April 10, 2007 - 9:00 pm
For a guy considered a pariah by his old friends, mob hit-man-turned-government- informant Frank Cullotta suddenly finds himself, or at least his bloodstained memories, quite popular these days.
After spending the past two decades in the shadows as a protected witness after his cooperation with the FBI and U.S. attorney against mobster Anthony Spilotro and members of his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Cullotta is close to bringing out his memoirs of time in and out of the Chicago Outfit. Published by Huntington Press, "Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness" is scheduled to officially hit bookstores July 1. The book is co-authored by the 68-year-old Cullotta and Dennis N. Griffin with credited contributions from former FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy. Arnoldy was Cullotta’s handler after his defection from the heart of Spilotro’s criminal crew.
The timing of Cullotta’s project couldn’t be more intriguing for those who have followed the rise and fall of traditional organized crime groups, especially the infamous Chicago Outfit. Cullotta is telling his story at the same time attorneys for reputed Chicago mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and a gaggle of co-defendants will be searching for outs and alibis in a sweeping criminal case in federal court in Chicago.
Reporters there are openly speculating that Cullotta, a former Lombardo associate, will be called as a witness. The trial is expected to start in May.
Word of the Cullotta manuscript’s existence recently had both sides of the Lombardo case contacting Huntington Press publisher Anthony Curtis to request a copy. First, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars called. Then, FBI agent Michael Maseth contacted Curtis. Not long after, Lombardo defense attorney Rick Halprin called.
When Curtis declined to provide the manuscript on the advice of lawyer Andrew Norwood, on April 2 the feds came through with a promised subpoena. On Monday, Curtis said he would comply with the subpoena.
Although Halprin expressed doubt the manuscript would produce new information, the defense attorney admitted to Curtis, "There are things only Frankie knows." (That sentiment is a far cry from Halprin’s wisecrack about Cullotta during a pre-trial hearing in a Chicago courtroom last week: "For all I know, he’s Ann Coulter.")
Are the things that only Frankie knows in the book?
What can Cullotta say that he hasn’t previously testified to under oath?
At 78, Lombardo has been around the track too many times to get nervous about the memories of an admitted killer and thief. But Cullotta’s story already has a proven appeal with readers. His perspective was sprinkled throughout Nicholas Pileggi’s best-seller "Casino," and Pileggi has provided the foreword for Cullotta’s memoir. In fact, Cullotta is said to have received a handsome fee as a consultant on the Martin Scorsese movie that followed Pileggi’s book.
What will Cullotta’s own book reveal?
Hopefully, he’ll give readers his authentic and disturbing eyewitness accounts of his own criminal activity and the countless felonies that swirled around his life in Chicago and Las Vegas. The fact he’s detailed a lot of that bloody stuff as a government witness shouldn’t diminish its impact on the public more than two decades after Spilotro’s murder, as long as he’s candid.
Considering he’s admitted killing in cold blood, it’s the least he can do.
When the FBI and Las Vegas police finally caught up with Cullotta after the botched Bertha’s store heist in 1981, his lifelong friend Spilotro was under enormous pressure from law enforcement. Even Spilotro’s former defense attorney, Mayor Oscar Goodman, admitted his client’s failure to provide legal assistance to Cullotta helped lead to his defection.
More than two decades after the murders of Spilotro and his brother, Michael, their homicides are part of 18 killings, some dating to the 1970s, outlined in the indictment against Lombardo, Frankie "The German" Schweihs, current reputed Outfit leader James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and a dozen others.
Cullotta was a participant and front-row associate during the twilight of the Outfit’s dominance in Chicago and influence in Las Vegas. He has a rare perspective on a lifestyle that has killed dozens of his pals as well as a number of government witnesses and innocent bystanders.
The last thing Lombardo and the gang should want is for Frank Cullotta to take a stroll down memory lane.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0295.JOHN L. SMITHMORE COLUMNSDiscuss this column in the eForums!