Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Reviews: The Rise and Fall of a Casino Mobster

The Rise and Fall of a Casino Mobster: The Tony Spilotro Story
by Frank Cullotta
If crime stories aren't your thing then you know what to do with this review. If you are interested in such tales this concise story may fill some holes in your knowledge. However, the book jumps around in time so much that by the ending the reader will still have some unanswered questions. If you've seen the Martin Scorsese movie Casino starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, Frank Vincent, and James Woods, you know this story's general narrative. The author was a technical adviser on Casino.

Up until the seventies and eighties, the criminal organization known as the Chicago Outfit, on its own and through various other satellite crime families, owned pieces of several Las Vegas area casinos and hotels. Over time the Outfit became the dominant crime organization in Vegas, outpacing the New York Families. The Outfit maintained influence over various entertainment unions, talent agencies and actor management companies. Via control of the Teamsters Union, shared with East Coast and Detroit area crime families, the Outfit bankrolled new business ventures across the U.S. The Outfit used these businesses to diversify profits and launder monies from dirtier businesses. The Outfit placed two people in charge in Nevada.

These two Outfit Nevada managers were Mr. Inside (Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal) and Mr. Outside (Tony "Ant" Spilotro). Each man had different responsibilities. Lefty worked inside the casinos. Lefty's job was to hire and manage casino personnel, stay under the radar of law enforcement, maximize casino profits and ensure that the daily skim (the amount of money stolen before taxes were reported) was generated. Spilotro worked outside of the casinos. Spilotro's tasks included making sure the skim got back to Chicago, halting any rival mobsters from extorting Lefty, preventing Lefty or other Outfit affiliated mobsters from skimming the skim, discovering and controlling other criminal rackets for Chicago, and "fixing" any problems. Spilotro's "fixes" could range from bribes to business mergers to threats to torture, beatings or murder. It all depended on Spilotro's mood, his orders from Chicago and how serious the problem was.

Frank Cullotta was Spilotro's Mafia aide-de-camp. The two men had known each other since childhood when they had almost come to blows over who had the right to shine shoes on a street corner. Although Cullotta was himself a vicious thug and murderer, he wasn't as dangerous as Spilotro, whose violent nature was probably fed by his diminutive stature ( the 5'2 Spilotro loved starting fights with larger men and surprising them with his all out savagery) and the fact that he apprenticed under Mad Sam DeStefano, a dreaded Chicago fratricidal mobster who was unrivaled in pure psychotic behavior.

Cullotta gives the inside scoop on crimes Spilotro is known to have committed or suspected of performing. Cullotta describes the daily grind of Mob life: the rivalries, greed, backstabbing and double dealing. I doubt that Cullotta is always truthful. On multiple occasions Spilotro or other mobsters assault or kill people in Cullotta's company. Cullotta usually claims to be shocked, absolutely shocked at these events. It's not as if he was setting someone up. Take his word for it won't you? Because the book's focus is Spilotro, the text is sketchy about major events in Cullotta's life. Cullotta often talks about something important that happens but says that he only heard about it after the fact because he was in prison when it all went down. Well what was he in prison for? How long was he in prison? Who was providing for his family? We don't learn that from this book. Cullotta has written others.

As Spilotro's second, Cullotta oversaw many burglaries, robberies, shakedowns and murders committed in or around Vegas at Spilotro's direction. Life was good for both men until Cullotta started to worry that Spilotro wasn't getting buy-in from Chicago for many orders he was giving Cullotta. The chronically adulterous Spilotro began an affair with Rosenthal's wife, a violation of Mob rules. Both Spilotro and Rosenthal became erratic. Rosenthal started his own television show, which he used to criticize Nevada police, politicians and judges, something that upset his Chicago bosses. Spilotro hired crooks who later revealed themselves to be police or informants. The amount of skim going back to Chicago dropped. Cullotta was arrested on a burglary charge which would be tough to beat in court. Under pressure for his mistakes and the declining skim, Spilotro returned to Chicago to blame Cullotta for everything. Spilotro requested permission to eliminate Cullotta. 
Hearing this conversation played back to him on tape by the FBI, Cullotta agreed to testify against his former associates. Eventually high ranking Outfit leaders decided that they had no more use for Spilotro or his younger brother Michael. As Cullotta muses, very few mob stories have happy endings. This was a quick read but one that would have been better served by stronger editing.
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