'Mobbed Up' chronicles the rise and fall of organized crime in Las Vegas through the eyes of those who lived it: ex-mobsters, law enforcement officials, politicians and journalists. From back alleys to bank vaults, dimly lit basements to the neon glow of the Las Vegas Strip, the Review-Journal's Reed Redmond will guide listeners through the 20th-century criminal underworlds of Chicago, Kansas City and Las Vegas. This 11-part narrative series is produced by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in partnership with The Mob Museum.
“You never become a rat. That’s against our religion, let’s say.”
Thursday, October 11, 1979. Around 4:30 a.m., a woman returns to her home in Las Vegas to find her belongings tossed around, bullet holes marking the walls and a trail of blood leading to her backyard. Hours later, the front page of the evening edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal displays the headline, “Con Suspect Killed in ‘Bloody Murder.’” Forty years later, we revisit the scene of the crime with someone who was there when it happened.
"And I said, 'What's your name?' And he says, 'Tony Spilotro.'"
As a kid, Frank Cullotta’s first job was stealing. His second job was shining shoes on Grand Avenue in Chicago. One day, another young shoeshine yelled at him from across the street, and the two kids stepped into the middle of the road to defend their turf, both ready for a fight. Instead, the encounter sparked a friendship that would span decades.
"It supersedes family."
Tony Spilotro always dreamed of becoming a ‘made’ man—a full-fledged member of the Chicago Outfit—according to his childhood friend Frank Cullotta. In the spring of 1962, as Cullotta recalls, an unauthorized triple murder on mob turf would give Tony an opportunity to make that dream a reality and cement his claim to fame.
“The mob had been, of course, heavily integrated in the casino industry here from day one.”
To understand the city of Las Vegas as it existed in the 1970s, we have to back up to Dec. 26, 1946: opening night at the Flamingo Hotel on what we know today as the Las Vegas Strip. The project, started by Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson before being taken over by notorious mob figure Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, would set a new standard for hotel-casinos in Las Vegas.
"You don’t buy Mr. Spilotro drinks. He buys you drinks."
In 1971, Tony Spilotro moves from Chicago to Las Vegas to look after the mob's interests, alongside a longtime oddsmaker named Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. A few years later, a mob-connected holding company, the Argent Corporation, begins buying up casinos using loans from the Teamsters Union Central States Pension Fund.
"Now I’m getting this directly from, you know, Cleanface. You follow me?"
In 1977, future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Before long, Reid would find himself battling bribery accusations, working with the FBI on a sting operation and going toe-to-toe with Chicago mob associate Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal at licensing hearings.
“This was the end of organized crime in Las Vegas.”
In 1978, mob-connected thief Frank Cullotta moves from Chicago to Las Vegas to work alongside his childhood friend, reputed Las Vegas mob enforcer Tony Spilotro. When he arrives, Frank says his first assignment was to put together a crew of guys—a crew that would soon earn a reputation as one of the most prolific burglary outfits in the country.
"Las Vegas was the last thing on our mind."
In the spring of 1978, the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad in Kansas City placed microphones in a restaurant, hoping to pick up information about local mob activity. Instead, they picked up on something far bigger: casino skimming operations in Las Vegas.
"You never become a rat."
Following their arrests for attempted robbery of a home furnishings store in Las Vegas, Frank Cullotta and five other members of the "Hole in the Wall Gang" face steep prison sentences. Loyalty wears thin, and the FBI sees an opportunity.