Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009 | 7:56 a.m.
Yesterday started and ended with the mob. It’s just like living in a Scorsese movie sometimes.
In the morning, mob-turned-informant Frank Cullotta, focus of crime author Denny Griffin’s gripping biography “Cullotta,” said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location (me, I was in my kitchen) that he thought the proposed Mob Museum in Las Vegas is a “great idea.” The former “Hole In The Wall Gang” member, friend and bodyguard/muscle guy of Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and admitted double-murderer also says he has been approached by someone who is involved in the development of the mob museum to help add some authenticity. Cullotta refuses to say who has contacted him, but that he has been asked to provide some personal items and personal, inside information and anecdotes about his days helping the “Chicago Outfit” skim profits from their Vegas casinos through abject violence, theft and intimidation.
I asked if that overture included audio narration for some of the displays, and Cullotta thought for a moment. “That could be. I haven’t thought of that, but I’ve got a distinctive voice,” he said in a thick Italian-type accent. “Maybe I should try to trademark my voice. It’s really recognizable. That’s why I was never good with a wiretap.”
You and me both, brother.
Later in the day, I got word that Cullotta, also famous as a technical advisor and bit actor in the film “Casino” (the Frank Vincent character was based on him) would appear on ABC’s “Nightline,” having been interviewed recently by reporter Neal Karlinsky for the piece. It was the third in a series of reports, the first being about repo men and the second about the chimp in L.A. that got free from a residence and nearly killed a woman. Click here for the report.
Karlinsky’s report treaded familiar territory. He spoke with Cullotta, a product of the Witness Protection Program who still uses a secret name. “I was a gangster, burglar, murderer, extortionist, arsonist,” he said to a dutifully impressed Karlinsky. “I was all the things you don’t want to be. But I'm not like that no more. I’m a different man now.”
Mayor Oscar Goodman was interviewed in his City Hall office, and took Karlinsky on a tour of the old downtown courthouse, which would be home to the $50 million Mob Museum. Goodman estimates 800,000 people a year would visit the attraction, which is equal parts fascinating and controversial.
“This is the quintessential mob museum, there’s nothing quite like it,” Goodman said. When asked if an art museum would be a more appropriate use of the space, Goodman said, “Anyone who says this should be an art museum should go jump in the lake, with concrete shoes on!”
Playing to the cameras was the mayor. He also said he was grateful for being known as a “mob attorney” because it “put me in financial position to run for mayor.”
During our phone conversation, Cullotta said the museum would certainly help preserve Las Vegas’ history – whether we like it or not. “We have too many people who don’t know how Vegas was built,” he said. “I mean, we are losing our history, tearing it down. We have kids who don’t even know who Frank Sinatra was.” As for the argument that the museum, by its very existence, would glorify crime and criminals, Cullotta said, “People want to know about this part of our past. You make a movie about Jack the Ripper, and people flock to see it. It’s the same with this museum.”
In front of the camera, Cullotta said “The Outfit” would help dig Vegas out of the recession if the crew were around today. He is the last survivor of the original Chicago team in Vegas. “Vegas is having a rough time,” he said, “but I guarantee if the Outfit was still around there would be money here, somehow.”
I expect we will hear from Cullotta again, as part of some sort of Vegas history reclamation project.