Tampa Gangster Jimmy Velasco’s “The List” exposed!

Posted in People on Monday, April 15, 2013. Written by Paul Guzzo-Tampa Tribune

Tampa Gangster Jimmy Velasco’s “The List” exposed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Date: December 12, 1948, shortly before 7:30 p.m.

Place: 1510 20th Street in Ybor City

Wearing a long coat and a hat that covered half his face, the killer snuck out of the shadows as his prey, known-gangster Jimmy Velasco, unlocked his Buick and opened the door for his wife and daughter.

A gunshot shattered the silence in the Ybor City neighborhood. Despite being the daughter of a powerful Mafioso, Velasco’s daughter was ignorant to violence. She thought the gunshot was a firecracker, so with a smile she looked up, expecting to see local teens dancing in the street as they set off more. Instead, she saw her father, who had been in such a good mood all night as they visited with friends, suddenly overcome with dread. He shoved her to the floor of the car. As she stared up at the car’s roof, she realized the loud bang she thought was a firecracker had shattered something else –the window. Someone was shooting at them.

Mafia hits were supposed to have a “code of ethics,” one of which was to not involve the prey’s family. This particular hit man did not seem to care about the “rules.” He grabbed Velasco’s wife and used her as a human shield so that Velasco would not return fire. Unable to protect himself, Velasco was nothing more than a target. The killer yelled out, “I’ll get you this time,” as he unloaded his clip. Five bullets from a .38 automatic pistol penetrated Velasco’s body–two over the heart, one high in the left shoulder, one on the left arm above the elbow, one in his left side and one in his head just about the left ear–before he pitched forward in a pool of blood.

The killer then escaped into the dark night as quickly as he appeared.

Velasco was rushed to the Centro Asturiano Hospital and was pronounced dead upon arrival.

One of the reasons such a crime was committed was to bring an end to one man’s role in the underworld. On this occasion, the intended motive behind the hit backfired.

During the investigation of Velasco’s murder, a “payoff list” was discovered that named elected officials, law enforcement officers and others who allegedly took money from Velasco in return for protection and favors. This list thrust Tampa’s crooked ways into the national spotlight.

However, in February 1949, a grand jury declared the payoff list to be a fraud, made up to tarnish the good names of public officials. The names on the list were never exposed to the public and the list was then locked away so that no one would ever see it…until now.

An anonymous source recently provided Cigar City Magazine with Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff list and for the first time ever the names are exposed. They are (as they appear on the list):

Many Garcia, Nelson Spoto, Julio Palaez, Octavio Alfonso, Ed Ray, Chief Eddings, Sheriff Culbreath, Grimaldi (Columbia Bank), Judge Henry Termite, Joe Rodriguez, Danny Alvarez, Rex ????, Judge Potter, Judge Spicola, Red Fisher, Senator, Mayor Hixon, Doctor and hospital, Henry Garcia, G.M. Hammond, Benny Vigo, Hal Whitehead, Cy Young, [Illegible name], Charlie, Johnny, Nick and all the boys.

Why expose the names of men on a list that was declared a hoax in 1949? Because perhaps the list was not a hoax. Perhaps the men on this list were guilty of being in cahoots with a known gangster or gangsters. This alleged payoff list is not the first time a Tampa secret from this era has been told. Published federal investigations of that era, as well as grand jury testimony leaks, retired law enforcement officers, Mafiosos and their associates have gone on the record with reporters, authors and historians painting a clear picture of just how corrupt this city was in the early to mid-1900s.

Using information collected through those sources over the years and applying it to the alleged Velasco payoff list, we can now look into the historic rearview mirror to cast some doubt on the grand jury’s decision. Perhaps the grand jury was wrong. Or perhaps, it was persuaded to make the wrong decision. And perhaps Jimmie Velasco’s murder and the possible subsequent cover up of the truth behind the list included law enforcement and elected officials on the city, county and state level. Perhaps, even the mayor of Tampa and governor of Florida were involved.

As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And that is how the tale of Jimmie Velasco’s alleged payoff list begins–with a power struggle that began in 1947.

