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Frank Cullotta biographer, who wrote about mob’s days in Las Vegas, dies

Updated June 22, 2021 - 5:24 pm

Author Dennis N. Griffin, whose work in the true-crime genre included several highly regarded books chronicling organized crime in Las Vegas, has died.

Griffin, 75, of Verona, New York, died Monday of cancer, said Faith Finster Griffin, his wife of 46 years.

Among Griffin’s books are a biography of Frank Cullotta, a former lieutenant of Chicago mobster Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro who turned government witness, and a book exploring the true story behind the 1995 film “Casino.”

Griffin was among the experts, journalists, investigators and prosecutors interviewed for Season 1 of the Review-Journal’s acclaimed podcast series “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas,” which focused on Cullotta, who died shortly after completing the project.

A second season of “Mobbed Up” launched this week.

Griffin’s books are “incredibly valuable resources for anybody interested in the subject of the mob in Las Vegas,” said Geoff Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs at the Mob Museum.

“They’re detailed, they’re well-documented, and they simply are accurate,” Schumacher said. “There are plenty of people working within the true-crime genre for whom facts are optional. But, with Dennis, he has always focused on telling a good story and telling an accurate story.”

Griffin was born in Rome, New York, as the only child of Walter and Dorothy Kraeger Griffin. He attended Rome Free Academy before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, serving for four years.

In a biography on his website (dennisngriffin.biz), Griffin wrote that he retired in 1994 after a 20-year career in law enforcement and investigations in New York. He eventually would publish more than a dozen books after creating a new career as an author specializing mostly in true crimes and cold cases.

He wrote his first novel, “The Morgue,” based on real-life events in 1996 and his first nonfiction book, “Policing Las Vegas — a History of Law Enforcement in Southern Nevada,” in 2005.

It was in early 2005, Griffin wrote, that he decided to examine the real-life story behind the acclaimed 1995 film “Casino,” a fact-based dramatization of the era of mob involvement in Las Vegas. His book “The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs. The Mob” was published in 2006.

In 2007, he published “Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness.” He eventually co-authored four books with Cullotta and wrote nonfiction books that examined crime and justice here and in other areas of the country.

Griffin augmented his nonfiction with a fiction trilogy featuring a Las Vegas homicide detective team and, in a change of tone, co-authored “House Party Tonight: The Career of Legendary Saxophonist Don Hill,” a biography of the longtime member of pioneering lounge band The Treniers.

Faith Finster Griffin said that, at first, her husband’s choice of literary genre and subjects was disconcerting.

When her husband began working with Cullotta and the time came for an in-person meeting, “I said, ‘No, not in my house’ ” she said.

“Then I met Frank. Frank and I got to be good buddies,” she said.

Dennis Griffin was “instrumental in creating the Frank Cullotta who came to be known by the public after his criminal life was over,” Schumacher said.

Orlando “Ori” Spado and Griffin went to the same school in Rome, New York, and knew each other while growing up. Spado tells his story in “The Accidental Gangster: From Insurance Salesman to Mob Boss of Hollywood,” co-authored by Griffin.

Spado said Griffin brought honesty and tireless research to his work.

“He wasn’t afraid to make the phone calls necessary to do the research. One thing about working with Dennis, Dennis would print only the truth. Otherwise, he wouldn’t write it.”

Griffin is survived by his wife; daughters Margaret Carro and Antoinette Mahoney; stepchildren Pamela Ashley and Robert McAree; five grandsons, two granddaughters and five great-grandchildren. His stepdaughter, Kimberly McAree, preceded him in death in 1986.

Services and burial will be in Rome, New York.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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