The Real-Life Gangster’s Wife from Casino
This article originally appeared in the October 1995 issue of Esquire. You can find every Esquire story ever published at Esquire Classic.
This is an excerpt from Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Its author, crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, collaborated with Martin Scorsese on Good Fellas—also based on a Pileggi book—as well as the movie version of Casino.
“She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw,” Frank Rosenthal remembers. “Statuesque. Great posture. And everyone who met her liked her in five minutes. The girl had fantastic charm.
“When I met Geri, she was a dancer at the Tropicana. She was also a chip hustler. She was a working girl. She had a couple of guys who she went with, and she made about $300,000 a year.
“I used to meet her after work, but the more I went out with her, the more I saw in her. I realized that I was changing my attitude toward her one night when I went over to see her dance at the Trop. When she came out, I saw that she was topless. Suddenly, it bothered me. I walked out. She didn’t give it much thought. She just thought I was busy. I don’t think it even dawned on Geri that I was beginning to feel differently about her.
“She used to dance and finish up whatever hustles she had for the night, and then she’d meet me at Caesars. One night, she said she had an appointment at the Dunes and that she’d meet me later. I got curious. I wanted to see what she was up to. So I did what I had never done: I went over to the Dunes to see her in action.
“When I got there, the place was hot. She was throwing pass after pass at the craps table, and the guy with her was stacking rack after rack. She must have pulled in $60,000 for the guy, judging by the racks of hundred-dollar chips he had in front of him. She looked up, and when she saw me, she gave me a dirty look. I knew she didn’t like that I’d come by to see her. She rolled again and crapped out.
“Meanwhile, she had made the guy a small fortune. Of course, every time she made a pass, I noticed that she was snatching little black hundred-dollar chips off his pile and dropping them into her purse.
He’s gonna empty her purse right there in front of us. But before he can do that, Geri leans over and grabs his chip racks and tosses them into the air as high as she can.
“When the guy was getting ready to cash in the roll, Geri looked at him and asked, ‘Where’s my end?’
“The guy looked at her purse and said, ‘You’ve already taken your end in there.’
“It’s understood, after a girl makes a run like that for you, you give her five, six, seven grand. Geri hadn’t picked up anything like that, even in hundred-dollar chips.
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“‘I want my end,’ she said very loudly. The guy reaches for her purse. He’s gonna empty her purse right there in front of us. But before he can do that, Geri leans over and grabs his chip racks and tosses them into the air as high as she can.
“Suddenly, the whole casino is raining hundred-dollar black chips and twenty-five-dollar green chips. They’re falling and bouncing off the tables, people’s heads and shoulders, and rolling along the floor.
“Within seconds, everybody in the casino is diving for chips. I mean, players, dealers, pit bosses, security guards—everybody’s fishing for the guy’s chips on the floor.
“The guy is screaming and scooping up as many chips as he can. The security guys and dealers are handing him six and pocketing three. It’s a wild scene.
“At that point, I can’t take my eyes off her. She’s standing there like royalty. She and I are the only two people in the whole casino who aren’t on the floor. She looks over at me and I’m looking at her.
“‘You like that, huh?’ she says and walks out the door. That’s when I realized I had fallen in love.”
Up until that moment, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal had been more or less successful at dodging serious trouble. He was born in 1929 on Chicago’s West Side and in his youth exhibited a genius for numbers and the mathematics of handicapping and wagering. He worked as a clerk and bookie for Chicago gamblers and mobsters before he was old enough to vote. Until he went to work inside the casinos in 1971, he had held only one legitimate job—a military policeman in Korea in the fifties. In 1961, when he appeared before a congressional committee investigating the influence of organized crime on gambling, he took the Fifth Amendment thirty-seven times. He wouldn’t even say whether he was left-handed, which he was, which had earned him his nickname. A few years earlier, he had pleaded nolo contendere to bribing a college basketball player in North Carolina. He had been barred from horse and dog tracks in Florida, also for alleged bribery. In 1969, he was indicted by the Justice Department in an interstate gambling and racketeering conspiracy case, but his lawyer got the indictment dismissed on a technicality. Lefty had been arrested more than a dozen times but never convicted.
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In 1968, at age thirty-eight, Rosenthal made his way to Vegas for the same reason so many other Americans end up there—to escape his past. Las Vegas is a city with no memory. It’s the place to go for a second chance, the final destination for those willing to trek to the desert in order to start over. It was also the city where one could strike it rich, a kind of money-happy Lourdes, the end of the rainbow, where even an average guy had a shot at a miracle.
