I am adding a new method of supporting the podcast. If you have the venmo app, how about donating an average of fifty cents an episode or just hit me up for a buck every time you think of it. In this second installment, I will talk about the activities of the Hole in the Wall gang as they stole, drank, gambled and ate pizza in Las Vegas. Remember during this time the Chicago outfit and 3 other Midwestern families had manipulated the Teamsters Union pension fund to loan money to a man named Allen Glick. He purchased the Stardust, the Hacienda, the Fremont and the Marina. The Stardust would be the flagship. Frank Balistrieri, boss of the Milwaukee family, had ordered Glick to promote a current stardust employee named Frank Rosenthal to a position of authority in his corporation. In 1971, Chicago Outfit boss Joseph “Joey Doves” Aiuppa ordered Tony Spilotro to move to Las Vegas in support of their interests. Aiuppa is replacing an aging Chicago Outfit member named Marshal Caifano who has been Chicago’s man in Vegas. Spilotro opens a gift shop in Circus Circus under his often-used alias, Anthony Stuart. The Circus Circus owner, Jay Sarno, had received a 43-million-dollar Teamster’s loan and could not question this new gift shop operator. Tony Spilotro will eventually be found out by the Nevada Gaming Control board and placed in the Black Book of banned persons. As a item of interest, Spilotro invested $70,000.00 in this Gift shop and will sell it for over $700,000.00 dollars. Law enforcement is starting to watch Spilotro and he must use other people to pass messages back and forth between himself and Lefty Rosenthal. They need to avoid any overt contact because the FBI has forged a working relationship with Las Vegas Metro Police Intelligence and Nevada Gaming Control and they are all watching closely by the later 1970s. Frank Cullotta was not known to Vegas authorities and Spilotro brings him out to Las Vegas to assist.
During this time, Spilotro needs to make money and he knows how to do big time scores, like jewelry stores, banks, fur stores and robbing drug dealers. He opens a jewelry store called The Gold Rush limited to use as his headquarters and a front to fence stolen good. This store was just off the strip at 228 West Sahara and is a vacant lot now. By this time in his life Tony Spilotro is the only real boss of organized crime in Las Vegas. As the boss, tony does not go on scores. Aiuppa has assigned Joey the Clown or Joseph Lombardo to be Spilotor’s Chicago contact. Spilotro has recruited Frank Cullotta who will recruit other Chicago burglars to join his crew. Between Spilotro and Cullotta, they put together guys who law enforcement will name The Hole in the Wall Gang.
One of the men Frank Cullotta recruited was a career criminal named Ernie Davino. Unlike the others, Ernie Davino was not from Chicago, he was a New Jersey mobster who had migrated to Las Vegas on his own. He was the son of Ernest “Tubby” Davino, a leg breaker and enforcer for New York mobster Albert Anastasia in the 1950s. Ernie Davino would later claim that he and a man named Leo Guardino started the Hole in the Wall Gang and eventually fell in with Frank Cullotta and Tony Spilotro. I think Ernie Davino and Frank Cullotta both wanted to be the alpha male of the gang but Frank’s connection to Tony Spilotro gave him the upper hand. No matter who started this gang, it is undisputed that by the end, this was Frank Cullotta and Tony Spilotro’s gang.
Another burglar Frank recruited was Wayne Matecki. He was a good candidate because he never moved out to Las Vegas and was unknown to local cops plus he didn’t have a criminal record. Anytime Frank lined up a score, Mateki would fly into town and leave immediately after from an airport in California or Arizona. Frank tested Mateki early on by having him hide inside a Las Vegas store after closing. Frank directed him to hide inside when the store closed. Then Mateki was to gather up the fur coats and other expensive items and pile them close to the front door. Frank would drive up to the front and Mateki broke out and they drove off in a few minutes after the alarm sounded. Once Frank saw that Mateki had the heart to do a job, he was an integral part of the team.
Ernie Davino’s friend, Leo Guardino was a Chicago burglar and at this point in his life I learned he was tired and trying to go legit. After a lifetime in and out of jail, he was struggling with earning a legitimate living. He was still making scores with Ernie Davino. Frank Cullotta would later describe Leo Guardino as a Chicago career criminal who was trying to go legit when he joined the Hole in the Wall gang. Probably Guardino thought Cullotta and Spilotro’s scores would be big and would become his last big scores, so he could retire from the life.
