FBI mugshot of Spilotro
May 19, 1938|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||June 14, 1986
Bensenville, Illinois, U.S.
|Other names||"Tony the Ant"|
|Known for||Mobster of the Chicago Outfit|
Anthony John Spilotro (May 19, 1938 – June 14, 1986), nicknamed "The Ant", was an American mobster and enforcer for the Chicago Outfit in Las Vegas, Nevada during the 1970s and 1980s. His job was to protect and oversee the Outfit's illegal casino profits (the "skim"). Spilotro replaced Outfit member Marshall Caifano in Las Vegas.
Born Anthony John Spilotro (pronounced spil-oh-tro according to FBI Special Agent William Roemer when he asked John Spilotro how his father, Pasquale Spilotro Sr. pronounced it), he was nicknamed "Tony the Ant" by the media after Roemer referred to Spilotro as "that little pissant." Since the media couldn't use "pissant," they shortened it to the "Ant." Ant is also short for Anthony. He was also called Tough Tony.
The fourth of six children, Spilotro was born and raised in Chicago. He attended Burbank Elementary School, and entered Steinmetz High School in 1953. His father Pasquale Spilotro Sr. (known as Patsy) had emigrated from Triggiano, in the Italian Province of Bari, in the southeastern region of Apulia, and had arrived at Ellis Island in 1914. He and his wife Antoinette Spilotro ran Patsy's Restaurant. When Pasquale arrived in America, however, he had no money, education, or particular skill. Unlike most Italian immigrants who settled in "The Patch", the Spilotros lived at 2152 North Melvina Avenue. Mobsters such as Salvatore "Sam" Giancana, Jackie "The Lackey" Cerone, Gus Alex, and Francesco "Frank the Enforcer" Nitti regularly dined at Patsy's, which was on the west side at Grand Avenue and Ogden Avenue, using its parking lot for mob meetings. In 1954, Pasquale Spilotro Sr. suffered a fatal aneurysm and died at the age of 55, leaving six sons.
Along with four of his brothers, John, Vincent, Victor, and Michael, Tony became involved in criminal activity early in life. The remaining brother, Pasquale Spilotro Jr., went to college and became a highly respected oral surgeon in the Chicago area.
Tony dropped out of Chicago's Steinmetz High School in his sophomore year and quickly became known for a succession of petty crimes such as shoplifting and purse snatching. His first arrest occurred on January 11, 1955, when he attempted to steal a shirt from a River Forest store and was charged with larceny; he was fined $10 and placed on probation.
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In 1971, Spilotro succeeded Marshall Caifano as the Mob's representative in Las Vegas. There, Spilotro was reunited with his boyhood friend Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who ran several Outfit-backed casinos, including the Stardust. Spilotro's legal counsel in Vegas was provided by Oscar Goodman, a defense attorney for several high-profile criminal suspects of that era (and a future mayor of Las Vegas).
Spilotro and Rosenthal worked together to embezzle profits from the casinos (i.e., "the skim"), which were then sent back to The Outfit and other Midwestern Mafia families, such as Kansas City, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. On his own, Spilotro (under the alias Tony Stuart) took over the gift shop at the Circus Circus Hotel, a "family" hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel offered first-class entertainment for children, while their parents gambled in the casino. In 1971, the hotel was owned by Jay Sarno. In 1974, Circus-Circus was sold; for Spilotro's $70,000 investment, he received $700,000.
In 1972, Spilotro was indicted in Chicago for the murder of Leo Foreman, a real estate agent/loan shark, who had made the mistake of throwing Sam DeStefano out of his office, in May 1963. Foreman was eventually lured to Sam's home to play cards. There, Foreman was tortured by repeatedly being stabbed with an ice pick and had pieces of his flesh cut out, before being shot and killed.
In November 1975, Spilotro, with the help of Frank Bompensiero, murdered Tamara Rand, a millionaire real estate broker and investor from San Diego. At the time, Rand was suing Allen Glick, a mob front man in Las Vegas, to repay a $2 million loan she had made to him. Spilotro sneaked into Rand's house and fatally shot her.
