Start Snitching: Inside the Witness Protection Program

"I was flying out of Chicago once and I got on the plane and saw two hit men get on right after me," Cullotta remembered. "One guy looked at me, he couldn't believe it either. He was in a state of shock. They sat five seats in back of me. And I got off that plane, went back inside and stood behind a pole. They followed me off the plane and I could hear them talking. One guy was telling the other guy, 'Forget about it. Let's get back on the plane.' And they left. That was close -- I could have gotten whacked."

Cullotta, whose life was recently chronicled by author Dennis N. Griffin in the book "Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness," occasionally gets approached by people who recognize him. "I just laugh," he said. "I was sitting in a restaurant the other day and someone came up to me and said, 'Hey, you're Frank Cullotta,' and I said, "No, that's not me."

In a twist made for Hollywood, Cullotta and Arnoldy are now close friends who keep in touch every week. Cullotta calls Arnoldy his best friend, and Arnoldy said the ex-mobster is "a poster boy for the Witness Security Program, and once he got out of it, he's become a successful small businessman and stayed out of trouble -- knock on wood."

Not that Cullotta doesn't let his mind wander back to his old life of crime. "If I'm in a bank, I look around and I see how they've changed all the alarm systems," he said. "And you think how you could overcome that. It's a game I play with myself. But I couldn't try that sh-- now. I'm an old man. I can't run that fast."

Leaving the Program Can Be Deadly

Others who've left the program haven't been so lucky. Mario "Sonny" Riccobene, a Philadelphia mobster, was jailed on racketeering charges but made a deal with the government and testified in 1984 at the trial of murdered underboss Frank Monte. In the early 1990s, without explanation, Sonny Riccobene left the federal witness program and returned to South Philadelphia, where has was soon killed on the orders of a mob boss.

Sessa was arrested on the steps of New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral on Palm Sunday in 1993. Ten minutes later, he began cooperating and continued to assist the government when he realized that he faced a life sentence if convicted of his crimes. Within months, he was debriefed by FBI agents Jeffrey Thomlinson and Howard Leadbetter, and started testifying at several major mob trials. Sessa ended up serving only 6½ years.

"That's a pretty good deal for all those murders, don't you think," quipped DeVecchio's defense attorney, Mark Bederow, at DeVecchio's trial Thursday. Sessa didn't answer.

Another reason for Sessa's decision to rat out his former pals was a desire to avenge the murders of two of his closest friends.

During his testimony, he described how angry he was at Colombo capo Gregory Scarpa Jr. for ordering the murder of Sessa's "close, personal friend" Dominic "Joey Brewster" DeDomenico. Sessa, who reminisced about robbing banks, killing people and getting arrested alongside DeDomenico, said, "I was very upset about the murder of Joey Brewster."

When Sessa was ordered to murder another friend in the early '80s, he refused and went on the lam to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

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