Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas

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The Family Business | S1E2

by Las Vegas Review-Journal | The Mob Museum
May 26th 2020

"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, ano... More

a heads up before we get started. Mobbed up contains explicit content such as adult language and depictions of violence, including murder. Please be advised that this podcast might not be suitable for all audiences because mhm if you ever cross paths with Frank Kalata, the mob hitman we spend some time with in part one of this series, a couple things become immediately clear. This is someone who speaks his mind, and this is a guy who loves cars. In a memoir published in 2014, Frank writes, I love cars. I loved him growing up while I was a criminal, and I love him today. I got my first car in 1954. It was in 1950 old 98. My mother bought it for $500 but back then I didn't have the money to keep the car properly maintained and drove it until the tires fell off.

Although you'd think there were times I didn't have a car, that's not true. I always had a car, whether it was my legitimately or somebody else's that I stole. Frank was 16 when his mom bought him that holds 98 but even before then he was attracted to cars and he liked to drive. So I'd sneak out and she'd go to sleep. I'd sneak out, and for a while there I was able to get her keys. A driver, Caron. And then one day I said, I can't take her keys. Wednesday, she's gonna wake up, and I'm gonna be out of them. Keys are going to be gone. They should look for a car because you got to do it another way. So one night, Frank waited for his mom to go to bed and snuck out to the car with an idea. So I got underneath the dashboard and I looked at the ignition and I had their aluminum rappers that they put the cigarettes in the back wet, and I rolled it in a ball and I looked at the terminals in the back of the ignition where the way mission was, and I stuck the tinfoil in between it okay in our room.

And I said, Oh, I jumped. Scared me, you know? So I did it again. And, uh, well, when we started and I pushed stepping in there, I didn't have to because once you started they're going to stay starting. But then I could smell something. I pull it out and the car was still running. So as I found a way, there's still cars long mhm when she got power. A lot of power. You don't care about the money, not mine. For the Las Vegas Review Journal in partnership with the Mob Museum, I'm read Redmond. He's one of you. You kill him. You're listening to mobbed up a true story about money. You're not supposed to have a profile like that, especially in Vegas crime. You want to be very quiet so you can steal the money. He always said If you pull a gun on somebody, you finish it.

Because if you don't, it's going to come back to haunt you. And I remember seeing what's going on here, and he's saying they're trying to kill me and I said, Who's trying to kill your name? Shut up. And the fight for control of Las Vegas. The FBI will continue to look to the future to use the latest and most sophisticated techniques to fight organized crime. The mom would have destroyed Las Vegas. The only question is not if but when it would be destroyed. I was there every day with these fellas. I had no idea that there was a mob and he once told somebody, There's bodies out there in the desert and there's more every day. But if there is one area where the word war is appropriate, it is in the fight against crime. When you grab them, you'll bring them to the desert. You're gonna know where the hole has been dug. I thought. This is Part two. The family business. Frank Gallagher was born on December 14th, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois.

I was born in the neighborhood they call the Grand in Ogden Scranton Avenue in Ogden Avenue. Family and I. We stood there till I was about six years old. Nowadays, this part of Chicago is full of trendy shops and bars. I used to live in Chicago, and I don't think Frank was thrilled when I told him I used to work on podcasts in coffee shops in this part of the city. Well, now the up he stuck it over anyway, according to Frank, it was a real tough neighborhood when he was a kid and a lot of Gangsters come out of their neighborhood burglars, crooks and Gangsters. And my father took the family and we moved to, uh, another street Grand Avenue and near Oak Park Avenue who was a nicer neighborhood. Frank's dad, Joke Lotto, had purchased a six flat apartment building in this nicer neighborhood out on the edge of the city. So we all lived there, and I grew up in that that area, which would be close to a suburb, Let's say Elmwood Park or Oak Park, which were fluent neighborhoods at the time.

