The connection between the two deaths was clear, despite the fact that Stramaglia’s death was never officially ruled a murder. Carl Marlinga, the Macomb County Prosecutor at the time of the two deaths, has a strong opinion on the matter.
“The two murders were made to look like a suicide but obviously they were not suicides,” Marlinga said in 2010 interview. “Somebody was sending a message.”
Law enforcement officials then turned their focus to someone quite familiar to them; Butch Stramaglia. As Cashman recalls, Butch was more than willing to give out his fair share of overt cryptic messages.
“So, we eventually make it over to Butch’s house to talk to him about the case,” Cashman said. “When we got to his house, we were taken to see Butch in his office. We told him why we were there and he said, with a bit of a smirk on his face, ‘I thought that guy killed himself?’ As soon as we told him we thought it might not have been a suicide, he said, ‘I had nothing to do with that.’ He paused for a second and then said, ‘I could have if I had wanted to, but I didn’t.’ And then with a half-laugh he said, ‘I could have you two guys whacked if I wanted to too.’ Leaving Butch’s house I got to say we came away with a stronger belief that he had something to do with it than we did when we first got there.”
In Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” the don of Detroit goes on a tirade how he doesn’t want drugs sold to children. Butch thought in a similar manner. He didn’t want drugs near his kid brother. Police began exploring a revenge angle for the homicide, theorizing that Butch might have had the motive to kill Giancotti if he believed that Giancotti provided Frank with the drugs that wound up overdosing him.
“Both Frank Stramaglia and Mark Giancotti were seen out together quite a bit at the local night spots in the months leading up to their deaths and it was said they were always treated like VIPs and always surrounded by a lot of girls and hangers on,” Cashman said. “It was told to us that Stramaglia got his drugs from Giancotti and that his brother Butch didn’t like Giancotti as a result. Butch had put out a lot of time and effort to get his brother clean and obviously it never stuck. Plus, Frank and Butch were both in recent trouble with some racketeering charges down in Florida, so the waters around them at that time were kind of choppy, to say the least. The deeper we got into the investigation the more we believed Butch possibly had something to do with the Giancotti’s homicide.”
Following the meeting with Butch, Cashman and his partner Bill Harvey hit a deadend in their investigation and turned things over to the FBI. One agent familiar with the case reaffirmed some of Cashman’s notions.
“We were called into the case pretty early, within a couple weeks of Mark Giancotti showing up dead,” said a former federal agent who asked not to be indentified. “The Frank Stramaglia death a few weeks before was real suspicious and when his buddy Giancotti wound up going under similar circumstances, it was a no-brainer to get involved. We were aware of Giancotti as an associate of organized crime in the Detroit area and Stramaglia and his brother had been in our sights for a while in terms of their association with the Mafia around here. The DEA was telling us that Giancotti was a mid-level cocaine dealer. Stramaglia and his brother Butch were under federal indictment down in Florida. After collecting the facts, there was no doubt in our minds that these two deaths were related and at least one of or both them were carried out on the orders of the top brass of the mob.”
Trying to fully connect the dots became an arduous process. Things weren’t lining up right, and soon speculation began to overmatch reason. Rumors swirled, but nothing concrete could be made when trying to officially link the deaths of Mark Giancotti and Frank Stramaglia to the mob.
Organized crime and the construction industry have been synonomous with each other for decades. It might seem stereotypical, but in the case of the Stramaglias, it appeared true.
In addition to running Four Bears, Butch and Frank were major players in the construction world. Butch and Frank served as president and vice president of Vito’s Trucking and Excavating. The company handled many construction projects in Florida, none bigger than the multi-million dollar Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County.
It didn’t take long before the Stramaglia brothers and Vito’s Truck and Excavating were coming under intense scrutiny in the Sunshine State. Earlier in the decade, the Stramaglias and some of their executives were charged with grand theft and racketeering for a sewer project in Orange County, Fla. Butch also plead guilty to income tax evasion involving a sewer project in Lee County and was ordered to pay damages to the county for sub-par work.
But the biggest allegation lent itself to the Stramaglias’ involvement in the construction of Sawgrass Expressway in Broward County, Fla., where the Stramaglias were under indictment and investigation for racketeering, theft and bribery. Close to two million dollars was missing, and it was believed — although never proven — to have been allocated to other Stramaglia-owned companies. One of those companies was alleged to have been the Four Bears Water Park. The FBI was starting to look at how the Stramaglias might be helping certain Detroit-area wiseguys, one of them being Jack Tocco, launder their own individual illegal proceeds.
A trail loomed over the heads of the Stramaglia brothers as 1988 came to a close. According to federal documents, Frank, was rumored to have approached investigators and inquired about the possibility of cooperating in the weeks before his death.
If in fact Four Bears was being used to launder money, certainly Giancotti would have been privy to this information, making Giancotti another loose end to get rid of
“Surveillance records showed that both Giancotti and Stramaglia were seen in the presence of members of organized crime in the days, even hours leading up to their deaths. We had it on pretty good authority that Giancotti was with Stramaglia at the hotel where he wound up dead,” said the federal official. “In my opinion, either Giancotti or the mob got wind of Frank’s talks in Florida and got spooked that the reverberations would be felt up here. Either way, someone intentionally OD’d Frank and Giancotti got it back in return for being involved. Now, we know Giancotti and Frank were said to be close friends, but in that world something like that really didn’t mean much. Most likely, Giancotti either took it upon himself to do something and got taken out as punishment or was told to do something and got taken out to cover other people’s tracks.”
As mentioned above, there are no certainties, nobody has ever been charged in either case. Over two decades removed from the pair of deaths, law enforcement has wittled the case down to three possible theories:
Theory No. 1: Frank Stramaglia accidentally overdosed on cocaine that was given to him by Mark Giancotti.Giancotti was then killed by friends of Stramaglia — perhaps Butch — for this fatal error. Stramaglia’s gun was used to send a message, letting people know why Giancotti was killed.
Theory No. 2: Stramaglia was intentionally given a lethal amount of cocaine by Giancotti to stop Stramaglia from potentially linking Giancotti to the money laundering going on at Four Bears. Giancotti was subsequently killed by friends of Stramaglia — perhaps Butch — with Stramaglia’s gun to send a message, letting people know why Giancotti was killed.
Theory No. 3: Stramaglia and Giancotti were killed to prevent them from talking about the Sawgrass Expressway case in Florida. Their deaths guaranteed nobody else would be implicated in the illicit activities going down in Florida. Stramaglia’s gun was used to make sure that a particular point was made about why they were killed.
It’s tough to find the truth, especially when dealing with individuals who pride themselves on their secrecy. Only two things are certain. Frank and Mark are dead. If you want more answers, you’re going to have to ask Butch. But he’ll probably tell you to go jump in a public pool.