Mob killer tells his side of story in book, trial testimony, at state museum

You have a rare opportunity Wednesday to hear in person from one of Las Vegas' most notorious mob guys, a stone-cold killer who has gone the way of many mobsters-turned-government witnesses. After a 30-year career as a hit man, burglar and all-around scammer, Frank Cullotta moved to the dark side: consultant, actor and author.

First he became a consultant and actor in the 1995 movie "Casino."

Now he has co-written a book about the way things were. The title sums it up: "Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster and Government Witness."

In what at least one of his friends considers a risky move, Cullotta will speak on a panel Wednesday at the Nevada State Museum & Historical Society, 700 Twin Lakes Drive. ("It's probably the first time Frank's ever been in a museum," said one wag.)

The book signing with his co-author, former New York investigator Dennis Griffin, begins at 5:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m., Cullotta is on a panel with retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy, who also helped write the book.

Three journalists from that era will ask questions of Cullotta, Griffin and Arnoldy: Bob Stoldal, A.D. Hopkins and me.

All that for a $3 admission.

As a federal court reporter, I wrote reams of copy about Cullotta in the 1980s, when he was running a pizza joint that was a hangout for the mob, and later when he switched sides and started telling what he knew to state and federal authorities.

He's still doing that. He's expected to be a witness for the prosecution in the Operation Family Secrets trial this summer in Chicago, testifying against mobsters Joey Lombardo and others accused of involvement in 18 killings, including the slayings of Cullotta's childhood buddy and eventual mob boss, Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael. The trial will be a mob-watcher's dream.

Yes, there still are people who would like to see Cullotta chopped up and fed to the fish in Lake Mead.

After Cullotta became a government witness in May 1982, Las Vegas police officer David Groover, now a private investigator, debriefed him for Metro, while Arnoldy debriefed him for the FBI.

Groover is surprised that Cullotta agreed to be on a public panel. "I would probably be a little more cautious. I think there are still people who would like to see Frank Cullotta go down."

During that 30-day debriefing process, Groover said, he and Cullotta developed a friendly relationship, even though at one point Cullotta was involved in discussions with Spilotro, plotting to kill Groover and Lt. Gene Smith to retaliate for the shooting death of Frankie Bluestein, a maitre d' thought to be a mob associate.

For me, one major surprise in the book was how the straight world became enablers and bottom feeders for mobsters ... for a payoff.

Insurance agents who knew who had things of value and whether security systems existed tipped off Cullotta's "Hole In the Wall Gang." In exchange for the tip, an agent would receive a percentage of the loot. Casino employees, sometimes even casino executives, would feed Cullotta information.

Two Chicago cops, for $500 each and a comped hotel room, told Cullotta the name of someone they believed was a government informant, a cheap price to sell out supporters of law enforcement.

Of course, this is how Cullotta recalled everything. Others may remember it differently.

Those of you who have seen "Casino" saw Cullotta himself re-enact his 1979 murder of Jerry Lisner, shooting Lisner twice in the head, chasing him through his home, even trying to strangle him with an electrical cord, before succeeding. Lisner was found floating in his swimming pool, his blood turning the water pink. Cullotta killed Lisner because he thought he was snitching on the mob.

Cullotta described that murder as well as other murders, some executed, some not, with a certain nonchalance. That's simply the way he lived.

The mob code is clear. Cullotta loved his mother, trusted his childhood friend Spilotro far longer than he should have and only turned after he heard a contract was out on his life.

The mob seeks permanent solutions for what they see as turncoats.

Nobody knew that better than Frank Cullotta.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call 383-0275.