When he met Geri McGee, Rosenthal was still only quasi-legitimate—he made his living betting on sports—but he was well on his way to becoming one of the most powerful and controversial men in Las Vegas. Before long, he would be in charge of the largest casino operation in the state, responsible for running the Stardust and three other gaming houses. He became known as the man who introduced sports book-betting on athletic events and horse racing to Vegas—an achievement that made him a true visionary in local annals.
By the time Lefty and Geri met, Geri had been hustling in Las Vegas for about eight years. She, too, had come in an attempt to rewrite her life story.
“Everybody loved Geri because she spread money around,” says a former valet parker at the Dunes Hotel. “Geri knew you had to take care of people, and she did. I mean, everybody in Las Vegas who’s got any brains is on the hustle.”
Geri and her sister, Barbara, grew up in Sherman Oaks, California, and went to Van Nuys High School with Robert Redford and Don Drysdale. Their father, Roy McGee, worked in gas stations and tinkered. Their mother, Alice, had been chronically ill; when she was well, she took in ironing. “We were probably the poorest family in the neighborhood,” says Barbara McGee Stokich. “We baby-sat, raked leaves, fed people’s chickens and rabbits. It wasn’t much fun. When we were little kids, we got all our clothes from the neighbors. Geri hated it more than anything.
“In 1954, when Geri graduated from high school, she got a job as a clerk in Thrifty Drugs. She didn’t like it. Then she got a job as a teller in the Bank of America. She didn’t like that, either. Then she got a clerical job at Lockheed.”
Geri then moved to Vegas at the insistence of her high school sweetheart, a hustler who had fathered Geri’s daughter Robin. “When Geri first got to Las Vegas, around 1960,” Barbara says, “she was a cocktail waitress and showgirl. In 1968, when I had to move in with her after my husband walked out, Geri was very generous with me. I couldn’t have made it through that time without her. She had everything. She had blue-chip stocks. She had saved her money.”
Geri earned between $300,000 and $500,000 a year, hustling chips and partying with high rollers. She made about $20,000 a year as a dancer at the Tropicana, and that job provided her with a work card, issued by the Las Vegas Sheriff’s Office, showing that she was gainfully employed. Having a work card kept her from being harassed for hustling in a casino by Las Vegas vice cops and hotel security.
“Everybody loved Geri because she spread money around,” says Ray Vargas, a former valet parker at the Dunes Hotel. “Geri knew you had to take care of people, and she did. I mean, everybody in Las Vegas who’s got any brains is on the hustle. Nobody lives off their paycheck parking cars or dealing cards.”
Las Vegas is a city of kickbacks, a place where a twenty-dollar bill can buy approval, a hundred-dollar bill adulation, and a thousand-dollar bill canonization. There are stories of dealers getting thousands of dollars in tips from lucky gamblers, and even comped high rollers are expected to make a lay-down bet of a couple of hundred or thousand to repay the house for its courtesy. Maître d’s at the big shows not only pay for their jobs but often give the men who hire them a percentage of their weekly tips. Smart girls like Geri tipped everyone in sight.
“Geri was in love with money,” Frank Rosenthal says.
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“To her, a night was a waste if she didn’t go home with cash in her pocket. I had to give her a two-carat heart-shaped diamond pin just to get her to start dating me. When we’d be out, she’d ask me for money for the powder-room lady. I’d usually give her a hundred-dollar bill. I expected her to bring me some change, but she never brought back a penny.
“I mentioned it to her once, and she said she lost it playing blackjack on the way back to the table. I knew she was lying. I didn’t care about the money. I just didn’t want her playing me for another one of her suckers. She had a Rolodex filled with their names. She knew guys all over the country. Clients. They’d call her up when they were coming to town. Some she drank with. Some she gambled with. Some she took on dates, and there were some where she went all the way. If she didn’t think she was going to see you again or make some money, forget it. You were gone.”
“One day,” Barbara says, “Geri and I were talking to a friend of hers named Linda. Geri was telling us about the different men who wanted to marry her. Guys in New York and in Italy. But she felt she couldn’t leave Vegas. ‘What should I do?’ she asked. Linda had the answer. I’ll never forget it. ‘Marry Frank Rosenthal,’ Linda said. ‘He’s very rich. Marry him, get his money, and then divorce him.’” Frank and Geri were married on May 1, 1969, by Justice of the Peace Joseph Pavlikowski.
“There was never any question,” Lefty says. “I knew Geri didn’t love me when we got married. But I was so attracted to her when I proposed, I thought I could build a nice family and a nice relationship. But I wasn’t fooled. She married me because of what I stood for. Security. Strength. A well-connected fellow. Would probably make a good father. And she was getting older. She wanted to be respectable. Quit her job at the Tropicana.
