The Rise and Fall of a ‘Casino’ Mobster: The Tony Spilotro Story Through a Hitman’s Eyes – Frank Cullotta & Dennis N. Griffin

CulottaIf you have viewed the 1995 film ‘Casino‘ by Martin Scorsese, then I am sure you recoiled in shock at the fate of Joe Pesci’s character Nicki and his brother. Pesci’s character is unbelievable at times during the film but is based on real-life mobster Anthony John “Tony” Spilotro (1938-1986). And from what is known, Spilotro could be as volatile as his on-screen composite. The film is entertaining, and all the actors and actresses deliver stand-up performances but as to be expected, some liberties were taken during the screenwriting and editing processes. Frank Cullotta (1938-2020) was mobster in the Chicago Outfit and close friend and associate of Spilotro. In fact, Spilotro was the reason Cullotta made the move to Las Vegas which brought money, excitement, and his downfall. This is his account of the time he spent with Tony Spilotro and the events that transpired on the dark side of Sin City.

The story begins in Chicago with Cullotta reminiscing about his childhood and the beginning of his friendship with Spilotro. And it is not long before both leave school foregoing a formal education and start learning the streets. Spilotro is quickly seduced by the lure of the Mafia and convinces Cullotta to help him while earning good money. And as the say goes, the rest was history. And once both are in Las Vegas working for the Outfit, the story picks up in pace and never slows down. The book is short but make no mistake, Cullotta was a wealth of information, and that knowledge was used when he testified against Spilotro and other members of the Outfit. But before we reach that point, there is a lot of ground to cover and some of what he reveals fills in the gaps in the film.

When the story shifts to Las Vegas, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (1929-2008) makes his appearance in the story. In the film, Robert DeNiro plays his composite character, and like the movie, bad blood existed between Rosenthal and Spilotro. Cullotta speaks frankly when it comes to their relationship, which was bitter to say the least. However, Spilotro is the focus of the story, and Cullotta shows a side of the mobster that is both interesting and dark. Murders, schemes, and betrayal all play into the story told by Cullotta, but a main issue was the gangster’s inability to remain committed to his wife. On screen, Lefty’s wife Geri, played by Sharon Stone, is out of control and causes serious issues within the Outfit. In the story at hand, the real-life Geri is just as wild, but we also learn about the role and actions of Spilotro’s wife Nancy, whose life was altered significantly through her husband’s actions and demise, and their son Vincent.

True crime lovers will be satisfied as well with the information Cullotta provides about the crimes committed and the murders that took place. Some of the stories are surreal but documented, including the infamous “M & M” murders which Cullotta explains thoroughly. But surprisingly, the downfall of both men did not come from a murder but from trusting a criminal named Sal Romano. His association with the crew set into a motion a series of events that resulted in the arrest of Cullotta, his associates, and the deterioration of the relationship between him and Spilotro. The final act that fractures the relationship permanently is a story we have seen before, but it shows that there is no honor among thieves.

Before Spilotro could stand trial for the second time, he and his brother Michael disappeared and were found deceased outside of Chicago. Cullotta explains their last moments and offers reason as to why it happened. The whole truth about the incident may never be known but Cullotta was right in his belief that Spilotro had become a problem that needed to be resolved. But the fallout from his death and the criminal prosecutions should not be overlooked. And as a bonus, Cullotta provides a sort of epilogue wherein he tells what he knew about the lives of former associates in the Outfit. Every story ends negatively proving that in the end, crime does not pay. Cullotta served his time and died a free man and as the book concludes he provides a quote that sums up the days the Chicago Outfit ruled Las Vegas:

“When people ask me if Vegas was better when the Mob ran it, my answer is that for civilians, it was a hell of a lot safer.” 

If you like stories about the Italian American Mafia and the heyday of organized crime, this is must read.


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