By Allan Lengel
DETROIT — The former acting boss of the Detroit mob, Anthony (Tony Z) Zerilli, who triggered a massive FBI dig in northern Oakland County in 2013 in search of James R. Hoffa, died several days ago of natural causes in the Ft. Lauderdale area. He was 87.
Tony Zerilli/ from WDIV video
Scott Burnstein, a local mob expert, who runs the website, Gangster Report, wrote that Zerilli was the last of the upper-echelon old guard in the Detroit mafia. He was an underboss and acting boss and son of the local Godfather Joseph (Joe Uno) Zerilli. He was also the son-in-law of the New York don Joe Profaci.
Less than a decade ago, he was stripped of his duties as the syndicate’s No. 2 in charge, Gangster Report reported.
After being out of the spotlight for quite a long time, Zerilli surfaced as a very public figure in January 2013 when he told NBC 4 New York reporter Marc Santia, formerly of WDIV that Hoffa was buried in northern Oakland County, but he had nothing to do with the 1975 disappearance. At the time of the Hoffa disappearance, that property belonged to another top-ranking mobster.
The statements put the FBI in a bind. Embarrassed before in its never-ending hunt for Hoffa, the agency would have preferred to avoid another failed dig, and the accompanying skepticisim and wisecracks from the public. On the other hand, it was hard for the agency to ignore Zerilli’s claims considered he was a guy who was once high up the chain, who could have had some knowledge.
So, in June 2013, the FBI started digging up a property in Oakland Township, but came up empty after more than two days and called it quits. Few were surprised.
Several months before the dig, Zerilli told the New York reporter that the mob intended to move Hoffa’s body to a hunting lodge in Rogers City at the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula, but never did. He gives no names, saying he’s not a snitch.
At the time, the NBC 4 correspondent Santia says Zerilli, who was hurting for money, came forward in hopes of profiting from publicity and showing he had nothing to do with Hoffa’s abrupt disappearance outside a Bloomfield Township restaurant on July 30, 1975. He has a website to promote a book in the making.
“Finally, a book will soon be published with all of the facts surrounding the Hoffa disappearance,” his website said, adding: “Many have long speculated that Anthony J. Zerilli was the ‘boss’ of the Detroit Mafia, and that he ordered the killing of Jimmy Hoffa. This is absolutely untrue.”