In November 2001, I attended a writers’ conference in Florida that turned out to be a career-altering experience for me. I was chatting with another attendee over coffee and we shared our backgrounds. As luck would have it, she had retired as a civilian employee of the Indiana State Police. As we warmed up to each other, I lamented the fact that my books just weren’t catching on the way I’d like. I told the lady that I enjoyed writing, but felt that after six books and seven years I should be doing better.
She asked me if I’d ever considered writing non-fiction. With my law-enforcement experience she thought I’d be a natural for writing police history or true crime. My new friend said she had written the history of the Indiana State Police and it was selling quite well in the Hoosier State as a local interest story. I purchased a copy of her book that day and read it on the flight back to Las Vegas. I was hooked on trying my hand at non-fiction. Within a short time I decided that my first project would be writing the history of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Metro).
I knew that in order to produce a quality product I’d need to have Metro’s assistance. I put together a proposal and presented it to them. The sheriff endorsed my plan the same day. Armed with that promise of cooperation, I prepared a book proposal and submitted it to Las Vegas publisher Huntington Press. HP is a small traditional publisher of non-fiction books about gaming and Nevada history. In late January 2002, the proposal was accepted and I immediately began researching Las Vegas’ police history back to its establishment in 1905.
It was quite a project to say the least. Thankfully, Metro more than lived up to its agreement. I was assigned a lieutenant from the Public Information Office as my contact person and given a letter of introduction signed by the sheriff. I had tremendous access to old records, photos and personnel. But even with all that help, gathering the necessary information was a slow process. It was two years before the manuscript was finished.
It is often said that timing is everything. In my case that was certainly true. Although it had been unplanned in the beginning, Policing Las Vegas was released in 2005 — just in time for Vegas’ 100-year birthday bash. The free publicity regarding anything Las Vegas was overwhelming. That book marked a turning point in my writing career in several ways. But most importantly, it gave me name recognition and established my credentials as a credible researcher.
When writing Policing I knew that any book about Sin City police history would have to include something about organized crime. A veteran Metro detective I had become friends with suggested I write about the Tony Spilotro era. He said that Spilotro was the basis for the character that actor Joe Pesci played in the 1995 movie Casino. I followed his advice and put in a section called The Mob’s Man. The piece was relatively short and I knew I had only scratched the surface of what had actually transpired during Spilotro’s reign. I wondered if I did enough digging, if I could come up with sufficient material for a book about the Spilotro days.
Again, my timing was impeccable. I contacted several of the cops and FBI agents who had investigated Spilotro in the 1970s and ‘80s. They were now retired and many of them were willing to share their experiences with me. Convinced that I could put together an informative and entertaining book, I went back to HP with another proposal. The Battle for Las Vegas – The Law vs. the Mob, was released in July 2006. I was very pleased with the book and it was well-received. My only regret was that with most of the Spilotro gang either dead, in prison, or their whereabouts unknown, the story was told almost exclusively from the law’s perspective. I would have preferred to have included some personal insights from the criminal side.
One day while Battle was in the final stages of production, I was chatting with one of my sources, retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy. He had been the Las Vegas case agent for the Spilotro investigations. When Spilotro’s chief lieutenant Frank Cullotta had flipped and become a government witness, Dennis had been his handler. I knew that Dennis and Cullotta had become friends and remained in contact over the years. On a whim, I asked Dennis if Cullotta had ever thought about writing his biography. I said that if the former mobster was willing to be candid, he’d probably have quite a story to tell.
About two weeks later Dennis called me. He said Frank Cullotta wanted to meet with me and discuss a book. Under tight security, I met Cullotta in a Las Vegas hotel room in March 2006. It happened that he had been thinking about writing a book and had hundreds of pages of notes already prepared. We talked for a couple of hours and reached an agreement to co-author his biography. He’d supply the details and I’d put them on paper. He committed to being completely open and to provide details never before made public. And he did just that.
CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness, was released through Huntington Press in July 2007. Writing this book was a fascinating experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.Dennis N. Griffin is the author of CULOTTA: THE LIFE OF A CHICAGO CRIMINAL, LAS VEGAS MOBSTER, AND GOVERNMENT WITNESS. You can visit his website at www.authorsden.com/dennisngriffin/.