Detroit Mafia Bosses Broke Off Business, Personal Relationships Because Of Operation GameTax

The aftermath of Operation GameTax, the federal government’s large-scale assault on the mafia in Detroit celebrating its’ 20-year anniversary this month, caused the already-fractured relationship between then-mob boss Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco and his underboss, first-cousin and former best friend Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli, to completely fall apart. Tocco and Zerilli, raised side-by-side as Motor City mob princes and leaders of the Michigan-based crime syndicate for more than three decades, died in the midst of a bitter feud and not on speaking terms, in 2014 and 2015, respectively. They were the headlining co-defendants in the historic Operation GameTax case, which landed in the second week of March 1996, and took down basically the whole Detroit mafia “Family.” Both were convicted and did time behind bars – Tocco got a proverbial slap on the wrist, a controversial one-year sentence (appealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and extended to two years), while Zerili was sentenced to a seven-year term and did five.

The case was built primarily on hundreds of hours of audio surveillance picked up by an FBI-planted bug located in the car of Zerilli’s nephew, Detroit mob soldier, Nove Tocco, in the early 1990s. Nove Tocco wound up entering the Federal Witness Protection Program following his conviction. He was tried with Jack Tocco in 1998. Zerilli’s trial wasn’t until 2002.

Jack Tocco, who had never been found guilty of a felony before Operation GameTax, blamed Zerilli for the entire ordeal, according to sources, and ordered him shunned. This situation was further complicated by the fact that Zerilli and Tocco’s brother and then-consigliere Anthony (Tony T) Tocco were brother-in-laws, each married to a daughter of deceased legendary New York don Joe Profaci (d. 1962), both wed to their respective mob princesses in lavish parties held at Manhattan’s posh Commodore Hotel . By the final decade of Black Jack Tocco’s 35-year reign as Godfather he had replaced Zerilli as his No. 2 in charge (Zerilli himself claimed he quit, others in the Tocco camp say he was demoted).

The final face-to-face meet-ups between Zerilli and both Toccos ended in a pair of physical confrontations in 2011, per sources in both camps. There is speculation that the Toccos’ might have ordered the robbery of Zerilli’s house and the murder of his bodyguard and protégé Jerome (Jerry the Blade) Bianchette in the same three-week period in July and August of 2002.

In late 2012, five years after being released from prison, the infirmed Zerilli went to the FBI and pointed agents towards a piece of rural farm property in the suburb of Oakland Township, Michigan once owned by the Toccos and told them slain labor-union leader Jimmy Hoffa was killed and buried there – a dig of the property was fruitless, Zerilli, incarcerated at the time Hoffa went missing, told authorities Tocco ordered the famous mob hit and it was carried out on the Tocco farm on the afternoon of July 30, 1975.

During his trial in the summer of 2002, Zerilli’s house was robbed as he sat in court on the afternoon of July 26, a safe containing cash, jewelry and other valuables removed from his Sterling Heights, Michigan residence. Just a little less than two weeks following his conviction on July 30, Zerilli’s then-bodyguard and main collector, Jerry Bianchette, was shot-gunned to death as he attended a late-night meeting at a Macomb County construction site on August 10, 2002. Days earlier, Bianchette had a personal protection order filed against him after attacking a debtor and threatening him with a knife and had been called to a mob sit down with syndicate higher-ups to account for his cowboy-like antics..

The FBI investigated Tocco’s role and the possible roles of Tocco affiliates in both crimes, but never brought any charges – Louis (Butch) Stramaglia, an admitted close buddy of Tocco’s, Detroit businessman and reputed wiseguy, is considered a suspect in the Bianchette homicide, per sources.

Prior to their falling out, Tocco and Zerilli were best friends and stood up for each other at each other’s weddings. Tocco married the daughter of Joe Zerilli’s underboss Angelo (The Chairman) Meli.

“They started out as a team, real close, almost like siblings more than cousins, by the end though, they truly hated each other,” said retired federal prosecutor Keith Corbett of the relationship between Black Jack and Tony Z. “There was a lot of animosity. Jack saw Tony and his people as reflecting poorly on him. In other words, embarrassing him and getting him put in jail. The two of them had a lot of history, but it didn’t matter to Jack. He had the power and he just cut Tony off completely.”

Once out of prison from GameTax in the late 2000s, Zerilli sought a sitdown with Tocco to plead his case about him getting back some level of street-status and was repeatedly rebuffed, per sources. Eventually Tony Z showed up at Tocco’s house to confront him, according these sources, the pair got into a physical altercation that had to be broken up by one of Tocco’s sons. When he went to speak to his brother-in-law Tony Tocco (d. 2012) shortly thereafter, Zerilli punched him in the face.

Viewing running to the government as his only method of retribution, Zerilli met with the FBI in December 2012 and told them that Jack Tocco ordered the execution of Hoffa, a mob-ally-turned-mob-nemesis and that Peter (Bozzi) Vitale, Raffaele (Jimmy Q) Quasarano and Anthony (Tony Pal) Palazzolo were assigned and performed the high-profile, heavily-speculated upon assassination. Vitale, a capo of the city’s Greektown entertainment district, and Quasarano, Jack Tocco’s one-time consigliere and the crime family’s lieutenant in charge of narcotics, are both dead of natural causes (Bozzi Vitale died in 1997, Jimmy Q in 2001). Palazzolo, 73, is alleged to be a current mob administrator in Motown. He was Vitale’s bodyguard back then.