 

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Velasco List A

 

CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

Velasco List Back

The Election

Jimmie Velasco was out of the racket. He happily resided in California with his wife and daughter. He had moved there at the behest of his wife, who feared for his safety in Tampa, where he had been involved in the city’s underworld since at least the 1930s. According to friends and family, Velasco was contemplating using the money he made in Tampa’s illegal industries to buy a restaurant in California so he could live his remaining years free of numbers running, guns and the fear of having power snatched away with one well-placed bullet. But as Vito Corleone once said, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in!”

According to a post-murder notarized statement dated February 28, 1949 and written by Velasco’s brothers–John, Roy and Arthur–it was January 1947 when Jimmie Velasco received a phone call from his “old friends” in Tampa. These friends made up “The Syndicate” that the Velasco brothers stated controlled all gambling in Tampa–Sheriff Hugh Culbreath, State Attorney J. Rex Farrior, Tampa Chief of Police J.L. Eddings and now known gangsters Jimmy and Sammy Lumia, Salvatore “Red” Italiano, Tony, Tom and Frank Diecidue, Gus Friscia, Primo Lazzara, and Santo Trafficante, Jr. The partnership between law enforcement and gangsters was simple–in return for a share of the riches, the sheriff and police chief agreed to turn a blind eye to the gangsters’ illegal operations and to help put competing gangsters out of business by shutting down their games and arresting them.

Velasco familyHowever, the 1947 elections threatened this power structure. Six of the seven seats on the Tampa City Council were up for grabs. The only way law enforcement could get away with its corrupt activities was if the local government, also for a share of the riches, pretended they were ignorant to The Syndicate’s ways. If the wrong men were elected, aka honest men, The Syndicate could have been ruined.

“I remember that election,” said Leland Hawes, a former Tampa Tribune crime reporter and historian. “I was still in college at the time, but I remember that election because it was supposed to be the one that cleaned up the city.”

Hawes explained that six of the seven city council seats were up for grabs and the incumbents were known for “talking with the wrong people.” The Tampa Tribune, he said, backed the six challengers, believing the new blood could clean up City Hall.

However, perhaps someone else backed these new candidates as well.

According to the Velasco brothers’ statement, The Syndicate called Velasco in the first month of 1947 because they needed a favor; they needed him to return to Tampa and help them control the elections. In his book The Silent Don, Scott Deitche wrote that Velasco was “an astute observer of the election system and his method of ensuring votes for candidates favored by the Mob was foolproof.”

“He did this in many ways,” said Deitche when asked to further explain the statements in his book. For instance, perhaps he would give money to candidates for their campaign with a wink-wink that this money came with a promise that they would scratch his back in return for him scratching theirs. Perhaps he would use it to privately hire people to stump throughout the city for the candidates he supported. Or perhaps he would buy votes.

“He could give a few dollars to homeless people, struggling families or just anyone looking to make easy money in exchange for votes,” explained Deitche. “When Velasco promised a candidate X amount of votes, they knew he would bring them that exact number of votes.”

Velasco’s brothers stated that The Syndicate’s phone call was convincing. Velasco agreed to return to Tampa and spend $29,000 on the election. Although Hawes claimed the 1947 election was supposed to clean up the city, considering that The Syndicate was happy with the outcome that saw the six challengers win the council seats, the opposite seemed to have occurred.

According to the Velasco brothers’ notarized statement, their brother spent the $29,000 with the understanding that two-thirds of it would be repaid. The remaining difference possibly bought him impunity from law enforcement.

 

The Payoff List

The election had bought Velasco some power. And if the payoff list is legitimate, it added to it, as it provides names of law enforcement officials and politicians who could have helped him stay in power and put rivals out of power. It also mentions a few judges and attorneys. Such men worked alongside law enforcement to strengthen a gambler’s power. For instance, if the sheriff or police chief ordered the casino owned by one of Velasco’s rivals to be shut down and everyone arrested, the rival and his men would then have to stand trial in front of a judge who owed Velasco favors and be prosecuted by an attorney who owed him a favor, mostly likely ending in a conviction. Also, if a defense attorney was secretly on Velasco’s payroll and he defended a rival, he could throw the case without anyone suspecting a thing. On the other side of the equation, if one of Velasco’s friends was arrested, these judicial friends would most likely enable the friend to be acquitted; the judge could ignore the evidence or if it was a jury trial and the prosecutor was on Velasco’s payroll he could do a shoddy job.

