Las Vegas Sun

November 15, 2018

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A few questions with former mob lieutenant Frank Cullotta


Dennis Griffin

Frank Cullotta in a 1981 photo.


  • What: The Mob Chronicles
  • Where: Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Dr.; 455-7340
  • When: 2 p.m., Saturday, May 8
  • Cost: $15

"It's all about the dough, the water, how you get that stuff to rise." Frank Cullotta is talking pizza. While Grimaldi's, Settebello and Anthony's might debate who has the best East Coast-style pie in the Valley today, Cullotta is here to remind everyone that his Upper Crust restaurant was the pioneer of Chicago-style stuffed-crust pizza in Vegas. "We had great pizza, where the crust didn't droop over when you pulled out a slice."

But don't expect much about pizza-making when Cullotta, 72, appears at the Winchester Cultural Center as part of a May 8 panel talk featuring former detectives and crime writer Dennis Griffin. Most will want to hear more about how he funded the restaurant ("We put the restaurant up with the money from the robberies") as well as his other past professions: larceny, thuggery and — when duty called — homicide.

As Tony Spilotro's right-hand man, Cullotta walked tall in Las Vegas during the swan-song era of the mob days. Then, famously, he went into witness protection and provided testimony that helped end the "Outfit's" reign. Since appearing in Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995) and publishing his memoir in 2007, he's been more public, though appearances here are infrequent.

Reading about the dozens if not hundreds of incidents you've been involved in, Frank, what struck me is: How do you even remember doing them all?

You know, every robbery you go on, 90 percent of them are exciting, they're a challenge, so they stay with you. I still couldn't put half of them things in the book, it would be totally impossible, I'd be talking for a year! Some of them were exciting and there were some duds. But the majority were exciting.

Is that part of the appeal of that life?

No, the glamour. People sort of look up to you. You got money, you got friends, you got no money, you got no friends. It's power. You get off on it. Everybody does.

What do people ask you about the most?

Well, the strangest thing people ask me is how it felt to kill somebody. I think that's sort of a weird question. 'What would you do if you had it to do over again?' What I tell people, I am what I am today because of yesterday, so I have nothing to change about it.

Some people claim Harry Reid was on the mob's payroll — he claims there was a contract on his life. What's your take?

Nah, he wasn't involved with us [laughs]. I know he wasn't involved with us. As far as us trying to plant a bomb on his car, because he said he fought the syndicate, that's [wrong]. It wouldn't have been on the car his family drove, it would have been his personal car. We're not out to kill wives and kids. We do our homework.

A lot of people say Vegas was better back when the organization was running things. How do you feel?

I think it was a warmer place back then, more social. Every day over there was a nice day. Even the days I got followed by the cops. It's a nice place now, I wouldn't talk anyone out of going there. But I don't think it's ever going back to the way it used to be, and I think the way it used to be was nicer.

— Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly

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