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From violent to loving in a heartbeat: The two sides of infamous Chicago Outfit mobster Tony Spilotro

By David Amoruso

Chicago Outfit mobster Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro continues to fascinate the public. Thanks in large part to Martin Scorsese’s epic movie Casino and Joe Pesci’s portrayal of him, but also due to the gangster’s violent way of doing business. For those interested, you can now live in his former home or anticipate an upcoming film about his life.

Located near Tropicana and McLeod, Tony Spilotro’s 2,400 square foot residence was recently put up for sale and is listed for an asking price of $419,000. The realtor, Shannon Smith of Realty One, told KSNV News 3 that the place looks pretty much the same as when Spilotro had it constructed in 1974.

“[Spilotro] bragged about having one of the biggest backyards in the neighborhood,” he said. “It's a traditional ranch style home, four bedrooms, two baths. It's still kept respect and kept homage to the vintage Las Vegas style.”

Photo: Spilotro's former swimming pool.

Home shot up by Las Vegas cops

If one is to take a very close look at the residence, one might even find some bullet holes. On the evening of April 9, 1981, someone fired a shotgun at the house and vehicles parked in front, damaging both with pellets. The nearby home of Spilotro’s brother John was also shot up. Both brothers and their families were not hurt. Tony accused Metro Police officers of the shooting, but despite an investigation, no officers were ever charged in the incident.

Spilotro was furious about the shooting, saying that several shotgun pellets had just barely missed the heads of his two sons. Vincent Spilotro was 14 years old at that time, but vividly remembered the harrowing incident decades later while talking to author and former police officer Dennis N. Griffin for his book The Battlefield for Las Vegas.

“Most loving man I ever knew”

But most of all, he remembered the kind side of his dad. “He was the most loving man I ever knew,” Vincent told Griffin. He recounts how his father would have difficulties getting to sleep. “He only slept a couple of hours a night. Having my arm around him helped.”

Tony Spilotro’s widow Nancy told Griffin that her husband was a regular guy who liked home cooking and seldom ate out. Tony would fix his sons’ pancakes for breakfast, as could be seen in the movie Casino. He would take his family on several trips to Disneyland where “It’s a Small World” was his favorite ride.

Photo: Anthony Spilotro and Frank Rosenthal

The Chicago Mafia’s enforcer in Las Vegas

Despite this kinder, loving side of Spilotro, it was his other side that paid the bills. That side had made its bones as an enforcer and hitman for the Chicago Outfit led by the successors of none other than Al Capone. These men made him an official member of La Cosa Nostra and designated him as their man in Las Vegas, overseeing the Mafia’s interests in casinos and various illicit and licit activities during the 1970s and 1980s.

There were times when this side of his life invaded his home. He’d have colleagues come over for social gatherings, but also to discuss criminal activities. In 1978, the FBI had gathered enough evidence to obtain search warrants for over 80 locations, including Spilotro’s unofficial office The Gold Rush.

When federal agents came through the front door, Spilotro fled via the back and ran to his home nearby. There, he contacted his lawyer Oscar Goodman, who would one day become the mayor of Las Vegas.

“He kept 16 FBI agents at bay”

Goodman recounted the raids in his book Of Rats and Men: “He ran into his house […] and there was plenty in the home the FBI would have been interested in, but Tony held them at bay. He held 16 FBI agents at bay all by himself while things were happening in the house to make sure they came up with zip.”

He didn’t totally succeed at that. Agents seized communications equipment, a handgun, handcuffs, stock certificates, confidential police intelligence reports, $6,000 in cash, and a private investigator’s report on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, portrayed by Robert DeNiro in Casino. A judge, however, later ruled all of it inadmissible in court since these raids were beyond the scope of what was authorized by the warrants.

Mentoring Sam Giancana’s grandnephew

During much of this period, Tony was mentoring a young man by the name of Nicholas Celozzi. Celozzi was also from Chicago and is the grandnephew of Sam Giancana, another infamous Chicago Outfit boss. Celozzi thought of Spilotro as his second father.

“I didn’t have the best relationship with my father and he and I argued, and Tony filled that void for me,” Celozzi told Deadline. “It was like a Bermuda triangle. The more my father and I argued, the closer I relied on Tony. My father cut me off, I didn’t have a dime, where was I supposed to go? He is the one who went to Tony to ask him to help me. He didn’t like me going to Vegas all the time, but what was I going to do?”

Celozzi knows it’s difficult for people to understand the two sides of Spilotro. “Though Tony and I had a father-son relationship, I was playing checkers while he was playing chess. He was always many moves ahead of me. At some point, he brought me further in. People say he was a sociopath and I understand that and I do believe it and I’m not pretending that he wasn’t, but I also saw a different side to him so when he died, it was very rough for me.”

Making it in Hollywood

Spilotro helped Celozzi get a break in Hollywood. He managed to get him cast as an actor in The A-Team, Hunter, Magnum P.I. and Pretty Smart – Tony’s brother Michael also had several small parts in shows like The Duke and Magnum P.I.

Though a successful acting career never got off the ground, Celozzi kept himself busy in Hollywood. He has several credits as a writer and producer in projects such as the documentary Momo: The Sam Giancana Story, The Lost Angel, Nightmare Boulevard, Shattered, Kickboxer: Retaliation and Kickboxer: Vengeance.

He also founded Monaco Films and is currently working on telling his and Anthony Spilotro’s story on the silver screen in The Legitimate Wiseguy, described by Celozzi as a contemporary Bronx Tale. It details his relationships with his mob uncle, his father, and mentor Spilotro while he tries to make it big in Tinseltown.

Light in dark corners

It’s been over 30 years since Tony Spilotro walked the streets of Chicago and Las Vegas, but he still manages to get his name in the papers. The public continues to be fascinated by his dark side and writers and moviemakers continue to shine their brightest lights in the darkest corners of Spilotro’s life of crime.

The attention from the public and law enforcement was one of the reasons Spilotro’s bosses in the mob decided his career had come to an end and ordered his execution. Tony and brother Michael were beaten to death in a basement by a crew of Chicago Outfit mobsters. Mafia leader James Marcello was found guilty of the double homicide in 2007, over two decades after it occurred.

When it comes to Anthony Spilotro, there’s always more stories to tell though. Perhaps now the time has come to delve into the softer side of the feared mob enforcer.

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