There is no date on the list or a length of time that it documented. Nor is it clear if the one-page in Cigar City Magazine’s possession is the entire list or just a portion. The list mentions Christmas and men who were elected to office in 1947, which means this page probably documented payoffs in December of either 1947 or in 1948 right before Velasco was murdered.

The names are not always complete and sometimes do not list a job title. It is easy to deduce to whom some of the names refer, such as Sheriff Culbreath. It could be argued that others, such as Manny Garcia, could refer to one of the dozens of men who could have owned such a common Latin name in a Latin town. However, deductive reasoning and that historical rearview mirror enable us to figure out the likely person to whom such names refer.

If this list is real and you combine the favors those he paid off would have owed Velasco with the favors those he helped get elected would have owed him, Velasco was definitely becoming a powerful figure in Tampa’s underworld, perhaps THE most powerful.

If this list is real, it provides the clearest look at just how crooked this city was at the time because while some of the people are old-hat when linked to corruption, others are being exposed for the first time and are men who have always been remembered as honest.

 

Law Enforcement Payoffs

The list documents Velasco paying Sheriff Culbreath $7,000 for “personal” reasons; Police Chief Eddings $2,200 for “personal, for “a ring present by syndicate” and for his mortgage; and Lieutenant Danny Alvarez for his “wife’s hospital bill.” Interestingly, when the list mentions the mortgage, it says, “part of home mortgage paid by Laurence Hernandez over 100000.00.” The only known Laurence Hernandez in Tampa at the time was the owner of the Columbia Restaurant, however he spelled his name “Lawrence.”

While the grand jury later said that the payoff list from where these numbers came was fake, this was not the only time these officers of the law had their name attached to corruption.

In 1938, when he was Constable Culbreath, a grand jury requested that then-Governor Frederick Preston Cone remove Culbreath from office because they believed he was working with the gamblers rather than against them. The governor ignored the plea and in 1941 Culbreath was elected sheriff.

In December 1950, when the federal Kefauver Commission came to Tampa as part of its investigation of organized crime in major cities, it was discovered that Culbreath had at least $128,000 saved and scattered throughout banks in Florida and Georgia, even though his financial records indicated he had only $27,000 in cash saved when he was elected sheriff and had earned only $36,014.98 in the nine years since. When a former numbers runner for Jimmie Velasco took the stand during the Kefauver Commission’s hearings, he testified that during the 1948 election Velasco told him to deliver money to Culbreath. Then, Velasco’s cousin testified that he often saw the sheriff’s name on Velasco’s payoff lists. Also regularly on Velasco’s lists, he testified, was Chief Eddings.

Alvarez was known as Mayor Curtis Hixon’s pet police sergeant. Late in life, Alvarez openly admitted to his corrupt dealings. He once admitted to raising $100,000 from “our friends,” noting that $40,000 went for purchasing votes for Hixon and for ensuring that officials would not interfere with corruption.

 

Government Payoffs

Mayor Curtis Hixon is on the alleged payoff list, although no amount of money is mentioned. All that is written is, “board and all the departments Christmas.” This Major Curtis Hixoncould possibly mean they either loaned him money for, or bought presents for, the mayor’s employees.

Velasco’s payoff list also mentions every member of City Council.

Councilman Julio Pelaez is mentioned individually for a total of $3,900 for “personal” and a “new car.” A friend of Pelaez’ is also on the list–Octavio Alfonso allegedly received a total of $140 for “personal.”

Councilman Joe Rodriguez allegedly received $140 for “help me personal and drive our car each day.” Perhaps this means he was paid to drive Velasco.

