By The Other Guy | August 9, 2020
One of the quieter, more self-contained and independent Families of the American Cosa Nostra has been the Detroit Family.
Although the Detroit mob is one of the 26 such Families that comprise the Mafia in this nation and they are certainly recognized as such, the Joseph Zerilli Family has always done their best to stay above the fray and operate in a more surreptitious and independent fashion.
Don’t get me wrong, they view all the other borgatas as “brothers” and will do whatever is necessary to accommodate a fellow mafiosi or Family anywhere in the U.S., or even Italy for that matter. It’s just that they’d prefer to run their own rackets and keep contact with other crews to a minimum.
This is a practice started by Zerilli in the 1960s, and seems to have been continued up to the present day.
Detroit has always had a very rich history when it comes to organized crime within its borders.
During the early years of its formation, Detroit’s underworld saw many varied gangster groups all vying for power and position which of course led to many interlocking conflicts between the various crime groups which included opposing Italian factions who fought each other.
They viciously battled for supremacy to control the multimillion-dollar illicit bootleg alcohol trade, policy-numbers gambling and the other prominent rackets of the day. The streets of Detroit were littered with scores of bodies over a number of years until the gunsmoke cleared.
Among the combatants were the infamous Jewish membered Purple Gang, early boss Giovanni Vitale, the Giannola brothers gang, Chester LaMare and his mob, and the famous Castellammarese faction headed by Vito Adamo, and later Gaspare Milazzo who had relocated to Detroit after fleeing a 1921 murder investigation back in New York City.
They were but a few of many who sought to control the city.
Detroit also hosted a large Syrian underworld faction that up to more present times still operated under the auspices and permission of the Italian Mafia.
Dating back to 1920 and Prohibition, Detroit’s geographic position on the map made it ideal to smuggle cases of legal Canadian liquor across the Windsor, Ontario border by motorboat into Detroit.
In fact even after the repeal of Prohibition, the Zerilli mob was so well entrenched in Ontario, that for many years they kept several of their own top men including Nicholas Cicchini, Onofrio (Nono) Minaudo, and Giuseppe (Cockeyed Joe) Catalanotte as that city’s resident mafia overseers for the Family.
They also had an outpost in Toledo, Ohio, that was originally staked out by capo Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli, where they ran various racket operations under the oversight of another capo.
After fighting one another for years, slowly but surely by the mid-1930s two partners emerged from the rubble of warfare and carnage by the names of Giuseppe (Joe Z) Zerilli and Guglielmo Vito (Black Bill) Tocco, who became the first official leaders of the Family.
In time they became recognized as the city’s mob leaders and firmly entrenched themselves in control of its rackets.
What later became widely known as “The Detroit Partnership” or “The Detroit Combination”, was in fact the Zerilli Family of Cosa Nostra.
The names of Zerilli and Tocco would forever become synonymous with the City’s underworld.
So much so, that even today the Family they built still stands and many of its members still carry those surnames and blood in their veins…that is a singular accomplish, unlike any other Mafia Family in the United States.
The Family’s charm so to speak was Zerilli’s vision to keep his borgata as a small tight entity, comprised mainly of either direct blood relatives or through the interlocking marriages of key members.
The resulting effect was a tight bond and cohesion between the membership that carries to this very day.
Like most Mafia organizations that developed in those early fledgling years, the Detroit Family had its roots in several key towns and villages back in Sicily.
For the Detroit mob that town was Terrasini, which was conveniently tucked between the infamous mafioso town of Castellammare del Golfo and the city of Palermo proper in the extreme northwestern section of that beautiful Mediterranean Island.
Future boss Giuseppe Zerilli was born there in 1897. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 in 1914, settling in Detroit.
Joe Zerilli was a very respected mafioso and the longtime head of this Family. His brother-in-law Black Bill Tocco who was also born in Terrasini Sicily the same year as Zerilli always helped to back their play.
The result was a tightly run organization that has experienced little internal trouble through its history…a rare occurrence for a Mafia borgata, especially in a major city.
