Last week, the news came that former Las Vegas mobster Frank Cullotta had passed away due to health complications including COVID 19.
He was 81 years old and the last of the Tony Spilotro‘s Las Vegas crew known as “The Hole in the Wall Gang”. What a life that man lived!
Some of you long time TVT fans know, we were the first podcasters and even the first “media” people to interview him when he left the witness protection program and was about to release his biography.
This was all arranged by our friend and the man who co-wrote his biography, true crime author Dennis Griffin. Denny was the second person we ever interviewed for the podcast!
Over the years, I had several opportunities to be with Frank, talk, and get caught up on what the man was up to in his retirement years. And he was a busy old man!
Frank was a friend of the Show
For me, I always considered a friend of mine and of The Vegas Tourist. So some have asked about him and wanted to know more about the history of the man.
I am planning to do an update video on him and his Vegas days soon. But for now, I thought of doing a little roundup of how you can read more on his life and the times of when the mafia ran las Vegas.
Frank, working for Tony, was part of the Chicago “outfit”, here to watch over the Ls Vegas casino skimming operations and to protect their main money man Frank “Ace” Rosenthal. Ace was the man who ran the Mob’s operations at the Stardust, Fremont, Marina, and the Hacienda casinos.
Yes, this was all the basis for the movie “Casino” with Robert Dinero. Frank was actually one of the technical advisors on the movie. Frank become an actor in the movie when several of the killing scenes he was supervising, were recreations of hits he actually did.
Meeting Dennis Griffin
Having just started the podcast, I was reading up on the Mob and of course, the movie “Casino”. That led me to the book “The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob” by Dennis Griffin. A very well written book using real sources, real people for his information. Unlike other Vegas “Mob” books, these were not stories told to him by people who thought they knew the people who did the crimes.
Dennis (Denny) was talking to the actual mobsters and law enforcement people who were part of the crimes and the takedowns. His main source for the mafia side of the story was the one man who either did the crimes or was the man who helped plan the crimes. That would be Frank Cullotta. At first, they talked through his FBI handler, Dennis Arnoldy, then finally in person, and over time became good friends.
A few weeks after that podcast hit, Dennis called me up and asked if we wanted to actually meet Frank and to do a podcast with him? How could I say “No” to that offer? There was one hitch to it all. Frank was coming out of the Federal Witness Protection Program and was about to release a book on his life. A book that was co-written by Dennis Griffin.
The kicker for us was, nobody was to know Frank was in town or that we were going to be interviewing him. Stressing the word “Nobody”
There were a few other little nuggets attached to that interview that I can into a little later. But for now, it was Denny, Frank, and his former FBI handler Dennis Arnoldy.
Meeting Frank Cullotta
Before I start here, I need to confess that I was raised on Saturday morning cartoons. Back when they were funny and well animated. So seeing the mobster walk into my living room with an FBI agent, like two old friends coming off the golf course, reminded me too much of the old Warner Brothers Cartoons Ralph Wolf & Sam Sheepdog! Seriously!
As they said in the podcast: Despite what their jobs were, it was nothing personal. It was just business. In the end, they’re just people trying to live their lives and do their jobs. Both men were very good at what they did for a living.
The interesting thing about Frank and in many ways his mannerism that reflected those in Dennis Arnoldy, was that you knew where you stood with them. They were both upfront, honest and well-spoken men. They both would tell you what they think you needed to know and not a word more!
Mr. Arnoldy, being FBI, was always a little less in words to say what needed to be said and he always measured his words carefully. Where Frank just answered the question, nothing more. So you knew it was answered the best you were going to get and to move on to the next question.
The Business of the Mob in Vegas
Frank Cullotta was Tony Spilatro’s right-hand man. They grew up together in the mean streets of Chicago before getting a chance to come to the wide-open spaces of Las Vegas. For Frank, that came in 1979. To earn some extra money, he was tasked with creating what was known as the “Hole in the Wall Gang”.
Back then, home or business security meant some magnetic switches on the windows and doors of the building. If the magnet was moved, the switch was turned on and tipped the alarms. There were few if any that would have anything that felt motion. So to break into the place and not set off the alarm, you break a hole in the wall and enter the house or business there. Thus, you have the Hole in The Wall Gang.
Reading his book, you get to know the man and what made him tick. For him, this was all business. and business was good. So I needed one question answered. Was Las Vegas a safe place to live with the Mob here? The answer was a simple “Yes.” Asking for a little more clarification, he said that people living here knew their places in society.
I had a friend who’s mother ran a store that was frequented by Tony. She never believed Tony was this cold-blooded killer the press made him out to be. She was not in the mob, so why should she think that? She never had a reason to see the mob in action or to fear them.
However, if you were in the mob, you knew the rules and you knew the penalties for breaking those rules. In simple terms, that’s what life was like here in Las Vegas. People also forget that back then, Vegas was a small town in the middle of the desert.
Vegas was a place Ma & Pa Kettle from Iowa would NEVER venture out to as easily as they can today. You needed to have a certain level of wealth and stature to make Las Vegas your vacation playground.
Holes in the Desert?
Asking about the holes in the desert? Frank asked if I was asking about how many there were or where were they? Ok, that question was answered. next question.
Just for the record, That question was answered in a lot greater detail several times in several other conversations over the years! Yea… Ok… Moving on….
Frank made it clear, the Mob was a business. At that time, it was a well run, a well-organized business that made a lot of money, and yes, people died in the business. You never really “left” the business breathing. However, as the years went by, it became a less organized business with fewer rules and structure.
People stopped looking out for each other and started to look out for themselves. That was one of the reasons that led to his decision to become a government witness. His life and the lives of his family depended on it.
This was all backed up in later conversations with another well know mobster, Henry Hill. Henry’s life story was documented in the true crime book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi, which was subsequently adapted by Martin Scorsese into the critically acclaimed film Goodfellas in 1990. Hill was portrayed by Ray Liotta in the film.
Of Rats and Men
To be in the witness protection program, you had to come 100% clean on all crimes. Everything had to be detailed. If you “forgot” something, it could kick you out of the program. Frank always made it clear that he never snitched, never wore a wire. What he did was cross the “t”‘s and dotted the “I”‘s of what the government already knew.
Oscar and a Rat
When we were later invited to visit Mayor Oscar Goodman’s office, (Oscar was the Mob’s main attorney in Las Vegas before becoming our Mayor) I was briefed beforehand not to mention Frank’s name to the Mayor. It was a sore spot with Oscar. In fact, there was a giant rubber rat that sat on the couch in the office Oscar told us that he named it “Frank”.
To add even more to the story, Oscar Goodman’s biography is titled “Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman’s Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas”
I’ve had the talks with others who think that a man must publicly pay for his sins his entire life. I don’t see it that way. Frank, like everyone else, makes the decisions they make based on circumstances. We make some good ones, we make some bad ones. And we pay the price for them either way. Frank Cullotta lived a long life. One that was not ordinary to you and me. But it was his life and he made it a full life. Unlike others who like to sit on the sidelines and complain. Good or bad, he lived his life on his terms. How many of us can say that?? Not too many…
Links Mentioned in Post
- Our first interview with Dennis Griffin
- Our second interview with Dennis Griffin
- Our interview with Frank Cullotta
- Book: The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob
- Book:Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness
- Movie Casino
- Movie: Goodfellas
- Book: Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman’s Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas