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Detroit Mob boss | Jack Tocco federal appeal

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant
Jack William Tocco, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 98-2312/2426; 99-1003


Argued: June 11, 1999

Decided and Filed: January 5, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court

for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit.

No. 96-80201–John Corbett O’Meara, District Judge.

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant (99-1003),
Jack William Tocco, Defendant-Appellant (98-2312/2426)/ Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 98-2312/2426; 99-1003


Argued: June 11, 1999

Decided and Filed: January 5, 2000

Appeal from the United States District Court

for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit.

No. 96-80201–John Corbett O’Meara, District Judge.

COUNSEL: ARGUED: Frank D. Eaman, BELLANCE, BEATTIE & DeLISLE, Harper Woods, Michigan, for Appellant.

Kathleen Moro Nesi, OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF: Frank D. Eaman, BELLANCE, BEATTIE & DeLISLE, Harper Woods, Michigan, for Appellant.

Kathleen Moro Nesi, OFFICE OF THE U.S. ATTORNEY, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: WELLFORD, NELSON, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.


HARRY W. WELLFORD, Circuit Judge.

1This criminal prosecution pertains to one of six defendants who were tried on charges of conspiracy to conduct and participate in a Detroit-based racketeer influenced and corrupt organization.1 Appellant Jack W. Tocco (“Tocco”) was convicted on two counts of conspiracy in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (“RICO”) — one for engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity and one for collection of an unlawful debt (Counts One and Two) — and one count of conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (“Hobbs Act”) (Count Six). Both Tocco and the government now appeal — Tocco from the jury convictions, the government from the sentence imposed by the trial judge.

A. Background2

2On March 14, 1996, Tocco was charged in a twenty-five (25)-count indictment along with sixteen (16) co-defendants on charges relating to the activities of a group called “Cosa Nostra,” also known as “the Outfit” or, as is known to the general public in the United States, “the Mafia.” Cosa Nostra allegedly is made up of “families” in various cities, including Detroit, and allegedly is involved in illegal activities such as extortion, illegal lotteries (“numbers”), bookmaking, loansharking, and acquiring undisclosed and illegal investments in gambling casinos. The indictment herein alleged that Tocco had been involved in the Detroit branch of the national Mafia organization, and that he had been the “Boss of the Detroit Cosa Nostra Family” since about 1979. The district court severed the trial of Tocco and his five co-defendants from the trials of the others named in the indictment.
3On January 27, 1998, trial commenced against Tocco and his co-defendants. Approximately three months later, on April 29, 1998, the jury convicted Tocco on the two RICO conspiracies and the Hobbs Act conspiracy mentioned above. It acquitted him on ten counts of extortion or attempted extortion. On October 23, 1998, the district court denied the government’s request for a forfeiture judgment against all the defendants.
4On November 13, 1998, the district court sentenced Tocco to twelve months and one day in prison, departing downward ten levels from the applicable guideline range, and recommended that Tocco’s sentence be served in a community correction center. Tocco filed a timely appeal from the district court’s judgment of conviction, and the government timely appealed Tocco’s sentence.

B. Voir Dire

5Tocco first challenges the adequacy of the jury voir dire. A district court’s manner of conducting voir dire is not reversible unless the court abused its discretion. See United States v. Phibbs, 999 F.3d 1053, 1071-72 (6th Cir. 1993). It is well-settled that the district court enjoys broad discretion in establishing its voir dire procedures. See United States v. Lanier, 33 F.3d 639, 657-59 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Mu’Min v. Virginia, 500 U.S. 415, 427 (1991)), vacated on other grounds, 114 F.3d 84 (6th Cir. 1997); see also Deel v. Jago, 967 F.2d 1079, 1087 (6th Cir. 1992) (same).
6Tocco claims that he was denied his right to a fair trial because the district court declined to permit specific questions during voir dire on the subject of Mafia prejudice. Tocco’s counsel filed a motion requesting that the prospective jurors be asked whether they possessed any strong opinions about the Mafia, or whether they believed that Italian-Americans were more likely to be members of organized crime. The motion was accompanied by Detroit newspaper articles referring to “Detroit’s Mob” and the Detroit Mafia. Tocco claims that the district court’s denial of that motion constituted reversible error because of the very high-profile nature of the case and the substantial unsympathetic publicity in the media.
7The government argues that the district court was not compelled to allow questions on the specific issue of Mafia prejudice, and that the questions posed to the prospective jurors were adequate to ensure Tocco a fair and impartial jury. The district court asked the prospective jurors to answer the following in the juror questionnaire:
841. You are being asked to participate in jury selection process that will select a jury to try a criminal case in which the government prosecutors charge several defendants with involvement in a racketeering conspiracy. The government alleges that the defendants are participating in a conspiracy call [sic] “Cosa Nostra” or the “Mafia.” To the best of your knowledge, have you heard anything about this case? ___ yes ___ no.
9The district court informed counsel that it would question individual jurors more specifically about the matter if the juror’s answer to that question was affirmative. Otherwise, the court refused to ask the jury pool more specific questions pertaining to the Mafia.
10While we are aware that the district court has broad discretion in such matters, we are mindful that this case attracted much media attention. This court has indicated that the district court is in the best position to determine the appropriate areas of inquiry in such cases.
11[W]ide discretion [is] granted to the trial court in conducting voir dire in the area of pretrial publicity and in other areas of inquiry that might tend to show juror bias. Particularly with respect to pretrial publicity, we think this primary reliance on the judgment of the trial court makes good sense. The judge of that court sits in the locale where the publicity is said to have had its effect, and brings to his evaluation of any such claim his own perception of the depth and extent of news stories that might influence a juror.
12Lanier, 33 F.3d at 657 (citing Mu’Min v. Virginia, 500 U.S. 415, 427 (1991)). The Supreme Court and this circuit have set out the principles involved in determining whether the failure to ask specific questions amounts to “an unconstitutional abuse of discretion”:
13There is no constitutional presumption of juror bias for or against members of any particular racial or ethnic groups. . . . [T]here is no per se constitutional rule in such circumstances requiring inquiry as to racial prejudice. . . . Only when there are more substantial indications of the likelihood of racial or ethnic prejudice affecting the jurors in a particular case does the trial court’s denial of a defendant’s request to examine the jurors’ ability to deal impartially with this subject amount to an unconstitutional abuse of discretion.
14Rosales-Lopez v. United States, 451 U.S. 182, 190 (1981) (citations omitted).
15It is not required, however, that the jurors be totally ignorant of the facts and issues involved. In these days of swift, widespread and diverse methods of communication, an important case can be expected to arouse the interest of the public in the vicinity, and scarcely any of those best qualified to serve as jurors will not have formed some impression or opinion as to the merits of the case.
16United States v. Blanton, 719 F.2d 815, 830 (6th Cir. 1983). It suffices “if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court.” Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794, 800 (1975) (quoting Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 723 (1961)). See also Hill v. Brigano, No. 98-3714, 1999 WL 1222642, at *8-*9 (6th Cir. Dec. 22, 1999).
17Having said all that, we still believe the district court would have been well-advised to allow more detailed questioning to reveal an individual prospective juror’s prejudice, if any, against Cosa Nostra and the obvious Italian heritage of the defendants and the Sicilian or Italian connection with the Mafia. We decided similar issues concerning voir dire method and jury selection in a highly publicized case, United States v. Blanton, 719 F.2d 815 (6th Cir. 1983) (en banc). The court majority, in considering challenges to the sufficiency of voir dire in the criminal trial of a recent Tennessee governor, concluded that no reversible error occurred, although the trial judge probably did not employ the best voir dire procedures and we would not recommend the manner of such voir dire. See id. at 819, 822. We have the same reservations, as did the court majority in Blanton (and the writer was one of those judges), about voir dire and jury selection in this case.
18Nevertheless, the district court sought to ensure the fairness of the jury selection through more general, progressive questioning. After obtaining the prospective jurors’ answers to the “Mafia” question in the questionnaire, the court followed up with each juror individually and asked more specific questions about their knowledge of the case. Of the twelve jurors that ultimately were chosen to sit at trial, seven had heard nothing about the case, and the other five had only had minimal knowledge. The five that had minimal knowledge of the case individually assured the district court that they could, despite that knowledge, render a fair and impartial verdict. Furthermore, the jurors all informed the court of their ability to assume that an accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and to accept that a defendant does not forfeit his presumption of innocence if he chooses not to testify. In our view, Tocco was not constitutionally entitled, under the circumstances, to any more specific race-based questioning during voir dire. “The Constitution, after all, does not dictate a catechism for voir dire, but only that the defendant be afforded an impartial jury.” Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 729 (1992).3
19This issue regarding voir dire is of serious concern to this court. We believe that the district court’s failure to ask more specific questions regarding Mafia or Italian-American prejudice was a mistake, but not an error compelling reversal under the circumstances. The district court’s voir dire sufficiently explored the prospective jurors’ knowledge about the Mafia-related case and their individual ability to be fair and impartial. As the Supreme Court has stated, “[t]here is no constitutional presumption of juror bias for or against members of any particular racial or ethnic groups.” Rosales-Lopez, 451 U.S. at 190. Based on the foregoing, we believe the procedures for jury selection, viewed in their entirety, afforded Tocco a fair and impartial jury. Accordingly, we find that any error committed in failing to allow more specific voir dire questions on Mafia prejudice does not require a reversal of Tocco’s conviction.4

Mafia Hit List – Top Cleveland Mob Murders


Top 5 Cleveland Mob Murders of All-Time

1 Danny (The Irishman) Greene – The brash, fearless and media-friendly boss of Cleveland’s short-lived Irish mob, Greene was killed on the afternoon of October 6, 1977, blown up by a car bomb outside his dentist’s office in suburban Lyndhurst after declaring war on the city’s traditional Italian mafia and Ohio Godfather James (Jack White) Licavoli a little over a year earlier. Greene came up as a strong arm under high-raking Mafioso Frank (Frankie B) Brancato and Shondor Birns, the city’s most-recognized Jewish racketeer, and he made his name in the local press as a brutish, yet magnetic labor union leader on the Cleveland waterfront. When the region’s longtime don, John Scalish died of heart failure on the operating table in the spring of 1976, Greene teamed with seasoned independent gangster and Teamsters union power John Nardi, to go after the city’s mob kingdom and the criminal empire Licavoli inherited. Misfiring on seemingly countless opportunities to clip the feisty Irishman, gangland veterans Ray Ferrito and Ronald (Ronnie the Crab) Carabbia were finally imported from outside the area and given the contract. In the midst of their getaway from the office plaza parking lot they detonated the bomb that killed Greene in, a witness jotted down the license plate of the car they were in and a spot-on sketch of Ferrito’s face, leading to Ferrito flipping and the case being cracked.

Cleveland Mafia War

Mafia Hit List – Top Rochester (NY) Mob Murders


Top 5 Rochester (NY) mob murders of all-time

1 Salvatore (Sammy G) Gingello – After dodging a half-dozen assassination attempts in the early stages of a bloody gangland war for supremacy in the Rochester mafia, the charismatic underboss was finally blown to pieces in a car bomb that exploded outside a social club on April 23, 1978. Gingello, 39, was the heir apparent to the city’s mob throne and him and his mentor, Rochester don Salvatore (Red) Russotti, had their power challenged by Thomas Didio, who was named ‘acting boss’ while Russotti and Gingello were behind bars and refused to relinquish the reins when they got out.

2 Jake Russo – The Rochester crime family’s ‘acting boss’ from 1958-1964, Russo was a top lieutenant-turned-enemy of the city’s first Godfather, Frank Valenti, and vanished in December 1964, after butting heads with Valenti in the wake of the Rochester mafia’s founding father came home from a six-year prison stint.

3 Thomas Didio – A former driver and bodyguard of Sammy Gingello’s, Didio got too big for his britches when he was appointed ‘acting boss’ in 1977 and was machine-gunned to death at the Exit 45 Motel on July 6, 1978, less than three months following his ordering of Gingello’s slaying. Didio forged an alliance with deposed and imprisoned don Frank Valenti and “went to the mattress” for control of the crime family.

