Ex-mobster weighs in on latest case
BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH Staff Reporter
Anthony Spilotro tried to have his boyhood friend Frank Cullotta killed, but Cullotta still has a soft spot for the Chicago mob’s former Las Vegas godfather — whose 1986 murder is part of a major indictment unveiled last week.
“I’m sort of glad it’s over for Tony . . . that they solved it in a way,” said Cullotta, 66, a former mobster who turned government witness after hearing Spilotro wanted him whacked.
“I had no great hate for him . . . even if he wanted to kill me,” Cullotta said in a recent telephone interview. “His brother was a little punk, Michael, no respect for people. But Tony, we grew up together.”
Cullotta — once in witness protection, now out and living somewhere in the United States with a new identity — reflected on the indictment from an unusual vantage: He knew many of the 14 people charged in the feds’ racketeering case and many of the 18 murder victims whose killings might be solved by the government assault.
In fact, Cullotta expects to be called by prosecutors as a witness, although he hasn’t been contacted yet. One law enforcement source was unsure whether Cullotta would be tapped, but said virtually every major mob turncoat could have some role.
New twist on motive
The 18 mob hits included the murders of Anthony and Michael Spilotro. The popular view, advanced in the movie “Casino,” had the brothers being lured to a cornfield, beaten to death by mobsters with bats, and then buried.
Actually, authorities say, the brothers were killed in the Bensenville area — lured by the prospect that Michael Spilotro was going to get “made” into the mob and Anthony Spilotro was going to get promoted.
The Chicago Sun-Times previously reported they were beaten in the home by the hands and feet of top mobsters, then driven to an Indiana farm field and buried.
Speculation about the motive largely has centered on the antics of Anthony Spilotro, a suspected killer who was sent to Las Vegas to oversee the mob’s interests — including the illegal skimming from casinos.
He was believed to be getting too ambitious, drawing too much attention and bad-mouthing mob bosses back home. His crew members — such as Cullotta — had begun flipping for the feds. And Anthony Spilotro was facing new legal troubles.
While acknowledging Anthony Spilotro was facing serious problems, Cullotta suspects the double murder had a lot to do with Michael Spilotro.
“Michael was out in Chicago, and he was flexing his muscles because of his brother, and he figured he had [reputed mob boss Joseph] Lombardo behind him” in Chicago, Cullotta said. “Rumors were going around that [Michael Spilotro] was abusing other bookmakers, slapping guys around, trying to take their bookmaking operations from them, showing a lot of disrespect.
“Tony, don’t forget, he lost a lot of clout with all that heat going on in Vegas,” he said. So he was expendable, and “they knew if they had to whack Michael, they definitely had to kill” Anthony so he couldn’t retaliate.
‘Just shoot him’
The way Anthony Spilotro was killed still disturbs Cullotta, himself a former hit man. “If you’re going to kill him, why the f— are you going to beat him? Just shoot him in the head. I was very displeased with that,” Cullotta said.
“Some of the guys who were supposedly involved in it I really disliked, but … a couple who were supposedly involved … I liked, so I’m in a bit of a dilemma. … But all in all, I feel it’s good it’s over with.”
Mobster-turned-informant Nick Calabrese has told the feds he took part in the Spilotro murders, and 13 other mob killings.
On Friday, several other reputed hoodlums, including alleged day-to-day mob boss James Marcello, were connected by the feds to the Spilotro deaths.
The feds previously revealed that Calabrese’s older brother, imprisoned loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr., also was somehow involved.
Tears and jeers
Cullotta knew the elder Calabrese years ago, and doesn’t think much of him.
Frank Calabrese Sr. tried to break into the mob by buddying up to Cullotta, hoping he’d put in a word with Anthony Spilotro, Cullotta recalled. But bad blood eventually surfaced.
While driving together one winter, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Cullotta got into an argument and Cullotta stopped the car to pound him — but Frank Calabrese Sr. thought Cullotta really was going to shoot him, Cullotta said.
“He started crying like a baby,” Cullotta said. “He said, ‘My wife knows you’re with me!’ He said, ‘You’re going to shoot me in the head!’ … We never talked after that . . . he hated me because I embarrassed him. … I told Tony he was crying. … I didn’t even have a gun with me.”
Anthony Spilotro wanted nothing to do with Frank Calabrese Sr., Cullotta said, adding that he finds irony with the possibility Frank Calabrese Sr. was involved in the murder of someone he virtually begged to run with.
More ironic was that Frank Calabrese Sr., after the Spilotro murders, continued using a third Spilotro brother as his dentist, and listened to the dentist agonize over his brothers’ demise, Cullotta said.
Frank Calabrese Sr. saved up cash by working in a union and ultimately was allowed by another mobster to put it on the street in the form of illegal, high-interest “juice” loans, Cullotta said. He moved up the ranks of the underworld from there.
Joe Lopez, an attorney for Frank Calabrese Sr., responded to Cullotta’s remarks this way: “I don’t know how anyone could believe anything that man says.”
‘Everything was crashing’
The current case — which will make the hoodlums on the street walk “on eggshells for a long time,” Cullotta predicts — hinges in part on the cooperation of informants.
That’s an area Cullotta knows about, having testified against several reputed organized crime figures, including mob hit man Harry Aleman and Anthony Spilotro.
Cullotta flipped for a few reasons, said retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy. He was facing charges related to a crew of thugs he was leading, and became angry that Anthony Spilotro wasn’t stepping up more to help with his legal and living expenses, Arnoldy said. And he discovered “he was facing a contract” put out by Spilotro, he said.
“Everything was crashing in on him,” Arnoldy said.
Becoming — and living as — a mob informant was tough, Cullotta said. “So I live with it every day; it was a big decision, a hard decision,” said Cullotta, who now describes himself as a successful businessman. “But look, I’m still alive, aren’t I?”
Contributing: Steve Warmbir