Frank Cullotta, the former mob hit man who advised and had a cameo role in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino,” died Thursday. He was 81
Geoff Schumacher, vice president of exhibits and programs for Las Vegas’ The Mob Museum, said on the museum website that Cullotta died Thursday from complications of COVID-19 in a Las Vegas hospital.
In Scorsese’s 1995’s classic “Casino,” the former mobster played a hit man who carries out several murders.
“He was the elder statesman and last survivor of people involved in Las Vegas’ mob era,” Schumacher tells USA TODAY about Cullotta’s historical legacy. “Everyone else is either dead or in prison. There isn’t anyone to fill those shoes. He was well-spoken in a gruff, Chicago-accented way and he was able to tell a story effectively.”
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In real life, Cullotta moved from his Chicago hometown to Las Vegas in 1979 and later admitted to killing a former friend and grand jury witness suspected of informing on a money exchange scam on which he was involved.
Cullotta formed a burglary group known as the Hole in the Wall gang that gained entry to homes and buildings by drilling through the exterior walls and ceilings.
In July 1981, Cullotto and five others were arrested after a botched robbery and charged with burglary and other crimes.
In prison a year later, Cullotta was approached by the FBI and agreed to testify against his former Las Vegas mob boss, Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, who was indicted for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Cullotta was given immunity for his previously uncharged crimes, but sentenced to eight years in prison before being paroled to the witness protection program when Spilotro was acquitted in 1984. Spilotro died in a suspected mob hit in 1986.
Cullotta was interviewed by author Nick Pileggi for “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas,” about the Chicago Mob’s control of Las Vegas’ Stardust hotel-casino. Cullotta was contracted by director Scorsese to serve as a consultant on the movie version of Pileggi’s book..
Cullotta co-wrote two books about his life as a mobster and had a YouTube show called “Coffee With Cullotta.”
The Las Vegas Journal Review interviewed Cullotta in 2015 when he was leading tours of famous Vegas mob locations – five-hour bus rides that cost $180 and included a champagne toast and pizza dinner. The tour included Piero’s Italian restaurant, featured in “Casino,” and the site that once housed Bertha’s Gifts and Home Furnishings — where Cullotta was arrested in 1981.
Cullotta referred to his mob period in the past tense, saying his epitaph should read, “I’m clean today.” He was asked if he ever thought about his dark past.
“Honestly, it never wakes me up,” Cullotta said. “If you do think about it, it’ll put you in the (expletive) nuthouse. When I do these tours, then everything pops up into my head; people want to know if it bothers me. Of course. But if I thought about it 24 hours a day, I’d wind up in my car with a gun in my mouth.”
Contributing: Associated Press