High-Powered Detroit Legal Mind, Giacalone Lawyer, Neil Fink Dies, Always Gave Govt. Run For Its’ Money

Well-regarded Detroit criminal defense attorney Neil Fink died this week of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. The 76-year old Fink represented some of Michigan’s most-recognizable thugs, racketeers, mobsters and mass murderers, not to mention various white-collar felons in his over 40 years practicing law. He was mentored in the field of criminal law by legendary defense counselors Joe Louisell and Ivan Barris and gained quick notoriety early in his career for handling the cases of serial killer John Norman Collins and the notorious Giacalone family of Detroit’s Italian mafia.

“Jurors liked him, that’s all that matters in his line of work,” said one former client. “He was worth all the money he charged because he almost always made a dent in the government’s attack. That meant you were walking or getting a better plea deal. If you had Neil in your corner, you knew you were in good hands and you had somebody really fighting for your rights.”

John Norman Collins terrorized the Ypsilanti-Ann Arbor region of Michigan in the late 1960s, allegedly raping and killing seven area women. Fink and Louisell together (seen walking side-by-side in this article’s cover photo) represented Collins at his 1970 trial for the Karen Beineman slaying in which he was convicted. Beineman was Collins’ final victim, the seventh woman slain.

Brothers Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone and Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone were the street bosses of the Detroit mob from the 1960s into the 2000s, suspected of ordering or carrying out literally dozens of gangland homicides in their respective underworld careers. Fink frequently repped Billy Giacalone. Tony Giacalone died of kidney failure in 2001, Billy Giacalone held on until 2012, succumbing to plain old age and dementia.

One of Fink’s last major courtroom victories came less than a decade ago when he won an acquittal for Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone, Billy Jack’s oldest son and the reputed current mafia don of Detroit, at his 2007 racketeering trial. At the time of the trial, the younger Giacalone was the crime family’s street boss, taking over for his uncle and dad in the wake of their bust in the 1990s Operation GameTax case. Fink’s cross-examination of the government’s star witness was the turning point in the trial and categorized as “brilliant” by observers.

Jackie Giacalone’s predecessor as Godfather of the Motor City, Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco – died of heart disease in 2014 – also retained Fink for Grand Jury appearances throughout his multi-decade rein atop the Michigan rackets. Tocco’s underboss and first cousin Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli and his longtime consigliere Michael (Big Mike) Polizzi, the crime family’s numbers whiz and Tocco’s No. 3 in charge, used Fink for legal counsel too.

In 1989, Fink was the lawyer for pro-boxing champion Thomas (Tommy the Hitman) Hearns’ brother, Henry Hearns, charged with killing his 19-year old girlfriend inside Tommy Hearns’ suburban Detroit mansion. The mansion often hosted mafia-financed casino nights, with Giacalone brothers’ lieutenants Allen (The General) Hilf and Freddy (The Saint) Salem and their Capital Street Social Club crew overseeing the action. Tommy Hearns admitted to holding the high-stakes gambling parties at his residence in legal proceedings tied to his baby bro’s murder case.

A few years before the Hearns homicide case, Fink handled a gambling indictment for Edward (Big Foot Eddie) Wingate, Detroit’s premier Black racketeer dating back decades. Wingate was the city’s preeminent illegal numbers czar from the 1950s forward and was connected to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, who decided to purchase Wingate’s two recording labels in the 1960s, merging them into his Motown brand instead of competing with him.

One of Fink’s bigger cases in the 1990s was his representation of Detroit Police officer Larry Nevers, charged and eventually convicted of beating an African-American named Malice Green to death with his flashlight at a drug stop in the fall of 1992. Green’s case hit the national headlines because it came less than six months following the Rodney King verdict in California and subsequent L.A race riot.

Neil Fink

Neil Fink

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