Home Blog Page 328

Detroit mafia installs new administration

Getting his house in order

The scuttlebutt on the street in the Motor City is that newly-anointed Detroit mob don Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone has officially appointed his cabinet, so to speak, recently filling slots for his underboss, street boss and consigliere posts.

There were no surprises in the selections.

Underworld sources claim that Giacalone, 62, tapped Anthony (Chicago Tony) La Piana his underboss, Peter (Specs) Tocco his street boss and Anthony (Tony Pal) Palazzolo his acting consigliere, with a promise to move him into the position in a permanent capacity soon.

Earlier this year, Giacalone was named only the fourth-ever Godfather in the 83-year history of the Midwest mafia family that his father and uncle helped build and protect dating back to the 1930s through the 2000s, replacing the retiring Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco, 87, previously the longest-sitting mafia boss in the United States, leading the Family for the past three and a half decades.

Tocco went into semi-retirement two years ago, easing Giacalone into the role of don, appointing him acting boss in 2012. Prior to the promotion, Jackie the Kid, the son of deceased underboss Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone and nephew of Michigan mob icon Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, was the syndicate’s street boss for roughly 15 years. He took over for his uncle who died of cancer in 2001 while under a massive federal racketeering indictment he would never face in court after 40 years running the Family’s day-to-day affairs.

Informants tell local law enforcement that It’s been long known across the Motor City mob landscape that Jackie the Kid, Chicago Tony, Tony Pal and Specs Tocco represented the future hierarchy of the Family, a foursome of capos Black Jack hand-picked more than a decade ago.

La Piana, 71, is a protégé and nephew via marriage of Jack Tocco. Born and raised in Chicago, he married Michigan LCN royalty, wedding the daughter of capo and future underboss Vincent (Little Vince) Meli, in 1974 and moving to Detroit, after years in the Windy City learning the tricks of the gangland trade from mob heavyweights like, John (Johnny No Nose) Di Fronzo and Sam (Wings) Carlisi.

Although La Piana has been identified as a major Midwest mafia power broker in numerous federal government reports, U.S. congressional committee testimony and police intelligence logs over the last 30 years, he hasn’t faced criminal charges since he was a young mob wannabe on the Westside of Chicago in the late-1960s. Chicago Tony beat federal truck-hijacking charges out of Illinois at trial in 1968. He was called Jack Tocco’s “lieutenant for labor union affairs” at Tocco’s federal racketeering trial in 1998, however avoided ensnarement in the giant Operation GameTax bust himself.

Tony Pal oversees Detroit’s Downriver area and is in charge of the Family’s rackets in Canada. His last run-in with the law came in 1993 when he was arrested and served time for operating a money-laundering service for local underworld types looking to wash their criminal proceeds. FBI audio surveillance caught Palazzolo bragging to an undercover policemen from Canada that, “This is my city,” as he gazed out the window of a hotel suite at the Detroit skyline.

Palazollo, 73, had his name surface in the Jimmy Hoffa murder investigation, both at the time that it occurred in 1975 and last year, when deposed Detroit underboss Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli pointed the FBI to a piece of property once-owned by Jack Tocco, his first-cousin, in suburban Oakland County and told investigators that he was informed by Tony Giacalone that Palazzolo bludgeoned Hoffa with a shovel and then buried him there alive. According to what

Giacalone filled Zerilli in on, Hoffa was lured to the property by then-capo Peter (Bozzi) Vitale, the Family’s longtime “Godfather of Greektown” (a popular entertainment district downtown) and Tony Pal’s mentor.

While Tocco’s underboss and the city’s undisputed porno king for the past 50 years, Joseph (Joe Hooks) Mirabile is retiring along with him, his consigliere Dominic (Uncle Dom) Bommarito is said to be staying on temporarily to help guide the transition of power. Uncle Dom is expected to step aside in the next year or two and pass the No. 3 spot on the Family totem pole to Palazollo.

Specs Tocco, Jack Tocco’s nephew, has been acting street boss since 2012 when Jackie the Kid Giacalone got bumped up to acting boss. Both Specs, (sometimes also referred to by his childhood nickname, “Blackie”) and Jackie the Kid were indicted on federal racketeering and gambling charges in 2006, the lead defendants in a case which saw Tocco, 66, convicted and hit with prison time (2 and a half years) and Giacalone acquitted at trial.

Giacalone, Specs Tocco and La Piana are alleged to have all been “made” together in a February 1986 induction ceremony and according to informants and FBI documents, “made their bones” alongside each other. All three are considered suspects in the 1984 murder of labor leader Ralph Proctor, a onetime Hoffa ally, and Giacalone and Tocco, are suspects in the 1985 slayings of Detroit underworld figures Peter (Fast Pete) Cavataio and Harold (Harry Mack) Macairz.

The Family’s new brass keeps the balance between the syndicates’ street and boardroom groups that has existed ever since Jack Tocco took power in the 1970s, with Giacalone, like his father an uncle before him, representing the blue-collar faction and La Piana, the white-collar faction.

Retired federal prosecutor and Detroit mob nemesis Keith Corbett compares the situation to a successfully-implemented “Castellano-Gotti” alliance, referencing the power split in New York’s Gambino Family during the 1980s where roughneck John Gotti seized control by assassinating the more refined, business-oriented Paul Castellano.

“Jack Tocco was always more akin to Castellano and the Giacalones more like Gotti and unlike what happened in New York they always made it work, so I see no reason why this new arrangement, which is similar, but not an exact replica, won’t work as well,” he said. “Now, it’s just reversed with whose No. 1 and whose No. 2. In the tradition of his family, Jackie is more Gotti and La Piana, who was brought up under Tocco, is more Castellano. I’m pretty sure just like with Jack Tocco, Tony La Piana is fine being in the background and having a Giacalone out in front taking most of the exposure.”

The Giacalone brothers in tandem did significant more prison time and faced numerous more indictments in their gangland careers than Jack Tocco and his brother and top aide Anthony (Tony T) Tocco (died in 2012) – well over 25 years locked up combined for the Giacalones against a paltry two for the Toccos.


Rhode Island mob capo coming home to ruins

Back in play…..almost

The crime family New England mob capo Matthew (Good Looking Matty) Guglielmeti, Jr. is returning to this year is quite a bit different from the one he left in 2005. And not in a good way.

Guglielmeti, 64 of Rhode Island, was released to a halfway house in mid-June, where he will stay until December, after spending the past nine years in a federal prison for a racketeering conviction related to his job as steward for a labor union and the protection of drug shipments.

When Good Looking Matty, a powerhouse in the Patriarca Family and aide-de-camp to East Coast dons for decades, went away in 2005, the syndicate that controls the rackets in Boston, Rhode Island and Connecticut was in stable condition. Today it’s in tatters.

Over the last five years, boss Luigi (Baby Shacks) Manocchio was jailed for shaking down strips clubs in Rhode Island and top-echelon capos Robert (Bobby Cigars) De Luca of Providence and Mark Rosetti of Boston each became government informants, leaving the Family reeling.

Manocchio, one of Guglielmetti’s mafia mentors, is set to be released this year, too, but the 87-year old Godfather is alleged to have voluntarily stepped aside prior to his incarceration in favor of Boston’s Peter (The Crazy Horse) Limone and the Dinunzio brothers (Carmine and Anthony), both currently in jail themselves.

The son of Patriarca solider, Matthew Guglielmetti, Sr., Good Looking Matty made headlines early in his career in the underworld. First he engaged in a taped verbal confrontation with reporters and cameramen at the funeral of legendary crime family namesake Raymond Patriarca, Sr. in 1984 and then he was caught attending a 1989 making ceremony that was recorded by the FBI and resulted in the first federal racketeering conviction on his rap sheet in 1991 for being in charge of syndicate activity Connecticut.

At the time of his most recent bust, Guglielmetti was reputed to be looking after gambling and loan sharking in Connecticut and Rhode Island for the Family.

His reputation as a stand-up guy was enhanced in 1997 when he arrived at a Providence Memorial Hospital with stab wounds and refused to identify his attackers to medical personnel and responding detectives.

Whether Good Looking Matty looks to reestablish his roots in the Patriarca clan is up in the air for right now, however, the chances of him getting out of the business, like the elderly Baby Shacks Manocchio, seem unlikely.

“I hope he stays out of it and I wish him the best as he moves on to the next part of his life,” Rhode Island Police Commander Steven O’Connell said. “If you are a sworn member of the mafia though, it’s tough to get out. Even if you wanted to.”


Philly mob murder trial likely headed for ’15 start

Nicodemo’s retrial probably won’t begin until next year, counsel in Philly wiseguy’s murder case wants more time to prepare

The sound of Christmas bells will be near the next time reputed Philadelphia mob soldier, Anthony (Tony Nics) Nicodemo is back in court on charges that he helped murder Gino DiPietro 18 months ago on a South Philly street corner in broad daylight.

The judge in the case, Jeffrey Minehart, recently granted attorneys’ motion for a continuance, pushing the case’s next court date back to December 1. That means Nicodemo’s second trial on first-degree state murder charges most likely won’t begin until 2015.

Nicodemo, 42 and someone who was considered a fast-rising presence in Philly mafia circles prior to his arrest in late 2012, saw his first time in front of a jury end in a mistrial in May.

Minehart was forced to dismiss three jurors, eventually calling it quits for the case just after the state rested and defense attorney Brian McMonagle offered the jury a wild scenario to explain how his client was inadvertently drawn into the aftermath of the December 12, 2012 slaying, which felled DiPietro, 50, a convicted drug dealer and suspected police informant.

Prosecutors peg Nicodemo as the getaway driver in the crime. Evidence in the first trial revealed that his Honda Pilot SUV was spotted casing the street corner the crime occurred on in the minutes before the homicide, picking up the shooter and whisking him away from the scene. Multiple eyewitnesses watched in horror as a masked assailant in a hooded sweatshirt pumped several gun shots into DiPietro while DiPietro was getting into his own vehicle.

One of the on-lookers noted Nicodemo’s license plate number and police arrested Nicodemo at his house, located only a few blocks from where DiPietro was gunned down, less than an hour later. At Nicodemo’s residence police found his Honda Pilot parked in back and inside what they believe to be the murder weapon, a .357 magnum revolver, hidden beneath the driver’ s seat.

McMonagle told jurors in his opening statement of a scenario where his client was carjacked by the shooter and forced to shuttle him from the scene before he ditched the gun and fled on foot. In an interview with legendary Philadelphia mob writer George Anastasia and Bigtrial.net last week, one of the dismissed jurors’ said they didn’t believe the carjacking defense.

Sources in law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office and on the street, suspect the gunmen in the DiPietro slaying to have been alleged mob soldier Dominic (Baby Dom) Grande, Nicodemo’s protégé and close friend. Hailing from a family rich in Pennsylvania mob lore, Baby Dom, 34, like Nicodemo, is reputed to be an up-and-comer in the Philly mafia and has had his name mentioned more than once by prosecutors in the first trial (jurors were told Grande matched the description of the shooter and that his finger prints were discovered on the outside of Nicodemo’s SUV).

Some experts, including ace local television crime reporter Dave Schratwieser (Fox29), have speculated that Grande could be indicted for his suspected role in the murder and be sitting next to Nicodemo at the defense table when the retrial eventually gets underway.

Grande is the son of former Philadelphia mob hitman Salvatore (John Wayne) Grande, who flipped after his racketeering and murder conviction in the 1980s and is living in hiding, the grandson of longtime soldier Joseph (Coo Coo) Grande and the nephew of button-man Joe Grande, Jr, recently released from prison after serving a 25-year sentence.

According to federal informants, Baby Dom was initiated into the Philadelphia crime family in 2011, in a ceremony presided over by mob boss Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi, weeks before Ligambi found himself indicted and jailed on federal racketeering charges. Ligambi, 74, went on to have a pair of subsequent trials end with hung juries and was finally released from custody in January, with prosecutors throwing in the towel and deciding not to retry him for a third time.

Nicodemo was groomed by Ligambi’s predecessor Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino in the 1990s, serving an apprenticeship as Skinny Joey’s driver and bodyguard and according to multiple well-placed sources, was “made” in the early 2000s in one of Ligambi’s first induction ceremonies.

Merlino is currently living in Florida – possibly still running the Family, but maybe not (per his own words) –, after a dozen years in the can on a 1999 racketeering bust. Upon Merlino’s incarceration, Nicodemo, known dually as an “earner” and a tough guy, was seen chauffeuring Ligambi around town in the early days of Uncle Joe’s reign.

