Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins interviews Tony Scarpo about his family and how they fought to establish themselves independently of the Trafficante Mafia Family. Tony’s grandfather migrated from Bari, Italy, to the Pennsylvania coalfields and moved to Tampa, Florida, for an opportunity. His grandfather, Antonio, fought off gangsters in Pennsylvania, and his father, Art Scarpo, found himself in the same battle when they opened a bar and restaurant in Tampa. When the Scarpo family arrived, they encountered the powerful Trafficante family, an established American Mafia family. Tony Scarpo grew to adolescence witnessing and helping his father and uncles fight back against the Trafficantes. As an adult, Tony Scarpo achieved great success as a diamond importer and has become a generous philanthropist. At one point, he asked his sister, “Did we live through what I remember?” This put him on a path to document and memorialize his exciting family history in this book. Tony has obtained interest from a motion picture company, and a screenwriter is working on a script.
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GARY JENKINS, Tony Scarpo
I don’t know the circumstances of how this meeting came about. He may have been invited. He may have been forced, or he may have been thinking he was going to dinner with friends, but he found himself at a scene straight out of the godfather. Two men he had never seen before asked him to join them for a cup of coffee. The meeting was to take place at hares diner on Hillsborough Avenue. When my dad entered to the well known restaurant, he was escorted back to a dimly lit banquet room, wondering why the main diner tables weren’t sufficient. He heard the door slam behind him. They’re sitting at a four top or two men waiting to meet him. He noticed several other men scattered throughout the room, all standing with their eyes focused intently on him, each man standing at attention as if waiting for some sort of signal. Well, thanks a lot. Anthony. Welcome while you are tappers out there. Back here in the studio gangland wire. You just heard a little short reading from Anthony’s book about the Trafficante mafia and family and his father growing up in Tampa, Florida. Welcome, Anthony. Thank you. Thank you for having me. Well, this is kind of a long torturous trip we took to get here. This date one time, folks, I hate to admit it, but I dropped the ball here. And Anthony got ahold of me a couple of years ago, just before COVID hit. And somehow I was looking back at my old podcast by my podcast group on Facebook and the messages and I see this not that well, what the heck, I never did talk to him. Let’s go find him because I’m thinking about doing something with Scott detail. Or Scott is going to talk about the Purple Gang up in Harlem. But Scott Deitche. If you guys don’t know he is kind of the main premiere historian of the southern Florida crime families. And he has the Ybor City mob tour, which I took if you look on my YouTube channel, you’ll find my kind of going on that tour so you can get a taste for what that’s like right now. It’s February and it’s colder. And heck, you may be going down to Tampa from up in the northern part of the United States. Now, Anthony, do you live down in Tampa still? Yes, I never left. I’ve been here since 1962. And I’m still here and my whole family. Well, we’re pretty much we’ve grown up here. Yes. So you got a copy of your book there. Hold that up so that folks can see that, La Mia Famiglia: Never let them steal your name. All right, La Mia Famiglia and never let them steal your name. So this is about your family. And their interactions with the Tampa crime family or the mafia inSouth Florida. Tell us a little bit about how you grew up. I thought that I grew up normal. I thought my life was normal. I’m 62 years old now. And as I have gotten older, and as I have had friends in high school, in college and professional world, everyone tells their stories of growing up, everyone talks about the things that they do growing up, and I’m a great listener. And I sat back for many, many years. And I thought to myself, Wow, I have some of the best friends in the world. I have people I’ve known since I was 13 years old, that are still friends of mine today. And what I began to realize is that none of their stories of growing up had anything to do with my story of growing up. There were virtually no similarities at all. And one day, about four years ago, I sat down with my two sisters. And I said, you know, did we grow up like this, that these things really happen? Was this really our world? Because you grew up sometimes, and you put things out of your head, and sometimes there’s coping of things and tragedies and circumstances in your life. And I sat down with my two younger sisters. And I said, if these things really happened, if this really happened with dad, and this really happened with my did we really go through this? I knew the answer was yes. I just needed confirmation from my sister’s on that day about four years ago, that yes, these things really happened. And in essence, what happened was, we’re an Italian family. We’re from Pennsylvania and Ohio. And when I was a baby, one year old baby, my family decided to move from Ohio, to