“So we got married. Tremendous. It was a hell of a night. Maybe five hundred people. Her family. My family. Friends. Caviar. Lobsters. Cristal champagne for five hundred people. They erected a chapel in Caesars Palace. I have no idea what the bill was. My wedding was comped.”
Geri soon gave birth to a son, Steven, whom she adored. But she found the domestic life Lefty wanted her to live far too restrictive, especially since he refused to play by the rules he expected her to follow. Lefty was working day and night at the casino, and Geri began to suspect he was seeing other women. She told her sister she had found receipts for jewelry and presents in his pockets when she took his suits to the dry cleaner’s. When she accused him of fooling around, he told her she was crazy. He accused her of being drunk and taking too many pills.
So Geri started going out. Sometimes she’d stay out all night. Sometimes she’d disappear for a weekend. Lefty hired private detectives to track her down. He would turn up at her favorite bars and demand that she come home immediately. Finally, he threatened to divorce her.
“Geri didn’t want to lose everything,” Barbara says, “but Lefty would only take her back if she agreed to have another child and make a greater effort at staying away from the pills and liquor. I know Geri didn’t want to have another child, but that was the only way she had to keep from getting thrown out on the street. She used to tell me he was a very powerful man, that he owned the judges and courts. So they had Stephanie in 1973, but that didn’t solve their problems. In fact, in many ways it made things worse. Geri loved having a boy. But being forced to have a child and for that child to be a girl—a girl in competition with her daughter Robin—made Geri very upset. She could never warm to Stephanie. And I don’t think she ever forgave Frank for making her go through the second pregnancy.”
“I knew things weren’t going all that well at home,” says Lefty, “but I didn’t know how bad they were for quite a while. Geri was still hard to figure. Some days, she’d wake up happy, and other times you couldn’t be around her. Everything you said was a fight.
I leaned over and told Glick that I didn’t want to upset him, but could he try and convince Geri to put down the drink, because if she didn’t, I was probably going to have to do something that I would regret for the rest of my life.
“About a year after Allen Glick took over the corporation that owned the Stardust, he had a party at his place in La Jolla, and Geri and I went. He had six Lear jets taking people from Vegas to San Diego.
“On our way up there, I had told Geri, ‘No fucking drinking.’ We had been jamming about her drinking problem for a while, but I didn’t know what I was up against.
“So the party starts, and here comes a waiter with a tray of Dom Pérignon champagne, and she takes a glass. I say to myself, ‘You bitch.’ There are three hundred people there. I don’t want her to get loaded and make a scene.
“She drinks the glass down. I’m looking at her, but she doesn’t say shit to me. She doesn’t acknowledge I’m even looking at her. Then the waiter comes around again, and she nods. He puts a glass in front of her.
“I whisper to her, ‘Listen, bitch, you put your lips to that glass, I’ll knock you off that chair.’
“She looks at me and says, ‘You don’t have the guts.’
“‘Yes I do,’ I say.
“She grabs ahold of the glass with her hand. I saw what was coming, so I leaned over and told Glick, who was standing there, that I didn’t want to upset him, but could he try and convince Geri to put down the drink, because if she didn’t, I was probably going to have to do something that I would regret for the rest of my life.
“Glick got white. ‘If she stonewalls me,’ I told him, ‘she’s going down.’
“Glick says, ‘Geri, will you do me a favor and listen to your husband?’
“She released the drink and turned to me and said, ‘You son of a bitch, I’ll get even with you for this.’”
Lefty didn’t have long to wait.
“One night, my ulcer had been acting up and I was upstairs in bed,” Lefty says. “I had called her on the intercom and asked her to get my dinner ready. After a while, I said over the intercom, ‘Geri, is it ready?’ She said, ‘Any second, dear.’ What she didn’t tell me was that she was so drunk she never started dinner. Then, in a panic, she put the soft-boiled eggs on, burnt the fucking toast, and brings it up half-assed.
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“When I look at it, I’m literally in pain. I gave her some shit. She’s facing me, and she leaps toward the cabinet.
“I’m in a prone position. I did my best to leap with her in a kind of roll, but she got her hand on the cabinet before I did. I was probably a half second behind her, but she already had her hand on the pistol.
“We bumped heads, and I was bleeding from the forehead, but she started bleeding from the bridge of her nose.
“The two kids came from their bedrooms in the rear. They saw we were struggling. I said, ‘Geri! Geri! The kids. Stop it!’ And I finally got the gun away, but she still wouldn’t stop struggling because she was so fucking drunk.