In 1976, Spilotro opened The Gold Rush, Ltd. with brother Michael Spilotro and Chicago bookmaker Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein. The Gold Rush, located one block from the Las Vegas Strip, was a combination jewelry store and electronics factory. Here Spilotro, brother Michael, and Blitzstein gained expertise in fencing stolen goods.
Whereas Rosenthal was responsible for the actual management of the casinos, Spilotro's primary task was to control casino employees and other personnel involved in the skim/embezzlement scheme. Spilotro's role as enforcer, however, was severely curtailed after he was blacklisted by the Nevada Gaming Commission (chaired by Harry Reid, who would later become a U.S. Senator and the Senate Majority Leader) in December 1979, a ruling that legally prevented Spilotro from being physically present in any Nevada casino. He was blacklisted as a direct result of court testimony of Aladino "Jimmy The Weasel" Fratianno, following Fratianno's arrest in 1977.
The Hole in the Wall Gang
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Spilotro, in 1976, formed a burglary ring with his brother Michael and Blitzstein, utilizing about eight associates as burglars. The crew became known as the Hole in the Wall Gang because of its penchant for gaining entry by drilling through the exterior walls and ceilings of the buildings they burglarized. The Hole in the Wall Gang operated out of The Gold Rush, Ltd. Other gang members included Peter Basile (from Wilmette, Illinois), Frank Cullotta, Joseph Cusumano, Samuel Cusumano, Joseph D'Argento, Ernesto "Ernie" Davino, Leonardo "Leo" Guardino, Frank DeLegge, Michael LaJoy, Ernest Lehnigg (from Addison, Illinois), Wayne Matecki, "Crazy Larry" Neumann, Butch Panczko, Peanuts Panczko, Pops Panczko, Salvatore "Sonny" Romano, Gerald Tomasczek, Carl Urbanotti (from Chicago, Illinois), and former Las Vegas detective, Joseph Blasko, who acted as a lookout and who later worked as a bartender at the Crazy Horse Too, a gentleman's club; Blasko died of a heart attack in 2002.
Following a botched burglary at Bertha's Household Products on July 4, 1981, Blasko, Cullotta, Davino, Guardino, Matecki, and Neumann were arrested and each charged with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, attempted grand larceny, and possession of burglary tools. They were locked into the Las Vegas Police Department's holding cell in downtown Las Vegas. The only members of Spilotro's gang not arrested for the July 4 burglary were Blitzstein, Cusumano, Romano, and Michael Spilotro.
By this time, Spilotro's relationship with Rosenthal had collapsed, as Tony had had an affair with Rosenthal's wife, Geri McGee. Meanwhile, Cullotta had turned state's witness, testifying against Spilotro. But the testimony was insufficient, and Tony was acquitted.
The FBI first "flipped" Charles "Chuckie" Crimaldi, a former associate of Sam DeStefano. Crimaldi had been a "juice collector" for DeStefano during the 1950s and 1960s. Crimaldi gave evidence against Spilotro and DeStefano in the murder of real estate agent-loan shark Leo Foreman on November 19, 1963; DeStefano and Spilotro were both acquitted. Crimaldi also provided information on his part in luring William "Action" Jackson to his death. Jackson was another loan shark and enforcer who worked for DeStefano and had been indicted on a hijacking charge. DeStefano suspected Jackson of cutting a deal with the FBI in exchange for a lighter sentence, after Jackson was allegedly[who?] spotted with agents in a Milwaukee restaurant owned by Louis Fazio, a DeStefano associate. FBI agent Roemer denied Jackson had cut any deal with the agency.
Later, Sal Romano, a member of the Hole in the Wall Gang who specialized in disabling alarm systems, became a government informant. Romano worked counter-surveillance during the July 4, 1981 burglary at Bertha's jewelry store in Las Vegas. Unbeknown to Spilotro, his brother John, partner Herbie Blitzstein, and the Hole in the Wall Gang burglars, Romano had turned informant several months earlier; federal agents and police were waiting for the burglars when the heist at Bertha's went down.
