Carmen Zagaria and Tommy Sinito
By Amy A. Kisil
Money from Gallo's, Sinito’s and Zagaria’s drug ring’s profits flowed into the Cleveland Mafia's coffers. More profit than any one realized came from the sale of illegal drugs. Until the FBI shut Zagaria’s drug operation down in 1983, it created a new set of players in the Cleveland Mafia.
Everyone was happy! Drug kingpin Carmen Zagaria, Kevin McTaggart and the Graewe brothers, Hans and Fritz, had enormous sums of money flowing through their hands. More money than any of the men running Zagaria’s drug ring ever dreamed of. Zagaria’s illegal profits were used to finance other mob enterprises, illegal gambling, loan sharking, pornography and prostitution. Under Zargaria’s management the drug ring expanded. He developed a delivery network of over 80 drug mules and street dealers to sell illegal drugs.
Cocaine, marijuana, repackaged illegally obtained prescription drugs, hashish, LSD, PCP and heroin were sold through Zagaria’s ring. Drug mules made regular deliveries of raw drugs to safe stash houses in Cleveland. The raw drugs would be processed for street sales. Jungle Aquarium, Carrmen Zagaria’s front business on Cleveland’s Lorain Avenue, served as headquarters. Zagaria’s drug ring became a candy store for illegal drugs, Zagaria’s recruited new street level workers to keep the drug operation running,, money counting, distribution, mules, processing raw drugs for sale and selling the drugs. Some of these new recruits, Keith Ritson and Greene’s cousin, Kevin McTaggart, were former members of the Celtic Club, Danny Greene’s old gang.. The Gallo, Sinito and Zagaria drug operation flourished, a triumph for all of its managers.
Zagaria received his illegal drugs through regular shipments on the old drug trail nicknamed the White Line Highway. The trail gained its nickname from the kilos of cocaine and other illegal drugs driven up to Ohio and other Midwestern states from Florida and Georgia.
The drug mules traveled on commercial flights to Florida or Georgia. They drug mules connected to Zagaria’s drug dealers there. The mules paid cash for the drugs, rented cars, started the trip back to Ohio with the illegal drugs stored in. the car's trunks.
The While Line Highway was an attractive drug route. Unlike the heavily patrolled major interstate highways, I-75 and I-95. the White Line Highway took the back route. The Florida route started on Florida’s State Route 301 and connected to Georgia State Route 321. Drug mules traveling from Atlanta, Georgia, another major hub for illegal drugs, used Georgia’s State Route 321. These were the back roads, lightly patrolled by both state and federal officials. Massive quantities of illegal drugs were shipped from the southern states to Ohio. Some drug couriers used horse trailers and vans for large marijuana deliveries to Cleveland.
Tampa, Florida was the main point for the illegal drug trade. Santo Trafficante, a major crime figure, controlled the drug trade in Tampa. Drugs were smuggled into Florida through the old Mexican drug trail starting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Tampa, the smuggled drugs were then shipped north. Some of Zagaria's drug mules made connections in Tampa to buy drugs. Then started their trip back to Ohio on the White Line Highway, Florida’s State Route 301. 301 started in Tampa and went through the center of Florida. After I-75 and I-95 were built on Florida’s east side 301 was virtually empty of all tourist traffic. Tourists traveled on the large interstate highways. The Florida highway patrols concentrated their attention on stopping drug couriers traveling the intestates, little attention was paid to stopping drug mules carrying illegal drugs up the White Line Highway.
Route 301, a wide divided four-lane highway, runs empty and open up the center of Florida. Ideal for drug mules, they drove at high speeds and weren’t afraid of being caught by the Florida’s Highway Patrol.
Couriers traveled up 301 until they connected to Georgia State Route 321, then they traveled on 321 until connecting in West Virginia to I-77 which went straight to Ohio. Drug mules who drove carefully weren't interfered with and drug shipments reached Cleveland safely.
The drugs were delivered to safe, stash houses located in Cleveland and it’s suburbs. Since Zagaria brought the illegal drugs by the pound not by the ounce this large quantity of raw drugs were later processed for street sales.
During the 1970s and early 1980s the drug ring at it’s height according to FBI files, brought over 400 to 800 pounds of marijuana a week to be processed for street sales. Zagaria expanded his drug ring to sell LSD, PCP and hashish. Dealers from Atlanta and Tampa kept a steady stream of drugs flowing for sale on Cleveland’s streets.
