Nicholas Pileggi, best known for his book and screenplay Casino, and his book Wiseguy, which was adapted for the movie Goodfellas, may have said it best in his short film, The Myth of the Mob, which is shown at The Mob Museum: “Mobsters live and act outside of the law. They do what they want, without regard for consequences. Their fearless styles make for particularly compelling subject matter chronicled in some of the most popular books and movies of our time. That’s the thing with gangster movies. A guy comes from the street and he does whatever it takes, even becoming a gangster, to make money. It’s kind of an exaggeration of what life is. Drama has to be bigger than life and then we’re able to draw inferences. All drama is larger than life. Everything from Shakespeare to Public Enemy, and now 100 years after the first Mob movie, there seems to be no drop in interest. Stories about criminals and crime are as popular as ever. I guess we’ll always like these stories of larger than life characters.”
The Mob Museum is housed in the former federal courthouse and United States Post Office, built in 1933. It is a modern-day museum with interactive touch screens, videos, and unique ways to engage with law enforcement and organized crime materials. You can listen to real FBI surveillance tapes on wiretapping equipment, you can look up your own hometown to find where mobs hung out, participate in a police lineup, and watch how agents spied on mobsters. Exhibits show how the battle against the Mob was fought; mob violence, corruption, murder, and the skimming that took place inside the casinos that made mobsters filthy rich. Photos of the Mob hits are chilling. You can start to understand what made Las Vegas, the ultimate “open city”, attractive to mobsters.
Fascinating stories are brought to life through over 600 one-of-a kind artifacts. It’s the largest collection ever of Mob memorabilia under one roof. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall has been reconstructed from bricks that were saved and numbered in order for placement. The black areas (above) had been individually sold. The massacre, led by Chicago’s Al Capone on February 14, 1929, annihilated seven men affiliated with the Bugs Moran gang. Some say it was the bloodiest day in the Mob’s history. There’s the barber chair where Albert Anastasia was sitting when he was murdered in 1957. Anastasia, boss of the Gambino crime family, operated a gang of contract killers known as Murder Inc., which reportedly murdered 400-700 people. Like Anastasia’s murder, most of these cases were never solved. An exhibit shows the phone wire service that was used to aid in horse race betting. The races would take place at the Belmont Racetrack in the eastern part of the country, and bookies out here in the West, because of the time difference, knew who had won the races, but were still taking people’s bets, knowing full well that a certain horse didn’t win. They made a tremendous amount of money on the horse races. There is the actual courtroom where the Kefauver hearings were held in 1950-51. The hearings were televised and watched by about 30,000 people, (twice the audience of the 1950 World Series) which was an astronomical number considering that most people didn’t have television in their homes. People flocked to neighbor’s homes and bars, and even movie theaters to watch. The hearings on organized crime were fascinating and introduced many Americans to the term “Mafia” for the first time, as they watched crime bosses, bookies, pimps, and hit-men testify. These hearings were important to Vegas because other states had been contemplating legalizing gambling, but backed off after seeing the problems gambling entailed. Besides, Vegas was already an open city, beckoning for people to come. Some of Oscar Goodman’s trials took place in this same courtroom long before he became a popular three-term Mayor of Las Vegas. He spent more than 35 years defending such reputed mobsters as Meyer Lansky, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, and Anthony Spilotro, among others.
Families have shared personal items and photos with The Mob Museum. There’s a room with wedding pictures, baby pictures, customized jewelry and items that belonged to big-time mobsters Al “Scarface” Capone, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer “Little Man” Lansky, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Sam “Momo” Giancana, Joe “ Joey Bananas” Bonanno, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and John “Dapper Don” Gotti. There’s even a case of Oscar Goodman’s mementos.
Law enforcement names are also included in the museum. J. Edgar Hoover, Eliot Ness, Harry Anslinger and “Rudy” Giuliani all played a part in fighting the mob. Working with the FBI and undercover agents were Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the Mob posing as the smalltime jewel thief Donnie Brasco, and Cuban-born Jack Garcia, who ingrained himself into the Gambino family. The exhibits help you understand the difficulties and dangers confronted by law enforcement officers. Remember that there are two sides to every story – and then there’s the truth.
