The Vegas thing: Hitman Cullotta was right about old mob in the gaming business By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports August 24, 2020 at 8:00 pm Retired Chicago Outfit gangster Frank Cullotta wasn’t a “deeze and dozer,” but I’m not sure anyone would have called him a clever conversationalist. He still managed to utter one of the most prescient lines in the history of the Las Vegas casino industry. “It should have been so sweet,” Cullotta said at the conclusion of Nicholas Pileggi’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. “Everything was in place. We were given paradise on earth, but we fucked it all up.” True that, Frankie. Cullotta, the admitted hitman-turned-cooperating witness who outlived his enemies and reinvented himself as a retired mobster, died peacefully late last week in Las Vegas after a long battle with multiple medical issues and compounded by suspected COVID-19. He was 81. His infamous line from the book was borrowed, rewritten only slightly, and placed into the mouth of the character based on Chicago mobster Tony Spilotro in the Martin Scorsese mobster epic Casino, perhaps the most famous Las Vegas movie of all time. For all its revisionism, it represents the version of events that most people know about the bloody evolution of the gambling capital and the racket that has emerged as a remarkable success story in corporate America. Cullotta is rendered to a footnote in that story, but I’d argue that his role was much larger than the credit he was given. Snared in a stolen property case built by detectives whose names rarely make the newspapers, Cullotta became a potential liability to an already paranoid Spilotro. When Tough Tony decided to eliminate Cullotta, his childhood friend from the streets of Chicago, Cullotta was informed of the impending hit and decided to cooperate with law enforcement. The late mobster Frank Cullotta Although FBI agents did much to frame the case, they also received almost all the credit for getting the job done. But much of the heavy lifting was done by some unsung Las Vegas Metropolitan Police detectives who risked their lives and careers in relentless pursuit of Spilotro and his cronies. Spilotro was retired by the mob before he spent the rest of his life in prison. A funny thing happened to Cullotta on the way to obscurity. He reinvented himself. After laying low for several years and cooperating in other cases, he operated a limousine service in San Diego. Then he re-emerged in – of all places – Las Vegas. Speculation was rampant about the odds of him surviving in a town riddled with family members of Spilotro and his allies. Mob lawyer Oscar Goodman, who would also successfully reinvent himself as Mayor of Las Vegas, all but spat when Cullotta’s name was mentioned. But Cullotta didn’t hide. Far from it. He gradually made public appearances and gave numerous interviews. He was comfortable in front of the camera and appeared in many documentaries, including those he profited from. he was a consultant to Casino and had a brief role in the movie as a hitman. He even ran a Las Vegas mob tour for a while. He sneered at the ridicule he received from Goodman and other ghosts from his criminal past. He had survived and had lived to tell the tale. Over and over again, as it turned out. Cullotta’s ability to sell his story must have made guys like Lou DeTiberiis, David Groover, the late Kent Clifford, and so many other Metro insiders smile – or at least scratch their heads. What was once notorious and dangerous became marketable and profitable. They played integral roles in Cullotta’s real-life crime story. “He left an imprint,” Groover, a Las Vegas private investigator, says. “From a No. 1 criminal to a Vegas character the people wanted to talk to. That’s the interesting part.” Cullotta met author and organized crime aficionado Dennis Griffin in 2004. The two collaborated on a biography, Cullotta. The busy Griffin co-wrote two more books about Cullota’s gangster life, and they were working on a cookbook at the time of Cullotta’s death. Add to that the documentaries and videos produced about Cullotta’s life and crimes, and he was a one-man cottage industry. “Our relationship gradually evolved from a business arrangement into a close friendship,” Griffin recalls. “We talked frequently in person or by phone. In a matter of minutes, he would have me laughing regardless of how bad my day may have been going. My wife came to adore him, and the feeling was mutual. Upon receiving word of his passing, we cried together. Frank may no longer be with us physically, but he will live forever in our hearts and memories.” The title of the upcoming cookbook is Frank Cullotta’s Greatest (Kitchen) Hits. And they say crime doesn’t pay. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.