Despite the open knowledge of their mob affiliation – both Nicodemo and Grande were convicted in a 2008 organized crime related bookmaking bust and both are considered suspects in other underworld-connected killings – Judge Minehart barred any mention of the mafia at the trial, ruling that he could not directly link the crime to mob activity.

South Philly underworld sources tab Nicodemo and Grande as possible suspects in the gangland slaying of grizzled Philly mobster Raymond (Long John) Martorano, 75, in 2002, where Martorano was believed to be murdered for not getting in-line behind the freshly-minted Ligambi administration following his release from 17 years behind bars. Investigators label Nicodemo a “prime suspect” in the 2003 murder of renegade Mafioso John (Johnny Gongs) Cassasnto, reportedly killed, for among other things, carrying on an affair with Merlino’s wife while Merlino served his prison sentence.

The Ralph Proctor Murder

At approximately 1:00 am on August 10th 1984, 61 year old Ralph Proctor, the former president of Teamster Union Local 124, was found shot to death in the front seat of his 1981 Cadillac in the parking lot of a Livonia shopping mall located at Six Mile and Newburgh, about a half-mile from his home. The car’s engine was still running and the headlights were on.

He had last been seen earlier in the evening by his wife as he left home to go meet a business associate. A woman who lived in a neighboring house that backed up to the shopping mall told police she heard a series of “popping” noises around 10:15.

It was determined by the county medical examiner that Proctor had been shot by a large caliber weapon in the cheek by someone in the passenger seat, and eight times in the back of the head with a .22 caliber gun by someone sitting behind him. There were no signs of a struggle or of a robbery and it was described as an “execution style” murder. Due to the professional nature of the murder and Proctor’s relationship with the Teamsters, investigators looked for a connection to union politics and organized crime.

They quickly found one.

Proctor, a World War II veteran, had been a truck driver and member of Local 299 that was the home base of Jimmy Hoffa during his reign of power. The man they called “The Silver Fox” for his always perfectly coifed grey hair and immaculate appearance, was a staunch Hoffa loyalist and even shed blood for the beleaguered labor boss. When tensions between Hoffa and the mob were at their peak near the end of his life in the summer of 1975, Proctor was jumped and physically assaulted while leaving a bar in Melvindale, left with a fractured jaw and a pair of broken ribs for siding with Hoffa instead of the mafia-backed union.

Following Hoffa’s disappearance a month later, Proctor continued his involvement with the Teamster and made a quick ascension up the ranks of union leadership. In 1979, he was elected president of the newly-created Local 124, a local formed specifically to handle the needs of the large number of steel haulers in the Detroit area. This is where he bumped heads with the mob, specifically, Vince Meli, a man described in U.S. Congressional hearings from 1984 as the Detroit mafia’s representative in the steal hauling industry and a one-time associate of Jimmy Hoffa.

Slated to be relieved from his post and retire at the end of 1985 calendar year, Proctor abruptly stepped down as president of Local 124 in early-1984, almost two years early. Investigators believe that he was forced out of the presidency because he had become too much of a thorn in the side of the nefarious influences that were pulling strings behind him in the union.

FBI documents point to personal disputes Proctor was involved in with Meli and Local 299 president Pete Karagozian as likely contributing factors for his premature leave from office. Things got so heated between him and Karagozian that Karagozian fired his son, Dennis, from his job as a business agent for Local 299.

Immediately after stepping down as head of the local, he opened up a trailer repair company in Dearborn. Within months, more rumors of problems with his former Local and with other Teamster officials, resulting from his new business. People were complaining that Proctor had actually started his company while still president and had used that influence to try and get contracts for his company. According to interviews conducted by police following Proctor’s murder, his successor as president at Local 124, William Klann, had to start informing vendors that Proctor was no longer representing the union in any way.

On August 9, 1984, the last night of his life and a mere four months after stepping down from the union, he left his Livonia residence for a what he told his wife would be a short business meeting up the street at a Wing Yee’s Chinese restaurant and never returned. Many of those intimately familiar with the federal investigation into Proctor’s murder believe the person he was going to meet that late-summer evening over 25 years ago was Anthony “Chicago Tony” La Piana, Vince Meli’s son-in-law and a man who authorities believe to have been at that time and still today a high-ranking member of the Detroit mafia. There was good reason to think that.

