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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Kingpin of no kingdom
A Brandon man denies any Mafia ties.
By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 25, 2007
Vincent LoScalzo, the long-reputed Tampa mafia kingpin.
TAMPA - He lives in a stucco ranch home with a well-manicured lawn on a quiet Brandon street.
For the past four years he's served as the food and beverage manager at a Mediterranean-style country club in Carrollwood.
Now 70, Vincent Salvatore LoScalzo says he's just an ordinary member of the middle class, trying to make it like the rest of us.
"I'm working my tushie off," he said.
Such humdrum trappings are a far cry from LoScalzo's alleged street profile. Although LoScalzo was never successfully prosecuted for any serious crime and has regularly said he was a legitimate businessman, law enforcement agencies have, since the mid 1980s, repeatedly identified him as Tampa's Mafia kingpin.
That once meant something. Yet unlike the crime families in larger cities such as New York and Boston that are flourishing, Tampa's mob is considered almost irrelevant in 2007, said Scott Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia, a history of the Tampa mob.
So when LoScalzo says he's just a regular Joe working for a living, he probably means it, Deitche said.
"His profile has declined quite a bit in recent years," he said. "Most of the old-timers have died, so his organization has faded away. But for a time, he was recognized nationally among mobsters in other cities as the head of the Tampa organization."
LoScalzo's turf at the Emerald Greens Golf & Country Club includes a grand ballroom, poolside bar, three high-class dining rooms, and two bar and grilles.
Asked to elaborate on what his duties at the club were, LoScalzo replied: "Most of my work is office work."
The restricted membership club came under new ownership in 2003.The public faces of the project, which included millions of dollars in renovations, have been Frank Hayden and James Manley. They won permission from the County Commission three years ago to build 106 townhomes around the club. An attorney for the club, Rich Sadorf, said many other investors own the club with Hayden and Manley, but he declined to disclose them.
Sadorf said he advised Hayden and Manley not to answer questions about LoScalzo's employment because of privacy concerns.
Along with the standard golf tournament banquets and its weekly Italian night, the club recently hosted separate political fundraisers for Hillsborough County Commissioners Brian Blair and Ken Hagan.
Hagan didn't return calls, but Blair said he didn't know about LoScalzo or his history stashed in investigators' files.
"I've never heard of the guy or read about him," Blair said. "I don't know who he is."
For years, LoScalzo was a top target in law enforcement circles.
He owned bars in the 1980s. One of them was Mike's Lounge and Package on Nebraska Avenue, which state alcoholic beverage records show he was forced to sell after agents charged that the bar was a trading hub for drugs and stolen property. Rather than fight the charges, a company controlled by LoScalzo sold the license in 1985 to Michael Napoli.
Napoli was arrested four years later, and pleaded guilty to using four Hillsborough bars, including Mike's Lounge, for cocaine distribution. Investigators said he headed the cocaine laundering operation in Tampa for the Trafficante crime family. He served 61/2 years in prison.
LoScalzo was never charged, but during the FBI's investigation of Napoli, informants frequently mentioned his name, according to a 1992 Times story.
Santo Trafficante Jr., widely acknowledged as the head of Tampa's Mafia for decades, died in a Houston hospital after surgery in 1987. Two years later, Broward County organized crime investigators named LoScalzo as the power behind Tampa's mob. In 1991, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement identified LoScalzo as the heir to Trafficante.
"I don't know about the Mafia," LoScalzo told the Times that year. "I am a legitimate businessman."
In 1992, LoScalzo and 14 others, including the husband of then-Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, were charged with banking violations in an investigation of the Key Bank of Florida. The charges were dropped after it was learned investigators used wiretaps without probable cause.
What was reported on the wiretaps, however, suggested that LoScalzo had hidden interests in various bars, a violation of state beverage laws.
LoScalzo was arrested in 1994 and accused of taking part in a $300,000 scam involving oil filters. He pleaded no contest in 1997 to one count of sale of unregistered securities and was sentenced to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. That same year, the FDLE issued another report that called LoScalzo the "reputed boss of the Trafficante crime family."
In 2000, the FBI raided ValuCar Sales and Superstar, a used car lot on Bearss Avenue owned by a man named Nelson Valdes. In 2005, Valdes was arrested and charged with grand theft, punishable by as much as 30 years in prison. The FDLE accused Valdes of directing employees to deceive Ford Motor Credit, which loaned ValuCar money to buy vehicles for its inventory.
In court, Valdes said he hired LoScalzo and paid him $104,000 as an inventory manager at ValuCar. He said he had known LoScalzo since childhood and "he never did anything illegal in front of me."
Later, Valdes helped the FBI investigate LoScalzo by wearing a concealed listening device. ValuCar is now defunct. The FBI never disclosed why it raided the Bradenton-based ValuCar or how LoScalzo factored into the investigation. Search warrants were sealed, and LoScalzo has never been charged. Former agents with the FDLE who investigated LoScalzo didn't return phone calls, either.
LoScalzo said prior charges about him are false, and he didn't want to talk about the past.
"I'm working very hard," he said. "You guys are always looking for a needle in the haystack with me. If what was printed about me was true, then I wouldn't be working today."
The club's attorney, Sadorf, said the club has embarked upon an aggressive membership drive. The club's Web site touts its dining, which LoScalzo oversees, as a reason to join.
"Indulge yourself," it states, over a photo of a couple holding glasses filled with red wine.
"You will enjoy the elegance of high class dining," it says of the club's bar and grill. "With such a wide variety of drinks that you won't know where to start."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Bill Coats contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or firstname.lastname@example.org