January 5, 2022 — Hard-nosed Detroit crime buster Joe Finnigan died of cancer last week, leaving a legacy as one of the most decorated and respected FBI agents to ever go after the stealthy Detroit mafia, better known locally as the Tocco-Zerilli crime family.
Finnigan, 75, was the supervisor of the Detroit FBI’s organized crime unit throughout the 1990s and spearheaded the landmark Operation GameTax case, which dismantled the upper-echelon of the Detroit mob and sent syndicate administrators to prison in the only federal investigation in history to successfully target the crime family’s entire leadership apparatus. His undercover work earlier in his career helped fuel the Midwest angle of the legendary Pizza Connection case, where Sicilian mafia bosses went into business with mob dons in the United States to smuggle heroin in tomato sauce jars delivered to pizza parlors on the East Coast.
Graduating from his beloved University of Notre Dame in 1968, Finnigan spent almost four decades in the FBI, working in the Detroit, Chicago and Washington D.C. offices. He retired in August 2003 and lived out his final years in Ypsilanti, Michigan, right next to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. Finnigan is survived by his wife Janet, three children and three grand children.
“The man was an agent’s agent,” said former colleague Mike Carone, who worked for Finnigan on the organized crime squad in the Detroit FBI. “He did some really big things. He went after the big game and came home with a lot of heads for his wall. Being the driving force behind the GameTax case was just a huge accomplishment and quite a legacy to be remembered by.”
Carone and Finnigan were in the trenches together for the GameTax bust and for 35 years side-by-side working the iconic and still unsolved disappearance and murder of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
Carone credits Finnigan with being one his mentors in the FBI as a young agent learning the ropes in the 1970s.
“I met him when I joined the surveillance squad, I was new guy, he was the vet,” Carone said. ” Joe was someone you wanted to follow and soak up knowledge from. The kind of stuff we did, the operational things he had to quarterback, were a real tight rope act. These are delicate situations, bugging cars, bugging homes, bugging places of business and he made it look easy.”
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