Like old Tiger Stadium and the Vernors plant, Vito (Billy Jack) Giacalone was a fixture in Detroit, one of the city's best known mobsters -- a Tony Soprano type whose mug occasionally graced the 6 p.m. news.
He was a suspect in the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance. He was known as a street boss who helped run sports betting operations.
And he wasn't shy about collecting debts.
After he died last year at 88, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI, which indicated it had about 20,000 documents on Giacalone.
I became interested in Giacalone as a Detroit News reporter in the early 1990s. He had just pleaded guilty to some IRS charges and was walking out of a federal courtroom downtown.
“Mr. Giacalone, would you care to comment?” I asked. He ignored me, and with an icy stare, straight ahead, he proceeded to the elevator.
Before he went off to prison, I wrote a rather lengthy profile on him. I called his attorney David DuMouchel to request an interview. Dumouchel called Giacalone, then called me back to say that he not only didn't want to talk, but: "He's not happy" that I was doing the story.
While Giacalone was alive, we got very little information on his private goings on, even though there was always a thirst for news about the Mafia. I thought the FBI files could shed some light.
FBI Finally Releases Some Documents
A week ago, I got the first installment from the FBI, a measly 120-plus pages or so, focusing on the mid-1980s. Many were redacted, chock full of whited out spaces to hide names and certain information , and more than 250 were reviewed and withheld. The FBI said it is working on processing the rest of the documents, determining what it can release.
The pages I received provide a glimpse of the ongoing cat-and-mouse game Giacalone played with the FBI and U.S. Strike Force attorneys, who often relied on snitches, wiretaps and surveillances to keep tabs on his life.
And keep tabs they did.
FBI documents talk about seeing him play golf around town, including on the Wolverine Golf Course in Mt. Clemens; chatting with certain people on the course; people picked him up by car; a dentist appointment for some gum problems; his winter stays in North Miami Beach and a desire to influence Teamsters elections.
The FBI also got word that Giacalone could be one wily guy.
Could Listen to Phone Conversations
A 1986 document mentions a source saying that Giacalone “has the capability to monitor telephone conversations. Source advised that he/she does not know how Giacalone does this, but he/she has heard on several occasions that Giacalone has this capability. Source added that Giacalone carries binoculars around in his automobile and that he used to spot surveillance vehicles.”
An FBI document stamped Aug. 20, 1986 talked about the “Southern Summit Project” in Miami, which involved FBI agents gathering from around the country to talk about mobsters from the north migrating to south Florida for the winter.
“Based on Detroit’s presentation, Detroit LCN Capo Vito “Billy” Giacalone was chosen as one of the individuals to be targeted this year,” an FBI document said.
Wanted To Derail Teamsters President
“Based on recent source information and prior investigation... Giacalone has indicated that he intends to maintain a contact with his operation while he resides in Florida,” an FBI document said. “ In addition, sensitive source information indicated that Giacalone intends to insure that Jackie Presser is not re-elected to the International Teamsters (IBTY) presidency.”
Giacalone didn't get his wish. Presser, who had mob ties, was re-elected.
Another FBI memo stated that Giacalone would be staying at 19707 Northeast 36th Court, Apt. 10 D, North Miami Beach, “where he planned to hold meetings with (blank) and others.” One document mentioned that his son was looking after his interests back in Detroit.
The FBI files show Giacalone had concerns about the vitality of the Detroit Mafia in the mid-1980s.
“A well placed Detroit source has learned that Vito Giacalone feels that the Detroit LCN has become stagnant and thinks that the organization could benefit from an influx of new blood.”
The source told the feds that Giacalone had discussed the matter with his brother Anthony Giacalone, who thought it was a good idea, and the mob head boss, who was supposedly Jack Tocco.
Giacalone's Brother Anthony
Anthony Giacalone, whose named also appears in some of Vito’s files, was also no angel. He was supposed to meet up with Hoffa on July 30, 1975, the day he vanished.
In his latter years, Vito Giacalone lived in Sterling Heights, and conducted some business in Macomb County where, according to an FBI document: “Source advised that Giacalone has been spending a lot of time at the Wolverine Golf Course, meeting with people and also playing golf. Source advised that Giacalone’s (blank) continues to be heavily involved in Giacalones sports booking and gambling operations.”
“Source surmises that Giacalone will be conducting a lot of his business while playing golf,” the FBI document said.
Vito Giacalone never made it to the top of the chain of the Detroit mob. Though apparently he had aspirations.
“Vito Giacalone plans to takeover as head of the Detroit family,” an FBI document said.
Apparently there was some tension between the Giacalone brothers and the leadership.
Comfortable Being Mobsters
Keith Corbett, who once headed the U.S. Organized Crime and Labor Racketeering Strike Force in Detroit, and retired in 2009, says the Giacalone brothers were far more comfortable being perceived as mobsters -- much like John Gotti -- contrary to the leadership that wanted to be lower key and thought of as legit businessmen.
Apparently, for the FBI, some details were never too mundane to be included in files.
One document stated that Giacalone had a dentist appoint at 1 p.m. on June 10, 1986. “Source advised that Giacalone has developed a problem in the gum area of his mouth following surgery to implant some teeth.”
But apparently he never made, and an FBI agent mentioned to Giacalone that he had missed his dentist appointment.
An FBI document said Giacalone wondered aloud how the FBI knew that he had a dentist appointment. In that same memo, an agent noted: “Source advised that Vito Giacalone is being very cautious about what he says in his conversation.”
That was typical.
And so was the cat-and-mouse game that was was such a big part of Vito Giacalone’s life.