Tampa, Florida. And they didn’t just move my mom and dad didn’t just move, the entire Scarfo clan decided to move. And when we moved I’d say between my grandfather’s well I write about in the book, my grandmother and Norma surmount cousins and aunts and uncles. I’d say maybe it was a mass exodus in 1962 of about 35 people. Right, and we came to Tampa, Florida, and there were many reasons for that move. My grandfather worked in the coal mines. They were from Spangler, Pennsylvania, my dad was a truck driver and electrician trying to make living in Cleveland, Ohio. But things just didn’t look right. The future didn’t look right. And in the process of all of that, when they moved down here, of course, I’m a baby. I don’t know anything about Tampa, I’m just a baby. But my father and his brothers and his dad and all of the family did what they did best. They got into the bar business. They got into the restaurant business. They were all entrepreneurs. They wanted to stake their claim in Tampa. But the truth is, our family didn’t know anything about the history of Tampa. My family was destined for Miami. They stopped in Tampa to meet a friend and realize they liked Tampa and didn’t want to go to Miami, but they had no history whatsoever. Well, Tampa Bay has a very rich history of the mob has an enormous history going back to the 20s and 30s of the mafia. And as you mentioned earlier, you mentioned Scott Scott’s Dietsch. He’s written many books on that. And at about the time that my family came here, Santo Trafficante, Jr. was the Overlord he ran the mafia. Well, the last thing on my family’s mind was mafia, gangsters, mafioso, the Trafficantes. Family, they just wanted to survive. Okay. And the story goes, as we’re all growing up as cousins, and we all have our own big, loud Italian family. We were our own family. We didn’t have neighbors and we didn’t have family that were here. We were our own clan. So in a lot of ways we were the Italian outsiders. Tampa Bay. Historically, you mentioned Ybor City is known for a large amount of Italian immigrants, Spanish immigrants, Cuban immigrants. So this city has been enriched with immigrants and rich with Latin history, because of the cigar industry. Well, going back to 1900, what we didn’t know and what my father could have never known when he started in the bar business, and he started doing well. And my father being a resourceful Italian man and trying to make some extra money. He began to set up booking operations on the side. Yes, he sell a pizza and sell a Cuban sandwich. Here’s your beer, here’s your draft. But oh, by the way, this isn’t cutting it. So he got into bookmaking, because the dog track that’s at the dog track, or the Greyhound track, was right across the street, from my father’s bar called The Springs Tap. My dad knew he wasn’t making enough money. It was a all of the scarper brothers were resourceful. And once he started making his book Making an operation, it got big. And once it got big, the traffic contract family found out about it. So my book launches, at a point where people think just because you’re Italian, you’re in the mafia, or just because you’re Italian, you might be invited into the mafia. That is the exact opposite of my book. My book is a complete and utter clash of two Italian families, because my father would not accept their invitation into the mafia. That reading that you did it to start that was like his invitation to probably to ask him to do a sit down and you need to start kicking up this gambling money, we need a piece of that action. Is that what you’re telling me? Thanks for asking that. That’s exactly why I chose that reading because there came a time when my dad’s bookmaking was doing so well, that Santo trafficante Jr, who was an incredible leader of the mob and an extraordinarily soft spoken man, but a very lethal man never waited in. Personally, too small time issues. But what Santo did do is he would send his brother Fano, or he would send his brother Henry. They were both, let’s just say they were 100% made men, they were lieutenants in the army. And when I read that passage, a meeting was set for my father, and he wasn’t sure what was happening, who was going to be there. But as you continue on in the book, you’ll find out that it was fun. Oh, and it was Henry in that banquet room, sitting my father down, and a very large banquet room completely surrounded by their gang or their soldiers. As they began to tell my father, they were aware of what he was doing, that he was Italian, that he should join them. And by the way, we’ve already run our numbers on your numbers. We know what you’re doing. We know what you’re making. And you need that most famous word that’s always used in every mafia movie, and every family. You need protection. My father I quickly told them, he didn’t leave me protection. That’s not the way things were in Ohio and Pennsylvania in the coal mining world. We’ve got this. We’ve got this. We’ll find out when Henry did not like that answer. Yeah. So what about the police or the police in Tampa, were they totally owned by the Trafficante family. I write about that in the book as well, during the 50s, and 60s, based on all books that are written, not just my book and my research, the police, city councilmen, and politicians