“I called my pal Bobby to come over right away to help me with the kids and the blood and everything. I told him to call my doctor, who rushed over right away. He took us to his office, where he patched me up pretty easily, but he had to give her a couple of stitches.
“She started mumbling that I had broken her nose. I asked her, ‘Geri, what did you intend to do with the gun?’
“‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘I was wrong. I shouldn’t be drinking.’
“And by the time we got home, everything was calm.
“The next morning, I’m going to work, and she walks me out to the car, and you’d think she was the perfect suburban housewife.
“‘Take care of yourself,’ she says and gives me a kiss.
“I’m at work about an hour and I call the house. I ask her how she’s feeling, and she says, ‘I feel great. How are you, my love?’ I detected her drunk voice.
“I got in the car and went back to the house. I parked the car down the block and snuck into the house. Geri was on the phone. I think she was talking to her daughter Robin.
“I hear her say, ‘You’ve got to help me kill this motherfucker. Please help me.’
“‘Hey, she can’t help you, Geri,’ I said, walking into the room. ‘Here I am.’
She almost died.
“‘You told me less than two hours ago you loved me, and now you’re trying to get me killed.’
“‘Look what you did to my nose,’ she says, right back to my face. There was no winning with her. This is the way our lives had been going for a couple of years.
“After a while, when I’d get home, I’d come in very cautiously. Not just because of her pistol, but I was concerned that she would really hire someone.”
“Lefty made her life miserable,” says a retired FBI agent familiar with the case. “He cheated on her all the time, and he didn’t care if she found out. He started to keep tabs on her like she was a Vegas version of a Stepford wife. He used to tape her schedule for the day onto the refrigerator in the morning, and he wanted to know where she was going to be every minute of the day.
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“He even bought her a beeper so he could always get ahold of her, but she kept ‘losing’ it, and that drove him even more nuts. One time, she was about a half hour late coming home with the kids. She said she got caught behind a long freight train that used to come through late in the afternoon. He made her stand there in front of him as he called the railroad freight yard and got the dispatcher just to double-check the time the freight went through.
“But no matter what he did to her, she’d never leave him, because there were always presents. Geri was an old hooker. He bought her when they got married, and she stayed bought.”
Frank Rosenthal had managed to get from Las Vegas everything he had hoped for—the power and position that came from having four casinos to run, a gorgeous former showgirl as his trophy wife, a million-dollar house facing a golf course and equipped with a pool, a full-time housekeeper, and a closet holding more than two hundred pairs of custom-made slacks.
But he hadn’t been fully able to escape his past, a fact that would continue to cause him trouble. He was under investigation as the front man for Chicago mobsters who held hidden financial interests in the casinos. He was also the suspected mastermind behind a multimillion-dollar skimming operation. His background led authorities to deny him a gambling license, which meant he had to exert his influence from behind the scenes. He was suspected of working in cahoots with a boyhood friend who was also notorious, even by Vegas standards—a fellow Chicagoan named Anthony “the Ant” Spilotro.
Spilotro had grown up in an Italian neighborhood just a few blocks from Lefty’s home. His father owned a small restaurant that attracted fans of Italian food from all over Chicago, including a fair share of mobsters, some of whom used the parking lot for meetings.
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Spilotro rose through mob ranks in his hometown, working as a collector, a shakedown artist, a loan shark, and a hired killer. He was arrested and charged many times and was under constant police and FBI surveillance.
Like Lefty and Geri, Spilotro arrived at the point in his life where a fresh start in new surroundings seemed like a sensible idea. In 1971, he moved his wife, Nancy, and their son to Vegas.
“Tony said there was a lot of heat at home, and he asked if I would have any objections if he moved out here,” Rosenthal says. “Well, a couple of weeks later, they arrive, and it was like a signal for the FBI. The heat began. They started watching him and me. And in a way, I don’t blame them. They assumed—everybody assumed—that Tony had come to town with instructions from Chicago, that he was the muscle in town and I was the outfit’s man inside the casinos. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but Tony took advantage of that incorrect perception. He’d tell people, ‘I’m Frank’s adviser. I’m Frank’s protector.’”
Soon, Spilotro became an even bigger part of Lefty’s life.
“It was a Friday or Saturday night,” Lefty says. “I was at the casino. My pal Joey Cusumano was standing next to me. I called the house. It’s two o’clock in the morning, and there was no answer.
“I told Cusumano I was going home. It was only a five-minute drive.
“When I got there, I found Geri and Steven missing. My daughter was there alone—tied by her ankle to the bed with a clothesline. I’m untying the kid and the phone rings.
“‘How ya doing?’ It’s Tony.