Spilotro recruited the disgraced former Las Vegas Metro cop named Joe Blasko into the gang. He was valuable in counter surveillance and monitoring police scanners during jobs. Frank did ot like the idea of working with this former cop, but Tony Spiloto told Cullotta he must use Blasko on scores, so he could make some money. Davino said he did not mind working with this former cop and found him helpful on jobs.
One of the most unusual members of the hole in the wall gang was a guy named Larry Newman. He was about 6’ – 4“and 250 lbs. When Frank first met him, he was serving time for a triple murder. In 1956 Larry Newman became angry at a Chicago bartender. He left and returned with a shot gun and killed the bartender, a waitress and a newsboy who stumbled into the tavern. He had served 11 years of a life sentence and he met Frank Cullotta during this prison sentence. Frank remembers they both worked n the kitchen. He knew Newman was a very dangerous man but he also knew this was the kind of guy wo was capable of anything he was asked to do, up to and including murder. Larry Newman was not the usual Outfit associate. He did not grow up with other gang members nor did he have any relatives that were known to the other gang members. He did have Frank’s trust because Frank had spent several years in a prison with Newman. Larry Newman was a child of a wealthy Chicago family and had enough monthly income from a trust fund that allowed him to not have to work. He elected to become a criminal.
During these years when the Hole in the Wall Gang was doing high end commercial burglaries, Larry Newman continued his murderous ways. In an eerily similar crime, Newman became angry with another bartender. A Henry County Illinois man named Ron Scharff ran a joint in suburban Chicago and he once ejected Newman’s former girlfriend. She called Larry and mentioned this incident. He became enraged and talked about going back and killing this guy. Frank Cullotta learned of this threat and told Newman to forget about it. But Newman being “Larry Newman” flew back to Chicago and murdered Ron Scharff and his waitress anyway. Exactly like the previous killing without the newsboy walked in on the murder. Ron Scharff’s son, Paul Scharff wrote a book, Murder in McHenry on this incident.
To demonstrate just how dangerous Newman was, Frank set up a score on Chicago jewelry store owner named Bob Brown. He put Wayne Mateki and Larry Newman together and gave them the description and address of this Bob Brown’s store. Frank thought there would be as much as $100,000 in jewelry in the store. Frank also warned them that the guy was connected to Allen Dorfman, the Outfit’s man on the inside of the Teamsters Union and they had to keep quiet about the job. He warned them that above all else, so not tell Spilotro because Dorfman was very close to Spilotro’s Chicago boss, Joey the Clown Lombardo. When Newman and Mateki returned Newman told Frank that he had killed the jeweler. Mateki related to Cullotta that they ambushed the man inside his store after closing. Before they left, Newman grabbed a machete off the wall and hacked him to death. New claimed he wanted to avoid any chance the guy could ever identify them because it might be a death sentence. Then he told Frank he hacked him up to make it look like a crazy man had done this killing. Now there is the pot calling the kettle black.
For the Bertha’s job Frank’s main crew were three men he knew from Chicago, Larry Newman, Wayne Mateki and Leo Guardino, the ex-cop Joe Blasko, and Ernie Davino from New Jersey. Tony Spilotro liked Blasko because he had fed him information when he was still a cop and Leo Guradino vouched for Ernie Davino. This little gang had all the bases covered, Leo Guardino and Ernie Davino specialized in burglaries. Larry Neumann and Wayne Matecki were capable of anything, including armed robbery and murder. Joe Blasko could help in counter surveillance and use his cop connections to get information like home address or license plate registrations. Tony will ask Frank to take on one more man to add some electronic expertise to their kit of tools. Sal Romano will complete the Hole in the Wall gang for the Bertha’s Gifts and Furnishings score. Frank Cullotta will later claim that Ernie Davino invited Sal Romano to go on the Bertha’s job because he is an expert in locks and alarms. Since Sal was a long time Chicago Outfit burglar, it is more likely that either Tony or Frank invited him to join.
Sal Romano was a gentleman burglar. On one occasion Romano was doing a burglary set up by Outfit member Paul Shiro. This job was down in Phoenix and after he made entry, a small dog started barking and raising a ruckus. Romano backed out and took his crew with him. When he returned to face Shiro, he was asked why he didn’t just kill the dog and Romano quietly said, “I don’t do dogs.”