were all owned by the mafia, all owned by the trafficante. Family, I write about it extensively, because the corruption was so deep. And many people don’t know this. Everyone thinks of the mafia when they think of New York. And they certainly think of it when they think of Chicago, that few people know that the southern most outpost in the third largest world of the mafia was Tampa, Florida. Because from Tampa, there was Miami from Miami, there was Cuba. And so what happened was that my father was in so far over his head, but he had no idea. He was only 23. I take that back, 21. I was just a baby. By that time, my young sister had been born. And she was in a crib. And he wanted to play a little tough with them. And then, when Santo and Henry did the best they could at that fateful meeting to let him know, you don’t understand what you’re getting into. Not only do we know about you, we know about your wife, we know about your young son. But we also equally know about all of you Scarborough’s, that came from Ohio and Pennsylvania. And this isn’t going to be good for you. So my dad instantly knew. And I would actually say very, almost instinctively knew there was no turning to the police, there was no turning to city council, there was no turning to anybody for help, except his brothers, his brothers and sisters. And the book goes on to discuss how my dad created his own clan, and went head to head with them. That’s probably the thing that amazes me most, because, by about this time, I’m no longer one or two, we’ve now gotten a little Tony to be about five, six or seven. Well, that’s when my brain kicks in. That’s when I begin to start remembering the events that happened to our family, and the things that happened to my father, and the pain that we all had to suffer as a result of them trying to put my father out of business, and what I call the mini war that began, and I had to write about it. Because you can’t even make it up. I just had to write that story. Interesting. I’m always kind of curious about how this affects the extended families. I know your dad tried to protect his kids from it as much as possible. But there’s still this underlying current going through there live your lives as a family of fear. And watch out for what’s going on in your life if a buddy comes around. So can you describe that a little bit about what that was like growing up? I can that question was asked me a couple of years ago, someone asked me, what did your mother do? I mean, my mother was the protector. All Italian moms are the protector of the house. How did she protect us from that fear? My mother did the best that she could, because almost like the movie, The Godfather, either the mother really intuitively knows what’s going on completely. Or the men and the Italian families never let the women really know that all what’s going on. My feeling is my mother knew 50% of what was going on. And she tried to protect us. The problem with it was, she couldn’t protect me, because my sisters were much younger. And by this time, I’m getting old enough, and I’m going to have enough and I’m smart enough and I take trips to the bar with my dad, and I begin to see these on CD, unruly characters. I’m smart enough, even at that young age to go, that’s a bad man. That’s a good man. Right? I get this. And then for some reason, which baffles me to this day is my dad still is alive. And he tells me these stories. My dad felt that at 67- 68 years old, it was time to tell me everything. He told me. My first Come to Jesus conversation with my father was about the concept of kidnapping, what kidnapping looks like. And I write about that in the book. And he said I have to let you know that this word exists, this concept exists. And I’ve got to let you know that there is a constant threat of pain to our family of hurt to our family of kidnapping, and something could happen to me. So as a little boy, when my friends are playing soccer, or they’re going fishing, or I don’t know, maybe they’re going to summer camp, I’m worried about kidnapping. I’m worried about my father coming home, beaten, literally beaten, bloody, his eyes are black and blue. I’m having to worry about things like art. And I write about this in the book, our German Shepherd Dog, Champ, was poisoned. And a note was left behind sending the signal that my father, not only did he not stop his bookmaking, but he refused to join them. And he refused to join that army. My father’s philosophy was always that if I join them, if I join them, I’m joining them forever. And that means that maybe my brothers and he had eight brothers, but the brothers are now joining and everyone’s joining. And by that time, my father had enough sense to know how big the trafficante family was, and how influential and just quite frankly, how dangerous they were. So the family rather than running scared. The family did something that I think is kind of miraculous. My father’s bar was not opened in Ybor City, which is the Latin Quarter and or South Tampa, which was the where the aristocrats and the mafiosos had their homes and their mansions and all of these things. He went to the outskirts of town and he went to North Tampa. Not ever refer to these people in my book because I tried to be true to the words. I referred to