Anthony La Piana, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 20, 1943. His father was a longtime Teamsters union powerbroker and he was exposed to the ins and outs of labor politics at a very young age. After serving in the Marine Corps right out of high school, La Piana returned to the Windy City and took a job with a freight hauling business.

When he was 24, La Piana was arrested by the FBI and charged with hijacking a truck in Illinois. Eventually acquitted at trial in 1967, the following year he came to live in Detroit part-time as a result of a job he took with another, bigger trucking company that had hubs all across the Midwest. Recently divorced from his high school sweetheart at time of his arrival in the Michigan, he soon met and fell in love with Phyllis Meli, daughter of Little Vince.

Married in 1974, Chicago Tony, who picked up his nickname as a reference to his hometown, and his new bride settled in Grosse Pointe Woods. According to FBI documents, it is believed that Chicago Tony had organized crime affiliations dating back to his days as a teenager in Illinois before he even first stepped foot into the state of Michigan.

Testifying at a future deposition, he would admit to being childhood best friends with Anthony “Little Tony” Borselino, a hitman for the Chicago mob who was slain gangland-style in 1979. Federal investigators also believe that from the moment he married into Vince Meli’s family, La Piana became a prized pupil and ace protégé of his new father-in-law.

Buoyed by his father’s already well-established ties in the Teamsters and his father-in-law’s muscle, Chicago Tony is alleged to have become one extremely juiced-in player in national labor politics, despite not holding then and having never held a union office. That didn’t mean he didn’t do business with the county’s organized labor elite, because he did plenty. As the owner of a pair of insurance companies, he gained lucrative contracts with various mega-sized labor unions for blanket employee healthcare coverage.

By the early-1980s, La Piana’s name began to get a lot of attention in federal law enforcement circles. Street informants for the Detroit FBI office began identifying him as an up and comer in the local mafia as early as the late-1970s. International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Jackie Presser, who upon death of a heart attack in 1988 was identified as a highly-confidential government snitch, keyed the feds into the fast riser immediately.

FBI documents reveal that Presser informed his handlers in the FBI that almost as soon as he was elected president in 1983, he was approached by La Piana, who promptly identified himself as a representative for organized crime families in both Detroit and Chicago and instructed any problems with either syndicate to be sent his way.

Presser also told the FBI that La Piana pressured him to help settle a pension fund debt for his personal business and to name Chicago mafia member Dominic “The Big Banana” Senese as an organizer at an Illinois Teamsters outpost.

Federal officials identified him as a “recent inducted member” of the Detroit mafia family in 1990 and in 2000, Nove Tocco, a mobster turned government informant, informed the FBI that Chicago Tony had by that time, been elevated to the level of capo and was “running his own crew.” During a racketeering trial for members of the city’s mob hierarchy in 1998, it was revealed that Detroit don, Jack Tocco had informed a witness that any problems he was having with the labor unions they should “go see Tony La Piana.”

And he knows how to tiptoe through the mine fields. Although the co-owner of one of his insurance companies was convicted on federal charges of falsifying documents in the mid-1980s, Chicago Tony escaped the investigation unscathed. Same things happened when his name surfaced in several portions of federal indictment that brought down Florida Teamsters boss Walter “Buster” Brown on charges of corruption in 2001, but failed to include him. To this very day, he has never been convicted of a single felony or any count whatsoever of criminal conduct.

Whatever his status in the underworld was, one thing was for sure: Tony La Piana and Ralph Proctor had been friends for over a decade when he died in August 1984. This even La Piana admits as true. According to police files relating to Proctor’s murder, the pair met through Vince Meli in the early-1970s when Proctor was part of Jimmy Hoffa’s inner-circle.

Whether La Piana was with him around the time of his death or was supposed to be with him is a different story. La Piana says he was nowhere near Livonia on August 10, nor was he ever supposed to meet up with him that night. Law enforcement believes otherwise.

In interviews with authorities following her husband’s death, Doris Proctor said that it had been routine for her husband the last several months of his life to meet with Tony La Piana on Thursday nights. The meet-ups would usually last an hour and would take place after dinner, before the couple’s before-bed cup of coffee they would normally share prior to retiring for the evening.

