Feature Articles

May 2000

Talking Tocco's

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

Nove Tocco, a soldier in the Detroit mob and grandson of Joseph Zerilli, the Outfit's founder, is the nearest thing that the mob has to royalty, and he's decided to turn state's evidence.

Last month Tocco sat in a Detroit court room and spilled the beans against his cousin, crime boss Jack W. Tocco, a graduate of the University of Detroit He's the first Detroit Mafia member to turn on the family since it was founded in 1921 by Gaspare Milazzo.

The family has been coming apart at the seams for a while, ever since 73 year old Jack Tocco allegedly took the helm in 1977 from Joseph Zerilli, the outfits stabilizer.

Tocco dug his own grave when he picketed the federal courthouse in Detroit and charged the government with slander and harassment of the Italian-Americans. Shortly afterwards, the Detroit mob was rocked by a string of indictments in 1997 and now Nove Tocco, Jack's nephew, is talking up a storm in a dispute which, essentially, grew out of a long brewing family feud.

The Detroit outfit, according to legend, was started by Gaspare Milazzo, in about 1922 after he fled a murder rap in Brooklyn, New York, accused of murder. Milazzo was a made member of the Mafia. Milazzo's partner in the murder was Victor Maggadino, who fled to Buffalo New York and established a Mafia family there.

Milazzo had a short reign as boss. He was stabbed to death in 1930 in a fish market by Gaetano Gianolla, in an incident that stemmed from an inter family dispute. Gianolla, an old fashioned Mafia type took Milazzo's place as boss of Detroit and ruled with an iron fist until 1944 when Joe Vitale took over as boss.

Vitale, another old world, kill-first-talk-later type, lasted until his death in 1964, when Joseph Zerilli took over upon Vitale's death.

When Zerilli died, he was succeeded by his underboss, Jack Tocco. Robert F. Kennedy placed Tocco at the Apalachin meeting in 1959, although many crime writers disagree.

Tocco is the son of "Black Bill Tocco, who was the interim for a while after Zerilli's death. Unlike his son, "Black Jack" Tocco avoided the limelight and stuck to the traditional rackets.

Jack Tocco Jr. was indicted in 1999 on gambling charges. Tocco has one prior arrest, from 1979, for attending an illegal cock fight. In 1990, the state of Michigan forced Tocco to sell his shares in the Hazel park Race Track, due to his alleged ties to organized crime.

In 1999, Jack Tocco was arrested, convicted and sentenced to a year and a day in prison on charges of racketeering and conspiracy, but, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge who sentenced Tocco originally was too lenient in his sentence.

Nove Tocco, Jack's nephew, was the government's surprise witness in a sentencing hearing. In an hour of testimony, Tocco outlined a Detroit criminal empire and gave information on authorized murders, beatings and extortions. His testimony for the government was part of a deal to reduce a 16-year prison sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and weapons violations. He has done time for selling cocaine, is still testifying and insiders say he has an axe to grind because he was stuck behind bars while Jack Tocco walked free after a year and a day.

After his testimony, Nove strode out of the courtroom staring directly at relatives who turned their faces away from him.

Tocco said he joined the mob, or the "Combination" as he called it, in the 1960s at a young age and was taken to Las Vegas in 1969 "to be shown how things work." By the 1980s, Tocco said, he "was making a street living ...involved in the cocaine business."

Released from prison Tocco entered a partnership with Paul Corrado and "we started to street-tax people involved in illegal gambling ...collect debts and generally whatever you can do to try to make a buck."

He said he disliked collecting street taxes from gamblers, because it was dangerous and attracted law enforcement. "It brought them a lot of headaches," and Jack Tocco thought, "it would be better for us to dress up twice a year in black and go out and make a score ...rob or rip somebody off."

During the trial, prosecutors revealed that they had bugged Nove Tocco's car and captured Tocco and Paul Corrado in an attempt to shoot out a house window to intimidate a gambler. The two gangsters got lost on their way to the attack and worried aloud that their wives would get mad because they were late getting home.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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