them as rednecks in Hicks. He’s people that lived in the north side of town lived in the orange groves, and they lived in the forest and they were farmers. And they had deep southern drawers. Florida is the south. So my father found his loyalty in cracker country. These people were salt of the earth, farmers that didn’t have much education, but they love my father’s cooking. They love my father being one of them. And my father adopts a southern accent. Yeah. So in the process of adopting the southern accent, my father, his brothers, and this posse, and when I say posse, they were my uncles, they were all raised. ironworker, the farmer, the guy who won the sewage treatment company, all these people were my uncles. And that only cause more frustration with the traffic contests because they called my father a sellout. He was an embarrassment to the Italian community. But what my father was secretly doing was building this and believable loyalty of these customers and his brothers. And when the time came for them to go at it, and they did go out it physically. My dad had his army. I didn’t know it was an Army. I just knew that they were uncles. Right. Yeah. And as things begin to explode in Tampa, we’re now moving into 68 to 72. Right? When the wars would break out, or the hits would break out and the hits didn’t always have to be with a gun or a shotgun. It could be knifing. It could be jumping. It could be someone’s taking you out. I write about it in the book, they put a hit out on my dad, my dad do the hit was coming. And he had all of these people in the bar, my father’s bar. And they just looked like they were old timers sipping their whiskey, right. And when they hit came and they came in the bar, my father made his way to the door, deadbolt the door so no one could come in including the police and proceeded to beat the hell out of that group of people. So he survived. Thank goodness, he survived and they don’t think he missed it. What is your father’s name? First name? I’m sorry. It’s art Scarfo Arthur Scarpo. Now as your family were they from Sicily or Southern Italy, or sorry, they were from Bari, Italy. So Bari would be on the Adriatic Sea and is a port city right across from Naples. So we’re Naples is directly across the country. It is a port city. So they didn’t have those Sicilian roots like the Mafia a river the Camorra is more like up there. I believe the N’Drangheta, I can’t remember but it’s not like the Sicilian Mafia. That also made a difference for him, I think on his psyche about whether he was gonna give into these guys or not. Think about it for a second. So if you’re looking at Bari or you’re looking at Naples and you look at Sicily, you’re not too far away. So the family had to know what the mafia Was it what system it was? That was interesting. They were just hard working Italians, they probably had no interest on it, nothing to do with the mob, because the end was never going to be a good end. Yeah. I tell you what, the fact that he couldn’t depend on the criminal justice system. If you think of it today in today’s world, if we can’t depend on the criminal justice system, then we’re kind of screwed, you know, and he couldn’t depend on the criminal justice system. It was like Armageddon, it was like after there is no established authority than it’s ever man for himself and for the strong man then have to rise up and protect those that around them is what I hear you saying and that, yeah, like that’s what he did.
And that would actually go for all of Tampa all of Tampa was on the take, the history of Tampa. Again, we referenced Scott and his tours of Ybor City, people had to comply. It didn’t matter if you were Spanish, or if you were Cuban, or if you were Puerto Rican, because the melting pot of Tampa was so glorious, because the cigar industry was the world’s largest cigar industry next to Cuba, and the base of that, and that’s why in some references to Tampa, it’s called cigar city. These immigrants came to work in the cigar factories that pumped out, again, a great supply. And I think everyone was at the whim of the Trafficantes, as long as you were nice to them and you played their games and especially, you’ve got the gambling rackets, you’ve got Bolita. You’ve got dice, you’ve got poker, you’ve got horse racing, Jai Lait. But you also, as things began to develop deeper into the 70s, you had narcotics? Well, some Italians refused to get involved in the narcotics business. And again, my father, nothing to do with narcotics did not like it, his bar business began to grow the war and the tension continued to grow between these two groups of people. But the undoing and part of the undoing of the Trafficante family is when there were enough people in Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department or the vice squad that were enough people that said this reign of corruption has gone on so long in Tampa. There were enough good guys trying to break that. And one of them very famous story in Tampa was Richard cloud, okay, he was a tech detective. He was on vise and he began to break in cracked trafficante he began to break the narcotics. Forget about the prostitution, forget about your gambling, your Bolita. Tampa did not have the stomach for narcotics and heroin and all the things that