THE MOB MUSEUM is located at 300 Stewart Avenue Las Vegas, NV 89101
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES ON THE MOB
“You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.” Al Capone
“There’s no such thing as good money or bad money. There’s just money.” “Lucky” Luciano
“I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.” John Gotti
“I never killed a guy who didn’t deserve it.” Mickey Cohen
“Everybody has a price.” Jimmy Hoffa
“Never open your mouth, unless you’re in the dentist chair.” Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
“The United States of America versus Anthony Spilotro. Now what kind of odds are those?” Tony Spilotro
“Things change now because there’s too much conflict. People do whatever they feel like. They don’t train their people no more. There’s no more respect.” Aniello Dellacroce
DENNIS ARNOLDY: FBI Agent
In August of 1980, Dennis was assigned to watch over the Chicago Outfit’s operations in Las Vegas. The Vegas mob’s operations were run by Tony Spilotro, who had requested that Frank Cullotta from Chicago come to Vegas and work for him. “Lefty” Rosenthal was already overseeing the operations at the Stardust Hotel. Dennis came when there was an effort to clean up Sin City from organized crime, and he became the case agent for the Spilotro investigations. On July 4, 1981, Dennis headed the arrest team that took down Frank Cullotta’s Hole in the Wall Gang at Bertha’s, a large Vegas jewelry store. Arnoldy was in charge of debriefing Cullotta when he entered the Witness Protection Program. Today he has his own investigative company, Arnoldy and Associates.
STRIPLV: How does the government decide who is a candidate for the Witness Protection Program? Is it all based on who they can put away or how serious the crimes were that they committed?
ARNOLDY: I’ve been retired for 15 years, so I don’t know what current policy is. Back in 1982, when we got Frank Cullotta in the program, we got others in the program at the same time. First, it would be someone who would be a substantial corroborating witness for us, someone who was heavily involved as a criminal himself in the group, like Cullotta was with Tony Spilatro. Obviously, Frank was heavily involved as Tony’s lieutenant. So, he would know just about everything that was going on. He also ran the Hole in the Wall Gang and could pinpoint what happened to some people and where they were buried. Obviously he was going to be very, very important. The decision wasn’t really a difficult decision; it was one that had to be made. What were we going to do, have this guy testify and then say: “See you at home later.”? We needed to have him protected because we certainly didn’t want him killed, because he’d be no good to us dead. It was a no-brainer that he had to come into the program. There’s not a list: that he saw 10 burglaries, or he saw a murder, or anything like that. It’s what his value would be to your case. In our case, it would be very important. Let’s say Frank was a lower member of the Hole in the Wall Gang, and he came forward and said he’d tell us this and that. Then we’d have to decide: are we going to take his information since we’ve got enough to convict him, or does he have enough information to help us? And at this point we’d say “maybe”, but we probably wouldn’t use him or put him in the program. Now if he had said he shot somebody, maybe we would at that point, but you have to weigh everything out.
STRIPLV: Once in the Witness Protection Program, did you have to plan Frank’s moves and get him jobs?
ARNOLDY: The FBI doesn’t do that. That’s the U.S. Marshall’s responsibility. In Frank’s case, there was another consideration. He was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison. He went to prison in the Witness Security Program, which meant that he and other witnesses similar to him would be kept separate from the other inmates, in a separate wing of the jail. Their food was prepared separately and they lived separately from everybody else. When I wanted to talk to Frank, I’d contact the Marshall Service, and also the U.S. Attorney would have to confirm that I needed to talk to him. Then the Marshall Service would transport him somewhere. Sometimes it would be where he committed the crimes, and we would travel to different parts of the country where the crimes were committed that he participated in. Sometimes I’d just visit him in prison to debrief him.
STRIPLV: In the book, Cullotta, it said you took years to debrief him.
ARNOLDY: I started in 1982 and the trial was in 1986. In the beginning, when he became a government witness, there was intensive debriefing. Then, as you move along towards the trial, you clarify things. You can’t take him to court on his word alone. You have to double and triple check everything he’s told you. It takes a long time.
