Detroit Mob Takedown: Team USA’s Historic Operation GameTax Marks Two-Decade Anniversary

The landmark Operation GameTax case, the biggest and most successful legal assault ever launched against the legendarily-stealthy Italian mafia in Detroit, was filed this week 20 years ago. On the morning of March 13, 1996, FBI agents spread out across Detroit and Florida to arrest 17 members and associates of the Michigan mob named in the 25-count federal racketeering indictment ensnaring virtually the crime family’s entire hierarchy. Some parts of the investigation resulting in Operation GameTax began as far back as 20 years before the case actually dropped.

Headlining the indictment was boss Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco, underboss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli, consigliere Michael (Big Mike) Polizzi, street boss Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and capos, Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone, Tony Jack’s little brother, Anthony (Tony T) Tocco, Black Jack’s younger sibling and Anthony (Tony the Bull) Corrado. Charges included bookmaking, loan sharking, extortion, robbery, bribery, attempted assault and murder conspiracies as well as former hidden ownership in two Nevada casino and hotels (The Aladdin in Las Vegas & The Edgewater in Laughlin).

All but one of the 17 co-defendants in the case were convicted and did prison time – Tony Tocco aka “Tawn,” was the only co-defendant acquitted of the charges. All of the aforementioned syndicate powers have since died of natural causes. Tony Tocco (died in 2012) is alleged to have taken over as acting boss of the Family when his less-lucky co-defendants dealt with the aftermath of their convictions before eventually settling into the syndicate’s consigliere post, vacated by the demoted Big Mike Polizzi.

“GameTax obviously staggered the mob in Detroit, unfortunately it didn’t decimate them as a whole,” retired FBI agent Mike Carone reflected. “There were enough guys that didn’t get caught in GameTax around to keep the lights on in the shop until the other ones got home from prison. The Detroit Family is well versed in sustaining itself. We’re talking something that’s no coincidence. Measures like intermarriage among members’ relatives and diversification into successful white-collar businesses and scams have been being employed for years. It ain’t what it used to be. It isn’t dead either.The GameTax case was an overall success though. It made a big dent. They (the Detroit mob) felt it for a while. Some never recovered from it.”

Operation GameTax was officially logged as a six-year probe which got off the ground in the spring of 1990. By the end of the following year, FBI electronics experts had already bugged the vehicle belonging to Family soldier Nove Tocco, Tony Zerilli’s nephew and the Tocco brothers’ cousin. The audio surveillance in Nove Tocco’s car was up and running for more than two years, intercepting a treasure trove of incriminating conversations between Tocco and several associates, including his uncle and his best friend, partner-in-crime and fellow soldier, Paul (Big Paulie) Corrado, Tony the Bull’s nephew.

“I think our wives know we’re gangsters,” one wiseguy was picked up telling another.

Jack Tocco, Nove Tocco, Tony Corrado and Paulie Corrado were convicted at trial in 1998. Tony Zerilli was found guilty at a 2002 trial. The bust ultimately led to a colossal falling out between Zerilli and Jack Tocco, raised side-by-side as mob princes under their dads and Detroit mafia founding fathers, Joe Zerilli and Black Bill Tocco’s tutelage. Nove Tocco turned informant in subsequent years, a syndicate betrayal Jack Tocco blamed on his cousin and second in command. Missing money from the sale of the Hazel Park Raceway which they co-owned together for decades was also a cause of consternation in a long-brewing feud that finally reached a boiling point in the early 2000s. Before Operation GameTax, Jack Tocco had never been convicted of a felony.

Big Paulie Corrado helped the FBI nail someone (supposedly unbeknownst to him connected to the Giacalone brothers) offering him to fix his jury in hopes of the judge taking it easy on him at sentencing. It was a miscalculation – Corrado got slammed with the harshest sentence of any of the co-defendants in the case and did a whopping 12 years in the can.

