The upper crust of the Detroit mob gathered at a plush hunting lodge near Ann Arbor 40 years ago this week to officially anoint Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco the new boss of the Tocco-Zerilli crime family. And how do we know that? The FBI was on hand to snap photos. It was the first and only mafia boss’ inauguration ever witnessed and documented first-hand by the federal government.

On the afternoon of June 11, 1979 at the Timberland Game Ranch in Dexter, Michigan, just outside Ann Arbor, several powerful “capos” in the Detroit mafia came together to select a don for the first time in more than four decades. The dark-skinned, business-savvy Tocco was the obvious choice. He had been acting boss for the past five years. His bloodline was pure mob royalty, being the nephew of longtime Godfather Joe Zerilli and the son of the crime family’s founding father, Vito (Black Bill) Tocco.

Black Bill Tocco died of natural causes in 1972. Zerilli followed him peacefully to the grave in 1977, having never served a night behind bars in his more than half-century lording over underworld affairs out of his tiny bakery on the eastside of Detroit.

Three years before he went to the grave, the cagey Zerilli, a member of the American mob’s national “Commission” tapped his nephew Tocco as his successor. The razor-sharp and heavily-insulated Tocco was a formidable adversary.

The FBI had an ace in the hole though, a leg up on Tocco in a race that hadn’t even started yet. Wait, we’ll get to that in a minute.

College educated and fully diversified into the legitimate business world, Tocco represented the white collar wing of the crime family, while the notoriously-lethal Giacalone brothers (“Tony Jack” and “Billy Jack”) and his underboss and first cousin Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli handled blue-collar duties. The considerably more high profile Tony Zerilli had once been the heir apparent to his father “Joe Uno’s” throne, but was passed over in favor of his more understated cousin Black Jack when he got nailed by the feds and sent to prison for stealing six million bucks from The Frontier casino and hotel in Las Vegas. Tocco began running the Detroit mob on an acting basis in around late 1973 or early 1974.

Lucky for the FBI, they had a mole feeding them intelligence from the inside: Anthony (Fat Tony) Zito, Tocco’s cousin, driver and bodyguard. Zito was developed as a confidential informant in the 1960s.

In the summer of 1979, Zito told the feds that something “big was in the works” in regards to Tocco, but didn’t specify what that was. So when FBI surveillance units began noticing unusual activity on the morning of June 11, they knew something important was brewing.

That morning, FBI agents Greg Stejskal and Keith Cordes were assigned to monitor the Detroit mafia’s consigliere’s Raffaele (Jimmy Q) Quasarano, a dapper, silver-haired drug trafficker and reputed hit man who headquartered out of Motor City Barber Supply in Roseville, Michigan. They watched as Billy Giacalone and Giacalone’s right-hand man Frank (Frankie the Bomb) Bommarito arrived to meet Quasarano at his office. Billy Jack’s surveillance team soon set up shop at a nearby street corner. With prying eyes fixed on Billy Jack and Jimmy Q talking in the parking lot, Bommarito left, only to quickly return with the crime family’s “CFO” Michael (Big Mike) Polizzi and soldier Tony (Champ) Abate in tow.

The five-pack of mobsters didn’t hang around Motor City Barber Supply for long. Stejskal and Cordes, flanked by the Giacalone surveillance team, followed them for close to an hour’s drive west to Dexter, Michigan in Washtenaw County and the Timberland Game Ranch hunting lodge owned by the Ruggirello family. The Ruggirello brothers, “Tony Cigars,” “Toto,” and “Louie the Bulldog,” ran a crew that covered the rackets in Washtenaw and Genesee Counties. Dexter is a rural community neighboring Ann Arbor, home to the prestigious University of Michigan.

When the FBI surveillance teams arrived at the ranch, they were met by other surveillance teams. Specifically the units responsible for tracking the Corrado and Tocco brothers.

“We hit the holy grail,” Stejskal said. “We knew pretty fast we had a major breakthrough in the FBI’s war against organized crime. I feel honored and proud to have been a part of it.”

All of the highest priority targets for the Detroit FBI’s “mob squad” were in the same place. More than a dozen of Detroit’s most powerful mafiosi were having a top secret meeting of the minds in the main clubhouse on the Timberland Game Ranch property, just barely visible from the public road bordering the ranch, and the feds watched on salivating.

“You don’t forget that type of day,” said retired FBI agent Mike Carone, who was assigned to the Giacalone tail that morning. “Seeing everyone in the Family all together in that manner was very rare. You’d see it at weddings and funerals, birthday or holiday parties but never randomly in the middle of the week. We knew something important was being decided.”