STRIPLV: What was Frank like as a witness?
ARNOLDY: Frank was a very good witness. He testified many, many times and became very proficient at it. Because he always prepared for trial, you had to leave him alone a day or two before. He had a lot of experience and did a very good job.
STRIPLV: Do you think Vegas is safer today, than when the Mob ruled?
ARNOLDY: That’s a very difficult question to answer. We are so much larger now. We’re always going to have criminals here, because gambling attracts certain criminals. I don’t remember people robbing casinos back then, like we’ve seen happen lately. I know that the police work hard at it. Our population is good-size, but our tourist population is incredible and it throws everything out of whack.
STRIPLV: You are a polygraph technician. If polygraphs are not allowed in court, what good are they?
ARNOLDY: Sometimes they’re allowed in trial, but generally not. It’s an investigative tool and should be used as such. People ask me about psychopaths or sociopaths. They are very good at not showing their emotions on the outside, but no different than anybody else when it comes to what’s going on in the inside. Those people can be only concerned about taking care of themselves, so the worry of the consequences can affect their reactions. The outcome really depends on who’s administering the test.
STRIPLV: What made you decide to become part of the FBI?
ARNOLDY: In college, I took criminology, and when the opportunity to become an FBI officer came, I took it. It’s a very extensive background check and procedure.
STRIPLV: When interviewing Cullotta, he said you were his best friend, because he felt he could trust you.
ARNOLDY: That’s the main thing, in my opinion. If you’re asking a person to put his life on the line, and inconvenience his family a great deal, he needs to have complete trust in you. You can’t be lying about things, and I never lied to Frank, so he was able to trust me. I was expecting him not to lie to me, so if he wanted me to trust him, it had to go the other way also. If I’d been caught in a lie, then I would have lost my credibility and the entire case would go away. Yeah, I did become his best friend I suppose, because everything he did or wanted to do for the future depended a lot on me.
STRIPLV: Tell me about the friendship that you still have with Frank to this day.
ARNOLDY: I can’t condone what he did, but he has fulfilled his obligation to society. He’s put his life on the line, made it difficult for his family, and he endured all that, and in an admirable fashion, by preparing very well and testifying very well. I never had any concerns about him when he was on the stand. His information was invaluable to our investigation, and it continued to be afterwards as well. Other FBI officers contacted him about things in their divisions, and it continued for a long time. I like Frank very much. I think personally, as a small businessman, he’s done very well and has always worked hard. You have to ask yourself…would you have done the same thing in his position? I do respect Frank, I certainly do.
STRIPLV: What is it that makes people gravitate to The Mob and their stories?
ARNOLDY: I think it’s the absolute power that these people had. They could make decisions and no one could question them about it. It’s glamorous to people because it’s almost Godlike to them. They only see the good side and thought that they were only killing bad guys, forgetting that they used those killings to keep people in line.
DENNIS GRIFFIN: Crime Author
Dennis N. Griffin is one of the most popular crime authors in Las Vegas, NV. Retiring after 20 years as Director of Investigations in upstate New York, Griffin began his writing career with his first novel, The Morgue. He wanted to tell the story of what he had learned while investigating a medical examiner’s office. Next he wrote Red Gold, also based on personal experience. He now has seven fictions in print. He moved on to nonfiction with Policing Las Vegas, The Battle for Las Vegas, Cullotta, and Surviving The Mob. When writing Cullotta, Griffin never imagined his book would help solve the double murder case of Ron Scharff and Patricia Freeman that had remained unsolved for years. Frank Cullotta revealed details about the gangster Larry Neumann’s visit to Ron Scharff’s tavern, and his revenge on the owner and his employee. Griffin also is part of the Vegas Mob Tour that takes you on a ride highlighting the homes and locations of murders of The Outfit here in Vegas.
STRIPLV: Did you know the murder of Ron Scharff and Patricia Freeman was unsolved?
