July 6, 2019 — Detroit mob luminary Antonino (Tony Cigars) Ruggirello died this week of natural causes. The 85-year old Ruggirello was a crew boss in the Tocco-Zerilli crime family for decades and had been acting in an advisory capacity to mafia administrators in the Motor City during his final years, per sources. His father, “Big Toto” Ruggirello fought in the Crosstown Mob War of the early 1930s before dying of a heart attack when Tony and his three brothers were infants.
Tony and his brother Luigi (Louie the Bulldog) Ruggirello had their names surface in the investigation into the disappearance and murder of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, a well-known associate and ally of the Detroit mafia, who mysteriously vanished from a Bloomfield Township, Michigan restaurant the afternoon of July 30, 1975 on his way to meet Tocco-Zerilli Family power Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone for lunch. Giacalone and Tony Ruggirello were partners in a pest extermination business. Both Ruggirellos had their mug shots included in a photo lineup of potential suspects attached to the famous Hoffex memo, an internal briefing for law enforcement compiled in the months after the stubborn labor leader was rubbed out.
The Ruggirello brothers were raised by their uncles and cousins, eventually becoming “made” members of the Tocco-Zerilli clan and given responsibility of overseeing territory in Washtenaw and Genesee Counties. Tony and Louie were co-capos of the Ruggirello crew, which headquartered from the ritzy Timberland Game Ranch in Dexter, Michigan, an upscale club and hunting lodge just outside Ann Arbor, the Washtenaw County seat.
Tony Ruggirello was considered the top suspect in his first wife Judy’s disappearance in August 1968. The day prior to going missing, she had told him she was filing for divorce. Judy Ruggirello’s body has never been found. He had to serve prison time in the 1970s for trying to kill a rival numbers runner in Flint, Michigan with a car bomb.
On June 11, 1979, the Ruggirello brothers hosted a top-secret ceremony at the Timberland Game Ranch, where stately Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco was elected don of the Detroit mob in a vote of all the crime family’s capos. Due to a tipoff from Tocco’s driver and crafty police work by federal law enforcement, the FBI was on hand snapping photos as Tocco officially took the reins of the criminal empire and gangland aristocracy founded in the wake of the Crosstown Mob War nearly a half-centurybefore.
Tocco and Tony Giacalone were prime suspects in the planning of the Hoffa hit, soon to be dramatized in the Martin Scorsese-helmed $200,000,000 price-tagged Netflix blockbuster The Irishman, starring Al Pacino as Hoffa. The Ruggirellos were staunch Tocco loyalists, but also close to the blue-collar Giacalone camp and the FBI theorized Tocco and Giacalone could have had Hoffa’s body buried on the expansive property housing the Timberland Game Ranch, hundreds of acres of forestry and brushy marshland owned by the Ruggirello family. Despite the plausibility of the hunch, it was never enough for a search warrant to gain access to the property so they could check it out.
“Tony was a very respected and feared figure in Detroit La Cosa Nostra (Mafia), he was always on our radar and that game ranch was a place that we knew they felt safe at,” said retired FBI agent Mike Carone. “We learned he was more jovial, a little more extroverted than his brother Logie. He used to give out business cards that said Tony Ruggirello, Externinator, across them. That was his idea of a joke.”
Louie Ruggirello died of cancer in 1987. Giacalone and Tocco passed peacefully in 2001 and 2014, respectively.
It’s been a rough year so far for the “vintage” wing of the Tocco-Zerilli crime family. Ruggirello is the third elder statesman from the Borgata’s ranks to check out so far in 2019. Another Hoffa suspect, Anthony (Tony Pal) Palazzolo, the Detroit mob’s consigliere, died of cancer back in the winter. Palazzolo, 76, once bragged to an undercover agent that he disposed of Hoffa’s remains in the sausage auger of his Detroit Sausage Company headquarters in historic Eastern Market, and was named as one of the hit men in Hoffa’s actual slaying by a high-level FBI informant.
Former Tocco underboss Joseph (Joe Hooks) Mirabile died in the spring. Mirabile was the Detroit mob’s porn king.