As the demand for marijuana grew larger, drug shipments went from 400 to 800 pounds to 3,000 pounds during a ten-day period in the 1980s. This was near the end of the drug rings operation.
Zagaria became the drug kingpin of Cleveland. The Gallo, Sinito and Zagaria drug ring controlled every ounce of illegal drugs sold in Northeastern Ohio. Nothing moved unless Zagaria approved the sale. Zagaria became a big earner for the Cleveland Mafia, a step up from being a small time hood who controlled two small pennies barbute games to selling over 15 million dollars of illegal drugs a year.
Tommy Sinito and Joseph Gallo regarded their $500,000 investment in Zagaria good one! The loan sharked money they’d extended to him was repaid two fold. One, they exerted control over Zagaria by the amount of interest he owed on the loan shark debt hew owed. Two, the drug profits he earned and tribute he paid to Cleveland’s Mob leaders financed other criminal activities. Cleveland’s Mafia leaders, the old men, as Tommy Sinito called them, regarded Zagaira as a major player. No longer a small pennies errand boy scourging to earn for the mob, he now commanded respect.
Ironically Antonio " Tony" Delmonti, who in the early 1980s became a paid FBI informant worked for Zagaria as a drug distributor. Delmonti's information lead to the arrest of the remnants of the original drug operation. It caused the arrest and conviction of mob figures Russell Papalardo and Joseph "Joey Loose" Iacobacci. They were two of thirteen people arrested in a FBI dragnet. Delmonti made more money as a paid FBI informant than when he’d worked for Zagaria’s drug ring.
Joey Loose said about Delmonti, " I missed most of the 1980s because of him. He was a punk and a son of a bitch! I hate the guy!" Delmonti, like other FBI informants, earned the reputation of being a rat.
Lester "Skip" Williams another drug dealer associate of Zagaria's. Willaims helped run the numbers rackets operating out of the Hotel Sterling in Cleveland. Williams made connections through former members of Zagaria's old drug ring to buy a 1000 pounds of marijuana in Cheektowaga, New York. Willaims caused the downfall of ex-municipal prosecutor Thomas Longo. He testified Longo had provided him with a partial payment of $65,000 to buy a 1000 pounds of marijuana to sell on Cleveland's streets, In exchange for a reduced jail sentence on the RICO drug charges, Williams became an informant in the FBI’s drug conspiracy case against Longo.
Both of these former Zagaria workers weren’t afraid of committing criminal acts. They were minor players, who knew how to maneuver their way in the criminal underground and the legal system. Squealing rats when they needed to slip out of their legal troubles.
Zagaira, a career criminal, ran illegal barbute games at the Hotel Sterling in Cleveland and the infamous Card Shop in the heart Cleveland’s Murray Hill district. He barely earned small profits from the barbute games Zagaria was considered by Cleveland’s Mafia leaders a minor player. The illegal dice games made an average of $2,000 to $4,000 a day. Zagaria could clear from $10,000 to $20,000 a week depending on the number of barbute players and other expenses he’d incurred, food, drinks and protection for the dice games. The house at either dice game took from 1 to 7 percent of the pot. His weekly profit from barbute small pennies compared to the money he’d earn as a drug kingpin.
Unfortunate victims of large losses at Zagaria’s barbute games found themselves deep in debt. Loan sharks offend the losers high interest, usually 150% to 256% on loans to cover their losses. Loan sharks, waiting for another victim, hovered by the barbute games Zagaria ran. They benefited from the losers large gambling debts too! Large losses at Zagaria’s dice tables made money for them as every game made new victims for the loan sharks.
Barbute, the illegal dice game Zagaria ran are what gamblers call an even deal game, each side has a 50/50 chance of winning. The game itself is very profitable. Originating in the Middle East, barbute migrated, through Arab traders, to other Mediterranean countries. In some parts of the Mediterranean, like Italy and Greece, it’s a passion. Like Craps, another dice game, any number can play, usually the number of Barbute players is restricted by those who can crowd around a poker table.
The dice, traditionally miniature ones, are thrown from a small leather cup. Each barbute player gets a turn to throw the die, the thrower becomes the high shooter. Barbute unlike Craps doesn’t specify the amount of the wager. The man on the right of the high shooter is called the fader, bets in a high stake game the limits are large. Winners of each round usually stakes it all on the next throw.