Spilotro's boyhood friend, Frank Cullotta, admitted that for many years he'd done "muscle work" on Spilotro's behalf, including setting up the 1962 "M&M Murders" of James Miraglia and Billy McCarthy. Spilotro had been ordered by Outfit bosses to track down and kill the two men after they robbed and murdered three people in a suburban Chicago neighborhood, where several members of the Chicago Outfit lived, territory that was considered off limits to criminal activity.
After his own arrest in the attempted Bertha's burglary, Cullotta subsequently became a federal witness, or a "snitch" to save himself, after he thought Spilotro was out to kill him. In November 1981, Cullotta was arrested for a previous burglary, in which a woman's home was broken into and her furniture stolen. The furniture was later found in Cullotta's home, which led to his indictment on possession of stolen property. Cullotta also admitted Spilotro ordered him in 1979 to murder Las Vegas mob associate, Sherwin "Jerry" Lisner.
Las Vegas authorities discovered that Spilotro had ordered Hole in the Wall Gang member Lawrence Neumann ("Crazy Larry") (53, of McHenry, Illinois), to murder Cullotta and fellow burglar Wayne Matecki (30, of Norridge, Illinois).
Cullotta, who had publicly admitted to being a killer himself, supplied information about the M&M murders. Neumann tried to post bail for Cullotta so he could murder both Cullotta and Matecki, but the police had Cullotta's bail revoked to protect him. Cullotta received eight years on the stolen property charges. In September 1983, Spilotro was indicted in Las Vegas on murder and racketeering charges based on Cullotta's testimony, but the charges didn't hold up.
Meanwhile, Spilotro was tried before Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas J. Maloney, in Chicago, for the Miraglia and McCarthy killings, while Cullotta's foiled executioner Neumann was sentenced to life in prison in 1983. Judge Maloney did not accept Cullotta's statements as evidence or as proof "beyond a reasonable doubt". Maloney, in turn, acquitted Spilotro (in 1992, however, Judge Maloney himself would later be convicted through Operation Greylord of accepting bribes in several related and unrelated cases).
Cullotta testified before the President's Commission on Organized Crime and the Florida Governor's Commission on Organized Crime, and appeared at a sentencing hearing for the Chicago mobster Joseph Lombardo. Cullotta later served as a technical advisor for the movie Casino (1995), in which he also played a small role as Curly, one of Remo Gaggi's hitmen.
In January 1986, in the wake of the imprisonment of Joseph Aiuppa and John Cerone for skimming Las Vegas casino profits, a meeting was held at the Czech Lodge in North Riverside. Most of the upper echelon was there, including Outfit boss Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo. Joe Batters had decided to appoint Joseph Ferriola as the "Street Boss" in charge of Outfit operations to replace Aiuppa. Ferriola told the group that Accardo would stay on as consigliere and would have final say, as well as Gus Alex staying head of the connection guys. He then went onto the first problem: Spilotro, and how things had gone down since he took over Vegas. Rocco Infelice said, "Hit him." Everyone else at the meeting was in agreement. Joe Ferriola closed the meeting with, "OK, that's it, I got nothin' else."
It is suspected that Spilotro and his brother Michael were called by Samuel Carlisi to a meeting at a hunting lodge owned by Spilotro's former mob boss, Joey Aiuppa. Original reports stated the Spilotros were savagely beaten and buried alive in a cornfield in Enos, Indiana. They were identified by their brother Pasquale, Jr. through dental x-ray records. However, in 2007, mob assassin Nicholas Calabrese testified at the "Operation Family Secrets" trial in Chicago that the brothers were killed in a Bensenville, Illinois basement where the Spilotros believed Michael would be inducted into The Outfit. According to court testimony, when Tony entered the basement and realized what was about to occur, he asked if he could "say a prayer".