4 Vincent (Jimmy the Hammer) Massaro – One of Frank Valenti’s proteges and a ferocious, highly-feared enforcer and professional arsonist, Jimmy the Hammer, fell out of favor with Valenti’s replacement, Red Russsotti, by haggling over money and was shot to death at a construction company garage on November 23, 1973. Massaro was lured to the hit by his close friend and partner in crime, Angelo Monachino, allegedly on orders from Russotti and Gingello, both of whom were tried, convicted and jailed on the murder, but eventually had the case tossed due to police and prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation.

5 Dominic Chirico – Frank Valenti’s No. 1 hit man, Chirico was shot-gunned to death on June 5, 1972 as he got out of his car in front of his girlfriend’s apartment building, punishment for his boss Valenti’s misdeeds. Valenti was forced to step down as boss of the Rochester mob in the spring of 1972 for his secret stashing of “off-the-books” criminal proceeds and his reported ordering the murder of Russotti and Gingello, in response to them confronting him about it.

Honorable Mention; Billy Lupo (1970), John Fiorino (1981)

Mafia Hit List – Top St. Louis Mob Murders


Top 5 St. Louis mob murders of all-time

1 James (Horseshoe Jimmy) Michaels – The high-profile leader of the city’s Syrian mob faction and influential labor union boss was blown up in his car while driving on a St. Louis expressway (I-55) on the afternoon of September 17, 1980. Michaels’ killing set off a two-year gangland war and came less than three weeks after the death of St. Louis mafia don, Anthony (Tony G) Giordano, a longtime ally of his who died of cancer in August. Giordano’s death prompted the Lebanese-Italian Lesisure family (brothers Paul and Anthony and cousin David), a trio of mob strong arms that had been mentored by Horseshoe Jimmy, but held bitterness toward him for protecting the man that killed Richard Leisure, Paul’s and Anthony’s older brother and  sought control of his labor union (LIUNA Local 42) and rackets for themselves, to strike immediately after Tony G was in the ground. The 75-year old legendary Missouri underworld figure had got his start during the Prohibition Era with the “Cuckoo Gang” and died a suspect of a number of gangland slaying dating back over five years. The Leisures were convicted of Michaels’ slaying at trial in 1985, with David, the person that planted the bomb underneath Horseshoe Jimmy’s car, put to death in 1999, the only modern-day mob figure killed via capital punishment.

2 Elmer (Dutch) Dowling – A right-hand man of notorious East St. Louis mob chief, Frank (Buster) Wortman for several years, Dowling was convicted alongside his boss in February 1962 on federal income tax evasion charge and six days later on March 4, 1962, Dowling and his bodyguard Melvin Beckman were found shot to death, both sprawled across a desolate peace of road, near Belleville, Missouri. Inside Dutch Dowling’s pants pocket police found phone numbers of jurors from his and Wortman’s trial, eventually allowing Wortman to get his conviction overturned. Dowling’s murder has never been solved. Authorities at the time told the press that they believed the man that killed him was the same man that had previously promised Dowling and Wortman he would fix the jury at their trial and secure an acquittal.

3 Michael Kornhardt – One of the Leisures’ top lieutenants and casualties of the early 1980s St. Louis mob war, Kornhardt was murdered on July 31, 1982 while out on bail awaiting trial for the October 1981 car-bomb slaying of George (Sonny) Faheen, the nephew of Horseshoe Jimmy Michaels. Faheen was killed in retaliation against the Michaels’ faction for a car-bomb attack that Paul Leisure survived weeks earlier. Worrying that Kornhardt would begin cooperating with the FBI, Leisure put a contract on his head and gave it to his cousin David, who farmed it out to henchman Bobby Carbaugh and Steve Wougaman. Carbaugh shot Kornhardt twice in the back of the head after Kornhardt was lured to a rural piece of property in St. Charles, Missouri.