And what do you remember about your dad? Are there any stories that come to mind? Yeah, I remember a lot about my dad. I know it was his favorite that I know for sure, because he always wanted a boy had my sister first and then me. So he was a little partial to me. You know, every man wants a son. Like most young kids, Frank didn't really know or care what his dad did for a living. But I admired him the way he dressed, the cars they drove and how much respect he received from other people. Although Joe Kalata would leave a lasting impression on his son. The two didn't know each other for very long. I was eight years old and, uh, we were waiting for him to come home to go visit some relatives, cousins of ours, and he never did show up. And I waited and I waited, finding my mother put me off the bed. Then the next day, when I woke up, there was a lot of havoc in the house. You know, Everybody was running around this and I didn't couldn't understand what they were doing. I just knew my father wasn't there.

And then later in the afternoon, my mother pull me towards her and she told me that he wasn't coming on no longer that he was in heaven. That's they usually talk people out. And it, you know, it just struck me weird, you know, in heaven. Frank's mom told him his dad had died in an automobile accident, which was true, but it wasn't the full truth. It would take a couple of years for Frank to piece together the entire story. Well, you know, when a guy is admired by other people, other people brag about him. So my relatives, cousins and uncles I used to herd. I'm telling stories about my father, and then his friends would come around and visit my mother, and they would always tell stories about Joe and Joe the Dish Joe the death. One of the things Frank kept hearing people say about Joe was that he was a good driver. Then, as I started getting a little older, they start telling me stories. Man told me something set understood, and I come to find out that he was a crook, a criminal.

Frank found out that his dad was a wheel man. A wheel man is a getaway driver. They mostly do all the driving. They don't go inside and stick up places or burglar, and he would get you out of that robbery. He was very good at driving and get away from the police. I was told stories that he could get away from a police car in reverse. That's how good he was. This is what is Francis, said Tommy. And that's the way he died. An article from the Chicago Tribune published February 21st 1947 notes that Joke a lotta died in a three car crash while attempting to flee arrest by a pursuing police squad car. The plates on the car he was driving had been issued to a John Sarno, which an acquaintance told police was an alias Jokela used to use. Frank had turned eight years old just a couple months prior to the crash. I still was having difficulty understanding that because I was probably 10 years old then when this was coming to me. But I still admired him because as a kid growing up with him, I knew he loved to drive, and I knew he was an excellent driver, which I wanted to be because he always put me between his legs to steer the car as a kid when we used to drive.

But Frank's memories of joke a lotta aren't all positive ones, and I did see the violent side of him one time when I was very young in the car with two guys. It was a confrontation on the road. We were just coming from the cemetery. He was visiting his parents and he had his sisters in the car and some guy spit out the window and it landed on my father's Kara, and he curbed the guys. And when he curbed him, the guy in the passenger side ran around and was opening up the door of my father and my father kicked the door, opened up and knocked the guy down, start beating them up. Then the other guy coming and beat him up. And then the third guy comes. So we took all he took off and I watched them driving, done as a kid. And I knew that the kind of temporary and how good he drove. Frank Collado looked up to his dad. He idolized him, and from a young age he followed in Joke a lot. His footsteps.

They would hang a sack on a pole. They stuffed the newspapers in there. People wanted a newspaper. They draw nickel in there, take a newspaper out. Everything was on, your honor. The problem with the honor system is that some people to find honor differently than others. So I see that paper bag and I started watching people draw money in there. So then one day I saw the hell would have and I should meet up the pole, stuck my hand in her. Then I got to be easy, and I started looking for all these polls with the bags on the way to school, and that's still maybe 2 to $3. That's a lot of money back then, out of these paper sacks until one day they were individually owned. You know, he worked for a paper company or whatever, and this guy was getting tired of being robbed with no papers. So he waited and I started going up the pole. Then I seen the guy running towards me. So I slid down the pole and I took off. And that was the last time. I, uh, I still have the paper bags.

When someone told Frank's mom when he was up to, she was furious to find out her son had been stealing. And she says, You need to do something else and steal what's the matter with you? And she says, uh, I got your shoebox. Here's what am I gonna do with that? She's gonna shake shoes, shoes. You can make a nickel or quarter. You can make good money. Reluctantly, Frank did what his mother asked. He started shining shoes up and down Grand Avenue in Chicago. He'd charging Nickel and his clients, according to him, mostly barflies would usually throw him a quarter. Not bad money at the time for a 12 13 year old kid. So I was doing pretty damn good until one day I ran into another guy, another young guy like me. He was shorter and he was showing that she was on the other side of the street. And he didn't like the idea that I was on his street, as he called it, and he yelled at me and I looked at him like Good Al is this guy. The two kids started yelling back and forth. They called each other names and stepped out into the street, both ready for a fight.