GRIFFIN: I didn’t know about it until quite a bit later when I got an e-mail from Ron’s son. Though we didn’t mention names, we did mention locations and dates in the book. He said: “I think that was my father.” I didn’t realize it was a 27 year-old cold case. This guy’s babysitter had read the book, and she said: “Oh my God, Paul. They’ve got your Dad’s murder in here, and who did it.” Paul Scharff has been working on a book about this case and the effects on the families and survivors of murder victims.
STRIPLV: Your first book, The Morgue, was based on your investigation of a medical examiner’s office in upstate New York, and is basically true. You said that when people read it, they thought it was too far-fetched to believe.
GRIFFIN: Exactly. They said I had a vivid imagination. Rather than argue with them, I just laughed and said: “I do.” One of the tabloid TV programs of the time, it may have been Inside Edition, contacted the department and said they were interested in doing a story on it. After they got the details, they said it was too bizarre and wouldn’t do it. The medical examiner had falsified hundreds of documents in the process of obtaining bodies and body parts that should have been buried or cremated. He wanted to be the “go-to guy”. If you wanted a scull of an African-American male for some project or demonstration, you’d call this guy and he’d happen to have one. If you needed a bone or torso of a female Asian, he’d just happen to have one. He ran skeletal recovery courses, and what they would do is take complete or partial skeletons and partial body parts and bury them on a farm. Then students, including coroners and law enforcement officers, would be instructed to go unearth them. When we finally caught up with him, he was using these illegally obtained body parts for his skeletal recovery course. One of the instructors was from the FBI and said it was the best course he’d ever taken. Yeah, and it was, because he was using real bodies instead of fake stuff. Everything he was doing was illegal. I always thought that when someone passed away, they went to the morgue if it was a coroner’s case, or they were taken to the funeral home and treated with all kinds of respect. I never dreamed that this could go on. So that’s why I decided to write the book, and although it’s based on actual events, I wrote it a fiction.
STRIPLV: Is Red Gold, your second fiction book, also mostly true?
GRIFFIN: It’s loosely based on a Medicare fraud case that I worked on. To them, blood was as valuable as oil, or black gold to oil people. This blood was their red gold, and allowed them to bilk the Medicare system for multi-millions of dollars with patients that didn’t exist. A Pakistani doctor was licensed to practice in New York, but got thrown out of the program for Medicare fraud. They got homeless people, drug addicts, and alcoholics in New York City, and they put out the word that they were collecting blood, and they’d pay so much for a draw. We got a call from a hospital in New York City that said they’d brought in a guy who was found collapsed and unconscious on the street due to blood loss. He told them he’d been donating blood. You’re only supposed to donate so much during a time period, but this guy went to five or six of these illegal collection stations and they overdrew him. We were alerted that probably most of these guys had HIV, and where is that blood ending up? We ended up with 42 million dollars of questionable billings, but we could only prove 4 million. You couldn’t find the alleged patient. We found out, just before the doctor was arrested, that his father had fled back to Pakistan, and they had been sending money to Pakistan when they were raking it in. There’s a possibility that some of that money was used to fund terrorists for 9/11. So to think that some of our tax money was used to train these guys is horrible.
STRIPLV: What made you decide to continue writing?
GRIFFIN: A local bookstore invited me in for a book signing. People were lined up out the door and down the street. Some people had already bought the book and wanted me to sign it. They wondered when my next book was coming out. I hadn’t planned to write a next book, it was going to be a one-hit-wonder. It really got me fired up, so I continued.
STRIPLV: Compare the hours you spent writing fiction compared to nonfiction.
GRIFFIN: Fiction was very minimal. The Morgue, for example, I had lived, so I didn’t need to research at all, because I knew it firsthand. I met a former civilian employee for the State Police and she suggested, that with my background, I should write police stuff. So I made a proposal and went to Metro with it, to see if they’d approve and get me access to the information that I would need. Jerry Keller, the Las Vegas police chief at the time agreed, but with the request that I would go back to 1905. I thought: ‘How am I going to do that, because I’m a one-man operation?’ He saw the look on my face and said not to worry. He said Metro had their 25th Anniversary and had a history book made, not for the public, but only for Metro personnel. So, I had all the old files, the old pictures… all the old police chiefs and I could have it all if I agreed to include it. I felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.
