On June 23, 1986 an Indiana farmer made a grisly discovery: the bodies of two brothers in a shallow grave. Tony and Michael Spilotro had fallen victim to the Chicago Outfit. The irony is that Tony Spilotro was once one of the Outfit’s most feared killers.
The hit was ordered because Spilotro, whose outsized lifestyle in his adopted home of Las Vegas, was bringing too much heat and attention on the mob. Michael Spilotro, who thought he was about to become a made member, was collateral damage.
Now a new book by a former associate sheds light on the mobster known as Tony “The Ant.”
Physically small---he was five-feet, two inches tall---Tony Spilotro nonetheless was a big figure on the Vegas strip. A cold and calculating killer, Spilotro was dispatched by the bosses in Chicago in the early 1970’s to be the Outfit’s man there.
Just how many bodies he left in his wake is uncertain, but if anyone alive knows, it is Frank Cullotta, who puts 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,” Cullotta said in a recent interview from Nevada. “He done what he had to do to get where he was in life.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Spilotro was sent to watch over the mobs illegal gambling, casino skimming and loan sharking.
Friends since their teenage years on the near west side of Chicago, Cullotta in the late 1970s joined Spilotro in Las Vegas running a high-end burglary crew called the Hole-in-the-Wall gang.
In 1982 Cullotta flipped and became a government witness after he said he learned his friend had become his foe and was plotting to kill him.
The book, “The Rise and Fall of a Casino Mobster” is the third by Cullotta and co-writer Dennis Griffin and the title alludes to the Hollywood portrayal of a character modeled after Spilotro in the movie Casino.
In 2007 interview Cullotta told us about his life and admitted to a minimum of 300 burglaries and approximately 200 robberies. He also took part in two hits for the mob.
“One was a car explosion, and the other was a guy getting shot in the head,” he said.
Widely known as “Tony the Ant” Cullotta writes the nickname was “nonsense” created by an FBI agent who, listening on a wiretap, heard someone refer to Spilotro as “Anth”, short for Anthony, and made it “Ant.”
“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.
Today Cullotta, who is 78, cashes 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, according to court testimony had a final request: to say a prayer.
“I’ll tell you, we talked about that stuff,” Cullotta recalled.
Spilotro, he said, after a life of violence counted on one final ace, betting on a last act of contrition.
“If you say a prayer before you die,” Cullotta remembers Spilotro saying, “praying to God for forgiveness, he says you won’t go to hell.”
The Spilotro murders were part of the Family Secrets trial a decade ago in which 11 members of the Chicago Outfit either plead guilty or were convicted.
Tony, who was 48, and Michael Spilotro, who was 41, are buried in Hillside at Queen of Heaven cemetery.