Carone, Stejskal and the other surveillance agents on the job that morning hit the jackpot – the coronation of a new mob king was going on, practically before their very eyes. All of the crime family’s top powers had traveled to Timberland Game Ranch to elect their next leader.

And unbeknownst to anybody in attendance until well into the 1990s, it was memorialized for posterity by federally-issued surveillance equipment.

Stejskal grabbed his camera and snuck into the backyard of the clubhouse to snap a historic photo. Tocco was being greeted and congratulated by his subjects, one by one, on the back porch as a bright, beaming sun shined down on the freshly minted Godfather’s already-tanned face.

On one side of him was Billy Giacalone, on the other side was Dominic (Detroit Fats) Corrado, a capo and childhood confidant of Tocco’s in charge of the numbers business and prostitution for the Family. Giacalone was there representing himself and his brother, Tony Jack, the syndicate’s steelyard-eyed street boss off serving a federal prison stint in Atlanta for extortion and tax evasion. Billy Jack was “acting” street boss until his older sibling got home. The landmark image of Tocco, Corrado and Giacalone was kept under wraps for the next 17 years.

As the caravan of mobsters left the hunting lodge and headed back to Detroit, the FBI had the Michigan State Police conduct traffic stops to identify the ceremony’s participants. Tocco was being chauffeured by Detroit Fats’s not-so-little brother Anthony (Tony the Bull) Corrado, the equally rotund and gregarious head of a syndicate collection and enforcement crew. Detroit Fats Corrado drove behind in another car carrying Tocco’s brother-in-law, mob soldier Carlo Licata, Greektown capo Peter (Bozzy) Vitale and old-school hoodlum Salvatore (Monkey Sam) Misuraca, who had been overseeing rackets in Canada for the crime family the past several years and had ties to the Chicago Outfit. Tocco’s brother, mob capo Anthony (Tony T) Tocco, had left earlier in the afternoon, the first one to depart the ceremony. Billy Giacalone, Jimmy Quasarano, Mike Polizzi and Tony Abate left in Frank the Bomb’s van.

Abate was voting on behalf of his father-in-law, Arizona based old timer Peter (Horseface Pete) Licavoli, the Detroit mob’s underboss in the final years of the Joe Zerilli era. Licavoli helped the elder Zerilli and Tocco establish the modern day mafia in Michigan at the end of Prohibition, going into semi-retirement on his swanky, 80-acre Grace Ranch property in Tucson in the 1950s.

FBI informants would later place capos Vincent (Little Vince) Meli, Salvatore (Sammy Lou) Lucido and Salvatore (Little Sammy) Finazzo at the ceremony as well. Tony Zerilli skipped the festivities, still smarting from losing his chance at the crown years earlier. Fat Tony Zito confirmed the purpose of the ceremony to the feds in the days that followed.

Besides being absent for Tocco’s Timberland Game Ranch inauguration, Zerilli, per federal documents, also turned down an invitation to his 25th wedding anniversary party. Relations between the pair would soon thaw though and Tony Z went on to accept the underboss position in Black Jack’s administration.

Tocco and Zerilli were the lead co-defendants in the groundbreaking 1996 Operation Game Tax indictment and both were convicted at trial. The visual centerpiece of the case’s evidence trove was the photo of Tocco, Billy Giacalone and Tony Corrado taken by FBI agent Greg Stejskal back in the summer of 1979 at the Timberland Game Ranch. Giacalone and Corrado were brought down in the bust too. Everybody did time behind bars, except Tony Tocco, the lone co-defendant in Operation Game Tax to be acquitted at trial. Tony T took the reins of the crime family on an acting basis between 1998 and 2002 when his brother dealt with his legal issues and a two-year prison term.

Almost everyone present at Black Jack Tocco’s coronation as don is dead and gone. The lone remaining participants on the mob side of things are the hosts, Tony and Toto Ruggirello. The 85-year old “Tony Cigars” Ruggirello is believed to be the Detroit mafia’s consigliere today.

Tocco died of heart disease at 87 years old in July 2014, having served 35 years as boss of the crime family bearing his name. Zerilli died of dementia in retirement down in Florida less than a year later in March 2015.

“Jack Tocco was always a tough nut to crack for us at the FBI, that’s one of the reasons that the Timberland Ranch episode is so significant…..that day was a clear victory for the good guys.”

Leave a Reply