“‘Not good. What’s on your mind?’
“‘Relax. Relax. Everything’s okay. She’s okay. You two have been fighting. She wanted to discuss your problems.’
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“He said Geri had dropped Steven off with a neighbor. He said I should relax and come over to the Village Pub.
“I drove over there raging. It was kind of crowded. Tony was waiting inside the front door. He tried to quiet me down.
“Inside, she’s in a booth with her back to me. She was loaded. She just kept saying I should let her alone. After a while, I took her home. On the way out, Tony told me not to be too rough on her. ‘She’s only trying to save your marriage,’ he said.”
“She was a beautiful person, but he drove her to drink,” Geri’s friend Suzanne Kloud recalls. “He’d come home at three or four in the morning, kick her out of bed, and talk to one of his girlfriends on the phone for two hours. I mean, here’s a guy who’s not exactly looking for a quiet evening at home.
“He was always abusive to her, almost like he hated her. One night after work, she thought she was having dinner with him. He was surrounded by all his flunkies, and she went up and interrupted him. She grabbed his arm. She wanted to know, in front of all those people, when they were leaving. It was stupid. He pulled his arm away.
“He says, ‘Don’t you fucking touch me,’ to his own wife in front of a whole crowd.
“But as miserable as he was, he’d also bring her stuff. He gave her the most incredible jewelry. He gave her a pink coral-and-diamond necklace, and she had a cat’s-eye necklace surrounded by diamonds. The necklaces were worth $200,000 and $300,000. And she lived for that. If you were a hustler, that’s your god.”
“I remember I was watching football,” Lefty says. “She said, ‘I’m going to my sister’s.’ She wanted to know if I might want some McDonald’s on her way home. I said maybe. About halftime, I decided. I was going to tell Geri to bring me back some McDonald’s.
“I called and Barbara said she was at McDonald’s getting lunch for Stephanie.
“I said, ‘Okay, have her call me when she gets back.’
“After a half hour, I still haven’t heard from her. On that day, Geri had taken my car. It was bigger than hers. I had a mobile phone in my car. So I rang my mobile number just in case. The phone gets picked up, but it’s a man’s voice. Muffled. Covered up. But I know the voice. I’ve known it all my life. It was Tony’s.
“I hung right up. Uh-oh. What the hell do I have here? Just to make sure, I called the number right back, but this time I get the operator saying that the mobile number is not in service at this time.
She told me it was Tony. No big deal. She said they had been half boozed when it began. I’m listening to her and I’m getting sick inside. She said that they had been seeing each other for six months to a year.
“I had to go to Los Angeles for a few hours the next day. I asked her if she wanted to come, do some shopping. She said she didn’t feel like it. She wanted to get a manicure. So off I went while she stayed home.
“When I got back late in the afternoon, she was home, and I noticed her hands.
“‘Gee,’ I said, ‘you didn’t get your manicure?’
“‘No,’ she said. ‘I didn’t feel like it. It was raining.’
“‘What did you do?’
“‘Oh, nothing. I had lunch with my sister.’
“‘What’d you have?’
“And she told me some salad or something.
“‘And what did Barbara have?’
“She told me what her sister had.
“‘Okay,’ I said, get your sister on the phone. I want you to ask your sister what she had for lunch.’
“‘All right, all right,’ she says, kind of annoyed. ‘I didn’t have lunch with Barbara.’
“‘Then what were you doing?’
“‘I was just fooling around with some of my old pals. I know you don’t like them, and I didn’t want to say.’
“I said, ‘Look, Geri, the best thing is for me to tell it the way it is. I feel you’ve been with somebody. I know it. We both know it. I just hope it wasn’t with one of two guys.’
“‘What two?’ she asks, looking me in the eye.
“Spilotro openly flaunted his relationship with Geri as a show of power,” Kent Clifford, the chief of Las Vegas Metro intelligence, says.
“‘Tony Spilotro or Joey Cusumano,’ I say. She just looks at me with a little smile. ‘Geri,’ I say, ‘this is no fucking game. I’m not going to listen to any more games. You go down the line with me right now, or you’re out of here.’
“She told me it was Tony. No big deal. She said they had been half boozed when it began. I’m listening to her and I’m getting sick inside. She said that they had been seeing each other for six months to a year.
“I told her not to tell Tony she’d told me about it. If Tony suspected I knew, he might think I’d make a beef back home in Chicago, and she and I would both be killed. I knew him. We’d both just disappear. She said she understood. She’d get us all out of this. But she needed a little time to back him off. The plan was to let it die out nice and smoothly.”