were beginning to happen that were corrupting our city at that time. And the story goes and the news reports go. Well, we all know the fact Richard Cloud was assassinated and it was a mob hit. Well, that mob hit sparked it was became infuriating, because then the FBI came to Tampa. And when the FBI came to Tampa to take over this case, because one of their own good guys had the courage and the bravery to start destroying and breaking up the mafia. My dad instantly saw that as a crack. He now knew that the diversion of the FBI coming and the police force now coming down on the Trafficante Clan, he knew my dad could make a break for it. And what I mean by making a break for it, he could go big time into his bar business. My dad was no saint. He had a gambling racket of his own. Remember, no touching of narcotics, no touching of any of that. There were things that my dad that were Italian unsavory, but he did it. Right. All of the attention was off my dad, art. All the attention was off the Scarpa family. And the FBI literally helped bring down the Trafficante family. And that was our escape. People asked, How did you live? If we got beat and shot and stabbed out, my dog ended up getting poison. They tried to do some terrible things to me, my family when my father wasn’t home, and I was 13 years old, I had to defend my family with a shotgun. It was the biggest sigh of relief that we knew that they didn’t care about us anymore. They cared about going to jail. They cared about the electric chair, and they cared about their entire organization being destroyed. And if you read the history of Richard Cloud and his assassination in Tampa, you’ll see that was the beginning of the end of the mafia in Tampa.
Well, I’d heard that Richard Cloud story before I may have to take a deeper dive into that one of these days. That sounds pretty interesting. Now your dad, your father, he would like under the radar. Yes. Well, as far as law enforcement was concerned by this time He continued to run a bookmaking off track betting it sounds like I don’t know, did he do other sports but to have a sports book or just off track? Oh, he stayed with Greyhound. They would also Highline was a big sport down here. I came up from Miami, right huge sport, not only sport, the mob and not the Tampa mob, but I believe it was the New York mob had infiltrated them. So my dad knew enough to stay away from the depths of high lie, because that was untouchable. Right? He had his poker games, back room poker games. He had his dice games, he had the Greyhound truck, he had enough to make him happy. So he just like went around, went along and kind of underneath the surface, while traffic contact and the FBI are going at it as the kind of linchpin on that was this Richard Cloud and narcotics. So that’s interesting. See those Oh, guys knew what they were doing. They said, don’t mess with narcotics. There’s a lot of buddy in it. But it’ll get you every time. I don’t know how many of these stories I’ve seen where it got him got him. It’ll takes a lot of people down when they do it. So it’s 2023. I’m 62. I live in Tampa. We live in Florida. So we know about the horrible on drugs that have come up through Miami over the 80s and cocaine and heroin narcotics. I was too young to know that the narcotics gig in the 70s was like a code of honor, you want to be a mobster, you want to be a gangster, you wanna be in the mafia. There’s like this incredible code, that you can do all of these terrible things, but you can’t touch drugs. I know. Crazy thing. But my dad never believed in the drugs. And the reason I believe my father never believed in drugs. And not only that his brothers and his entire clan, is some of the first level people that got involved in those drugs were children, and young teenagers. Everything was a sense of family. And we couldn’t destroy that family. And drugs would do that, of course, right does drive not only other families, but end up destroying his own family. We see that right here in Kansas City. We got several younger kids of some of our prominent mob families that all got addicted to Coke, crack cocaine primarily and methamphetamine and ended up just dying to early horrible death of just been ill health and that kind of thing he say that is addiction is what killed him. So what’s interesting and trafficante. And that whole family that goes back to the 30s, Kansas City, in the 30s, had this heroin connection. When Lucky Luciano in the New York mobs had this pipeline set up to Cuba, to Tampa to Trafficante. And then up to Kansas City and Chicago and New York. And all over the place. We had a guy that regularly went back and forth to Tampa to bring heroin back to Kansas City. So there’s a long history of that. We’ve got a family that finally brought him down in the end and that and Rico and wiretaps. So again, the untouchable Richard Cloud, and I highly encourage you to read the story about Richard Cloud one, someone of that prominence of the assassination was bold. It was two men, two hired mafioso guy went straight to his house, opened the door. He was getting ready for work, thank God, his wife had left already and just shot him right in his doorway, killed him right there. And it was so brazen. It was so bloody, he was high ranking, right, he was making