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Detroit Organized Crime Prosecution
Detroit Free Press Background Reports, 7/15-7/16/96

by
David Migoya and Jeff Taylor

Timeline

1932 -
5 Terrasini, Sicily, immigrants form the Detroit Mafia.
1949 -
Hazel Park Racing Association licensing.
1953 -
Jack W. Tocco founds Melrose Linen Service Inc.
1961 -
FBI begins wiretap of Giacalone office.
1963 -
63 Detroiters named as Mafia members in U.S. Senate testimony on organized crime.
1965 -
Detroit mob gains hidden interest in Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.
1966 -
Police find a book listing bribes in Grecian Gardens raid.
1967 -
Frontier sold to billionaire Howard Hughes.
1968 -
Anthony J. Zerilli opens Spaghetti Palace in Roseville.
1971 -
Detroit mob allegedly attempts to gain interest in Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.
1972 -
Anthony J. Zerilli convicted in Frontier investigation.
1975 -
William Pompili leaves Toledo for Las Vegas; Zerilli begins prison term; Jimmy Hoffa disappears.
1977 -
Zerilli released from prison; FBI begins Aladdin investigation.
1978 -
Detroit mob boss and cofounder Joseph Zerilli dies. Detroit mobsters elude Aladdin indictments.
1979 -
Jack W. Tocco named Detroit's boss of bosses investigators say.
1980 -
Mob plans to build casino in Laughlin, Nev.
1981 -
Edgewater Hotel and Casino opens in Laughlin.
1983 -
Edgewater is sold to Circus Circus.
1984 -
U.S. Senate hearings show Detroit's mob membership down to 23.
1996 -
March: Federal grand jury indicts 17 on organized crime charges.

Detroit Free Press: 7/15-7/16/96
Source: Federal and state records; U.S. Senate testimony; Free Press research


Detroit Free Press: 7/15/96

Toccos, Corrado Borrowed $4.1 Million as Casino Opened

By David Migoya and Jeff Taylor
Free Press Staff Writers

On a single day in September 1981, brothers Jack and Anthony Tocco came into a lot of money.

It happened at about the time Nevada gaming authorities were raising questions about where the Edgewater Hotel and Casino in Nevada was getting its financial backing.

As regulators were deciding whether to license the casino, the Toccos and their wives were obtaining identical $625,000 loans using their Grosse Pointe Park homes as security.

In all, the Toccos and associate Anthony J. Corrado borrowed more than $4 million in the months before and after the Edgewater was licensed, Wayne County property records show.

The purpose of the high-value loans remains unclear. But federal and gaming board investigators who tracked the Edgewater's seed money said recently they didn't know about the Tocco mortgages and want to take a closer look.

Jack W. Tocco's lawyer, David DuMouchel, said recently he did not know the purpose of the transactions and could not comment about them. Corrado's lawyer, James Bellanca Jr., said he doesn't know the purpose of the loans but that the transactions are not out of the ordinary.

"It's not uncommon for businessmen to borrow money and it would be a stretch to say any borrowing that took place was for any investment outside of Michigan," he said.

Lawyers for Anthony J. Tocco did not return phone messages.

The federal government says the Toccos had secret hidden interests in the construction and first four years of the casino in Laughlin, Nev.

The first two Tocco loans were for $625,000 each and each had three-year payment terms. Each was from Liberty State Savings in Mt. Clemens and each had the same witnesses and bankers signing, Wayne County property records show.

Several months after Edgewater's gaming license was approved in October 1981, the Tocco brothers and their wives returned to Liberty - again, on the same day - this time with Anthony and Mary (Grace) Corrado.

They received five additional mortgages totaling nearly $2.2 million - three at $650,000 and two at $110,000. Corrado's mortgage listed Anthony J. Tocco's home in Grosse Pointe Park as collateral.

A sixth mortgage was signed that day, also for $650,000 by TLC Leasing, a company co-owned by Jack Tocco. According to loan documents, the monthly payments on all the mortgages exceeded $62,000 and were due in three years.

Records show the Tocco-Corrado loans - nearly $4.1 million in all - would remain unpaid for 10 years. And then, as swiftly as they had appeared the loans were paid off to Huntington Banks, the new name for Liberty, on the same day in January 1994, records show.


Detroit Free Press: 7/15/96

Detroit's Zerilli Skimmed Casino Profits and Sought Control

By David Migoya and Jeff Taylor
Free Press Staff Writer

Las Vegas - It is said that no one ever leaves this town a winner. For Detroit's reputed mobsters, that may hold true a second time.

Discontented with a handful of convictions 20 years ago against reputed Detroit mobsters and hangers-on, federal prosecutors in Detroit now plan to use information culled in the 1970s to prove the city's mob leaders used the desert town as part of an extended criminal conspiracy.

Information drawn from investigations into Detroit involvement in two early casinos along Las Vegas' famed strip, including the words of key witnesses who ratted, could help prove the government's contention that Detroit mob families - dissatisfied that they had no casino to call home - went south to Laughlin to continue their criminal ways.

But defense lawyer William Bufalino II said he would argue that evidence from former prosecutions violates double-jeopardy laws that protect defendants from being tried twice for the same crime.

"There's no question that will become a factor," he said of his defense of Anthony J. Zerilli, who is looking for another lawyer because Bufalino already represents Zerilli's nephew Nove Tocco.

Front man talks

The Detroit families' forays into casinos began at the Frontier Hotel around 1965 and continued later at the Aladdin Hotel.

In 1972, a federal jury in Los Angeles convicted one-time Detroit boss Zerilli, high-ranking associate Michael Santo (Big Mike) Polizzi and several cohorts for arranging a hidden ownership of the Frontier and skimming profits.