This other kid was pretty short. So when they got to the middle of the street, Frank was looking down at him and he went to grab my collar and I pushed them away. And he says, This is my territory. I'm the only one. A lot on the street, not you. You can't even get permission and I switch your name and he's just Tony splash. Aw, and I looked up at the sign I knew what I was doing, I said, I don't see your fucking name on the sign. And he said he started laughing. He says, I'm coming back tomorrow. If you're on the street, you and I are gonna fight. Frank has never been one to shy away from a fight. He went back the next day and the day after that, every day for the next week. But this Tony Spilotro kid didn't show. I didn't see him. Finally what a week later, There he is and he's yelling, Come here, fuck you, Ice come to me.

So we met in the middle of the street again and he said to me, What's your father's first name? I don't know why you want. At that time, I didn't know what he what he was asking me that I said, What do you want to know for is it's very important that you told me because my father overheard me talking with my brothers about having a problem with the governor named Frank Kalata and my father come in the room and he says, Find out if that boy's father's name first name is Joseph. He says, If it is, is there going to be friends? It was an unlikely start to a friendship that would span decades and eventually take both of them to Las Vegas. Mhm. After the break, Frank finds out how his dad knew Tony's dad and the two new friends wreak havoc on the streets of Chicago. Mhm, mhm Mm.

Before the break, a young Frank Kalata crossed paths with another kid from his neighborhood, Tony Spilotro. It turned out that Tony's dad passed quality. Spilotro had been a friend of Frank's dads. Patsy, as he went by, ran a restaurant patsies on the near West Side of Chicago. Everybody used to go into a restaurant and have his famous meatball sandwiches. Joe Kalata had once helped Patsy Spilotro defend the restaurant from a type of extortion known as the Black Hand. Here's how it worked. According to Mom museum content development specialist Jeff Burbank, the black hand is not necessarily tied directly to the Mafia. Although Mafia members were involved in the black hand, the black hand was basically a term for an extortion method from the Italians Italian immigrants, and they would send a letter to a prominent Italian, a few non Italians, but the vast majority were wealthy Italians, A doctor a lawyer or that kind of thing and say, Well, if you know what's good for you and your family, you're going to pay me $5000 or something like that.

At some point, Black hand extortionists had started to show up around Patsy's restaurant and, according to Frank, Patsy then turned to Frank's dad. My father said What? Did he come here? Patsy? And he told them Sisters, listen, I'll be here that day. I'll be in the back. So he wanted to back that day and his partner and they waited for the guy to come in. And Patsy Tom, Yeah, I gotta go in the back together because he always went back together. The money. So the guy following him to the back and he never went out the front door because they kill them in the bag. Author Dennis Griffin, when the Black Hand guys were due to come in for their collection of their money, chose dead and a couple of his friends were waiting for them, and they ended up killing goodbye handers. According to Frank, That wasn't the end of it. His dad had had other run ins with the black handers and he wanted to get rid of these guys for good. The first two guys he got, they were in a barbershop, an ominous curl.

If you guys a couple guys, they knew the guy was going to be in the barbershop because they face the muscle of the barbershop, these greaseballs. And so they went in there and they killed the two guys. The runner, Frank says. The leader of this black hand group went into hiding, but his dad was able to track him down to a motel where he was staying with his wife. So they go to the motel. They kicked down the door, the guys in bed with his wife. They don't kill the wife. They killed him in bed with his wife. Mm. In their life. After finding out about their father's relationship, Frank Kalata and Tony Spilotro became fast friends when they were in their early teens. Frank and Tony ended up at the same school, the Montefiore School on Chicago's West side. It was a school for high risk youth, and Frank tells me he ended up there because he didn't like school and start getting rougher and rougher in school from me. You know, the full story, as Frank would go onto tell it is a little more complicated than that.

