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Metro March 15, 1996

Alleged mafia boss Jack Tocco, 16 leaders indicted by grand jury for extortion, obstruction of justice

By John Bebow and Ron French / The Detroit News
Calling it their biggest case since New York crime boss John Gotti, federal authorities on Thursday swept up 17 alleged Metro Detroit Mafia leaders, including reputed crime boss Jack William Tocco and most of his lieutenants.

"We believe we've driven a stake through the heart of La Cosa Nostra," said FBI agent Joseph Martinolich Jr., of the crackdown on organized crime.

The indictment is a who's who list of alleged organized crime figures in Michigan, and describes a 30-year legacy of sometimes-violent shakedowns of bookies, infiltration of Nevada casinos, murder plots and loan-sharking.

"You name it, we believe that the organized crime family here in Detroit tried to do it," Martinolich, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit office, said in announcing a 57-page indictment.

"It's the largest case (federal agencies) have worked since (the 1993 murder conviction of) John Gotti," said Sandy Palazzolo, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Saul Green. "We feel it is of national importance."

In the past 12 months, the heads of crime families in Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Newark and New York City have been indicted or convicted as part a national crackdown on La Cosa Nostra.

All of the people named in the local indictment were arrested, in Florida and Michigan, without incident and pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Thursday.

Although investigators call them the "Detroit Mafia," only one lives in the city. Those arrested include:

* Jack Tocco, 69, the retired former co-owner of Hazel Park Raceway. Authorities claim Tocco, a part-time Grosse Pointe Park resident, has been the boss of the Metro Detroit mob since 1979. "He is one of the most powerful Mafia dons on the streets of America," Martinolich said. Tocco was arrested Thursday in Florida.

* Anthony Joseph Zerilli, 68, alleged to be second in command of the Metro Detroit Mafia. He has owned an Italian restaurant and a food products company in Macomb County and was convicted in 1972 of conspiring to maintain a hidden interest in the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

* Tony Giacalone, 77, of Clinton Township, a central figure in the disappearance of former Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa.

* Vito William Giacalone, 73, of Clinton Township, who has been convicted of extortion, operating an illegal sports-betting ring and, in 1994, of tax evasion. He was released to a Detroit halfway house last week to complete his three-year prison sentence.

* Two other "capos," or mid-level mob managers, and 10 other Mafia associates.

The cases were built with electronic surveillance and Mafia informants.

Until this week's arrests, the Metro Detroit crime family had remained largely intact, with more than 100 associates and 29 "made members," or those who took an oath of allegiance through blood letting.

"We have weakened them, but by no means have we killed them," said Rick Mosquera, head of the FBI's organized-crime division.

But William Bufalino II, who represented several of the accused at their court hearings, said: "Over the years, (federal authorities) have weaved a web of infamy about these individuals. Now they've accumulated all these allegations, and it amounts to a bunch of muck and they hope some of it sticks.

"This is 57 pages of baloney," Bufalino said of the indictment. "These people are all respectable, upstanding citizens. Some are school kids, some are businessmen, some are retirees."

The 25-count indictment includes a sweeping list of conspiracy charges dating back to the 1960s. Specifically, it claimed that the local La Cosa Nostra previously had hidden ownership in three Nevada casinos -- the Frontier and Aladdin in Las Vegas and the Edgewater in Laughlin. Mosquera said authorities had no evidence of current casino infiltration.

The casino allegations were included in the indictment to illustrate "the general ways in which they generated income over the 30 years," said Keith Corbett, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit.

In recent years, the Metro Detroit Mafia has focused on loan-sharking and extortion of area bookies and illegal lottery operators, the indictment alleged.

Those targeted for extortion were "individuals unlikely to complain to the authorities because they themselves were engaged in conducting unlawful sports bookmaking and operating illegal (numbers) lotteries," the indictment said.

Federal officials said the mob collected thousands of dollars a week in protection money from an unknown number of bookies and numbers runners operating in party stores and elsewhere.

"They were asking for a sizable chunk of change every week," Corbett said.

When the operators of the lucrative, but illegal, gambling operations refused to pay the protection money, the Mafia leaders "would discuss, plan and commit acts of violence to induce the targeted sports bookmakers and illegal (numbers) lottery operators to pay," the indictment said.

Court papers listed several specific cases of alleged extortion of bookies and numbers runners.

For example, two of the defendants, Nove Tocco and Paul Corrado, shot up Airtime Communications, a Detroit business run by a man named Ramzi Yaldoo, after Yaldoo failed to pay protection money for a numbers game he was operating, the indictment says. Corrado and Nove Tocco also devised a plan to bomb Yaldoo's office, but did not carry it out, the indictment alleged.

Yaldoo refused to comment.

In another instance, Mafia members planned to kill Harry "Taco" Bowman, himself an alleged mob associate, for interfering with illegal gambling activities in Detroit. The plan was not carried out.

Bowman, 46, has been twice sentenced on weapons charges to Jackson State Prison. He headed the Detroit chapter of a motorcycle gang called the Outlaws in the 1970s, and was its national association president in 1986, according to federal documents.

Bowman could not be reached for comment.

The indictment also charges two alleged mob figures, Anthony Joseph Corrado and his son, Paul, with obtaining secret grand jury evidence from former federal attorney Theodore Forman.

The documents were part of an income-tax evasion investigation of Vito "Billy Jack" Giacalone. Forman was charged with a similar offense in 1993. He was convicted of contempt of court, but the conviction was overturned on appeal.

In another case cited in the indictment, Mafia members demanded "insurance payments" from Saginaw businessman Harold Stern to "insure the safety of Stern and his family."

Notably missing from the Thursday's charges is any sign of actual bloodshed.

"We have questions about how a couple of people may have died, but if we could have solved actual murders, that information would have been in the indictment," Corbett said.

Bufalino charged that many of the allegations in the indictment came from party store owners whom federal authorities caught running illegal bookmaking and numbers games and evading taxes.

"They've all been given immunity and whitewashed of their own criminal acts," Bufalino said. "They would say anything to avoid prosecution."

Federal officials would not confirm or deny that witnesses had been offered immunity.

Bufalino claimed federal grandstanding, but federal authorities said their five-year investigation was meticulously detailed.

The investigation encompassed thousands of work hours, included more than 30 warrants for electronic surveillance and was helped by informants inside the Mafia, investigators said. About 100 witnesses testified before a grand jury, which worked on the case for 18 months.

The defendants arraigned Thursday in Detroit, most of whom are facing at least 20 years in prison if convicted, appeared unconcerned in court. Several yawned during the proceedings, and one, Norman Bagdasarian, appeared to fall asleep.

All were released on bonds ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Most were ordered to remain in the three-county metropolitan area, with the exception of a few who have winter homes in Arizona or Florida.

By 3:30 p.m., the alleged mobsters were heading home.

"I'm just here to pay a parking ticket," Bagdasarian joked as he left the federal courthouse. Others declined comment.

It could be a year or more before the cases come to trial. These would be the first Metro Detroit Mafia cases since federal authorities brought 80 counts against 14 people in the Wolverine Golf Club gambling case of 1993. No one was convicted.

With the Wolverine case in mind, some federal agents remained tight-lipped when asked about their chances of success in court this time.

"We'll wait to pop the cork on the champagne bottle until a jury agrees with us," Corbett said.

Detroit News Staff Writers Gary Heinlein, Doug Durfee, Judy DeHaven, Charles Hurt, Melinda Wilson, Jeffrey Savitskie and Brian Harmon contributed to this report. The Washington Post also contributed.

Copyright 1996, The Detroit News

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