“It was the worst-kept secret in town,” retired FBI agent Mike Simon says. “In no time, everybody knew. Geri began showing up at the beauty parlor and gym with presents that she said came from her new sponsor, which is hooker talk for a boyfriend or protector.”
“Spilotro openly flaunted his relationship with Geri as a show of power,” Kent Clifford, the chief of Las Vegas Metro intelligence, says. “He could have had dozens of women younger and prettier than Geri Rosenthal, but power is an aphrodisiac. I’m sure Spilotro felt, ‘I can do it and nobody can do anything about it.’ It was a stupid thing for him to do.”
“I go to Chicago,” says Tony’s mobster crony Frank Cullotta, “and they heard about something. ‘What the fuck’s going on out there?’ one guy says. ‘What’s he doing? Fucking the guy’s wife?’
“I lied. I played dumb. I said I didn’t know anything about that. What could I say—that Tony was fucking Lefty’s wife and that the FBI and Metro were all over everybody?
“Later that night, I was in Rocky’s Lounge, and Jackie Cerone, the big boss, comes at me at the bar.
“Come on over,” he said, “and bring a gun.” I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll be right there. And I’ll bring my kid’s hunting rifle.”
“‘Is there a problem with the Jew guy and his old lady?’ Jackie asks me. Shit, I think, this is all over town. Somebody brought this story back, and the only person I knew who could bring the story back was Lefty.
“I told Cerone that Lefty and his old lady argued all the time, and that’s all. Then he looked at me and asked, ‘Is the little guy fucking her?’
“I said no. What could I say? Jackie Cerone was a boss, and he hated both Tony and Lefty.
“When I got back to Las Vegas, I told Tony about these questions, and he got hot. We were walking back and forth on West Sahara, and he’s got his mouth covered because the FBI was using lip-readers with binoculars.
“‘That fucking Jew motherfucker,’ he says. ‘He ran back there and cried. The Jew fuck is gonna start a war.’”
“I assumed she had backed Tony off,” Lefty says, “but I had my home phone bugged. I put the tapes in because when I’d get home and she’d be on the phone, she’d quickly hang up or say, ‘I’ll call you back.’
“And then, after a couple of days, I heard her talking to Tony on the tapes. He talked very quickly. She’d tell him when I was coming home. This was after she told me she was going to back him off. After I warned her of the danger and everything. And now I’m listening to her talk to Tony with my own ears, planning where they could meet. She was going to get us killed.
“That night, I said, ‘Geri, level with me. Are you still seeing our friend?’
“‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘It’s over.’
“I asked, ‘Do you have any contact at all with him?’
“‘No, dear,’ she says.
“Are you sure?’ I say.
“After all we’ve been through, I’m surprised you could even ask,’ she says.
“‘Swear to me,’ I say. ‘Swear on your son’s life.’
“She looks right at me. She’s angry. ‘I swear on our son’s life,’ she says. ‘Now will you stop?’
“And I took out the recorder, and I pressed the play button, and she heard herself talking to Tony.
“‘Turn that off!’ she screamed at me.”
Lefty had already begun to divide things up. He’d filed a quitclaim agreement in court separating the properties in preparation for the dissolution of the marriage. According to the terms of the agreement, Lefty got almost everything: the house, two undeveloped lots at Las Vegas Country Club Estates, and the couple’s four thoroughbred racehorses.
But three safety-deposit boxes at the First National Bank of Nevada, Strip branch, remained in both their names. According to Rosenthal, he needed someone to have access to the cash if he was under arrest or otherwise unable to get to his own money.
Lefty had also gotten Geri to agree that she would lose her right to care, “custody, and control of their minor children if she engaged in alcohol and/or barbiturates.”
“Tony got the idea of whacking Lefty,” Frank Cullotta says. “He didn’t say Lefty’s name. He said, ‘The Jew, I’m not sure yet. But if I’m right, I need you to get a guy. You got somebody?’ He says, ‘I’ll set him up, you scoop him. You’ll know where the hole’s at.’
“We’d just have to move the plywood, drop him in the hole, and cover it up.
“He says, ‘I’ll let you know, but for now I’m not sure.’”
“Frank was scared to death,” Stardust casino manager Murray Ehrenberg says. “Frank was a pretty private guy. He never wanted to show his emotions, except the night he called and asked me to come over. That’s the first time I ever heard panic in his voice. ‘Come on over,’ he said, ‘and bring a gun.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be right there. And I’ll bring my kid’s hunting rifle.’
“After I got there, he calmed down, and we were sitting there half asleep when we hear this noise. We jumped up and went outside, and here comes Geri. She was pie-eyed. Her eyes were wild. She was out of it. She didn’t even wait for the garage door to lift. She hit the door on the bottom.”