Records show members of the Detroit family, with assistance from mobsters in St. Louis, brought home about $250,000 a month over a two-year period before the casino and hotel was sold for $25 million in 1967 to billionaire Howard Hughes.

Federal tape recordings of Zerilli not long after his release from prison in 1977 showed the dethroned don bragging of his Las Vegas exploits, remorseful for little other than having been captured and convicted.

During a September 1980 meeting with an old prison mate named Donald Robb, who was in trouble with a local bookie, Zerilli also bragged about his casino exploits, unaware that Robb was wearing a hidden microphone.

Zerilli said he "muscled" his way into Las Vegas, not only gaining control of the Frontier but trying to take over the Aladdin casino, according to an affidavit filed in the Frontier case.

Zerilli was never charged with a hidden interest in the Aladdin. And it's not known whether his statement was true or braggadocio. Federal prosecutors would not comment.

Whatever the case, Zerilli sounded like a man who believed he was close to grabbing all the gold. If he hadn't been caught, he told Robb, he would have gotten a "stranglehold" on Las Vegas.

The noose of the Frontier stranglehold undoubtedly was tied by the mob's front man, Maurice Friedman, who had a long history of convictions in Las Vegas dating to the 1950s.

Another alleged Frontier front man was T. Warner Richardson, former owner of the Silver Slipper Casino, where Detroit's organized crime families also had a secret interest, former FBI agents said.

Both men were convicted in 1968 for running rigged gin-rummy games at the posh Friars Club in Beverly Hills, Calif., Nevada gaming records show. In that ruse that made $1 million in its yearlong run, fixers used hidden cameras to watch players - including television's Phil Silvers and Marx brother Zeppo Marx - and fed information to other players via hidden microphones.

Although mob ties were purportedly part of the scam, it was never proven despite the convictions. Friedman's six-year prison term was quickly shortened to three years not long after he testified for the government about what happened at the Frontier.

When Zerilli and Polizzi were denied licenses at the Frontier in 1964, they unsuccessfully tried to get Friedman and Richardson licensed. But the Detroiters succeeded with Toledo hotelier Irving (Slick) Shapiro and former Hamtramck municipal judge Arthur Rooks, records show.

Friedman testified that he and Richardson were set up as front men, running various operations around the casino's development and financing while taking orders from Detroit.

Also convicted with Zerilli and Polizzi were their longtime lawyer Peter Bellanca, who, unlike his clients, was fined but served no jail time, and Detroit businessman Jack Shapiro.

Friedman, who pioneered and financed much of the land development that created the Las Vegas Strip, died of cancer in 1980.

Bufalino said that although the government cannot use Friedman's testimony as evidence today, the tape recordings can be used.

The Aladdin case

When Zerilli was released from federal prison, not only did he learn he was no longer at the helm of Detroit's mob - he is now underboss, according to federal allegations - but he would see another federal investigation, this time into alleged secret ties to the Aladdin.

Although the FBI investigated the mob's Aladdin connections, no charges were ever brought against the reputed Detroit organized crime families.

Federal affidavits seeking wiretaps to investigate the Aladdin in 1977 named Vito Giacalone, the reputed street muscle and overseer of Detroit's backroom card games, as the prime target.

"There were Las Vegas and Detroit conversations, but we didn't have the information that proved any money went from the casino to Detroit," one agent said. "We've indicted him on many different things through the years, but this one we couldn't nail directly on Giacalone."

Federal prosecutors have said in court papers that they will use information obtained in the Aladdin case to prove the existence of the mob's criminal enterprise, hinting that information about Giacalone may be revealed.

Giacalone's lawyer, Neil Fink, chuckled.

"Even a discussion in Podunk, with the briefest of mentions of whomever, will be attempted to be used by the government," Fink said. "They're rehashing cases that already have been prosecuted."

Whatever the case, the government won several convictions against other Detroiters for having illegal hidden interests in the Aladdin - notably James Tamer and bail bondsman Charles (Chuckie) Goldfarb.

Tamer, a Mt. Clemens businessman with a 40-year police record, conspired with Goldfarb to gain hidden control of the casino in the 1970s after both were rejected for licenses by Nevada gaming officials for their "unsavory backgrounds," records show.

Tamer was tucked into the Aladdin as its entertainment director, but testimony proved he carried the casino's operating orders. He would later be added to the Las Vegas Black List of those barred for life from entering a Nevada casino.

Affidavits filed in the case said Giacalone had told undercover FBI informants that "the outfit" wanted gamblers from Detroit to use the Aladdin since it was in the mob's jurisdiction.

Records show another informant told his FBI protectors that he overheard Tamer and Edward Monazym, a Las Vegas resident also convicted in the case, say the casino was floundering because they had skimmed too much money before it was well established. The informant also said the skimmed money was "given to the Detroit guys."

The casino eventually was ordered closed and reopened under the guidance of the gaming board until it was eventually sold.


Detroit Free Press: 7/15/96

Would-be Investors had Ties to Detroit

By David Migoya and Jeff Taylor
Free Press Staff Writers

Even without William Pompili acting as the mob's ace in the hole, the Edgewater Hotel and Casino was a Detroit production.

Those originally interested in investing included several Detroiters and an old Las Vegas hand with Detroit ties.

Although none of them had criminal pasts, their friendships or business connections with Detroit's reputed mob chiefs were enough to raise the eyebrows of Nevada gaming officials during a licensing hearing in October 1981.

Here's who tried to buy in and who gaming officials forced to bail out of the Edgewater deal, according to former gaming officials, public records and interviews:


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