Joe Zerilli was a very astute practitioner of Mafia history and it’s machinations. On his way up the underworld ladder to power he made sure to form close alliances to several mafia bosses which helped augment his own underworld position.
To this end in later years Zerilli and Tocco made sure to marry their respective sons off to two daughters of top New York boss Giuseppe (The Olive Oil King) Profaci.
Side Note: Tocco and Zerilli also made it a priority to induct only men who were blood-related to them or intermarried into their families. Sons, brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews, in-laws, etc.
Another benefit of this nepotism was the lack of violence throughout their existence. Talk and negotiation was the norm when differences arose, as opposed to the violent conflict often exhibited in other mafia-run cities. There was plenty of violence to be sure. But it was rarely against family members.
The result was a near impenetrable mafia fortress of solidarity, the likes of which no other Mafia Family dare challenge for upwards of thirty years. It was a mafia coup and the Cosa Nostra equivalent of a alliance of countries in the United Nations.
When at the “Commission” table for negotiations, this Profaci-Zerilli blood alliance helped insure that both borgatas had the backing of the other. This fact, coupled with the near ironclad friendship between Profaci and Joseph Bonanno who headed a second New York Family, became a triumvirate few would openly challenge.
Their three “votes”, along with a fourth vote by Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino who was Bonanno’s cousin, helped to nearly always swing any decision in their favor.
This “strength” exhibited over the nationwide mafia Commission would help insure that no other Family could encroach on any of their borgatas. For many years they were the envy of other bosses.
Side Note: After Profaci’s death in 1962, and the resulting turmoil the New York City and other East Coast Families experienced in the coming years, the Detroit Family under Zerilli started participating less and less in Commission affairs.
The one major exception was the Detroit mob’s control over James R. Hoffa, the infamous former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union which was headquartered in Detroit.
Under the Mafia’s rules the fact that the Teamsters originated in Detroit gave “underworld” jurisdiction to the Zerilli Family.
Eventually, at the prodding of the Chicago and Detroit Families it was agreed that they would have less and less to do with east coast mob affairs, and had very little reason to be constantly flying in for Commission meetings when they had no stake in the game so to speak.
So, by mutual agreement it was decided that a “second” Commission would be formed, and that all borgatas west of the Windy City would report to the Chicago Family.
This second Commission would only collaborate with their east coast “amici” on mutually beneficial activities such as Las Vegas casinos, or national labor union rackets they were partnered in such as the Laborers Union in Chicago, United Auto Workers of Detroit, and the aforementioned Teamsters Union.
The Detroit Family engaged in all the illegal pursuits typical of any mafia group. But they were also somewhat unique in one regard.
Zerilli and Tocco made it their focus and priority to invest heavily in legitimate business and industry.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Many mafia Families invest money into businesses or try to infiltrate them in other ways.
It’s just that the Zerilli crew either concentrated on business infiltration more, or just did it better than most.
This became apparent during the U.S. Senate Hearings which probed the Family in 1963.
If you take a good look at the wide berth of industries they deeply penetrated and invested money into, it becomes clear that legitimate business was a major focus for nearly their entire group.
The following list names just a few of the hundreds of varied business interests they had through the years. It seems to have been a central Family decision from the hierarchy down to have its inducted members partner together in many of these companies and businesses.
For such a small membership they held interests in a disproportionate number of major businesses:
Hazel Park Race Track
Race Horse ownership and breeding
Muller Foods, Inc.
Pfeiffer-Macomb Beer Distributors
Melrose Linen Service Corp.
Lakeshore Coach Lines, Inc.
Detroit Italian Wholesale Bakery Co.
Jarson-Zerilli Produce Co.
Prince Macaroni Co.
Bakery Distributors Inc.
Bakery Outlets Inc.
Erie Baking Co.
Tocco Wholesale Food Corp.
Home Juice Company
Deer Valley Citrus Association
Gold Cup Coffee Co.
Michigan Metal Finishers
Motor City Barber & Beauty Supply
City College & Barber School
Michigan Stove Co.
AAA Auto Wash
Pointe Auto-Wash Co.
Flint Cold Storage
Perrone Gas Station
T & M Construction Corp.
