Tony “the Ant” Spilotro

He was from 1971 to 1986 "the man"—the most feared hoodlum in Las Vegas, and hoodlum was perhaps the most polite name for Tony Spilotro. He really lacked the finesse to do his job, a role previously played by representatives like Johnny Roselli. Spilotro was more at home as a hit man, squeezing a victim's head in a vise until his eye popped out to get him to talk.

Spilotro learned his killer craft under Mad Sam DeStefano, perhaps the most sadistic of all the Chicago Outfit's enforcers. DeStefano was a master at torturing and killing with an ice pick, among other pathological methods, and Spilotro proved an apt student.

He killed with precision and without failure (he even took care of DeStefano when it was decided he had to go), and he attracted enthusiastic attention from the top masters of the organization, such as Tony Accardo, Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone.

The position of enforcer in Las Vegas opened up when Marshall Caifano was withdrawn for having attracted too much attention to himself, and Spilotro took over. Unfortunately he chose to ignore many edicts from the mob (save that of carrying out hits, which was a matter of pure joy to Spilotro).

At the helm Spilotro set up burglary rings to take the tourists, something the outfit opposed. It wanted the gamblers to come to Vegas because it was crime free, or as crime free as the mob wanted it.

Killings, which the mob also didn't want, were done in Vegas. The preferred method was to take victims out to the desert in Arizona, slaughter them and hide their bodies. Spilotro also began dealing in dope. This was a capital offense in Chicago, but Spilotro figured he was safe so far away from the Windy City.

Then there was the messy love triangle involving Spilotro and Lefty Rosenthal—the mob's "inside man" in the casinos—and his beautiful wife Geri (a tale portrayed in the book Casino by Nick Pillegi and the movie by the same name).

Spilotro could have had far more beautiful and younger willing showgirls than ex-showgirl Geri, and the affair complicated matters since he and Lefty were supposed to run things for Chicago together. But scoring with Geri was the ultimate aphrodisiac for Tony, or as former FBI agent William F. Roemer Jr. put it, "Now he had a chance to screw his pal!"

Chicago viewed it as a messy and violent soap opera, a minor matter that should not have set off major repercussions. But there were far more serious problems caused, the mob felt, by Spilotro. His inattention and headline grabbing sparked a tremendous crackdown in Vegas.

Nevada authorities, working with undercover FBI agents, seized control of the Stardust—the biggest cash cow of all the casinos, with a skim running into the millions. It was the first step in the complete uncovering of the skimming done at many casinos.

Meanwhile as the law closed in on Spilotro, some of his closest associates whom he had brought to Vegas turned informer to save themselves. Their information led to the arrest and conviction of the top mafiosi in Milwaukee, Kansas City and Chicago.

Spilotro could not have done anything more wrong. Yet, amazingly, the press speculated that with the outfit's leadership going to prison, most for the rest of their lives, it remained for Tony Spilotro to take over as the new head. This was sheer nonsense.

Joe Ferriola was anointed the new boss. In his induction speech to the capos of the outfit, as spies within the mob reported, he had only one item of business to discuss. He announced, "We wouldn't be in the mess we are now in if it weren't for one thing. The way that asshole out there in Las Vegas has ruined us."

Rather than being promoted to boss, Spilotro was slated for execution. Tony was recalled from Vegas supposedly for an important meeting. He and his brother Michael were taken at gunpoint to a cornfield and a pre-dug hole. Both were batted unconscious and buried, still alive. That touch probably had been sanctioned by the outfit.

The FBI learned the details of the brothers' gruesome end from the wife of one of the mob diggers who had prepared the hole. No one was ever convicted for the murders. Probably no one cared that much anyway.