STRIPLV: So with access to the files, you started to write Policing Las Vegas?
GRIFFIN: Yes. I met some tremendous people, some of these old-time cops that worked in the 1940’s. There was a bar that was 4 miles from Las Vegas called the Four Mile Bar on Boulder Highway that was a house of ill repute. I found of picture of the Madam at the UNLV library and I showed my wife her picture. I asked her what she thought this woman did for a living, and she replied that she looked like she might be a school teacher. I said: “I’ve got news for you!” (laughter) These old-time cops told me, that during that time in the 1940’s, Las Vegas consisted of 2 traffic lights: both always on caution, blinking.
STRIPLV: Coming from upstate New York, did you know Vegas’ history at all?
GRIFFIN: I knew that Sin City had Organized Crime. One of the Metro cops said I should write about Tony Spilotro. I didn’t even know who Tony Spilotro was. He asked if I’d ever seen the movie Casino and that Joe Pesci’s character was based on Spilotro. So I started to research him. As luck would have it, all the cops and FBI agents who had worked his case had just retired. They were no longer required under their job not to talk to me. These guys wanted to talk, because the movie had made them look like buffoons, running out of gas and carrying hero sandwiches. The first one I got in touch with was Dennis Arnoldy, who was the case agent for Spilotro. He asked if I’d like to talk to Frank Cullotta, who was Spilotro’s lieutenant. He hooked me up with a phone interview and I was able to add Frank’s comments to the end of Battle for Las Vegas.
STRIPLV: That became the beginning for the book, Cullotta?
GRIFFIN: I asked Arnoldy if Cullotta would be interested in telling his story. Again, as luck would have it, Cullotta was looking for a writer. We had a meeting at the Palace Station here in Vegas. It was a very bizarre set-up, because I couldn’t know when Frank was coming into town, for security purposes. I was given a 24-hour notice and then we met and talked for 3 or 4 hours. I was a little apprehensive, since I’d always been in law enforcement. I knew Frank was going to be a pretty perceptive guy, and wondered if he was going to tell from my body language that I didn’t think too much of crooks and whether we would be able to work together. After 4 hours, we made a deal on a handshake, and he gave me 400 pages of notes and his memories. I got home and thought someone should question my sanity. I had just made a deal with a guy who had been a thief all his life and a killer, and I did a deal on a handshake. After some phone calls, I knew I needed to spend more time with Frank because I had a lot of questions, and so he said he’d come to Vegas. I suggested he come to my place and he agreed. I hung up and said to my wife: “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” Her reply was: “Not in my house, he’s not.” I told her: “How would it look if I called him back and told him not to come?” The day Frank came, he came in the front door and my wife and the dog went out the back door. The funny thing is she now loves Frank, and Andrew, too. She says it’s very hard to read the books and associate them with the characters in the book.
STRIPLV: I guess because Cullotta turned out so well, you were ready to do Andrew DiDonato’s story about a street soldier in the Gambino family.
GRIFFIN: I was back in New York and I got an e-mail saying they had an interesting story about a Gambino family soldier. I talked back and forth with Andrew and he said: “I found out you did Cullotta’s book and you’re still alive, so it meant you can be trusted.” He was concerned about me giving away his location, because he was also in the Witness Protection Program. That book became Surviving the Mob.
STRIPLV: After spending all those years on the right side of the law, how do you view your relationship with these men now?
GRIFFIN: I try not to make judgments. They’ve made their peace with the law, and to my knowledge, they’re not like that today. They’re living a straight life. They treat me decent, they’re honest with me, and as far as I know, they’re not doing anything wrong. In some cases, they’re even trying to discourage kids from taking the wrong path. I told them that I wasn’t going to glorify organized crime in their books, so “Be factual, and say that you ended up in the Program because of threat of death.” We always put in the books a little about their former friends who are dead or in prison.
STRIPLV: What is it that makes people so addicted to The Mob and their stories?
GRIFFIN: Some of the people I talk with think they’d like to have been a mobster, if they’d had the guts to do it… the women, the cars, the clothes, the mobster life. They’re just taken with it; how people could defy the system and get away with it for years, if not forever.