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Alleged gangster denies paying off mob leader

By DAVID KELLEY

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- An alleged 'Hole in the Wall Gang' member testified Tuesday that none of the proceeds from burglaries he committed went to reputed mob leader Anthony Spilotro.

Ernest Davino, 39, who is serving a total of 37 years in prison for burglary and related crimes, was the first defendant to testify in the defense's second day of the 10-week trial.

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The government alleged in a 17-count 1983 federal indictment that Spilotro directed the other defendants in a wide-ranging criminal enterprise in 1980 and 1981 that specialized in burglary, robbery, extortion and arson.

Prosecutors contend the burglary gang members paid a fee, street tax or share to Spilotro for permission to operate in southern Nevada. The Hole in the Wall Gang got its name because members allegedly forced their way into buildings by making holes in the walls.

Law enforcement officials have long charged that Spilotro is the overseer of organized crime activities in Las Vegas for the Chicago mob.

Davino, who moved to Las Vegas in 1976, testified that he began committing burglaries in 1978. He said the break-ins were not planned and were conducted 'with whoever was around.'

He said that often the break-ins were conducted with co-defendant Leo Guardino, former gang member-turned federally protected witness Frank Cullotta, and others brought in from Chicago by Cullotta.

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Davino testified that cash and money obtained from the sale of items taken in burglaries were split equally among the crime participants, except 10 percent that was often given to a tipster, defined as someone who provided information to the burglars about a potential victim.

Davino testified that items taken in burglaries were sold in southern Nevada and not shipped out of state for sale.

Key government witnesses Salvatore Romano and Cullotta testified that stolen items often were shipped out of state for sale, and Cullotta testified that Spilotro received a share of all criminal activities.

Davino, who is expected to be cross-examined today, was led by his attorney, Robert Wolfe, through a list of burglaries and other crimes and the split of the loot.

Most of the defendants were arrested July 4, 1981, in an abortive burglary attempt at Bertha's furniture and jewelry store in Las Vegas.

Romano, a confidential FBI informant who infiltrated the gang, tipped off authorities about the planned break-in at Bertha's.

Cullotta, who faced a possible life prison term as an habitual criminal, became a federally protected witness in 1983. He testified earlier in the trial that he was involved in four homicides.

Nevada District Judge Paul Goldman testified Tuesday that FBI agents came to his office prior to the sentencing of Cullotta on state charges stemming from the Bertha's burglary and asked the judge to sentence Cullotta to a light prison term.

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Goldman said the federal agents recommended a five-year prison term, and the judge ultimately sentenced Cullotta to eight years in prison.

The judge quoted federal agents as saying Cullotta 'was only a thief and burglar.' He said they did not mention that Cullotta confessed to four slayings.

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