Zerilli, a close friend of Hoffa’s and integral in getting him elected as International Teamsters’ Union President in 1957, away serving a six-year sentence for skimming six million dollars from the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Black Jack Tocco and his then-street bosses, brothers Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone, along with New Jersey mobster Anthony (Tony Pro) Provenzano, Tony Jack’s wife’s cousin who was beefing with Hoffa at the time of his still-unsolved disappearance, and members of Tony Pro’s Genovese crime family crew, are considered the top suspects in Hoffa’s kidnapping and killing. Hoffa was on his way to have lunch with Giacalone and Provenzano when he vanished.

Zerilli was caught on tape threatening to harm Hoffa in the 1960s in an FBI wire installed in the Giacalone brothers’ Home Juice Co. headquarters, but told authorities in 2012 that Hoffa would never had been executed if he had been free and that he wanted to find Hoffa’s remains to allow his family to experience at least some form of closure after all these years. At the time of his death, Zerilli wasn’t speaking to his brother-in-laws on the Profaci side either. Some of Joe Profaci’s sons followed him into the family business, including retired Colombo crime family capo Salvatore (Jersey Sal) Profaci. Per sources, Sal Profaci at one time supported Zerilli in his feud with Tocco. The support waned upon Zerilli’s conversations with the FBI.

Although the Tocco brothers and much of the Detroit mob rank-and-file, the one powerful member of the Family to back Zerilli in his quest to return to the fold was Giuseppe (Joe the Hood) D’Anna, a recently-appointed 62-year old capo that is going on trial soon for racketeering and extortion. D’Anna and his baby brother Girolamo, also known as, “Mimmo,” are charged with beating a neighboring restaurant owner with a baseball bat when he resisted shakedown efforts, refusing to shut down his eatery that resided next to the D’Anna’s Tirami Su Italian Ristorante in suburban Shelby Township, Michigan. According to state police surveillance logs, Joe D’Anna, the great nephew of Zerilli’s baptismal godfather Anthony (Tony Cars) D’Anna, a veteran Detroit mob capo dead since 1984, would often chauffer Zerilli around town on trips to the United States in the late 1970s and 1980s, prior to settling in Michigan for good in around 1990.

The Tocco brothers and Zerilli were underworld royalty in Detroit, their dads being the “founding fathers” of the area’s Italian mafia, Vito (Black Bill) Tocco and Joseph (Joe Uno) Zerilli. The elder Tocco and Zerilli were brother-in-laws and nationally-respected gangland figures that forged strong ties with other American crime lords across the country during Prohibition like Joe Profaci, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky and Carlos Marcello.

Black Bill Tocco was the boss of the Detroit mob from 1931-1936. With Tocco serving a short prison stint for tax evasion, Zerillli assumed the mantle of leadership, heading the crime family unchallenged for the next 41 years, earning a seat on “The Commission,” the U.S. mob’s board of directors. The elder Tocco died of cancer in 1972, the elder Zerilli passed away peacefully in 1977.

According to court documents and testimony in front of the U.S. Senate at the McClellan Hearings in 1963, Tony Zerilli and Jack Tocco “made their bones” together, taking turns strangling local Greek wiseguy Gus Andromulous to death in 1947 and were both “made” into the mafia two years later in 1949 as a reward for a job well done. The same year they became fully-initiated button men in the mob, the pair of mob princes were given the Hazel Park Raceway by their fathers to run – HPR was one of the preeminent thoroughbred horse-racing tracks in the Midwest.

When Tony Zerilli was busted and sent to prison in the early 1970s for having hidden ownership in and stealing millions of dollars from the Frontier Casino, his cousin Black Jack bumped him out of the heir apparent spot and took the Family throne, a seat once promised to Zerilli, the boss’ son. Tocco’s June 1979 inauguration ceremony as syndicate boss hosted by Black Bill’s dying former bodyguard Antonino (Big Tony) Ruggirello’s sons’ crew at their swanky hunting lodge near Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan was photographed by the FBI (Timberland Game Ranch in Dexter, Michigan was owned by Antonino “Tony the Exterminator” Ruggirello, Jr. and Luigi “Louie the Bulldog” Ruggirello, both confidants of Black Jack).

The government was tipped to the top-secret get together of Detroit mafia luminaires by Tocco’s driver and cousin, Anthony (Fat Tony) Zito, a longtime confidential informant for the government. Zerilli didn’t attend out of protest however eventually accepted the Family’s second-in-command post and was allowed to basically oversee an entire wing of the organization all by himself. Big Tony Ruggirello, Sr., Black Bill’s driver and ace gunmen as he and Joe Zerilli were crafting their reputations as hard-nosed bootleggers throughout the 1920s, died in subsequent months.

The photos of the ceremony anointing Tocco the new don were presented as evidence at Tocco’s 1998 trial. As part of the Frontier conviction, Zerilli and Tocco were forced to sell Hazel Park Raceway. The dispersal of proceeds from the sale were also at the root of the lingering bad blood between the two, with Zerilli accusing Tocco of stealing most of his piece of the deal.

Tony Tocco was the only one of Operation GameTax’s 17 defendants to be acquitted. He looked after the crime family in an acting boss capacity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to multiple sources on the street and in law enforcement.

 

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