This Metro Detroit writer and author reports on organized crime and runs the website Gangster Report. This story is republished with permission.
By Scott Burnstein
The style, the flair, the bankroll -- it was all there.
And in the end, he proved a standup guy, refusing to throw a reputed Detroit mafia boss under the bus in federal court.
Don (Dandy Don) DeSeranno, the Motor City’s biggest gambler of the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, died of natural causes last week at age 75 in retirement in Las Vegas. DeSeranno was known for living large and dressing well. His high-rolling ways brought him into contact with underworld figures.
When called to testify against alleged Detroit mob don Jack (Jackie the Kid) Giacalone at Giacalone’s 2007 racketeering trial, DeSeranno denied feeling threatened by the then-street boss during a meeting to resolve a $350,000 debt DeSeranno accrued to mob bookies for gambling losses. Federal prosecutors in the case believed Dandy Don was also being “taxed” by Giacalone for fixing a series of mafia-backed card games at one of the Giacalone crew’s famous roaming backdoor casinos. Based primarily on DeSeranno telling jurors he wasn’t being extorted, Giacalone was acquitted of all charges in the case.
The 70-year old “Jackie the Kid” Giacalone is a convicted felon and according to the government has being heading the Tocco-Zerilli crime family since the winter of 2014, having served as street boss for the family the previous decade and a half. Giacalone’s dad and uncle, the notorious Giacalone brothers, Vito and Anthony aka “Billy Jack” and “Tony Jack,” ran the Detroit mob’s street affairs for a half-century and were considered the prime suspects in the near-mythical disappearance and murder of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa back in July 1975 at the time of their respective deaths.
Bookmakers Tied to Mob
According to FBI files, DeSeranno placed millions of dollars of bets through bookmaking operations tied to high-ranking Detroit mafia associate Allen (The General) Hilf, the No. 1 bookie in the Midwest and Jackie Giacalone’s best friend and adviser, and with Hilf’s help, ran travel and gambling junkets from Detroit to Las Vegas. Hilf and Giacalone began pressing DeSeranno to clear his debt in late 2003, per FBI documents related to the case and a “sit down” was called at some point in 2004.
An alleged Detroit gambling figure named Vincent (Vinnie Beans) Fiorlini brokered the meeting between DeSeranno and Giacalone and Hilf. Fiorlini was connected to Hilf, according to FBI informants. One informant told the FBI that the sit down took place in the back room of a strip club off 8 Mile Road. Detroit mobsters were nailed in 1996 for shaking down strip clubs on 8 Mile’s “Raunch Row,” a several-mile corridor of strip joints and go-go bars dotting the city-suburban dividing line, among other things in the landmark Operation Game Tax bust.
Tony Giacalone died of liver failure in 2001 while under indictment in the case. Billy Giacalone (d. 2012) pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and did six years behind bars. Upon Billy Jack’s release from prison in 2004, he became underboss of the Tocco-Zerilli crime family, according to federal records.
Hilf died of kidney cancer in 2014. He ran what was known as the “Capital Street Social Club Crew” in Oak Park, Michigan (just a stone’s throw north of the Detroit city limits), a group made up of gamblers, hustlers, handicappers, thieves and conmen of Jewish and Middle Eastern descent that oversaw casino rackets for the Detroit mob, both of the legal variety in Las Vegas and the illegal variety in the shadows and back alleys of Motown.
DeSeranno came from money. His family owns Cold Heading Co., one of the auto industries leading fastener manufacturers and makers of nuts and bolts for cars and machinery worldwide. DeSeranno’s nephew is Las Vegas casino mogul Derek Stevens, the architect of Vegas’ Downtown resurgence this past decade.