Concrete Paving Corp.
Aluminum Anodizing Company
Meltone Music & Jukebox Co.
Ace Automatic Music Co.
T & D Cigarette Service Co.
Genesee Warehouse Corp.
SC & CC Trucking Company
Bel-Aire Motel & Lodge
Gratiot Motel & Bar
Starlight Motel (Florida)
Casa Catalina Motel (Arizona)
La Mesa Bowling Alley
Torosian Oil Corp.
Valley Die-Casting Corp.
Service Die-Cast Corp.
Cass Steel & Metals
Apache Nickel Surplus
Lakeshore Insurance Co.
Tri-County Sanitation Co.
City-Wide Cleaners Corp.
Tucson Printing Company
Pure Oil Company Gas Station
Side Note: If you examine some of the major national names you soon realize the scope of their infiltration. Muller Foods Corporation, Prince Macaroni Company, and Hazel Park Race Track, in particular, jump off the page at me.
Members were also partnered with hidden ownership in many bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Among them were:
The Music Bar
Papa Joe’s Restaurant
The Roseland Club
Living Room Lounge
Grecian Gardens Restaurant
Elias’ Big Boy
They also owned extensive Michigan real estate, and out of state properties including:
480 acre Michigan farm
100 acre farm in Price, Ontario
Moravian Acres Subdivision
Harper-Metro Park Subdivision
St. Clair Terrace Holding Corp.
Eastland Court Apartment Houses
The Grace Ranch (Tucson, Arizona)
Harper Avenue office Building
The Hart Center Building
Tanque Verde Realty-Property
The Wolverine Golf Club
Riding Stables (Tucson, Arizona)
Grape & Date Farm (Tucson, AR)
South Branch Ranch
Jay-Cee Realty Holding Company
The Navajo Building
Chrysler Office Building (Detroit)
Apache Realty Corp.
…among dozens more nondescript properties.
Despite their considerable underworld acumen and mob savvy, in the later decades, the FBI did bring a RICO case against the Family hierarchy. After a high profile trial all were found guilty of racketeering related counts.
But after all was said and done, boss Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco only received a two-year federal jail term for his racketeering conviction. I don’t know how he wrangled that deal, but you gotta tip you hat to him for it. To get what amounted to a “slap on the wrist” of 2 years on a RICO case is a “gift” and a rarity indeed, especially for a mafia boss.
And if I’m not mistaken, Tocco even got cut loose from that after serving only a short time inside…Now THAT’S what I call a hook!
Looking back on the Family’s colorful history, without a doubt the highest profile and exposure the Zerilli Family ever suffered was the fallout after the disappearance and presumed murder of ex-Teamsters Union Boss James R. Hoffa.
The ensuing FBI investigation became so all-consuming that many top members of that borgata experienced an intense almost 24/7 law enforcement surveillance year after year for many years to come.
This law enforcement “shadow” would severely hamper their activities and cast an unwanted public light on them as never before.
But even with that said, after Joseph Zerilli’s death from natural causes in 1977, his troops were so well structured that even his passing caused hardly a ripple in the Family’s operations.
Authorities noted that the Zerilli mob was so tightly run and insular that for many years they all lived in the same very upscale Grosse Pointe neighborhood next to one another. Police referred to the area as “The Compound.”
In 1992, the Detroit Free Press did an extensive story on the Family’s continued health and well being. The paper reported how their operations and rackets were quietly thriving. That law enforcement hadn’t touched them or made a significant dent in their structure in over a decade.
Federal authorities named Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco as boss, and his cousin Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli as his underboss, six capodecina or “lieutenants” as they called them; Michael Polizzi, Anthony Corrado, brothers Anthony Giacalone and Vito Giacalone, Joseph Matranga, and Anthony Tocco.
They also named two key soldiers as Jack V. Giacalone (Vito’s son), and Vincent Meli. (Jack Tocco’s brother in law).
Side Note: Notice how more than sixty years after their initial rise to power, how significant the Tocco and Zerilli surnames still were in the borgata’s structure.
