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Frank and Me

Submitted by on Tuesday, 30 June 2009No Comment
True Crime Author Denny Griffin

True Crime Author Denny Griffin

I landed in Vegas and things have been a little rough.  My luggage is not with me, it took me forever to get a cab, and I needed to clean up and change clothes before I went out. The luggage thing was completely predictable to me. I had to drop off my luggage at terrorist inspection for review of my transported assets before I boarded the plane. Of course, the inspection interrupted me getting my luggage when I landed. Dennis Griffin the co-author of Frank’s biography, had arranged for me to go on the Mob Tour early that evening.  I was feeling and looking pretty exhausted and I needed to freshen up – but I had no gear. Of course the luggage arrived  a half hour later then when it was needed to get me to the tour on time.  Consequently, I had to cancel my reservation. Not off to a good start. No luggage, feeling thrashed, dragging Mr. Griffin’s name through the mud, and paying a lot of money to do this all. It reminded me of Marine Corps boot camp realizing that you had volunteered. Nobody made you do it but there you were.

Dennis Griffin also arranged for me to meet with Frank Cullotta. I was going to meet him the next day at a dress rehearsal for a show that he was doing. The show is the Mobster Chronicles where individuals from the Vegas era of the 70’s and 80’s provide back drop of Vegas back then and Frank would tell his story. I was to be at the Liberace Museum Plaza. That should be easy, flamboyant enough, right? Not really. It was a strange market convergence of beef jerky, energy drinks and feather boas. It was a shopping plaza with two small buildings claiming to be museums. There may have been a time where anything goes in Vegas, but I am telling you, not this bad idea. Anyway, I am late because of trying to get a cab.  The show is at 2:00, it is now 1:50 but I am there. Unfortunately, my tour of the grounds of the Liberace Museum Plaza was not concluded until 2:05, and no show.

This is Frank Cullotta pictured in 2012.

This is Frank Cullotta pictured in 2012.

My phone rings. It is phone number of former Las Vegas Metro Detective that Mr. Griffin was also was kind enough to arrange for me to meet. I answer and it is not the detective – it is Frank Cullotta. “Where are you at?” he says.  This is not good. “I am at the plaza.”, I reply.   “Where in the plaza?” he asks.   “At the 7-11.” I respond again.   “YOU are in the wrong spot.  You need to be across the street.” I did not want to explain nor I am sure did he want to hear that I was there getting water because I was burning up trying to hunt down where I was supposed to be. “Look for the building with the piano keys on the front, in the middle of the plaza, and it will have a 10 on the front door.   Someone will be looking for you out in front.” he says.  “OK”, I say, “thanks Frank.” I head across the street to the building with the piano keys on the front in the middle of the plaza, but there is no “10” on the door.  I move quickly. I pace up and down where I am told to be. This is not good at all. I go into the building I think that I am supposed to be at. I covered it quickly, not what I am looking for. I head out to the plaza and just start opening things and peering into them.  If my first tour of the premises did not get the people’s attention then this tour would. I was getting the attention of store owners.  “Can I help you?” they would ask.   “Are you here to greet me?”, I would ask back.   Each time they would look at me, puzzled.  “Do you know who I am suppose to meet?” I asked. “Who are you suppose to meet?” they would respond.   “If you don’t know that then I can’t tell you, I have to figure this out on my own.”, would be my ultimate response.    Then I was off,  leaving behind bewildered and concerned faces.

It was now after 2:30.  People are now showing concern about me. I needed to get out here before one of these folks call the cops. I grab a cab and head back to the hotel.  I had blown off Frank Cullotta. I went from dragging Mr. Griffin’s name through  the mud to the point that I think that it would be in his best interest to sell his Vegas home. At this point I need to look at my itinerary to see if ruining Dennis’s credibility is on there.  If so I can cross that part of the trip off as completed. Should I call him and tell him? No not yet, he is not headed back soon so I will let him think that it is ok to do so for a few more days.

