Anthony Joseph Zerilli was born on October 24, 1927, to Josephine Finazzo and Joseph Zerilli. At the time of his birth, Tony's father was an up-and-coming member of the Eastside Mob under the direction of Angelo Meli and his cousin and brother-in-law Vito William Tocco. 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 Partnership by murdering Gust Andromalus in a Detroit basement.
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, Tony is thought to have deferred to Jack in business dealings. Hazel Park was such a success that in August 1970 Tony, Jack, and Dominic "Fats" 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. The restaurant quickly became Zerilli's headquarters and remained a staple in Roseville under the direction of Joseph Zerilli, Rosalie Zerilli and Jack Giannosa before closing in the early 1990s.
During the early 1960s, Tony began spending a good portion of his time in Las Vegas. He was watching over the Partnerships' investments while seeking new chances to expand the family's influence in that city. Zerilli and Michael Polizzi approached mob "connection man" John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli about buying a casino. Roselli then introduced the pair to Maurice Friedman, a developer and casino owner with a string of arrests dating back to the 1950s. Friedman was in the process of developing the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. In 1964, when the Nevada Gaming Commission denied gaming licenses to Tony and Polizzi, Friedman agreed to act as a front boss for the two men. However, Friedman was also rejected by the Commission. Tony and Polizzi eventually gained access to the casino when the Commission approved former Hamtramck, Michigan municipal judge Arthur Rooks and Toledo Hotel owner Irving Shapiro as key operators in the Frontier. Friedman later testified that he was set up in the Frontier to oversee the development and financing on orders from Tony and other unseen members from Detroit.
Tony's Vegas excursion was soon ended. Friedman had been tried and convicted of cheating the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, California, and was facing a long prison sentence. In exchange for reduced prison time, Friedman agreed to testify against his Detroit bosses. As a result, Tony, Polizzi, Jack Shapiro and lawyer Peter J. Bellanca were convicted of skimming approximately $250,000 a month from the Frontier for over two years. In 1967, Roselli arranged the sale of the Frontier to billionaire Howard Hughes for $25 million. In 1970, Tony was chosen to succeed his retired father as boss of the Detroit Partnership. His reign began in 1970 and lasted until 1974, when he was sent to prison for the Frontier case. With the imprisonment of his son, Joseph Zerilli emerged from retirement to lead the Partnership until his death in October 1977. Tony Zerilli remained incarcerated until 1979 when he was released from prison regarding his previous dealings in Las Vegas whereupon he immediately took his place as the underboss of the Detroit Partnership alongside his cousin Jack Tocco who had succeeded his father as the new boss.
The Tocco/Zerilli regime lead the Detroit Mafia while keeping out of the news and its distance from law enforcement until March 15, 1996, when alleged underboss Tony Zerilli, his cousin and boss Jack Tocco and 15 other alleged Partnership members and associates were indicted on a 25 count Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act indictment, which included conspiracy to control illegal gambling within the Detroit area over the last 30 years, more involvement with hidden casino interests in Las Vegas and charges related to the defendant's alleged involvement with the criminal organization known as the "American Mafia" or "La Cosa Nostra", which is known to run organized crime in the United States. Zerilli and the rest of the alleged crime family leaders were freed on bail to await trial. Zerilli's lawyers managed to extend the trial indefinitely for their client due to his ill health. The trial eventually began in February 1998 and on April 29, 1998, the jury came back with their verdicts. Anthony Joseph Tocco was found guilty on 12 counts including two counts of racketeering, eight counts of extortion and two counts of attempted extortion. His lawyers were able to keep Tony Zerilli free on appeal until August 19, 2002, when his case came to trial and his convictions were upheld. Zerilli faced U.S. District Court judge, Lawrence Zatkoff on November 7, 2002, for sentencing.
