Mobster Anthony ("Tony Z") Zerilli, who was in prison in 1975, has made headlines this week, saying he might have been able to save his friend Jimmy Hoffa had he been on the outside.
But Zerilli failed to mention during a TV interview aired Sunday that in the early 1960s he talked about abducting the Teamster president, according to an FBI summary of wiretaps published in The Detroit News in 1976.
“Tony Z made the remark that he thought they should ‘grab that Jimmy Hoffa,’” the FBI summary says. But mobster Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, now deceased, criticized the plan, saying the Hoffa connection was keeping him out of prison, the FBI report said.
Zerilli, 85, has caused a stir in recent days because he told Marc Santia of NBC 4 New York that he knows what happened to Hoffa and where he’s buried. He said he had nothing to do with the abduction on July 30, 1975, from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Township.
Conversations from FBI wiretaps five decades ago contrast with statements Zerilli made to the TV reporter in which he talked about his affection for Hoffa and how it pained him when he learned of Hoffa’s disappearance.
“If I wasn’t away I don’t think it ever would’ve happened, that’s all I can tell you,” he said during the New York interview. “I would have done anything in the world to protect Jim Hoffa."
The conversations back in the 1960s with the who’s who of the Detroit mob, and his convictions in federal court, also raise questions about his statement during the TV interview in which he adamantly denied being in the Mafia.
Zerilli’s father, Joseph Zerilli, headed the Detroit mob, and eventually, “Tony Z” held that post until he went to prison for hiding his role in two Las Vegas casino, authorities say. When he came out in 1979, he was downgraded to a rank of captain. But he says he was briefed on what happened to Hoffa.
Zerilli’s attorney, Harold Gurewitz, expressed skepticism about the comments from the 1960s, saying: “I think it’s kind of ridiculous.”
He said the FBI summaries provide no context for the comments. “It has no significance or value at this time.”
Defense attorney Richard E. Zuckerman, who was a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Detroit in the 1970s and worked on the Hoffa investigation, said Zerilli was not considered a suspect in the disappearance.
Zuckerman expressed skepticism as to whether Zerilli would have been told details about the Hoffa abduction after he was released.
“I think someone in his position would have been told very simply and straight forward ‘Hoffa is gone.’ I don’t think there would have been any details of date, time, place and participants."
'One of the greatest unsolved mysteries'
Zerilli told the reporter Santia that he is broke and hopes to make money off the Hoffa story. He’s got a website talking about a book in the making.
“The mystery of the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa has been one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all times,” his website says.
“Many wannabe gangsters and wannabe mob associates have written books and told stories, claiming that they know what happened to Hoffa, and leading the naive public to believe them. They have made millions of dollars in book and movie deals, telling lies and deceiving people. The truth is, only a few people in this world actually knew what really happened to Hoffa. None of them have ever spoken up . . . til now!”