“I could hear her through the closed windows,” Lefty says. “I could hear her say, ‘Where are my kids, you motherfucker?’ I asked her to roll down the window, which she did by about one inch, and I got as close as I could and asked her to cool it.
“‘Fuck you!’ she screams and puts the car in gear and crashes into the lowered garage door.
“Now the neighbors are all up and they’re standing in the street, and now a couple of cop cars show up at the house. There are two cops there. I know them.
“Geri turns to the cops and demands that they get me to let her in the house. ‘It’s half my house,’ she says.
“‘Hey, Frank,’ one of them says, ‘why don’t you let her in the house? Let her in so we can all go home.’
“I say I’ll give her the key if she only stays in there five minutes. Why not? The money, the jewelry, the kids are all elsewhere. There’s nothing for her to steal.
“In about three minutes, she’s out of the house. I’m in the driveway with Murray Ehrenberg and the cops. She has her hands behind her back.
“She gets to about ten feet away from me and she twirls around, and she has a pistol aimed at my head. The cops took off. They ran back to behind their cars and hid.
“Geri looks at me and she says, ‘I want my money and jewelry or I’ll kill you.’
“She’s waving the gun all around the place.
“And who pulls up around now but Nancy Spilotro.
“Nancy starts talking to Geri, and she starts taking Geri’s side. I said, ‘Nancy, this is not your problem. You’ve got your own problems.’
“And out of the corner of my eye, I see Tony Spilotro drive by real quick. He’s wearing a cap and beard.
“The cops are telling Geri to put the gun down. Nancy tells Geri to put the gun down. I said, ‘Geri, don’t shoot. You don’t want to go to the electric chair.’
“It’s almost humorous, it’s so mad. Suddenly, Nancy grabs Geri’s arm, and the cops come from behind the cars and quickly cuff her. Then I get dumb in the head. I see Geri there with her hands cuffed, and she starts crying. ‘Dear,’ she says, ‘they’re hurting me! Don’t let them hurt me.’
“I tell the cops to let her alone. I told them I’m not pressing any charges and we’ve got a license for the gun. The cops left, and we all went into the house. Geri and me and Murray Ehrenberg.”
“We were in the kitchen,” Ehrenberg says. “Geri started washing dishes. Like nothing was wrong. She’d settled down. Frank and I were talking, and he looks up at her. She had just turned around, as if she’s looking for cigarettes, and he says, ‘What?’
“And out of the clear blue sky, she said, ‘I just fucked Tony Spilotro.’
“Frank said, ‘What did you say?’
“She said, ‘I just fucked Tony Spilotro.’
“He said, ‘Shut your mouth.’
“Then she said she had to make a phone call and didn’t want to use any of the phones in the house. She drove away so fast we could hear her bouncing over the speed bumps.
“After she left, we sat around for a few minutes, when he jumped up. That’s when he realized that she was going to the bank.
“He said, ‘Get in the car.’ And me, like a schmuck, I got in.
“We pulled in and there were police all around there. They wouldn’t let Frank out of the car. They said, ‘We’re trying to stop any trouble.’
“Frank got very hot. He tried to push through, but they stopped him. They leaned against the car doors and we couldn’t get out. He looks right at the cops and says, ‘Take your fucking hands off my car! She’s stealing my money!’ But the cops held him back until after Geri took off, and then they said, ‘Okay, go ahead.’ The whole thing was an act the cops had concocted with her.”
“That night, she called from Beverly Hills,” Lefty says. “I said, ‘Geri, this is no good. You can keep your jewelry, but I want my money and my jewelry.’ She hung up.
“Then Geri calls Tony. I only know this because Geri tells me later.
“‘Hey, you better listen to him,’ Tony tells Geri, ‘or we’re both getting killed.’
“‘What do you want me to do, you fucking midget?’ Geri says.
“‘You return half the money, $250,000, and his jewels,’ Tony says. ‘This is a direct order from me to you.’
“At the time, Geri says, she told him, ‘Fuck you!’
“Geri then calls me.
“‘Your little fucking friend called and gave me an order,’ she says.
“I said, ‘Geri, you’re in very deep.’
“‘You got somebody to pick up the money and jewels?’ she asks. ‘If I give them back, will you leave us alone?’
“I told her yes, and I sent a friend to L. A. to get them. But when he met her, she only gave him $200,000 and the jewels. Later, she said Tony had stolen $50,000 out of her car when she went to rest at his house after she left the bank.”