Finally, the entire City Council is listed toward the bottom of the list – “Henry Garcia, P. Joseph Rodriguez, C.M. Hammond, Benny Vigo, Hal Whitehead and Cy Young, liquor for Christmas.” “Cy” was a nickname; when he ran for office, he did so under A.H. Young.

Like the aforementioned officers of the law, there is other evidence that the mayor and some of his City Council received money from gamblers.

Besides Alvarez’ late life admission that implicated Mayor Hixon as being on the payroll of gamblers, an October 5, 1947 Tampa Daily Times headline read, “Gambling Interests Rated No. 1 Power in Tampa Politics.” According to the article, “virtually every gambler in the city was out for Mayor Hixon.” At the Kefauver hearings, a numbers runner testified that he once gave Cy Young $500. And Rodriguez was tied to the Velasco brothers a few more times over the years.

 

Judicial Payoffs

The Judge Spicola on the alleged Velasco payoff list most likely refers to Judge Nelson Spicola. Judge Nelson Spicola was a justice of the peace and was cited as the presiding judge in newspaper articles referring to gambling trials during this era. The list allegedly reports that Judge Spicola received $500 for “Personal Joe Rodriguez case” and “care each case ????” There are no documents tying Councilman Rodriguez to a trial around that time, but perhaps the judge was paid to help him avoid charges.

“Judge Spicola was questionable,” said Leland Hawes. When pressed for more on why he was questionable, Hawes would only say, “Well, we hung out in some of those places with the old time politicians.”

Hawes said that the judge listed as Judge Hendry Termite most likely refers to Judge Marion Hendry. He said he never heard of him referred to as “Termite” during his time as a crime reporter nor did he ever hear of any link between the judge and gamblers. Judge Hendry’s alleged payoffs total $250 for “cases, extras and tips.”

Hawes said Judge Potter probably refers to Judge Robert Potter, who was a police court reporter at the time. Velasco’s alleged payoff list claims that Judge Potter earned $400 but does not state a reason. Hawes said he never heard Judge Potter mentioned as crooked.

The first attorney listed is defense attorney Manny Garcia. He allegedly received $7,000 for the duration of this list for “personal” and for “each case in Judge Spicola court.” Perhaps he and Judge Spicola worked together on some cases that helped Velasco.

Garcia has a long link to organized crime. Though he never admitted to direct dealings with gangsters, he openly admitted to be being friends with them and being privy to some of their secret conversations about their illegal activities. The gangster friend he was most often linked to was Charlie Wall, the dean of Tampa’s underworld and who could be the link between Velasco and Garcia. Wall gave Velasco his start in the gambling business. While the names Charlie, Johnny and Nick on the bottom of the alleged payoff list are not provided last names, considering Velasco’s association with Wall, it would be a safe bet to write that they refer to Charlie Wall and his two drivers, Johnny “Scarface” Rivera and Nick Scaglione.

Nelson Spoto is known by most in Hillsborough County as a former Circuit Court Judge. At the time this list was discovered, he was a county attorney. According to the list, he allegedly received $4,000 for “personal.” While Spoto was never once accused of being in cahoots with gangsters, he was known to be good friends with Manny Garcia.

Other attorneys mentioned are Red Fisher, which refers to County Solicitor V.R. Fisher who was responsible for gambling investigations, and Rex, which refers to State Attorney Rex Farrior. Neither has a monetary amount or reason listed. In later years, both men continued to stay in the news for suspected ties to the underworld. Two gamblers testified at the Kefauver hearings in 1950 that they hand delivered payoffs to Farrior. In 1952 when Fisher was up for reelection, a group of men formed an organization called VOTE (Voice of the Electorate) and announced they would only support honest candidates. That election season, they put the entirety of their political clout behind Fisher’s opponent, Paul Johnson.

With so much evidence pointing to those on the alleged payoff list being crooked, it is extremely plausible that it was indeed real and helped propel Velasco toward the top of Tampa’s underworld food chain.

