This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with Frank Cullotta.
Frank Cullotta was born in Chicago in 1938. He began his decades-long criminal career as a teenager, graduating from petty theft to burglary, armed robbery, arson and murder. While growing up he met another young tough on the streets of the Windy City: Tony Spilotro. The two boys became friends and criminal allies. Spilotro went on to become a made man and feared enforcer of the Chicago Outfit. The Outfit bosses sent him to Las Vegas in 1971 to keep an eye on their casino interests.
After getting established in Sin City, Spilotro invited Cullotta to join him. Cullotta accepted and functioned as Spilotro’s lieutenant. He watched his friend’s back and formed and ran a crew of burglars, robbers, arsonists, and killers that became known as the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”
The two men had a falling out in 1982; and at Spilotro’s request the Chicago bosses approved a contract to have Cullotta killed. Facing either life in prison for his myriad crimes or death at the hands of Outfit hit men, he rolled and became a government witness. His subsequent testimony resulted in the convictions of several of his former associates. He was preparing to testify against Spilotro in June 1986, but Spilotro himself was murdered by the Outfit just prior to the trial getting underway.
Under a new identity, Cullotta opened and ran a small business and became one of the Witness Protection Program’s success stories. In 1995 he was contacted by screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi regarding the Martin Scorsese film, “Casino.” He was hired as a technical consultant to the movie in which actor Joe Pesci played a character based on Tony Spilotro; and Frank Vincent played “Frankie,” a character based on Cullotta. In the film he appeared in several scenes as a killer, including one that was a fictionalized version of a murder he actually committed in Las Vegas in 1979.
Since then, Cullotta has appeared in several organized crime documentaries and given talks before law enforcement and college groups. In 2007, he wrote his biography titled “CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness.” His second book, “Hole in the Wall Gang,” was published in December 2013.
In February 2014, Frank launched the Las Vegas-based bus tour Casino — The Real Story Behind The Movie. He is also a consultant to the Las Vegas Mob Tour and is co-producer of Mob-Con.