Born: May 19, 1938, Chicago
Died: June 14, 1986, Bensenville, Ill.
Nicknames: The Ant, Tough Tony
Associations: The Outfit, Hole in the Wall Gang, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Frank Cullotta, Teamsters Union, Tony Accardo, Frank “Bomp” Bompensiero
Anthony Spilotro was a soldier and enforcer for the Chicago Outfit who was assigned to protect the Las Vegas “skim”: the illegal diversion of casino profits to the Mob. However, Spilotro’s violent extracurricular activities, as documented in the movie Casino, hastened the demise of the Mob’s influence in Las Vegas.
The FBI estimated that Spilotro, a high school dropout who was first arrested at the age of 17 for shoplifting in Chicago, was responsible for nearly two dozen murders in Illinois and Nevada.
Spilotro grew up among mobsters in the Chicago area, and four of his five brothers were involved in various criminal activities. By his 21st birthday, Spilotro had been arrested 13 times, the Las Vegas Sun reported in 2008, and Sam “Mad Dog” DeStefano, an Outfit enforcer, found him reliable enough to bring him into the Mob.
In 1962, Spilotro was put in charge of the torture and murder of a pair of thieves who had victimized an area of suburban Chicago that was home to mobsters and off-limits to crime. The M&M murders, as they were known to law enforcement and the press, would come back to haunt Spilotro and his associates years later. One anecdote from those murders would be dramatized in Casino: Spilotro put one of the thieves’ head in a vise, tightening it until his eye burst from his skull.
While Spilotro was brutal even by the standards of the Mob, he was a dependable soldier. The Outfit’s Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo put Spilotro in charge of its Las Vegas interests in 1971, replacing Marshall Caifano, another solider with a brutal history who was rumored to favor the blowtorch as an educational tool, but whose effectiveness may have been limited due to his entry into Nevada’s “Black Book” of those excluded from entering casinos.
The early 1970s were a heady time for mobsters, when the Mob controlled virtually every casino worth controlling in Las Vegas, and the skim diverted millions into the coffers of the Outfit and to other mobsters. The Outfit placed Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal in charge of the Stardust, with front man Allen Glick, and Spilotro was in charge of keeping Rosenthal happy and the skim operational.
Almost from the beginning, Spilotro attracted attention. He was indicted in 1972 in the murder of a Chicago real estate broker and sometime Mob associate on behalf of his mentor, the reportedly sadistic and unstable DeStefano. The murder itself, in 1963, was again notorious for its brutality: The victim had chunks of his body carved out before he was killed. In 1973, after shuttling between Las Vegas and Chicago for the trial, Spilotro was found not guilty. DeStefano, who was also indicted, died by means of a fatal shotgun blast before the trial; FBI agent William Roemer believes Spilotro was one of the killers.
In 1974, according to the Los Angeles Times, there were more gangland-style killings in Las Vegas than the previous 25 years combined. In the same year, Spilotro was indicted for theft from the Teamsters Union’s Central States Pension Fund, but Spilotro beat those charges as well after the principal witness died, also by shotgun blast.
His main job was protecting the skim, but Spilotro found that street crime could generate a healthy profit that he did not have to send back to the Midwest. He branched out to the theft of jewelry, furs and anything of value that he could burglarize from residential and commercial properties (including hotel-casinos) with his Hole in the Wall Gang. In 1976 he opened a Las Vegas pawn shop, the Gold Rush, to fence the stolen property.
In 1978, state investigators put Spilotro’s name in the Black Book, and a year later Las Vegas Metropolitan Police raided the Gold Rush. However, the court found that Metro had overstepped its authority in the raid and prosecution, and Spilotro, with the help of defense attorney Oscar Goodman, beat the indictment. The heat, however, was on.
In 1981, six members of the Hole in the Wall Gang were arrested in the burglary of a furniture store. Spilotro and Goodman again beat the resulting charges, but one of those arrested in the burglary, Frank Cullotta, had become an informant.
Cullotta named Spilotro as one of those responsible for the M&M murders almost 20 years earlier, and in 1983 Tony was on trial again. And again, Spilotro beat the charges.
But Spilotro’s situation was not helped by his alleged affair with the wife of his old friend Lefty Rosenthal; Spilotro was also suspected of being involved in the 1982 car-bombing of Rosenthal.
In 1986, Las Vegas police again arrested Spilotro and other members of his gang for multiple burglaries.
By now, the Mob, which was losing its ability to control casinos and continue the skim as federal and state agents increased their scrutiny, had had enough of its troublesome agent. In June, Spilotro and his brother Michael were called back to the Midwest for a conference. Their battered bodies were found several days later in an Indiana cornfield.
In 2007, a federal court found James Marcello, a top man in the Outfit, responsible for the murder of the Spilotro brothers along with other murders and various crimes. With Marcello, who received life in prison, a number of other top Outfit members were indicted and convicted of other crimes in what were known as the Family Secrets trials, facilitated by testimony from Cullotta and other former mobsters-turned-informants.
Watch: Frank Cullotta discusses his relationship with Tony Spilotro at The Mob Museum
Listen: Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas, an an 11-part true-crime podcast series in partnership with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, chronicles the mob’s rise and fall in Las Vegas through the eyes of those who lived it.