The shooter may or not count the bets, he may allow the other players make side wagers on his bet or the shooter can refuse any wagers and pass. Side bets can be placed on each throw every body playing can bet and win..
Barbute an even chance game is a betters paradise. There are enough winners making barbute attractive to betters. The odds are good for both sides, usually the house manages to stack the games odds for itself.
Big losers were sent to Tommy Sinito, Sinito operated loan sharking schemes out of his Appliance Mart stores and his gift basket shop in Beachwood, Ohio. Front businesses he’d set up to launder money from the loan sharking. Zagaria found himself a victim of Sinito’s loan sharking. He owed Tommy Sinito a large amount of money, the interest on the principle owed grew larger. Sinito and other mob leaders controlled Zagaria by the high interest on his loan shark debts.
The Hotel Sterling located at the intersection of East 30th and Prospect Avenue, not far from Cuyahoga Community College’s Metropolitan Campus, was owned and operated by local mob figure Samuel G. Lucarelli. The Hotel Sterling housed transient day to day renters. Hotel Sterling served another purpose too. Illegal gambling and loan sharking operated out of the building. The hotel’s basement served as an casino for the illegal gambling, and an upstairs office became an informal meeting room for conducting mob business.
Lucarelli operated a 4 million dollar a year illegal gambling empire out of the Hotel Sterling. Some of the illegal dice games were run by Zagaria. Corrupt police officers from Cleveland’s Third District Police Station and other law enforcement agencies along with heavily armed mob guards protected the Mafia’s gambling games operating in the Hotel Sterling
During the winter of 1980 to 1981, while Zagaria operated his high stakes barbute game in The Hotel Sterling's basement. Zagaria’s profits from the barbute games were watched closely. As he had to pay his loan sharked debt’s interest from the weekly profits from his barbute games.
The Card Shop, another location for Zagaria’s illegal barbute games was located in the heart of Cleveland’s Murray Hill District. Unlike the Hotel Sterling, the Card Shop barbute players weren't a seedy collection of semi homeless regulars. Most of the illegal gambling at the Card Shop was done by Mafia associates and other Murray Hill residents.
Unlike the Hotel Sterling, the FBI obtained a court order to have a bug installed. At the Card Shop. The FBI installed a bug in the box of a telephone located in the Card Shop’s back room. The FBI taped over 440 hours of conversations between mob associates they played barbute. The wiretapped records proved the Card Shop was another local mob hang out.
Martin "Mutt" DiFabio managed the Card Shop's illegal activities. He felt the visiting Mafia figures were good for business. Locals, seeing high ranking mob figures playing there felt the games weren't rigged. Who’d cheat local gangsters as they
gambled? An illusion on their part! Vanaculo, an Italian obscenity, was heard when some of the players lost a round of barbute. High ranking mob figures, like James "Jack White" Licavoli, played at the Card Shop, they provided a draw for locals to play.
In 1983, after the FBI raided the Card Shop, it closed for the day. The regular barbute players returned after breakfast and found DiFabio had locked the Card Shop’s doors. Other people tried to move the shop’s gambling to other locations and failed. Poor location and police harassment made it impossible to resume operations.
The Card Shop was the center of illegal gambling in the Murray Hill District. It became another Mafia hang out on the Mafia social circuit.
Zagaria ran his barbute games, at the Hotel Sterling and the Card Shop. As he had to pay off his immense loan shark interest to the mob, the games profits provided him with a way to accomplish this. Zagaria’s games were a preferred stop on the Mafia social circuit. Zagaria became a familiar face to local high ranking Mafia figures.
In the Hotel Sterling's basement, in a hazy cigarette smoked filled room, a group of men sat around a poker table and watched the shooter, this time Zagaria. He rattled the two miniature dice in the leather cup he held. He throws the dice!. The men sitting waiting scream and shout as the dice are thrown.
The FBI tapes record some conversations at the Card Shop that sound like they were e written for the HBO series The Sopranos.
"Vanaculo!" One player yelled, using an Italian obscenity, showing his disappointment at losing.
"You can’t put shit back in the donkey!" Another said pushing his winnings to the center of the poker table, staking them on the next throw of the dice
Life imitates art!
The barbute player’s losses added to Zagaria’s pot and to the house’s take.