headway into bringing some of these guys to justice. And it’s not a surprise that the FBI swooped in on Tampa, it’s not a surprise that all of those people including Trafficante, including all of those henchmen, were all put on the stand for questioning. I look back in my book, and I think to myself that you got lucky, you really got lucky because their attention was so diverted, that you were able to just finally after eight years evade them. And I think it’s a testament my father turns 86, and a few months, I turned 62. And just a few days, we’re here because of circumstances, in many ways we shouldn’t be here. Really not at ease on out of all that is of our business and everything just kind of got older and sold off the bar and the gambler didn’t go away. We know that somebody else probably had come in it was working with him and ended up taking that action over so I love getting a little kick today. Yeah. I love that question. Because when I started to write the manuscript for this book, my father said, No, you’re not doing that. I said, No, that is fading. The memory is fading. This is a crazy story. And it’s real and we all know it’s real. Everything is real that happening. No you can’t wirte that. I said, No, I’m gonna write this manuscript, but I’m gonna give it to you as a gift at least that way it’s in writing. And then after you read the manuscript, if you think it’s worth publishing, you let me know. story goes, I gave it to him on Father’s Day, he had the manuscript, he and my stepmom read it. Two or three weeks later, they were pleased with the way that I told the story. And they gave me the okay to publish him. My father not only stayed in the bar business, my father grew to as many as two or three bars and nightclubs and packaged stores, my father instead of gambling, because gambling ultimately was going to be his end, because let’s not forget now, the assassination of Richard Cloud, the downfall of the mob, the downfall of the Trafficantes, all eyes were on Tampa for about four years. So my father had done so well and amassed successful enough life, not just for himself. But for us. What my father actually ended up doing was stopped all the gambling completely, there was no need to do it. The bars themselves and the nightclubs and the package stores and liquor stores were so successful, that he actually ended up starting a check cashing business. So we joke about that today. But in the 70s, there were no regulations for check cashing. If you didn’t have an ID, you couldn’t go to a bank and cash your check. And Tampa has an enormous amount of unions and union halls. So we bring people in from Kansas City, or we bring them in from Missouri, or we bring them from New York, and they’re doing a job in Florida and they’re getting union wage, they physically got a check. Well, the check, no one could deposit the check in locally because the bank wouldn’t allow it. My dad cashed all the union checks. Let’s just say that my dad went as legit as a human being. Then I will tell you, he’s soon to be 86. At 75, he sold his last bar, and my father is in happy, blissful retirement. Good. I’m happy for him and happy for you and your family that you survived that there’s a certain amount of trauma that everybody’s gonna carry with it. But sometimes that trauma makes you more resilient and makes you able to face other things as you go through life. So it’s a trauma is a difficult thing. I childhood traumas can be tough. Yeah, I look back and I think to myself, because again, my sisters are both alive. And I would sit down and go, Debbie Antoinette, how did we survive that? How did we really survive that? How is it possible? Then the opening paragraph of my book, says, this was our normal, and we didn’t know any other normal. So we had no choice but to survive. That was what we did. But I live to tell the story. Great. Well,
Anthony, I really appreciate you coming on and tell him all my fans out there the listeners to the story of basically of your family. And it’s an interesting story La Mia Famiglia. Folks, I’ll have links to it down in the show notes. If you want to get that book I highly recommend. It sounds like a great story. And an untold story, a little known story of southern Florida for the real mob kind of historian. Listen, on the surface, Traficante went to Apalachin in New York. Trafficante went here and went there. Trafficante wants to talk to Carlos Marcello, or whatever. This is the real deal where the rubber meets the road, which is what I like to deal with myself, is the real deal where people really met the mom on their own grounds.
Yes, yes. Very real. And I’m glad it’s in the past.
All right, Anthony. Thanks a lot for coming on. Folks. Don’t forget, I like to ride motorcycles. So if you’re out there in your car, look out for motorcycles. If you have a problem with PTSD, or your friend or relative does, and they’ve been in the service, go to the VA website and get that hotline number. If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, our friend, former mobster Anthony Ruggiano has a hotline and he’s just Google Anthony Ruggiano and recovery and you’re gonna find that hotline and Anthony can give you some help. So thanks a lot, Paul, for coming on.
All right, thank you so much. Appreciate it.