's life sentences, long prison sentences were eventually handed out to seven other Outfit bosses. It was an extraordinary result given the history of the Chicago mob. In its 100 years, the Outfit had committed more than 3,000 murders, yet before this only 12 convictions had been secured. Until Calabrese took the stand, backed up by his uncle Nick, who had also turned prosecution witness, not a single made member had been held accountable.

During the trial, the younger Calabrese gave evidence against his father standing just feet away from him in the courtroom. "The one thing I wasn't ready for was the emotional part. I walk into the courtroom and it's the strangest feeling I've ever had. There was my dad. Part of me wanted to go over to him and hug him and say, Dad, I'm going to take care of you. It's going to be OK. Man, I wasn't prepared for that."

As he left the courtroom at the end of his testimony, "the tears just started streaming. An agent asks me, 'Are you OK?' And I say, 'No, I've just realised that's the last time I'll ever see my dad.'"

He was right about that. The elder Calabrese, now 74, is being held in a maximum security institution in Missouri where he has been kept for the past two years in almost total isolation. He is permitted no visitors, nor any contact with other prisoners in a regime reserved for a handful of the most serious terrorists and serial killers.

Calabrese left Chicago after the trial and moved to Phoenix, partly to get away from his past and partly because the hot, dry air of Arizona is good for his health. A few years ago he discovered he had MS and though he keeps it at bay with exercise, it causes him to limp.

He lives with his two children, Kelly and Anthony, and makes a living as a motivational speaker, telling law-enforcement conferences and self-help groups how he has turned his life around. He is unmarried, but his former wife Lisa lives nearby and they remain close. She is still deeply afraid, he says, that his father will seek retribution and she has pleaded with him to enter witness protection. But he continues to refuse. As he writes in his book: "I'm pragmatic. If people can kill presidents, they can kill me. Nobody is invincible and completely safe in today's world."

When I ask to see the tattoo that nearly got him killed, he pulls up his shirt to reveal that his back carries not only the drawing of the map of America with prison bars, but also seven small tattoos depicting bullet holes – like the ones you get on cowboy posters. "I feel I'm always going to have to watch my back," he explains, "so those bullet holes are a reminder to me to be alert every day."

Regrets, he has a few. He still finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he committed the mobster's ultimate sin by ratting on another. And though he is convinced he made the right decision, he is still deeply troubled by the outcome. "At this stage in his life, as my dad gets old, I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to be his protector, not his executioner."

Can there be forgiveness between them, the Frank Calabreses? "I can forgive him. I love my dad to this day, I just don't love his ways. But I don't think he can forgive me. I really don't. I wish he could."

Calabrese says he's resigned to the grip his father has, and will for ever have, over him. "I know in my heart that the day my father dies he'll haunt me," he says. "This will go on for eternity. I don't know what to expect in the next life, but I do know that wherever it is he will be waiting there for me. And he's not going to be happy with me."

Thanks to Ed Pilkington

When You Get Serious About Tailgating


Crime Family Index


Operation Family Secrets