No arrests were made until April 25, 2005, when 14 members of the Chicago Outfit (including reputed boss James Marcello) were indicted for 18 murders, including the Spilotros'. As a result of that investigation, the murders of the Spilotro brothers are now thought to have taken place in DuPage County, Illinois — in Joseph Aiuppa's hunting lodge, where they were beaten and strangled before being buried in a cornfield alongside U.S. Highway 41 in northwest Indiana. At the time of Spilotro's murder, Aiuppa was in prison, but Spilotro must have thought the building was still in use as a hunting lodge.
The suspected murderers included caporegime Albert Tocco from Chicago Heights, Illinois, who was sentenced to 200 years after his wife Betty testified against him in 1989. She claimed that the day after the Spilotro murders, she was called to pick up Tocco 1 mi (1.6 km) from where the brothers' bodies would later be found. She said that Tocco was dressed in dirty blue work clothes. Betty Tocco further implicated Nicholas "Nicky" Guzzino, Dominic "Tootsie" Palermo, and Albert "Chickie" Rovero in the Spilotro brothers' murders. Tocco died at the age of 77 in an Indiana prison on September 21, 2005.
Another suspect in the murders was Frank "The German" Schweihs, a convicted extortionist and alleged Chicago assassin, who was suspected of involvement in several murders including the Spilotros, Allen Dorfman (of the Teamster's Pension Fund), and a former girlfriend. Schweihs was arrested by the FBI on December 22, 2005. At the time, Schweihs was a fugitive living in a Berea, Kentucky apartment complex. Schweihs had slipped away before prosecutors were able to arrest him and 13 others, including reputed Chicago mob boss James Marcello.
On May 18, 2007, the star witness in the government's case against 14 Chicago mob figures, Nicholas Calabrese, pleaded guilty to taking part in a conspiracy that included 18 murders, including the hits on Anthony and Michael Spilotro, in 1986.
Under heavy security, Calabrese admitted that he took part in planning or carrying out 14 of the murders, including the Spilotro killings. Calabrese became the key witness against his brother, Frank Calabrese, Sr., and other major mob figures charged in the government's Operation Family Secrets investigation. The investigation was aimed at clearing up old, unsolved gangland killings and bringing down Chicago's organized crime family.
Nicholas Calabrese agreed to testify in what became known as the Family Secrets Trial after the FBI showed him DNA evidence linking him to the murder of fellow hit-man John Fecarotta, who was also allegedly involved in the Spilotro slayings. Frank Calabrese, Sr.'s trial in Chicago's Everett M. Dirksen U.S. Courthouse began on June 19, 2007, and ended on September 10, 2007, with the conviction of Frank Calabrese, Sr. and four other men associated with the Chicago mob: Joseph Lombardo, Marcello, Paul "The Indian" Schiro, and a former Chicago police officer, Anthony "Twan" Doyle.
On September 27, 2007, Marcello was found guilty by a federal jury in the murders of both Spilotro brothers. On February 5, 2009, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murders.
Spilotro was replaced in Las Vegas by the late Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini. Spilotro is survived by his wife Nancy, his son Vincent, and his remaining brothers.
Suspect in gangland slayings
By the time of his death in 1986, the FBI suspected Spilotro was responsible for at least 22 murders. Spilotro was indicted in 1983 for his role in the murders of Bill McCarthy and James Miraglia, popularized in the press as the "M&M Murders." McCarthy and Miraglia were two young robbers who had robbed and shot two businessmen and a woman in the mobster-populated neighborhood of Elmwood Park, near Chicago. They were also in debt to Spilotro's old boss, Sam DeStefano. Their bodies were discovered on May 15, 1962, in the trunk of a car dumped on the Southwest Side of Chicago. Both had been beaten badly and had their throats slit. From McCarthy's injuries, it seems his head was placed in a vise, popping out his eye, presumably to persuade him to disclose the whereabouts of Miraglia. The murder of Bill McCarthy (renamed "Tony Dogs") is included in Martin Scorsese's 1995 film Casino.