I get back to the hotel and I am not happy about anything right now. I know that I need to explain how I could not handle the simple task of being where I was supposed to be. My phone rang and the number was the retired detective from Metro, but I knew it wasn’t him. It was going to be Frank. “Hey, where were you?” I explained that I was where I thought that I needed to be. “We waited for you, there were people waiting outside for you.” I am pretty sure that I could not feel worse. I blew off a former gangster, and some retired agents – and I hate putting anyone out. “Are you still going to do the radio show tomorrow?” Frank asks. “Of course I am,” I responded. “OK, I will pick you up tomorrow at 7.” I said ok and then we said bye, but before we hung up Frank piped up. “Can you do me a favor?” Ok, I just blew this man off, he is a former gangster from the Chicago Outfit, what kind of favor would he ask of me. I had no time to consider so I just blurt out “Sure, anything.” Did I mean that, “anything,” REALLY? “I need you to call me at this number at 6 to make sure that I am up.” Whew, I can handle this. “Sure, not a problem Frank.” We got off the phone and I set every alarm in the room for 6:00 AM. I set my phone, the hotel alarm and called the lobby for a wakeup call. I am not sure that the reprisal is for not getting up a former Chicago Mob figure up on time but I was not going to find out.

At 6:00:10 AM the number that Frank gave me was ringing. Frank answered. “Good Morning Frank, it is 6 o’clock.” “Alright, I am on my way to pick you up.” “OK, Frank I will see you then.” We hung up but now I am confused. Did he say that he was on his way? Does that mean at 7, like we originally planned or he is on his way now? Frank is going to help me make sure that I mess something up. I still had some corresponding to do, get showered, shaved and dressed. I am thinking that he will be here at 7 because we did not have to be at the radio station until 8. I go on with my business and get online.

I post the link to the radio shows live feed on Facebook. I still can’t mention that I am doing the radio show with Frank. I can only speak about it after it happens. I finally work my way into the shower. I am finishing up my shower and I start to feel guilty. I hop out of the shower butt ass naked and look at the phone. Frank had called almost 10 minutes ago. I called the number back and apologized that I just got out of the shower. Frank was ok because the radio studio was right up the road and we were very early.

Frank Cullotta and Paul Scharff on the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009

Frank Cullotta and Paul Scharff on the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009

I met Frank out in front. In the book Cullotta, Frank reveals that he has a weakness for nice cars. I don’t think that he is cured of it. He picked me up in a fine luxury automobile. This is the first time that we have ever met in person. I introduce myself and shake hands with Frank. He looks me dead in the eye, “I want you to know that I did everything that I could so your father would not have gotten killed.” I was a little taken aback by this because this was a fact that I understood. I told him “I know.” We had plenty of time to get to the radio station so we drove around a little bit. The first place we go to, The Liberace Museum Plaza. At 7 o’clock in the morning I did not think that Frank wanted to get some beef jerky or a feathered boa. We were going to get to the bottom of the yesterdays major failure. We pulled directly in front of the suite that I should have been at. “See it is in the middle of the plaza and there are piano keys on the front of the building,” Frank said. I then pointed 90 degrees of us to the building suite that was in the middle of the plaza with piano keys on the front of the building. We both laughed or really he laughed first then I laughed. I was relieved, one because I hate to have anyone think that I was disrespectful of their time. Two, it looks like Mr. Griffin can come back to Vegas and enjoy his home again.

Frank and I then drove around where he showed me where his old restaurant, the Upper Crust, use to be. This is the place that Larry Neumann received that phone call from his ex-wife that made him decide that he was going to back to Chicago to kill my father. We also had some other very interesting conversation. He talked to me about my father’s case. He has background information that only he would have. I will leave it at that for now. For me it was very insightful – more than any other conversation that I have had to date. Plus, Frank would tell me a few stories about Vegas back then and some of the players of the times. I enjoyed listening to them because I was being told by someone who was there first hand.

Now it is getting close to be heading into the radio studio. We pulled up and started to look for which studio we should be at. Frank called Dennis Griffin to get the address to the studio itself. I knew but I figured I have not been so good at being where I was supposed to be so I will let Dennis get this wrong instead of myself. Dennis was correct in the address he gave Frank because we are now shaking hands with the producer of the Heidi Harris Show.

Heidi Harris and Paul Scharff at the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009.

Heidi Harris and Paul Scharff at the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009.

Frank and I sat in a room outside of the studio. He had a couple of calls to make and I was texting away with someone. By the way, texting is overrated and I can’t stand it. I have a phone thingy that is better at making calls then allowing me to efficiently text. In other words, PLEASE DON’T TEXT ME. Heidi Harris came out while for a commercial break. She was very gracious in meeting me and saying hi to Frank as she has interviewed him before.