Zagaria presiding over the barbute game smiled. Some of the players won, others lost, none lost without paying their tab.. He didn’t worry about the losses.
Outside of the basement room stood heavily armed guards, Mob associates and corrupt Cleveland police officers stood and waiting for trouble. Loan sharks hovered waited for another victim of gambling losses.
Zagaria studied the men around the poker table, he saw the regular players he always saw at his weekly barbute games, a mixture of Mafia and non-Mafia players, Joseph "Joey Loose" Iacobabbi, who's addicted to gambling of any kind. Other regulars were low level mob associates who conducted business in the office at the Hotel Sterling.
One of the regular players at Zagaria’s barbute game at the Card Shop in Murray hill was high ranking Mafia figure John Licavoli. Other barbute players who saw Licavoli playing assumed Zagaria’s dice games were "honest", maybe for the mob bosses, small players still found the house odds stacked against them. Mob members from Youngstown appeared at Zagaria’s dice tables and according to DiFabio the Card Shop’s manager, the losses from these visits were over $175,000 a game. Zagaria welcomed them, he treated these men royally, everything on the house, their losses meant big profits for him.
Zagaria’s personal bodyguard, helped guard the barbute game. The guard would tap on the shoulder of one of the big losers at the barbute table. Disgruntled losers, making noise about the "rigged" barbute games were tossed out of the game,. But not until they made arrangements to pay their gambling debts. Zagaria never let anyone leave without paying.
Zagaria ran both barbute games at the Hotel Sterling on Cleveland’s Prospect Avenue and in the infamous Card Shop in the Murray Hill district. These illegal dice games were protected by the Cleveland mob. FBI informants told about high wagers bet by high rollers, some losses were reported to over $175,000 in an evening. Losers who owed money were sent to Tommy Sinito who advanced loan shark money so these high rollers pay off their gambling losses. Everyone made money, except the unfortunate victims of Zagaria’s stacked dice games.
After receiving $500,000 of mob money to expand and create a large drug ring,. he gained too Cleveland’s Mafia leaders respect. Zagaria gained protection and the right connections to buy large anoints of illegal drugs. Zagaria approved of the violence it took to protect his interests. The violence escalated to levels seen only during the Greene/Nardi wars in the 1970s.
Zagaria, morbidly obese, tipped the scales at over 400 pounds, was according to a FBI informant, "A piggy man who always looked like he needed a good shower. He had long, stringy, brown hair and a ratty mustache, we called him "Jinglebells" because he looked like a fat elf." Carmen wore lots of garish gold jewelry to show he had bling. Zagaria used his bulky size to intimidate people. He did have muscle to back up his orders. The mob provided him with people to back up him up.
The Graewe brothers were major players in the Zagaria, Sinito and Gallo drug ring. They contrasted sharply with Zagaria. The Graewes were thin, nervous, always on the move, predators looking for prey. Their nervous energy made them perfect as enforcers and guards.
His morbid obesity let people misread Zagaria's intentions. They assumed because he moved slowly, he was stupid and easily duped. This wasn't the case! Zagaria had a shrewd, cunning intelligence, however he wasn't on the intellectual level with Gallo and Sinito. Zagaria crossed people who supplied him drugs for his trafficking operation. Any complaints from his workers were answered by the Graewe brothers. His network of workers feared him because of the Graewe brothers
Zagaria couldn't manage a large criminal operation, he’d been successful managing his small illegal dice games, they were easily controlled. As a drug kingpin he let things escalate out of control, excessive violence, haphazard and poorly planed murders eventually caused the drug ring to implode. His upper level associates, after they started to fear for their lives and their families, became FBI informers.
Zagaria’s illegal profits were used to protect the drug ring. He paid tribute to Cleveland’s mob leaders and expected total protection in return. He had high interest on his loan shark debt to pay each missed payment caused the interest to grow from 150% to 250%. Cleveland’s Mafia leaders used this debt to control both Zagaria and his drug operation. The drug kingpin became a victim himself.
The drug ring’s activities drew the attention of the FBI and it started a two year investigation of the drug ring’s activities. Zagairia found himself the focus of the FBI's investigation code named OPERATION BUSMARK. The FBI considered him a major player, they wanted to close his drug ring’s operation down. Despite OPERATION BUSMARK the drug ring remained profitable for everyone involved. Nineteen people were killed to protect the Zagaria’s interests
END OF PART 3
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