Throughout all of their existence, this borgata has had very few traitors, especially from within its closed “inducted” ranks. The one notable exception was Joe Zerilli’s grandson Nove Tocco who became an informant against his cousin Jack Tocco and the Detroit Family…but even he did little long term damage to the organization.
The hierarchy was a very closed and circumspect bunch, even amongst themselves. The left hand often didn’t know what the right hand was doing…on purpose!
So despite Nove Tocco’s cooperation with law enforcement, his intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the borgata was very limited.
It was estimated that at their 1950s-1960s peak the Detroit Cosa Nostra had approximately 60 to 70 full-fledged inducted members.
This list is the known FBI documented “inducted” membership for the era of approximately 1955 through 1980.
Not all members listed here were necessarily serving during the same time period. Prospective members become “made” when a slot opens up with the death of a previous member.
Several names in the associate list were indeed later inducted as “made” soldiers.
Their membership was of course augmented by at least several hundred more mob associates. And although there were others, the list I created below names most of their primary membership and important associates.
Side Note: Soldiers marked with an asterisk * would later rise into the hierarchy.
It was always said that the original Detroit Family had a “Council of Five”, which was comprised of the following five top mafiosi of the Family. Collectively they were the “consigliere” and other elders who decided issues among themselves and are as follows:
Giuseppe (Joe Z) Zerilli
William (Black Bill) Tocco
Pietro (Pete the Horse) Licavoli
Giovanni (Papa John) Priziola
They were augmented by a “cabinet” of six Capo di decina who governed six regimes of “soldiers” who oversaw the larger Detroit associate membership.
Collectively these original mafiosi and their heirs have ruled the City’s underworld for upwards of 100 years…an auspicious accomplishment to say the least.
Joseph (Scarface Joe) Bommarito
Francesco (Don Ciccio) Coppola
Pietro (Machine Gun Pete) Corrado
Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone
Michael (Big Mike) Polizzi
Raffaele (Jimmy Q) Quasarano
Michael (Mike the Enforcer) Rubino
Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone *
Joseph (Scarface Joe) Bommarito *
Joseph Barbara Jr.
Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli *
Joseph (Long Joe) Bommarito
Benedict (Benny) Bommarito
Giacomo (Black Jack) Tocco *
Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli *
Vincenzo (Jimmy) Catalanotte
Joseph (Cockeyed Joe) Catalanotte*
Salvatore (Singing Sam) Catalanotte
Dominic (Fats) Corrado
Dominick (Sparky) Corrado *
Paul (The Sicilian) Cimino
Santo (Cockeyed Sam) Perrone *
Salvatore (Sam) Zerilli
Samuel (Sammy Bags) Bagnasco
Leonardo (Black Leo) Cellura
Edward (Brokey) Guarella
Salvatore (Sammy Blue Eyes) Evola
Anthony (Kango) Imburnone
Matteo (Mikey Bruno) Bartolotta
James (Biffo) Macagnone
Joseph (Joe Q) Quasarano
Vincent (Little Vince) Meli *
Salvatore (Little Sammy) Finazzo
Vincent (Crazy Jimmy) Finazzo
Joseph (Joe the Whip) Triglia
Peter (Tino) Lombardo
Antonio (Black Tony) Teramine
Peter (Fat Pete) Cavataio
Anthony (Tony Long) Cimini
Anthony (Tony Cars) D’Anna
Joseph (Joe Misery) Moceri
Salvatore (Sammy) Serra
Onofrio (Nono) Minaudo
Peter (Bozzi) Vitale *
Leonardo (Leo Monte) Monteleone
Salvatore (Sammy Pal) Palazzolo