 

Fatal Flaw

Hawes explained that even if a gambler had local law enforcement officers, judges and attorneys on his side, the state could still intervene in his affairs either by sending its own investigator to the area, calling for a grand jury or by overturning a local judge’s decision via the Florida Supreme Court.

And this is why some believe Velasco was murdered–he accumulated power on the state level.

Apparently, The Syndicate was not blind to Velasco’s growing power. They’d earned favors by bringing in Velasco to work the 1947 elections, but candidates in the 1948 election must have taken notice of Velasco’s abilities; they too would want Velasco’s assistance, this time without The Syndicate acting as middle man, meaning they would not owe The Syndicate any favors.

At some point after the 1947 election, according to the statement, Velasco was instructed by Primo Lazzara to leave town because The Syndicate no longer needed his political power; they had gotten the election results they wanted.

However, it seems that Velasco knew he had the power. After the threat from The Syndicate, Velasco spoke with Mayor Curtis Hixon about the situation. Soon after this meeting, according to the Velasco brothers’ statement, The Syndicate was forced to allow Velasco to remain in Tampa and sell numbers. Why would he leave a city where he had so much power to go back to California and become an unknown restaurant owner?

The Syndicate had other ways of dealing with men like Velasco, wrote his brothers in their notarized statement. Sheriff Culbreath and Police Chief Eddings had their deputies and officers arrest Velasco’s numbers runners while ignoring The Syndicate’s two new gambling houses–The Jockey Club at 114 E. Lafayette and the Flamingo Bar on the corner of 18th Street and Eighth Avenue in Ybor City. The idea behind this plan seems to have been to deprive Velasco of money while allowing The Syndicate’s bank accounts to grow. If they succeeded, Velasco would not be able to fund elections or pay off officials while The Syndicate could have continued to do both.

However, as the 1948 general election grew near, wrote the Velasco brothers, The Syndicate realized it did indeed need Velasco’s help. Worried their candidates were going to lose, they asked him to support Culbreath for reelection and Bill Myers for governor. . (According to the alleged list, Velasco was loaned $2,000 for the election by the Grimaldi family’s Columbia Bank.) He agreed to help Culbreath, but instead supported Warren Fuller for governor. That was Velasco’s deadly decision.

Fuller won and Velasco was the only major gambler in Tampa to support him. This supposedly meant he would be the only gambler in the city with the governor’s ear. He would be able to place friends in high profile state jobs that protected his interests alone and he had the power to exact revenge on The Syndicate for trying to put him out of business by asking state law enforcement to usurp Tampa and Hillsborough County’s.

“Jimmy had the governor in his back pocket,” former gangster Ralph Rubio was quoted as saying in The Silent Don. “That cost Jimmy his life.”

Talk in the underworld was that Velasco was on the verge of usurping The Syndicate. They had created a monster. After all, if they had never called him he would still be in California. Their greatest threat had been the 1947 election, a threat Velasco eliminated. By murdering Velasco, The Syndicate took care of its new greatest threat, which ironically was Velasco.

“Plus,” explained Scott Deitche, author of The Silent Don and Cigar City Mafia, “The Syndicate never paid [Velasco] back the money he spent in the 1947 election. So now he had all the power and they owed him a lot of money that they did not want to pay back.”

 

The Cover-Up

For weeks following Velasco’s murder, no one was arrested. The Tampa Police Department (TPD) and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office both stated that they did not have any leads. However, according to The Tampa Tribune, both law enforcement agencies were lying. On January 14, 1949 The Tampa Tribune wrote that on December 23, 1948 the Velasco brothers provided the newspaper with a notarized statement claiming that Velasco’s widow had identified the killer in a photograph to the TPD, yet no one had even been brought into the station to be questioned.

The TPD denied that Velasco’s widow had identified the killer but Velasco’s brothers argued back that she had and that the reason no one had been arrested was because Sheriff Culbreath and Chief Eddings were part of The Syndicate, meaning they were part of the murder plot. Why would they arrest their own?