Tony Zerilli was remanded to prison in late 2002 and as of November 2007, he is serving the final months of his sentence in a halfway house in the Detroit area. His projected release date is April 6, 2008. "Tony Z." will once again be free to lead what remains of the Detroit Mafia, one of the original 24 American Mafia crime families that controlled organized crime in the United States from the 1930s to the 1990s. The Detroit Mafia does not have the criminal, business and political power and influence it once held, but local and federal authorities agree that the Detroit Partnership is one of roughly 10 Mafia crime families left in the United States that still maintain a great deal of influence within the American underworld and Zerilli family name carries a great deal of respect within that world to this day.
By 1964, Tony was recognized as the leader of his own unit or "crew" within the Detroit Mafia. 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. This was an attempt to solidify the Zerilli family's hold upon the Detroit underworld, mainly in the areas of gambling and labor racketeering as Tony and various influential underlings were recorded by law enforcement bugs discussing various criminal plots, including gambling operations, kidnapping International Brotherhood of Teamsters chief Jimmy Hoffa, police payoff policies and the easing of internal disputes. The tapes which were recorded in the offices of Anthony Giacalone between 1961 and 1964 demonstrating Zerilli's position in the Partnership despite being omitted from the families charts during the Valachi Hearings. Giacalone is heard at one point complaining bitterly about Pete Licavoli's dominance of area gambling operations despite being out of the Detroit area for many years. Zerilli is heard placating Giacalone finally promising to have the matter heard before his father Joe Z. Zerilli and Papa John Priziola, the only two remaining senior members of the chair who could sit in judgement of Licavoli. Shortly after these tapes were recorded, 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, Giacomo "Jack" 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.
On April 4, 2008, Zerilli was released from federal prison. Zerilli was "put on the shelf" or demoted in 2008.
On January 13, 2013, NBC New York's Marc Santia reported that Mr. Zerilli claimed to know the location of the body of presumed-dead Detroit labor leader Jimmy Hoffa. Santia formerly reported for NBC in Detroit and was approached by, and later interviewed, Zerilli. In the report, Zerilli stated that Hoffa was buried in a "shallow grave" in a field in Oakland County, 20 miles north of the now-closed Bloomfield Township restaurant Machus Red Fox, believed to be Hoffa's last known whereabouts.
A report by the Detroit Free Press indicated that the location of the purported burial was near the intersection of Buell and Adams Roads, on a property reportedly previously owned by reputed Detroit crime boss Jack Tocco. Zerilli stated in the Santia NBC report that "they" intended to move the body to a permanent grave in the upstate Rogers City area, but that the relocation of Hoffa's remains never took place.
Zerilli, who was incarcerated on charges related to Las Vegas casino skimming at the time of Hoffa's July, 1975 disappearance, denied involvement in the Hoffa affair. Zerilli claimed to be a "friend" of Hoffa, whom he considered to be a "gentleman."
After denying direct involvement in organized crime, but admitting to being privy to unspecified knowledge of Detroit Partnership activities, Zerilli added, "I would've...if I wasn't away (in prison) I don't think it (the Hoffa disappearance) would've even happened.
On June 17, 2013, Detroit media outlets reported that the FBI was in the process of excavating a large tract of the Buell Road parcel in Oakland County.
Zerilli stated that he was "dead broke" in an interview with NBC NY reporter Marc Santia. In an unprecedented move by a reputed Detroit organized crime figure, the financially destitute Zerilli reportedly hired a publicist, launched a website, and discussed plans for an expose'.
On January 16, 2013, the Macomb Daily published a detailed report suggesting that Zerilli's motives for speaking publicly concerning Hoffa were not only financial, but also related to a growing rift between Jack Tocco and Zerilli that may have begun in the early 1970s, when the former partners were involved in business dealings in Detroit and Las Vegas.
Quoted in the Daily's report, former U.S. Attorney Keith Corbett said, “There is a good deal of acrimony between Tony and his cousin, Jack...and the resentment goes both ways."