On most occasions, La Piana would call the house and talk to Doris right before her husband left, telling her to pass along the rendezvous information. The night of Ralph Proctor’s murder, Doris never spoke to La Piana. Rather, Ralph left the house after dinner, telling her he was going to meet “Tony” and that he would be back in time for them to watch the nightly news together at 11:00 p.m. Doris told police she knew “Tony” to be Tony La Piana, who she believed was in the process of trying to help her husband sell some property he owned.

Investigators unearthed other possible reasons for Proctor’s series of meetings with La Piana. One was that Proctor was haggling with his former Locals, 124 and 299, over money he loaned the union several years previously to help get 124 off the ground. Proctor made it more than evident to anybody who would listen in the final months of his life that the Teamsters owed him $100,000 and they weren’t paying him back. The ill will felt towards him by Vince Meli wasn’t helping matters.

Meli reportedly partially blamed Proctor for his extortion conviction years prior, which had been concluded with a prison sentence starting the previous January, and outwardly badmouthed him in public. Even though Little Vince was in prison, he still held weight in the unions from behind bars and Proctor allegedly needed him to sign off with the Teamsters before they would release the funds.

More than one Informant told federal authorities that the money Proctor felt he was owed by the Teamsters was the actual reason for the series of meetings between Proctor and La Piana, who was said to be acting as a conduit to his father in law.

On several occasions, Proctor is alleged to have hurled threats in the direction of certain figures with deep organized crime connections if his money was not repaid. One of these men was reputed to be Roland McMasters, the longtime mob-backed union enforcer known to be the Teamsters unofficial Sergeant of Arms and known social companion of his.

Everyone, most importantly the mob, knew full well that Proctor had quite a bit of knowledge into the shenanigans involved with union politics and that if he began to speak, whether to the media or the police, a lot of very important underworld interests could be put in severe jeopardy. Gary Procotor, Ralph’s son, told police of a conversation he had with McMasters in the days leading up to his father’s murder where McMasters made a comment to the effect, “Tell your father to stop making so many waves.”

When authorities visited McMasters, he claimed he hadn’t seen or spoken to Ralph Proctor in months. When they visited Tony La Piana, he refused to speak to them. Issuing a statement through his attorney, La Piana said he was with his family that evening at the Meli residence in Grosse Pointe Woods, but declined to expand any further or undergo any in-person questioning.

In the press, La Piana’s attorney explained Proctor telling his wife that he was going to meet La Piana was merely an excuse for him to go meet someone else. This was possibly alluding to Proctor’s reputation as a ladies man by several of his former co-workers and associates.

No charges were ever filed in this case however those involved in the investigation believe they have an idea of what happened. Although none of them have ever been indicted for playing any role in Proctor’s killing, the Detroit FBI office still considers La Piana, Meli and McMasters as its top suspects in the crime.

Others names that came up in the investigation were then-up-and-coming mobsters Jack “Jackie the Kid” Giacalone and Pete “Specs” Tocco and Meli’s one-time driver and bodyguard, Louie La Hood.

Like McMasters, La Hood, of Syrian descent, was described by law enforcement reports as a heavily influential union strong arm.  Giacalone, the nephew of longtime Detroit mafia street boss, Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and the son of deceased underboss Vito “Billy Jack” Giacalone, is currently the newly-elected don of the city’s crime family. Tocco, the nephew of recently-retired Godfather Giacomo “Black Jack” Tocco, is the syndicate’s current street boss.

Investigators believe the younger Giacalone might have driven the getaway car.

McMasters died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 97. Meli died of bone cancer in 2008 at the age of 87.

Neither Ralph Proctor nor Otto Wendel’s murders have ever been solved. Vinent Meli died in 2008 at the age of 87. And Tony Lapiana is believed to still be an important member of the Detroit mafia. Despite neither case ever being closed, both homicides involve many of the same individuals even though seven years apart. And they highlight a violent connection between Teamsters and Detroit mobsters that has been going on for decades. 

The Otto Wendel Murder

Over two years after Jimmy Hoffa was wiped off the map by the mafia, his one of his former top allies Otto Wendell, would be too, kicking off a trend of one-time close associates of the slain labor boss getting slain themselves that wouldn’t stop for another seven years. Wendell was a powerbroker in the Detroit-area labor union scene for quite some time, known to be a whiz with numbers and like Hoffa a man often observed in the company of members of organized crime.