He says the principal at his old school slapped him for wearing his pants too low and that they had gotten into a physical altercation. After that, Frank wanted revenge. So he got another student to help them come up with a plan. So we planned it have recess there. So I said, Well, I waiting all well, The kids would go to the playground, you know? So he comes down the hall, we got a blanket. So we try to blanket over him, and we tie him real quick or the blanket, but enough for his legs. He could walk, but he don't know who threw a blanket over his head and we bring them into the classroom. We opened up the window. Now this rope was a long rope, and we're gonna go by the window by his feet, and, uh, we left them there. We tied him a long rope. He knew he'd done it. He figured it out. So we got in trouble. Of course. Then they sent me at the school like Frank. Tony also had a less than positive experience in the public school system, at least based on what his classmates and teachers would remember about him.

The following quotes come from a series on Anthony Spilotro that ran in The Review Journal in the 19 eighties. It was written by Michael J. Goodman of the Los Angeles Times. A teacher at Steinmetz High School, where Tony attended the ninth grade, would remember. He pushed teachers around, but there was nothing underhanded about the kid. Little as he was, there was an admiration for him. When he walked down the corridor, kids would fall in line behind him. One of Tony's classmates would recall Tony seeming moody and depressed, once, remarking, I don't care whether I live or die. Another of his high school classmates would remark. I knew his reputation. If I beat him up, he would get me after school. I saw him cleave a kid's head open with a metal T square. I saw him hit a teacher in the head with a gym bag. Just like Frank. Tony Spilotro seem to have a knack for finding trouble. Or, as Frank would put it, at the mob museum event in 2016. Trouble at a way of finding Tony. So what was Tony like as a teenager?

Tough guy? Because that was his thing, Especially then. Tony was very for a little guy. He was very, very good with. He wasn't scared of anybody. Anyway, I've seen them take down guys twice as big as him. He was fast with his hands, and he aimed right for the guys, and I never really seen them look for trouble. But it seemed to come to him because of his height. So he had this little guys personality, and I always had to defend themselves. Here's Jeff Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs at the Mob Museum. There was not destined to become a mobster. I mean, his brother was a dentist, okay? He didn't have to become a mobster. But Chicago in the 19 fifties and sixties, the mob was very dominant in Italian American neighborhoods and in certain parts of the city. And it's hard to avoid knowing somebody who was involved. And and I think Tony got a taste for this pretty early on. And, uh, you know, um, it appealed to him Mhm.

By the time Frank and Tony end up attending the Monte Fury School together. It's the 19 fifties. At the time you can get just about anywhere in Chicago using the city's streetcar system, and at first Frank got to his new school by hopping on to the back of streetcars and hitching a ride. But before long, streetcar operators started chasing after him, and he needed a new way to get to school. Frank had learned how to hotwire cars by practicing on his mom's car after she gone to bed. So instead of taking the street cars to get to school, Frank decided to put his new skill set to use. It's ice of shit. So I start stealing cars the same way I told you and I drive the score. I don't see how you did her, I told him I got a car around the corner whose cars I stole it. Oh, so I dry. At the end of school, I drive him to his father's restaurant on Grant and Ogden. He used to work there as a kid. Frank and Tony ended up getting into a lot of fights at the Montefiore School, and Frank tells me they only lasted there for about six or eight months. With the help of one of Tony's older brothers, Frank says he and Tony kidnapped and assaulted one of the other students they were having problems with the next day.

I didn't go to school. Noory, Tony. I think we stood away for about 34 days. Then they come and got Tony and they arrested them. As you know, I was hiding and they then they got me. The courts ended up allowing Tony to be released to work at his father's restaurant. Frank, however, was placed in a reformatory school where he would have to live on campus. He did make it back into the public school system eventually, but at the age of 16, Frank decided he was done with school for good. He also decided to get more serious about crime, graduating from schoolyard fights and car theft to burglary and armed robbery. It started when he crossed paths with one of his neighbors, a guy he refers to as Crazy Bob. I had a car at that age, my own Karnaugh. I couldn't afford it and forget a flat. I didn't know what to do. I didn't have the money. Some Washington in the l E L E s back in the house and this guy comes walking down the alley and he's wearing a fedora with the brim bent up.

