Mafia Rarity: Tony Tocco, Acquitted in Major 'Combination' Case, Dies at 80 of Natural Causes

Joe Zerilli: his rein was long
and his death was peaceful,
which not many bosses can 
say these days.
Zerilli's tomb in Mt. Olivet cemetary.
It's the dream of every mobster, whether boss or soldier or associate or whatever, to 1.) die of natural causes and 2.) do so in their own bed. Carlo Gambino managed to pull it off, and now so did Anthony “Tony” Joseph Tocco. (Tocco also escaped a guilty conviction in a major modern-era RICO trial, another near-impossibility for a mafioso.)

Tocco was 80 years old. Read about him below.

Also: I had no idea the Detroit Mafia is as powerful as it is said to be, or that other names for it include the Detroit Combination, Detroit Outfit or, less imaginatively, the Zerilli crime family.

The man for whom the family got its name, Joseph Zerilli (Dec. 10, 1897-Oct. 30, 1977), was a Prohibition-era Detroit gangster who led the crime family known as the Detroit Partnership from the 1930s through the 1970s; his reign was longer than, and probably almost as profitable as, that of iconic Boss of Bosses, Carlo Gambino, who took over the Anastasia family, putting it under his own name, just as Anastasia had done after he killed Edward Mangano of the Mangano crime family, which is actually the progenitor of the Gambinos, which may have been renamed the Gotti family if the Feds didn't end up taking down Johnny Boy.

Another tidbit: Joseph Zerilli also died of natural causes. He was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. [Note for future post: list mobsters who died of natural causes, and those who didn't.] Another note: John Gotti did not achieve this, sadly. No one deserves to die in the manner in which he did.

From CBS Detroit:

Tocco was the brother of Detroit
mob boss Jack Tocco -- and the
longtime consigliere of the family.
Anthony “Tony” Joseph Tocco, of Chesterfield Township, the only person aquitted in a major Detroit mob case from 1996, died Friday of natural causes. He was 80 years old.

His nephew Bill Bagnasco, owner of Bagnasco & Calcaterra Funeral Homes in Sterling Heights and St. Clair Shores, said many will miss his uncle.

“He was great guy, well-respected with a lot of friends,” Bagnasco said.

Scott Burnstein, a national expert on the Detroit mob scene, said Tocco was the brother of Detroit mob boss Jack Tocco and the “longtime consigliere of the family.” Burnstein is the author of “Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit.”

“He represents one of the final links to the founding fathers of the family, which dates back to the Prohibition era,” Burnstein said. “He was representative of that second generation in the Detroit mob, which was adept not only at street activity, the normal rackets of the mob. But he was also a boardroom gangster, in that he had a business degree.

“He was just very well respected.”

In federal documents Tocco went by various nicknames, including “Tony T,” “Tick Tock Tony,” and “Tawn,” Burnstein said. He was charged in 1996, along with 16 other members of what’s known as “The Detroit Partnership” in a federal lawsuit with racketeering and other allegations. Among those indicted were his brother Jack Tocco, who was co-owner of the Hazel Park Racetrack at the time, plus underboss Anthony Joseph Zerilli.

From Wikipedia, we learn that "the Detroit Partnership -- also known as the Detroit crime family, Detroit Combination, Detroit Mafia, Detroit Outfit or Zerilli crime family -- is an American Mafia crime family based in Detroit, Michigan. It's considered one of the most powerful Italian-American crime families outside of New York and Chicago, historically and that is how the organization currently stands."

These days, who knows, it might even be stronger -- what with all the busts in New York in the past year or so.

And, "According to law enforcement sources Jack Tocco allegedly became the official boss of the Detroit Partnership on June 11, 1979, in a ceremony held at the Timberland Game Ranch in Dexter Township.

"Apparently as a sign of appreciation for the support his father gave him and to show that they were united as a family, Jack Tocco named his cousin Tony Zerilli his official underboss immediately after he was released from prison in 1979 after serving over four years of his prison sentence. Rumor has it that influential Detroit Mafia lieutenant Jimmy Q. Quasarano was named consigliere, but he was jailed in 1981, so Quasarano was forced to relinquish the powerful position and Jack Tocco's brother, Anthony Tocco was named official consigliere. According to law enforcement, Mafia historians and true crime authors, the Tocco-Zerilli regime still maintains its leadership within the Detroit Mafia, known in local underworld and law enforcement circles to this day as the Partnership and the Combination."