Famous Midwest mob buster Ed Kovacic, the man who spearheaded the dismantling of the Cleveland mafia in the late 1970s and early 1980s, died of natural causes last week when he suffered a stroke. Actor Val Kilmer played a role based on Kovacic in the 2011 Hollywood film Kill The Irishman.

The notoriously hard-nosed Kovacic was 88 years old and served as the city of Cleveland’s police chief from 1990 until 1993. He left the department briefly in the 1980s to be the chief of detectives for the Cuyahoga County Sherriff’s Office .

Kovacic’s exploits taking on the Italian and Irish mobs in Cleveland in the 1970s led to his rapid rise in the local law enforcement community, getting promoted from sergeant, to lieutenant, to captain in less than five years. Cleveland’s Italian and Irish crime syndicates went to war in 1977 in the aftermath of longtime Italian don John Scalish’s sudden passing while undergoing heart surgery. The subsequent battle for power in the city’s rackets pitted Danny (The Irishman) Greene’s “Celtic Club” Irish mob group versus Scalish’s reluctant successor, James (Jack White) Licavoli, and quickly degenerated into competing execution and car-bombing campaigns.

Danny Greene

Greene once delivered a car bomb he found underneath his Cadillac and then took apart to Kovacic at his office inside Cleveland Police headquarters. Within weeks, Greene’s house was bombed, but he survived with barely a scratch. His luck ran out though in October 1977 and he was blown up in a car bomb attack in the parking lot of his dentist’s office.

Kovacic cracked the Greene homicide investigation by arresting Pennsylvania mobster Ray Ferritto, the man imported from across the state line and given the murder contract on the stubborn and fearless Irish crime lord. Kovacic’s continued work combating mob activity resulted in thwarting an effort to assassinate then Cleveland Mayor and future U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich a year later.

Licavoli became the first American mafia boss convicted under the federal RICO statute in 1982. Angelo (Big Ange) Lonardo, Licavoli’s underboss and successor, became the first American mafia boss to turn government witness shortly thereafter. The Cleveland mob family stumbled along at a significantly-diminished pace for another decade or so, before losing most if not all true structure in the 2000s.

During the final years of his life, Kovacic worked in City Hall as an advisor to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. He co-produced a 2009 documentary on Danny Greene, a rugged and ruthless, yet charming gangland figure he developed a level of begrudging respect for. He was portrayed by actor Ray Stevenson in To Kill The Irishman. Licavoli was played by Tony Lo Bianco, known for his role as a drug-pushing wiseguy in the Oscar-winning 1971 film The French Connection.

At the height of his reign, Greene was playing both sides of the fence and was a confidential FBI informant. Kovacic had cultivated informants of his own inside Greene’s camp and they tipped him off to Greene’s informant status. Joining the Cleveland Police Department in 1959, his time as chief in the 1990s is remembered for the department regaining respect and integrity in the wake of a drug scandal.

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