Real tall, skinny guy. I used to see him around the neighborhood. He says, How you doing? I said, I'm doing all right. How are you? I'm good. He says. This your car? He says Yes, he says, You know, I could use you. You could use me. Yeah, what I do is look what I got and he showed me a could have been a bunch of singles for I. I know it seems like a lot of money, and as Isis come with me, says, I show you, we stick up joints. I'll furnish the gun, The mask, the gloves. I said, What do you do? It's a stickup. Taverns and gas stations. It's sort of like a cowboy. I told him, you know, doing stuff like so I'm making good money, he says. Then he's Eventually, he said, we could do banks. You want to come with me? You can't afford this car says Let me think about it. A couple days later, crazy Bob came down the alley again. Is that you ready? And I said, Yeah. So I said, Well, go tonight.

That's all right. So I got the car, so I picked him up and we're driving around back then they had taverns in the middle of the block. You know, if you live there, you patronize the Stelara. It was all over. Taverns are everywhere. We call them taverns. So a dark street, there's a tearoom. So I parked the car and gives me gloves, and I got a gun and a hat and all that shit the mask, and he's got the same. I could take my glasses off. I used to have very thick glasses. Frank didn't want to be wearing anything that could tie him back to the crime. So he decided to leave his glasses behind. Then the two masked robbers got out of the car. Mhm. We go in there and he throws a shot boom at the back of the bar, says, stick up. I think you scare everybody that you don't have the mountains to stick up. So, uh, he runs to the bar and everybody out on the ground on the floor. So everybody gets on the floor and I'm standing back.

Then I'm looking and I say I had the fedora and a top coat, and that's the only thing that's not getting on the floor. So I said, Get down, you mutter Effort, I'm screaming, Get down! But the bar patron in front of him wasn't listening. He was refusing to get down on the ground, apparently daring these 16 year old Frank to pull the trigger So he comes walking over me. So what are you yelling at? You yelling at? He whispers. He's a jerk off over there. I said, You don't want to get on the ground, he says. It's a coat rack. How is so freaking embarrassing? I went over. I slept the coat rack over. I told Bob, We're walking. If you ever tell anybody to start, I'll kill you. I was a kid telling them, I'll kill you. Don't embarrass me. This was Frank's first stick up. He threatened to shoot a coat rack, but as embarrassing as it might have been, they did get the money, and that was enough to convince Frank to keep going on on scores with Crazy Bob but before long, even to a young, eager criminal like Frank hanging around with someone like Crazy Bob started to seem like a bad idea, not because he was a criminal, but because he didn't seem like a particularly smart criminal.

You know, them kind of stick ups are very dangerous, and he was very free shooting the gun, you know? And I knew that eventually hanging with this guy, he's gonna kill somebody sooner or later. He had no appreciation for people's life. That's what we call him crazy about. Frank was done with Crazy Bob, but the teenager wasn't done with crime on Part three of Mobbed Up. Frank turns crime into a career, and Tony gets his shot at becoming a made man in the Chicago outfit. That was Tony's claim to fame. That was a big deal because the top guys in Chicago, one of these guys, that this has been part two of Mobbed Up, a production of the Las Vegas Review Journal in partnership with the Mob Museum. If you're enjoying the series so far, I don't want you to miss the next episode. So please subscribe to the series on apple podcasts. Spotify or wherever you're listening. Right now, you can help others find out about us by leaving a rating and review on apple podcasts, sharing your thoughts on social media or just telling a couple friends Mobbed up is reported and produced by me.

Read Redmond. If you have any tips, feedback or questions you want to share with me, you can reach me on Twitter at Red Redmond or send an email to our Redmond at review journal dot com. Our sound designer and audio editor for this series is Jonathan McMichael. Our theme song is composed by Jonathan McMichael. Thanks again to Frank Kalata, whose memoir Frank Kalata Hold the Wall Gang in My Own Words, served as a reference for this episode. Thanks also to Frank's biographer, True Crime author Dennis Griffin, as well as Jeff Burbank and Jeff Schumacher from the Mob Museum for sharing their insights on this episode. Select clips used in the intro to this episode are from the Oral History Research Center and the UNLV Library, Special collections and archives. Music and sound effects used in the episode are from Stephen Arnold Music and Motion Array. You can learn more about the mob Museum by visiting the mob museum dot org, and you can learn more about mobbed up by visiting. Review journal dot com. Backslash podcasts Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you right back here next week.

The Family Business | S1E2
The Family Business | S1E2
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