The Detroit Purple Gang are perhaps the most infamous in the history of Detroit, Michigan's Organized Crime. However the Detroit Italian Mafia organization was quite active... however camera shy... They were one of the most powerful Italian Mafia families short of New York and Chicago. May still be for all we know...

Just try to find photos of the early members...almost non existent. More savvy than the famed mobsters of legend...the Detroit Mob operated quite successfully and continue to this today or so they say.... Today I thought we'd take a look at Anthony Joseph Zerilli (Tony Z)....

Tony Z

Anthony Joseph Zerilli (born October 24, 1927) is an Italian-American mobster from Sterling Heights, Michigan who was the reputed underboss of the Detroit Partnership ("The Partnership") criminal organization, which is part of La Cosa Nostra.

At the time of his birth, Tony's father was an up-and-coming member of the Eastside Detroit Mob under the direction of Angelo Meli and his cousin and brother-in-law Vito William Tocco.

Joseph Zirelli (father) 1897-1977

Tony spent his teenage years working at the Detroit Italian-American Bakery in Roseville, Michigan. Like his cousin Jack Tocco, Tony graduated from the University of Detroit in 1949. In 1947, Tony reportedly became a made man in the (Detroit) Partnership by murdering Gust Andromalus in a Detroit basement.

By 1964, Tony was recognized as the leader of his own unit or "crew" within the Detroit mafia. This meant that Tony was officially the leader of his own group of criminal operators and was recognized as a leader within the Detroit partnership and the local underworld. This added power and influence gave the young Zerilli a heightened and more significant status not only within the Detroit underworld, but within the national underworld as a mid-level mobster. (Mafia Wiki)

 “Tony Z”

Detroit don Joseph Zerilli's only son, “Tony Z” was initially tagged as his father’s replacement, however following Tony Z’s imprisonment in 1973 on charges of skimming millions of dollars from a Las Vegas hotel and casino, the aging mob chieftain demoted his offspring in favor of his nephew Jack Tocco.

Both the younger Tocco and Zerilli received college business degrees from the University of Detroit-Mercy in 1949, around the same time, according to Congressional testimony, they “made their bones” and were inducted into the mafia. ( Organized Crime in Detroit CBS Detroit)

In 1949, Tony became president of the Hazel Park Racing Association and Track in Hazel Park, Michigan. Tony purchased a controlling interest in the operation for $50,000. Over the next twenty-three years, Hazel Park produced an estimated $15,000,000 a year in revenue, netting an annual profit of $1,200,000 for its investors.

Although listed as the number one man in the Hazel Park operation, Hazel Park was such a success that in August 1970 Tony, Jack Tocco, and Dominic Corrado decided to build another race track. The three men invested $2,500,000 in 280 acres (1.1 km2) of land in Hollywood, Florida, for the construction of a second racing complex.

 However, the second project, to be called Hazel Park South, was cancelled when Tony ran into legal problems in Las Vegas. Tony's legal difficulties not only canceled Hazel Park South, but in 1972 forced him and his partners to sell the original Hazel Park Complex in Michigan. Upon the sale of Hazel Park, Zerilli made $780,000 from his 92,634 shares.

Zerilli's profits from Hazel Park allowed him to enter into several other businesses, including the 1968 establishment of the Spaghetti Palace restaurant near the Macomb Mall in Roseville, Michigan.

Tony would succeed his father as the boss of the Partnership until his incarceration in 1974. Tony would be demoted while in prison and has never been recognized as the official boss of the Detroit Partnership since. His cousin, Jack Tocco, son of Detroit Partnership patriarch, Vito "Black Bill" Tocco assumed control of the crime family by 1978 with the death of his uncle Joe Zerilli, but Tony was named underboss and has allegedly remained in this highly powerful and influential position within the organization since.

Like several other legendary mafia offspring such as Santo Trafficante Jr. (Tampa), Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno (Bonanno), Anthony Carolla (New Orleans), Alphonse "Little Allie Boy" Persico (Colombo), Joseph "Big Joe" Todaro Jr. (Buffalo) and his cousin Jack Tocco, Tony Zerilli is considered "American Mafia Royalty" and at one time led one of America's most powerful mafia crime families and was called "The Boss." (Mafia Wiki)


Michael McDaniel said...

This is great RK! My parents used to tell me about the Purple Gang here in Detroit when I was growing up. At least one member of the Purple Gang are interred in White Chapel Cemetery in Troy.

Retro Kimmer said...

thanks Michael... this story took me a long time to compile. It's amazing how quiet the Detroit gang keep their profile... smart...

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