Spilotro may have been involved in the attempted car bombing murder of Lefty Rosenthal on October 4, 1982. He was also incriminated in the murder of his onetime mentor "Mad" Sam DeStefano on April 15, 1973, while DeStefano, his brother Mario and Spilotro were all facing trial for the murder of Leo Foreman, a local collector for the mob, who had been tortured to death in Sam DeStefano's basement. Spilotro is further suspected of murdering San Diego real estate heiress Tamara Rand (an event portrayed in the film Casino); Teamsters Union executive Allen Dorfman; and Danny Siefert, the manager of the International Fiber Glass Company. Siefert was to be a principal witness in the fraud case but was shot in front of his wife and four-year-old son in September 1974. The fiberglass company was later burned to the ground by arsonists, whereupon they claimed the insurance money.
According to former Willow Springs, Illinois, police chief Michael Corbitt, statements by Outfit Capo Sal Bastone implicated Spilotro in the murder of former Chicago Outfit boss Sam Giancana. The FBI believes Spilotro was also involved in the torture murder of loan shark enforcer William "Action" Jackson, who worked for DeStefano in the 1950s and 1960s. The Chicago Outfit mistakenly believed Jackson had become an FBI informant in 1961. A gang led by Sam DeStefano took Jackson to a meat packing plant, where they hung him by a meat hook inside the rectum and then crippled Jackson by smashing his knees with a hammer and poking his genitals with an electric cattle prod in an attempt to get him to confess to being an informant. Jackson was left near death for three days before finally succumbing to his injuries. Allegedly, Spilotro was a member of the gang that tortured and murdered him.
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Martin Scorsese's 1995 film Casino is based on the Las Vegas careers of Spilotro and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, on whom the Ace Rothstein character (played by Robert De Niro) was based. The character Nicholas "Nicky" Santoro (played by Joe Pesci) is based on Spilotro. Nicky Santoro and his brother Dominic (Philip Suriano), based on Tony's brother Michael Spilotro, are shown being beaten and buried alive by Frank Marino (Frank Vincent), who collaborated in the murders because he wanted "no more" of their dirty work. Other members of Nicky's previous crew (Clem Caserta, Jed Mills) and Chicago Outfit hitmen (Michael Toney, Steve Vignari), also participate in the beatings.
In the 1980s NBC series Crime Story, the character of mobster Ray Luca is based on Anthony Spilotro.
- Robert Casillo (2006). Gangster priest: the Italian American cinema of Martin Scorsese. University of Toronto Press. pp. 336. ISBN 978-0-8020-9403-2.
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- Slate magazine, "Where Do Mob Nicknames Come From?" Feb. 7, 2008
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- UNITED STATES v. MALONEY, 94-2779 (United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. 1995).
- The New York Times. Joseph Ferriola, 61, Reputed Mobster. 8 November 2007
- Roemer, William F., Jr. (1994). The Enforcer- Spilotro: The Chicago Mob's Man Over Las Vegas. The Ballantine Publishing Group. pp. 262–265. ISBN 0-8041-1310-6.
- Roemer, William F., Jr. (1994). The Enforcer- Spilotro: The Chicago Mob's Man Over Las Vegas. The Ballantine Publishing Group. p. 272. ISBN 0-8041-1310-6.
- Mike Robinson (19 May 2007). "CHICAGO'S ORGANIZED CRIME FAMILY: Guilty plea entered in Spilotro hits in '86". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Archived from the original on 22 September 2009. Retrieved 22 September 2009.
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- Michael J. Corbit (2003), Double Deal: The Inside Story of Murder, Unbridled Corruption, and the Cop who was a Mobster, pages 194-197.
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- Griffin, Dennis. Cullotta - The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness Huntington Press: 2007. ISBN 0-929712-45-5
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- FAT HERBIE AND THE HOLE IN THE WALL GANG: The Rise and Fall of a Vegas Mobster by Cathy Scott
- Timeline of Las Vegas Organized Crime (temporary account may be required)
- Chicago Sun-Times: Ex-mobster weighs in on latest case by Robert C. Herguth
- Anthony "Tony The Ant" Spilotoro's FBI File
- The Free Information Society - Biography
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- "Mob Trial Riles Las Vegas," APBnews.com, May 17, 1999 by Cathy Scott