In a controversial sentence, Jack Tocco was first only hit with a mere one-year term, while others of his ilk in similar legal quandaries around the country were routinely being hit with 25-to-50 year stints. The United State’s Attorney’s Office appealed the sentence and Tocco was forced to do an extra year of time. The star witness at Tocco’s trial was Angelo Polizzi, an underworld lawyer, his godson and the son of his consigliere Big Mike Polizzi, who had his stripes pulled and was shelved for his kin’s misdeeds. The elder Polizzi died before trial.

So did Tony Giacalone, the face of the Detroit mob on the streets day-to-day for basically the whole second half of the 20th Century. He succumbed to kidney failure in January 2001. His brother, the equally feared, ferocious and respected Billy Giacalone pled guilty in Operation GameTax, admitting the existence of and his participation and membership in the mafia.

Billy Jack did six years of prison time, emerging from his final bid in the Big House in 2004 to replace Zerilli as Tocco’s underboss and No. 2 in charge. He finally died of old age in the winter of 2012, having stepped away from his administrative post two years prior. His son, Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone, is the reputed current mafia boss of Detroit.

Jack Tocco died of heart failure in the summer of 2014. Tocco’s inauguration ceremony as don was photographed by FBI agent Greg Stejskal in June 1979, after federal surveillance units trailed several Detroit mob leaders and lieutenants as they descended on a ritzy hunting lodge near Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan, owned by sons of Tocco’s dad’s one-time driver and bodyguard Antonino (Big Tony) Ruggirello, Sr. at that time dying of cancer.

The famous image caught Tocco, Billy Giacalone and Tony Corrado on a balcony smoking a cigarette just moments after the then-58 year old Tocco was elected to the boss’ chair was presented to the jury at his spring 1998 trial (it’s this story’s featured photo). Tocco’s driver Anthony (Fat Tony) Zito, a longtime confidential informant, tipped the FBI to the ceremony. The Operation GameTax bust is the one major blemish on Tocco’s otherwise expertly-navigated 35-year atop his Midwest mafia kingdom.

Tony Zerilli, 86, died in retirement in Florida last spring. According to multiple sources and law enforcement records, Zerilli was the victim of a siege on his rackets and an attack on his inner circle in the wake of his conviction in Operation GameTax – his house was burglarized while he sat in court on trial in July 2002, his protégé and collector Jerome (Jerry the Blade) Bianchette was killed the next month.

Zerilli served five years of “away at college.” Following his release from prison, Zerilli went to the FBI and told them Jimmy Hoffa, the notorious slain labor union boss, was killed and buried on property once owned by the Tocco brothers in Oakland Township, Michigan. The feds searched the property three years ago and came up empty.

Tony Corrado died behind bars in 2002 of heart disease. Corrado was capo of the crew once led by his dad, Pietro (Machine Gun Pete) Corrado and his brother Dominic (Fats) Corrado, Big Paulie’s dad, after that. Machine Gun Pete Corrado was don, Joe Zerilli’s brother-in-law and main enforcer. The elder Corrado spearheaded the syndicate’s takeover of the Motor City policy lottery racket from the area’s Black numbers bosses in the 1940s, dropping head of a sudden massive heart attack on New Year’s Day 1957 while vacationing in Miami. His oldest son Fats Corrado, was felled by a fatal bout with cancer in June 1985.

During the 1980s and 90s, the Corrado crew, once headquartered at the St. Antoinette Coffee Shop and the Grecian Gardens restaurant in Greektown (Motown’s main downtown entertainment district), was in charge of overseeing shakedown cash collected from Detroit’s strip club industry. The Detroit mob’s point man in the topless-bar tribute racket was a local Iraqi strip-club owner, John (J.J.) Jarjosa, who went down in Operation GameTax and sadly lost his son and business partner John (John-John) Jarjosa, Jr., in a 2001 gangland-style slaying as he was finishing up his time as a guest of the government.

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