Rosenthal filed for a divorce on September 11, 1980, three days after Geri drove away from the bank. Three days later, he got a call from the psychiatric ward of Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, California. He was told that his wife had been arrested attempting to undress on Sunset Boulevard. She was under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Lefty flew to Torrance. “When I got to the hospital, I went into her room, and she was in a straitjacket. She wanted me to loosen it, but I said I couldn’t. She started screaming at me. She was hysterical.”
Lefty got custody of the children. In return, he agreed to pay $5,000 a month alimony and give Geri visitation rights. Geri kept her million dollars in jewelry and the Mercedes she drove off in.
Geri then moved to an apartment in Beverly Hills. “She was running with a bad crowd,” Lefty says. “Lowlifes. Pimps. Druggies. Bikers. She had a boyfriend who was a musician, and he was beating her up a lot.
“After we were divorced, I offered her $100,000 to change her name, and she said, ‘You must be kidding me.’ She used the name for whatever she could get. ‘Don’t you know who I am? Who my husband is?’ She used the fantasy for protection. I’d get calls from bars at one in the morning, and she’d say things like, ‘Tell this son of a bitch to leave me alone.’”
Frank Rosenthal, Geri McGee, and Anthony Spilotro had all originally gone to Las Vegas to escape their troublesome lives. In very different ways, they all succeeded.
“I had just had dinner and gotten in my car,” Lefty remembers of one night in the fall of 1982. “I don’t remember whether or not I turned on the ignition, but the next thing I saw were these little flames. They were only about two or three inches high. They were coming out of the defroster vents. I never heard any noise. I remember I asked myself, ‘Why is my car on fire?’ All I thought was that my car was having some kind of mechanical problem. I didn’t panic. I knew I had to get out of the car. There were flames shooting up between the seat and the door. So I used my right hand to grab the door handle, and I threw my shoulder against the door at the same time. It worked.
“I fell out onto the ground. There were flames all around me. Some of my clothes were on fire. I rolled around on the ground until the flames were out. Two men helped me to my feet and got me about twenty or thirty feet from the car. They insisted that I get down, and when I did, it was as though the atom bomb had gone off. I saw my car jump about two feet into the air, and then flames shot up through the roof about two stories high.
“That’s when I realized it hadn’t been an accident. That’s when I knew somebody put a bomb in my car.”
A federal agent assigned to investigate the blast said, “A bomb like that should have killed him. Except, in this model of Cadillac Eldorado, the manufacturer installed a steel floor plate beneath the driver’s seat for added stability. The plate deflected the bomb toward the rear of the car instead of forward. He should change his name from Lefty to Lucky.”
At first, the FBI believed the bombing was tied to the love triangle. Later, it was learned that a mob boss in the Midwest believed Rosenthal had turned informer.
Then, about a month later, early on November 6, 1982, Geri Rosenthal began screaming on the sidewalk in front of the Beverly Sunset Motel, on Sunset Boulevard, and stumbled into the lobby, where she collapsed. She died three days later at Cedars-Sinai hospital. She was forty-six. The hospital said doctors found evidence of tranquilizers, liquor, and other drugs in her system. There was a large bruise on her thigh and smaller bruises on her legs. A captain of the Los Angeles district attorney’s office told the Los Angeles Times, “We’re interested because of her past connections and the possibility of any organized-crime intrusions.” The doctor who pronounced her dead said, “Foul play is not ruled out.”
Geri was buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park in a private ceremony. Lefty and their two children did not attend.
“I didn’t want to put the kids through that,” he said.
In January of 1983, the L. A. County coroner said that the death was accidental, an apparently lethal combination of cocaine, Valium, and Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
Papers on file in Los Angeles Probate Court said: “The deceased died leaving no real property but left personal property consisting of numerous coins located in safety box #107, First Interstate Bank, Maryland Square Office, 3681 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas. The coins were ordered appraised by the court and valued at $15,486.”
Half the coins in the box went to Lefty, under the terms of the divorce agreement; the other half were divided evenly among Geri’s three children: Robin, Steven, and Stephanie. According to court papers, her heirs received $2,581 each.
Three years later, in June of 1986, two bodies were found buried in a cornfield in Enos, Indiana, about sixty miles from Chicago. Their faces were so badly disfigured that it required a fingerprint check to identify them as Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael. Both men had been beaten to death.
The murders were never solved, though authorities believe that Chicago mobsters wanted to silence Anthony Spilotro, who was facing three major criminal trials, including one for murdering a witness.
Frank Rosenthal is retired peacefully, living in a house on a golf course in a walled community in Boca Raton, Florida, where he helps his nephew run a nightclub.
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