Frank Cullotta, a throwback to the heyday of the Chicago mob, died Thursday in Las Vegas.
Cullotta’s story was a disturbing and twisted tale. The son of a gangster, he became one himself. He befriended many of the Outfit’s top leaders. He stole. He beat people. And he killed twice — all with little thought of the consequences of his actions.
“There were times that I muscled people,” he told us once during an interview.
Frank Cullotta loved the life of the mob. He loved the scores. But in 1982 he flipped, turned on his associates and became an informant for the federal government.
Over the course of the 1970s and into the early '80s, Cullotta gained fear and fame as an enforcer. A master burglar, he estimated he had broken into at a minimum 300 homes. Robberies, he put at 200. But Cullotta wasn’t just a thief. He was involved in two mob hits.
“One was a car explosion and the other was a guy getting shot in the head,” he said while sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room.
“I come from a good family, loving mother, loving father. But my father was a shady guy,” Cullotta told us.
Joe Cullotta was a thief and wheelman for the mob, who died in a high-speed chase with police in hot pursuit.
“I just felt like he was the model I wanted to follow after," Frank Cullotta said.
Over the years, Frank Cullotta graduated from small time thug to big time mobster, aided by his friendship with Tony “The Ant” Spilotro. They met each other on Grand Avenue in Chicago as kids.
But Frank Cullotta was soon to learn a lesson about friendship and the mob — a lesson that years later helped him make the biggest decision of his life. Jimmy Miraglia and John “Billy” McCarthy were members of Frank Cullotta’s burglary crew. When they carried out an unauthorized hit, they were tortured. The M&M boys fell victim to mob justice. McCarthy was the first to die.
Frank Cullotta explained: “They stuck his head in a vice and start turning the vice. They didn’t think the eyeball was going to pop out or whatever, and his eyeball popped out. And then he gave up Jimmy’s name. Then they just cut his throat."
Frank Cullotta led McCarthy and then Miraglia to their deaths.
“It bothered me for a long time. But you know, you live in that world and you say, ‘You know, if I don’t give ’em up… they are going to whack me.'"
Frank Cullotta moved from Chicago to Las Vegas in 1979 to become part of the infamous Hole-in-the-Wall gang over seen by Spilotro. Physically small — Spilotro was 5 feet 2 inches tall — he nonetheless was an imposing figure on the Strip, seen as a cold and calculating killer. Just how many bodies he left in his wake is uncertain.
But if anyone knew, it was Frank Cullotta, who put the tally at 15.
“I’m pretty confident in it, I can’t say I’m 100% confident because I wasn’t with him 24 hours a day,” he said in a 2017 interview. “He done what he had to do to get where he was in life.”
Frank Cullotta and co-writer Dennis Griffin chronicled Spilotro’s life in “The Rise and Fall of a Casino Mobster," which alludes to the Hollywood portrayal of Spilotro in the movie "Casino."
And the book set the record straight on Spilotro’s nickname. Frank Cullotta said an FBI agent listening on a wiretap mistook Anth — short for Anthony — and the nickname “The Ant” stuck.
“Now Tony was small and short so that label sort of fit him. You wouldn’t call him that to his face, you would have been a statistic,” he said.
Frank Cullotta cashed in on his mob notoriety with a website advertising his own Vegas mob tour.
“I’m on Trip Advisor and I’ve got like 66 5-stars,” he said, “at first they are a little worried they may get shot but… we all come back safe.”
Of course, that wasn’t true for Spilotro, who before he died in 1986 at the hands of his mob brothers, had a final request, according to court testimony, to say a prayer.
“I’ll tell you, we talked about that stuff,” Frank Cullotta said.
Spilotro, after a life of violence, Frank Cullotta said, counted on one last ace, betting on a final act of contrition.
“If you say a prayer before you die…praying to God for forgiveness, he says you won’t go to hell.”
Frank Cullotta was 81, his cause of death was congestive heart failure.