On December 12, 1977, he was found shot twice in the abdomen in his car on a rural slice of road three miles from his home in Livingston County. He was alive, but barely hanging on. A .38 caliber revolver that Wendell owned was found next to him and was later determined to be the gun that fired the shots. Rushed to the hospital, he fell into a deep coma for close to two weeks before finally succumbing to his injuries on Christmas Eve.

His death at the age of 63 was initially ruled a suicide, but soon re-labeled a homicide following the paneling of a grand jury. Several factors led to this official change of categorization.

First and foremost, it was quickly discovered that Wendell, who at the time of his death was the Treasurer for Hoffa’s old Teamsters Local 299 out by Tigers Stadium, was scheduled to testify at the extortion trial of reputed Detroit mafia captain, Vincent “Little Vince” Meli, set to start in the early months of 1978. He also had previously testified at more than one trial and in front of a number of grand juries regarding his knowledge of organized crime influence within the Teamsters union.

The word around town was that Otto Wendell had loose lips. This perception, whether true or false, was what most-likely got him killed.

Much like Jack Tocco and Tony Zerilli, Little Vince Meli was a mafia prince and heir apparent to a leadership post in the local crime family from the time he was an infant. Meli was the son of mob soldier Frank “The Music Man” Meli and the favorite nephew of longtime Detroit mafia underboss Angelo “The Chairmen” Meli, one of the founders of the city’s La Cosa Nostra syndicate.

Little Vince, who earned his nickname as to differentiate from his first cousin, Vincent “Big Vince” Meli’s, his uncle Angelo’s son, was born in San Cataldo, Sicily on January 2, 1921. Coming to Detroit in the early-1930s, he grew up being bred to join the family business.

Graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 1942, he enlisted in the Army and went overseas to fight in World War II. His natural smarts and savvy, as well as his ability to speak multiple foreign languages, got him assigned to the Intelligence Division and eventually named captain of an elite Special Forces unit that would be akin to today’s Delta Force or Navy Seals.

He was a natural hero. In his two years serving in Europe, Meli earned two Purple Hearts for valor and the Presidential Medal of Honor and was one of the first-batch of U.S. military personnel to enter and liberate the Nazi concentration camps in 1945.

Following the war, Meli returned home to Detroit and joined the family business. Almost immediately he was recruited to help his uncle Angelo further infiltrate the local labor unions and stage a takeover of the city’s vending machine industry. Teaming with his father and three other mobsters and with the financial backing of his uncle, he started three jukebox machine distributorships – Meltone Music, Jay-Cee Music, and White Music – and became highly-influential in the city’s burgeoning recording industry.

Meli’s name surfaced in FBI reports in the late-1950s relating to the persistent rumors that Berry Gordy used a mob loan to start Motown – allegations the music mogul has always steadfastly denied and then again early in the next decade in U.S. Senate hearings on organized crime as an up and comer in the Detroit mafia and recent “made member.” Federal Narcotics Bureau documents from that era allege that syndicate drug proceeds were continuously being funneled through Meli’s jukebox businesses, with Meli and his partners seeing a sizeable percentage of the transactions.

Baring such an astonishing resume, some people question Meli’s choice of career direction.

“This guy was a superstar and could have done anything he wanted in life after his time in the military,” said a retired FBI agent who declined to be identified. “He probably could have become a Mike Illitch or a Bill Davidson, a self-made multimillionaire by legitimate means if he had chosen to go down a different path. But instead, he chose the easy way out and joined up with his father and uncle. Now, that’s not saying he didn’t have extreme business acumen, because he did. He had some very successful legitimate business endeavors in his life. However, he also was heavily involved in organized crime in the area and in a lot of ways just decided to be a thug instead of an upstanding member of society.”

Sticking with Motor City mob tradition, Little Vince’s life on the domestic front crossed paths with his life on the business front. Upon coming back from overseas and fighting in the war, he married Grace Di Mercurio, the daughter of Detroit mafia soldier, Frank “Frankie D” Di Mercurio, settled in Grosse Pointe Woods and had six children. Little Vince’s sister was married to William Buffalino and his first cousin, “Big Vince” was married to the daughter of captain Cockeyed Sam Perone, while Big Vince’s two sisters were both married to powerful Mafiosi in Jack Tocco and Frank “Cheech” Livorsi out of New York.