We are now on the radio with Heidi. In the interviews that I have done, I never know what they are about until I hear them later. I spend the time sitting there, not talking to me, not talking to me, not talking to me, talking to me, talking TO ME, TALKING TO ME, and try to answer things intelligibly. However there were a couple of times where I stopped to listen.

I am familiar with all of this stuff like you would not believe. There is nothing that I have not heard at least three to four times already. But I stopped to listen to Heidi ask Frank “Tell us about the Jerry Lisner killing?”  If you are unfamiliar with the story, this was murder that Frank committed himself.

Jerry Lisner was going to take down Tony Spilotro (The Chicago Outfit’s enforcer in Vegas and Frank’s boss) and Frank Cullotta by working with the government. Tony gave Frank the order to kill him. However, this task became easier said than done.  It was a story that sounded more of a comedy scene in a movie rather than a real murder.

The story begins with Frank shooting this guy six times in the head while this guy is running around the house. Frank was really upset with these bullets he was using. They were half loads to deaden the sound of gun fire but they were “Loud as Hell.” Throughout Frank telling his story he shaped his hand in the form of a gun. He would look at his hand when he talking about the shooting. “What do I have in this thing blanks?” After Frank emptied the gun into Jerry Lisner’s head, Jerry almost escaped out of the garage when Frank closed the garage door and chased him around the house some more. He tried grabbing a knife but he could not reach it. He grabs the electric cord from the water cooler and tried to strangle Jerry Lisner but when he wrapped the cord around his neck he broke the cord. Frank’s lookout ran into the house with more bullets, because he counted the shots and knew that Frank was out. They converse quickly about any cops etc. and grabbed Jerry Lisner.  The lookout and Frank grabbed a couple of pillows and placed in the front and the back of Jerry’s head placed four more shots in his skull.

Frank Cullotta, Heidi Harris, and Paul Scharff at the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009.

Frank Cullotta, Heidi Harris, and Paul Scharff at the Heidi Harris Show, KDWN Radio, Las Vegas, NV. June, 2009.

Jerry Lisner is finally dead.

There is blood all over the place. Frank was not wearing gloves. He could leave his prints in Lisner’s blood. They wrap Jerry in a shower curtain and dump in the pool out back. Later it is reported that Lisner was found shot to dead floating face down in a pool at his home.

Afterwards Frank ran into Tony Spilotro and Tony asks about this Jerry Listner thing. The outfit does not like publicity about their business. “Frankie, did you have to be so dramatic?” Believe me when I say I am missing the essence of Frank telling this story. Heidi asked a follow up question. “Do you feel any guilt or remorse for that killing?” “No.” “Not at all.” “The guy was a piece of.”  Frank ended the sentence just like that.  We were on the radio. “The world is better place without that guy, let’s put it that way.”

There was one more question that Heidi Harris asked Frank that took me by surprise. “Frank, what is it like to be in the same room as a victim?” “Honestly… a little uneasy at first.” What?! Oh, I gotta hear this, so I pay attention. “I warmed up to the kid, but it was uneasy.” I am almost 40, and he called me a kid. Frank is doing good so far. He continued to say that he really felt bad that this had happened and he wished he could have done more about it. This is the second reference that he made that day that showed a level of compassion to me and for what had happened to my father and Patricia Freeman.  I was just balancing this all out. I just heard the Jerry Listner story. Granted from what I was recently made to understand, the guy was a piece of shit and that the world is better place without him. But there was no remorse. But he showed compassion to me. Was that conflicting? No, not at all. I think he really felt compassion for what happened on June 2nd, 1981, and he also thought that Jerry Listner was a piece of shit and the world was a better place without him. What Frank showed was sincerity. I always respect that of anyone.

Frank and I left the studio and went back to my hotel after doing what I thought was a great and interesting interview. Heidi Harris does a great job.  We pull up to my hotel and Frank asked “Are you hungry, do you want to get breakfast?” I was hungry.  “Yeah sure, I think that we can get something here, “I said.  We pull up to the valet. He hands over his car to the valet, “Name sir?” Frank gives a name that I did not recognize. Oh yeah, thats right –  I am under cover in Las Vegas with Frank Cullotta. I guess we are banking on these folks not having TV’s. Frank has been on the Biography Channel, Nightline, and many other channels. But I will go along with it, I am not gonna blow our cover. Having breakfast with Frank was just like I thought it would be. Two guys having breakfast.

I want to thank Frank for everything that he has done for me and my family. He also picked up the tab for breakfast. I had a great time. That was Frank and Me.

 

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