The Velasco brothers thought they had an ace in the hole, however–Governor Warren. They publicly admitted that they were also part of the underworld and said that because the local authorities failed to arrest their brother’s murderer they were going to use their insider knowledge to bring everyone down. According to their statement, they visited Governor Warren in his mansion and were promised the state would intervene.

On January 18, 1949, the governor sent a state-hired investigator to Tampa to find the murderer and to investigate the gambling industry that was growing out of control. And, suddenly, law enforcement decided to do their job. The question, however, is for whom were they working? Law enforcement began arresting numbers runners throughout the city, but they were mostly men tied to Velasco. And once they were arrested, they were sent before Judge Spicola; if the list was true and he was on the take, he could have switched allegiances quickly after the murder. The convicted were fined and did not receive jail time, but more importantly their names were attached to criminal activities. The Velasco brothers were hoping to bring charges against every public official that was part The Syndicate for being privy to murder and then falsely pretending to investigate the crime. If these arrested men were called to testify on behalf of the Velascos, their credibility was already shot; their testimony could have been skewed as lies in order to exact revenge against those who arrested them.

On January 27, 1949, nine days after the governor ordered an investigator to Tampa, a murderer was finally indicted. Mrs. Velasco fingered Joe Provenzano, a 34-year-old carpenter with ties to Salvatore Italiano, in a lineup. A jury trial was set. There was one major problem, however–the prosecutor was State Attorney Farrior, whom the Velasco brothers claimed was part of The Syndicate that ordered their brother’s hit.

Local law enforcement had failed them and their friend Governor Warren had named one of their enemies as lead prosecutor in their brother’s murder case. Remembering the Velasco brothers’ promise to bring the entire illegal industry down if their brother’s killer was not brought to justice, Jimmie Velasco’s alleged payoff list surfacing two weeks later does not seem too shocking.

However, what is shocking is that Councilman Joe Rodriguez, who is on the list, was who brought it to the public’s attention by presenting it to the City Council, all of whom are on the list, claiming it needed to be investigated. The City Council then agreed.

Councilman Henry Garcia told newspapers that the probe of the list and gambling activities in Tampa was the “greatest responsibility” ever faced by the board and that he would not stand for a “whitewash” investigation.

The City Council ordered a grand jury hearing to investigate the list. Then, County Solicitor Red Fisher, who is also on the list, announced that he would hold his own investigation and that if he found any evidence supporting the allegations contained in the list he would act as a one man jury against anyone involved in the conspiracy. The alleged crooks were investigating their own alleged crimes. They were able to get away with this charade because the names on the list were never exposed to the public until now.

This is where the list ceases to provide a possible window into the truth and instead creates more mystery.

 

Questions and Theories

Why would Rodriguez try to make a list public that had his name on it? Rodriguez was known to be very close to the Velasco family. Perhaps the Velasco brothers hoped that the list would help to bring down those who murdered their brother but did not want to harm their good friend Rodriguez. Perhaps because he brought it to the attention of City Council he would have received impunity. Perhaps he brought it to City Council as a threat that if something was not done to bring Jimmy Velasco’s murderer to justice he would make it public? And perhaps something happened behind closed doors that squashed his and the Velasco brothers’ plan. Or perhaps a deal was made that appeased them all.

The grand jury declared the list a hoax, stating they believed that it was either typed by Rodriguez or an associate of his to be used as political ammunition, but they never explained why Rodriguez would want revenge against those on the list. This is equivalent to a judge or jury pronouncing a man guilty of murder because he had a motive, yet never explaining what the motive was. And if it was fake, why couldn’t they release the names?