4 Mike Palazzolo – Longtime St. Louis mafia underboss, short-tenured Godfather and FBI informant, John (Johnny V) Vitale, is alleged to have “made his bones” with the May 1934 slaying of Mike Palazzolo. In the months leading up to his murder, Palazzolo was feuding with mob associate Walter Mushenick and was last seen alive leaving his parents’ house with Vitale in Johnny V’s Cadillac. Palazzolo was found in a ditch hours later, shot in the head and neck, a crime Vitale would be charged with, but never convicted of.

5 The LIUNA Local 42 murders  – In 1965, a group of St. Louis gangland figures, Louie Shoulders, George (Stormy) Harvill and William (Shot Gun) Sanders, fought the area’s Italian mafia for control of Local 42 (LIUNA), setting off a decade and a half power struggle punctuated by extreme spats of violence. In the forthcoming years, Harvill (1966) and Shoulders (1972) are both murdered. By 1979, the flames of discontent still burned and when the Chicago mafia-backed Raymond Flynn challenged the St. Louis Syrian-mob staked John (Sonny) Spica to replace T.J. Harvill, Stormy’s brother (died of natural causes) as the Local’s President, the tensions boiled over to the point of Spica being blown to pieces in a car bomb in the weeks leading up to the election in November of that year.


Detroit Godfather dies, Motor City mob mourns loss

Detroit Mafia Boss Jack Tocco Dead

The don is dead.

Legendary Detroit mob boss Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco died of natural causes early this week at 87 years old, the longest-serving mafia Godfather in the United States.

Tocco assumed the reins of the family from his uncle Joseph (Joe Uno) Zerilli, on an acting basis around 1972, and then finally in an official capacity in June 1979, at an inauguration banquet held in Dexter, Michigan (a suburb of Ann Arbor) attended by both a who’s who of rustbelt mob chiefs and the FBI, present snapping photos of the top-secret coronation.

Detroit Mafia Godfathers
“Black” Bill Tocco and Joe “Uno” Zerilli -Detroit’s founding Mafia Godfathers

Zerilli and Black Jack Tocco’s father, William (Black Bill) Tocco, are considered the “founding fathers” of the Detroit mafia, winning a bloody street war for control of the city’s rackets in 1931.

Sent to college to receive his business degree (University of Detroit-Mercy, graduated 1949), Black Jack is alleged to have “made his bones” with the 1947 strangulation of Greek wiseguy Gus Andromulous, an unsolved murder the younger Tocco has always been the prime suspect in, alongside his first-cousin Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli, Joe Uno’s son.

Both becoming capos in the 1960s, Black Jack became the heir apparent to the elder Zerilli’s throne when Tony Z was pinched and sent away to prison for skimming six million dollars and holding hidden ownership in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Operating out of Melrose Linen Supply in Northeast Detroit and owning the Hazel Park Raceway for several decades, Tocco was suspected to have helped coordinate the Jimmy Hoffa murder. Hoffa, the former Teamsters president and mafia ally-turned-enemy, was kidnapped and slain in July 1975, disappearing from a Bloomfield Hills restaurant in broad daylight never to be seen again.

Black Jack and Tony Z ran the Motor City mob empire their father’s built side-by-side, with Tocco boss and Zerilli, his underboss, for two decades, before they were both arrested, convicted and imprisoned on a RICO bust from 1996.

Upon their release, the pair butted heads, leading to Tocco demoting and shelving his first-cousin, who he blamed for the whole indictment, and Zerilli debriefing with the FBI and pointing them to property in suburban Detroit once owned by Black Jack to search for Hoffa’s remains – a fruitless endeavor.

Respected and feared, but far from beloved from his troops, Tocco was a boardroom Mafioso, preferring a three-piece suits to jogging suits and real estate portfolios to getting his hands dirty overseeing traditional day-to-day mob rackets. His willingness to delegate authority to the infamously-fearsome Giacalone family and rule from afar, prevented any internal bloodshed and kept his more blue-collar underlings in-line and content.

Anthony (Chicago Tony) La Piana, a Tocco protégé and nephew via marriage, is suspected to be taking over Black Jack’s underworld interests and, along with Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone, stepping into the leadership void created by Tocco’s passing.

Detroit Mob Boss Jack Tocco and GameTax indictment from al profit on Vimeo.