Vincenzo (Jimmy Soda-Pop) Randazzo
Antonino (Big Tony) Ruggirello *
Raymond (Bones) Buccellato
Anthony (Whitey) Besase
Salvatore (Sammy Lou) Lucido
Among the better known and top “non-member associates” through the years have included:
Sebastian (Buster) Lucido
Giacomo (Jackie) Lucido
Augustus (Augie) DiOrio
Anthony (Tony) Tocco
James (Jimmy) Michaels
Elias (Rip) Koury
George (Mosie) Massu
Charles (Chickie) Sherman
Leonard (Lenny) Rusk
Allen (The General) Hilf
Eugene (Gino) Marra
Edward (Eddie the Polack) Gray
Joseph (House Jack) Cusumano
Louis La Hood
Peter (Big Time Pete) Amormino
Harry (Tennessee Slim) Leaverton
Richard (Stanley) Zalmanowitz
Harrison (Chink) Brown
Edward (Ed the Polack) Ulatowski
Eugene (Johnny A) Ayotte
Samuel (Porky) Pagano
Samuel (Sammy G) Giordano
Bernard (The Hammer) Marchesani
Antonino (Tony the Chump) Abate
Erasimo (Sam) Timpa
Dominick (Crippled Dom) Buffa
Vincent (Jimmy) Riccobono
Onofrio (Nufio) Craparatta
Angelo (Barrels) Lombardi
Maximillian (Big Maxie) Stern
Zeno (Jimmy Zeno) Barraco
Albert (Schnobby) Varga
Joseph (Joe Lo Monico) Siracusa
Louis (Hafi) Elias
Salvatore (Sammy Mops) Licavoli
Diego (Frank) Noto
Theodore (Teddy) Pizziano
Bernard (Barney) Schwartz
Louis (Louie Cassiez) Ellis
Here is a more current “reputed” members list from the 2000 to 2020 era. Most listed were active at some point within the last decade.
It is said that the membership now comprises approximately 25 to 30 inducted “made” soldiers.
Not all of those listed are necessarily “made”, but are at least “associate-members” of the Family.
Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone
Anthony (Chicago Tony) LaPiana
Joseph (Joe Hooks) Mirabile
Peter (Petey Specs) Tocco
David (Davey the Donut) Aceto
Paul (Big Paulie) Corrado
Giuseppe (Joe the Hood) D’Anna
Joseph (Joey Jack) Giacalone
Jack (Jackie the Nose) Giacalone
Anthony (Fat Tony) Giacalone
Frank (The Bomb) Bommarito
Frank (Frankie the Chink) Versaci
Anthony (The Bull) Corrado
Dominick (Chicago Dom) Corrado
Paul (Cousin Paulie) Corrado
Peter (The Baby Bull) Corrado
Anthony (T.R.) Ruggirello Jr.
Joseph (Jojo) Ruggirello
Girolamo (Mimmo) D’Anna
Antonio (Tony Cigars) Ruggirello
Luigi (Louie the Bulldog) Ruggirello
Anthony (Little Tony Long) Cimini Jr
Jack (Miami Jack) Tocco Jr.
Vincent (Jimmy Jack) Giacalone
Vincent (Vinny Meatballs) Bronzino
Anthony (Tony Razz) Randazzo
Joseph (Joe Trash) Tringali
Isidoro (Teddy San Diego) Matranga
Robert (Bobby the Animal) LaPuma
Sebastian Lucido Jr.
Sebastian (Buster) Lucido Sr.
John (Johnny Bananas) Sciarotta
Joseph (Joe Graval) Gargalino
Peter (Little Pete) Tocco
Salvatore (Mops) Tocco
Anthony (Smitty) Tocco Jr.
Anthony (Little Tawny) Tocco Jr.
Salvatore (Little Sammy) Palazzolo
Jack (Two Guns) Russo
Peter (Pete the Clown) Leonardo
Eugene (Genie Boy) Baratta
Gerard Di Michelle
Vincent (Jackie Two-Guns) Russo
Joseph (Joe D) DiStefano
In the year 2020, the Detroit Family of LCN is still around and operating. They along with New York’s Five Families and several borgatas in other cities of the brotherhood are alive and surviving if not thriving as in years past.
Under the tutelage and direction of the well-groomed “Jackie the Kid” Giacalone and his hierarchy, their borgata is stable. A huge statement to be able to make today amid the turmoil that has befallen their brethren in so many other cities.
My compliments to Jackie and the rest of them for their savvy and intelligent approach to all things mafioso!
Until next time…”The Other Guy”
This article was originally posted “here“