Also, some of the names on the list were supporters of Governor Warren –Manny Garcia, Judge Marion Hendry and Nelson Spoto. The Velasco brothers and Warren were friends. The Velasco brothers and Rodriguez were friends, which meant Rodriguez had an in with the governor. Why would he want to embarrass the supporters of such a powerful friend? As the old saying goes, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Or, perhaps, the Velasco brothers wanted to embarrass Warren. In their sworn statement, the Velasco brothers wrote that they were disheartened when Farrior rebuffed their request for help following local law enforcement’s refusal to investigate their brother’s murder. The Velascos considered Farrior to be a friend but quickly learned he was in fact an enemy and part of The Syndicate. Perhaps after asking Governor Warren for help, they learned the same about him? Governor Warren, after all, was already in bed with the Velascos, who were admitted gangsters. Would it be a shock to learn that after the election he was made an offer from The Syndicate that he could not refuse? Perhaps the state investigation was a sham. Perhaps the Velascos realized something was amiss with the governor when Farrior remained prosecutor even though they told the governor that Farrior was in on the murder plot. And Farrior’s actions following his appointment backed the Velascos claims. He refused their request to speak before the grand jury hearing that was charged with deciding if Provenzano went to trial. And during the trial, as Farrior examined a witness, Provenzano seemed upset with one of Farrior’s questions and yelled to him, “Why don’t you tell them the rest!” Also, according to the Velascos’ notarized statement, the lead state investigator had found multiple witnesses who could have testified that Provenzano was the murderer, but the governor’s executive secretary removed the investigator from the case and the witnesses never testified. If all this is true, then perhaps the governor turned against his friends? And perhaps when the Velascos realized that everyone had turned against them, they decided to make the list public to expose the truth to the public. This seems to be the most plausible explanation behind the list and the controversy that followed.

However, that leads to yet another question–if its purpose was revenge why didn’t Rodriguez or the Velascos release the names to the newspapers?

The two major newspapers at that time were The Tampa Daily Times and The Tampa Tribune. The editor of the Times, Ed Ray, is on the list! He would never have run it. The Tribune put together and backed the 1947 slate of winning City Council members based on the fact they were clean. Perhaps printing the list would have embarrassed them. Also, Hawes related the story of how in the 1950s the publishers of the Tribune were caught at an illegal gambling game by their crime beat reporter partner and future head of the Hillsborough County Vice Squad Ellis Clifton. Perhaps the Tribune’s hands were dirty in 1948 as well.

So a plausible theory behind the list is as follows:

  1. The list was legitimate. If it looks like a duck…
  2. When they realized that local and state law enforcement was against them, they decided to release the list as revenge.
  3. They gave it to their friend, Councilman Rodriguez, because they believed he would receive impunity for admitting guilt.
  4. The Velasco brothers had everyone against them. They were outmanned, out politicked and probably out financed. Everyone who was on the list had the power to suppress it. They pulled their power to ensure that their names were never muttered in public.But of course, this is just a theory.

“It’s about as confusing a case as I have ever heard,” laughed Hawes, when the story was laid out for him. “And we’ll never know the answer. I guess rather than solving a mystery, getting the list made it bigger. All we can do is come up with theories. We’ll probably never know the truth.”

“I think there is more than enough evidence to support the theory that the list was real and not a hoax,” said Scott Deitche. “But who knows. It was crazy in Tampa back then.”

And that is what this list, real or fake, does prove–just how crazy and screwed up this city was.

 

Post Script

The indicted murderer, Joe Provenzano, was acquitted of the murder.

In May 1949, Arthur Velasco was the target of gunfire in front of his home. He only received a flesh wound.

In 1950, the Velasco brothers were accused of hiring a hitman to kill Sheriff Hugh Culbreath, State Attorney Rex Farrior, Salvatore Italiano, Jimmy Lumia, Primo Lazzara, Augustine Friscia and Santo Trafficante. County Solicitor V.R. Fisher was the prosecutor. During testimony, Councilman Joe Rodriguez was fingered as the man who delivered the money to the hitman. Their trial ended in a mistrial.

In December 1950, the Kefauver commission came to Tampa and the payoff list dominated the hearings. The commission’s report on Tampa as one of the most corrupt cities in the nation has remained a stain on its history ever since.

The hit was supposed to erase Jimmie Velasco forever. Instead, his ghost has haunted this city ever since.

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About the Author

Paul Guzzo-Tampa Tribune

Paul Guzzo-Tampa Tribune

Paul has been a journalist in Tampa for the past 10 years. He has also written and produced a number of award-winning independent films, including Charlie Wall: The Documentary.