During these years Frank opened a pizza place and claims he was the first person to introduce Chicago deep dish style pizza in Las Vegas. Upper Crust Pizza and the adjoining My Place lounge were located at 4110 S. Maryland Parkway. This is now the Pioneer Plaza, a small strip mall. One funny story is that Cullotta found a camera and microphone the FBI had hidden in the ceiling of this place. He gave it to Oscar Goodman who made the feds produce a letter certifying they had court authorization to install this device. Most mob fans have seen the famous picture of Frank and many of his gang sitting at a sidewalk table in front of his joint. They look like Tony Soprano and his crew out in front of the meat market.
A tragic story started at this sidewalk table at the Upper Crust. This might be titled, “The night the cops killed Frankie Blue.” Frank Bluestein or Frankie Blue was a young guy whose father, Charles Bluestein was an Outfit associate involved in the Culinary Workers Union in Vegas. Frankie Blue had moved to Las Vegas and was working as a maître d’ at the Hacienda Hotel & Casino. Remember, this was an Outfit controlled casino that was part of the 4 casinos that Lefty Rosenthal managed for Allen Glick.
The newly formed FBI surveillance team joined with Las Vegas Metro Intelligence to conduct moving surveillance as well as audio surveillance on the Spilotro crew. On the evening of June 9, 1980, two of Kent Clifford’s Intelligence Unit members, Detective David Groover and Sergeant Gene Smith were conducting another routine surveillance of the Tony Spilotro gang. On that night as they were camped outside the Upper Crust pizza parlor and the adjoining My Place bar, located at Flamingo Road and Maryland Parkway. One of the officers, Detective David Groover would later remember, “We put in a lot of long tedious hours watching those guys. But in that kind of work things could change very quickly, and that night they did.”
Frank remembers that former Chicago resident Frankie Bluestein came into the Upper Crust driving a late model Lincoln with Illinois tags. He knew Frankie Blue and that he was about ½ a wise guy but not a real criminal. Frank, Tony and some others were sitting in front and the guy went inside and ordered a pizza. He came back out to chat with them while he waited. Frank warned him that he would attract the attention of the Las Vegas Metro Intelligence driving a Lincoln with Illinois tags. The guy laughed and said that might be good because somebody was following him, and he thought they were trying to set him up for a robbery. The guy also volunteered that he wasn’t afraid because he had a gun. The guy got his pizza and left.
Las Vegas Metro Intelligence Sergeant Gene Smith remembers he and his partner Detective David Groover saw an unknown guy talking with Tony Spilotro and Frank Cullotta and other members of the gang. They watched as he drove away in a 1979 Lincoln town Car with Illinois tags. They wanted to identify him, so they followed a short distance when the guy started driving at a high rate of speed and swerving in and out of traffic. The officers threw a Kojak light on the roof of their car and pulled up behind the Lincoln. Suddenly, the Lincoln pulled over and the driver jumped out. Both officers exited their car drawing their weapons and Sergeant Smith saw a gun in the driver’s hand and fired immediately.
The reaction of Spilotro was tremendous. Tony Spliotro asked Frank Cullotta to hire a couple of black guys to come to town and kill some cops. He wanted this to look like a race problem in order to extract revenge against Las Vegas Metro Intelligence but not bring heat down on the Outfit.
Intelligence Unit Commander Kent Clifford learned that Spilotro had put a hit out on his two cops. During this time, somebody fired a shot gun into the side of one of the cop’s homes and another person fired a shot gun into Spilotro’s home. Commander Kent Clifford took drastic action to stop the escalation of hostilities. He flew to Chicago, went to the homes of several Outfit bosses and found only the maids or a wife. He went to Teamster consultant and Outfit associate Allen Dorfman’s office and told him the addresses he had visited. He then told Dorfman that if anything happened to his officers, he would return with several men and kill everybody he found around those houses. Commander Clifford claims he received a phone call later that afternoon advising him that his men were safe in the future.
I would imagine that Aiuppa and the rest of the bosses were wondering what the hell Tony Spilotro was doing out in Las Vegas. Drawing attention like that can endanger the skim. As far as Spilotro’s becoming a persona non-grata with the Outfit soon after this, some folks like to believe that because of a supposed affair with Lefty’s wife, Jeri, but this is not the kind of stuff that will get you killed. Bringing unnecessary heat, informing and stealing money from the bosses are what gets the mob guy killed.
In the third and final installment I will describe the night of the robbery. The Hole in the Wall Gang has been doing good scores. They feel safe at their joint, the Upper Crust pizza and My Place lounge. They are getting treated like rock stars and get comped at the Stardust. They have connections all over Vegas. They are the only mob in Vegas. What can go wrong?
Don’t forget to listen to Aaron on the Big Dumb Fun Show.
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