Starting in the 1960s, FBI documents allege that Meli has risen to the level of capo in the crime family and spearheaded an infiltration of the Detroit-area steel hauling industry on their behalf. For over a decade he held an office at and helped operate J&J Cartage, a massively successful steel hauling firm that was owned by Joe Cusmano and Jack Russo, both reputed organized crime associates. Desiring to expand his reach in the industry, in 1975 Meli and Russo, known on the streets as “Smiling Jack” or “Jackie Two Guns” and described in law enforcement files from the time as Meli’s personal bodyguard and driver, opened another steel hauling firm called Alco Express.

Before they could get Alco off the ground and properly running at full capacity however both Meli and Russo, along with Cusmano, were hit with a federal extortion rap stemming from work at J&J Cartage. In the indictment, the three were said to be extorting portions of drivers’ pension funds by using Meli’s reputation in the mob as leverage in closed door meetings with employees. Despite having been charged over the past two decades with an assortment of state and federal crimes ranging from gambling, counterfeiting and extortion to labor racketeering and income tax evasion, Little Vince had never been convicted of a single one.

While awaiting trial, Meli and Russo worked hard and building Alco Express to the point of profitability that if they had to shut down J&J Cartage due to their pending legal problems, they would be able to make a seamless transition. This effort was made significantly easier for one big reason. Due to a series of complicated circumstances, Alco was never unionized and operated free of normal labor restrictions.

Detroit’s newly-formed Local 124 was supposed to bring Alco under its control, but for whatever reason that never happened and the company was operated without its workers being properly represented. As a result, money that should have been going towards health, welfare and pension benefits for Alco’s workers was going straight into Alco’s pockets.

Keeping closer than normal tabs on Meli and Russo at the time they were both out on bond awaiting their time in court, the FBI took quite an interest in activities at Alco and the government intended on entering evidence of what was transpiring there it into evidence at the J&J Cartage trial.

Otto Wendell, acting in his duty as Treasurer of Local 299, the state’s Teamster nerve center, handled paperwork and due payments related to Alco’s perceived ability to operate un-unionized and because of that was on the prosecution’s witness list. He held a great deal of knowledge into the matter and the feds wanted him on the stand under oath answering questions.

Being badgered by the press and from within the union itself, Ralph Proctor, a Teamsters bigwig and longtime associate of Wendell’s, who like Wendell, was a former confidant of slain Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, stated publicly that he was investigating complaints of Alco’s methods of operation, yet any headway made was non-existent. Those who worked on the investigation believe this lack of progress uncovering wrongdoing was intentional since Proctor was a known social companion of both Meli and Russo and received a great deal of his own power in the union do to his relationship to them.

Wendell held a key to a lot of pieces in this puzzle, but by the time the trial began in mid-1978, he wasn’t alive to testify. Authorities believe he was killed by the mob to stop from divulging what he knew.

With Otto Wendell laying clinging to life in a hospital bed after being shot several times in December of 1977, the FBI rushed to his side, looking for answers that could help identify the perpetrators. Although unable to speak, before he lapsed into unconsciousness, a deep coma he would never awake from, Wendell indicated he wanted to write something. He scribbled three difficult to decipher words on a pad a paper given to him by FBI agents present in his hospital room.

One translation of the words penned by Wendell in the days before he died came out as “Mealy Mouthed Roxy”. Agents believed this was a reference to George Roxburgh, a business agent and trustee of Local 299, as well as a known associate of organized crime.

Roxburgh was no stranger to violence, reputed to be a longtime part of Roland McMaster’s inner-circle. Five years earlier, in June 1972, Roxburgh was shot three times by a shotgun while sitting in his car in Royal Oak. He lost an eye, but survived the attack and continued on as an alleged enforcer in the Teamsters Union. His name surfaced peripherally in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa as well.

It soon came out through the investigation that Wendell had been planning on running for the presidency of Local 299, however had dropped out of the race a few weeks prior to being gunned down. According to those close to him, Wendell had stated several times that he felt his life was in danger prior to being shot. He was close to Jimmy Hoffa and was well aware of the consequences of crossing the various organized crime figures that pulled strings behind the curtain in the Teamsters Union. The FBI believes Wendell suffered the same fate as Hoffa.