BOLITA VICE SQUAD
Everyone involved in the raid was told to drive to St. Petersburg at various times so as not to draw any suspicion. They all met in a hotel, went over the plans, and returned to Tampa again at various times.
Meisch was one of the first to return to Tampa. He and another officer were charged with surveillance from a warehouse 100 yards away from Diecidue’s home. They were given coffee, some snacks, and a bucket to use as a toilet; they had no reason to leave that warehouse. Nevertheless, they were to have a pair of eyes on that home from 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the raid began in the late afternoon. If anything, out of the ordinary took place, they were ordered to inform Clifton.
No evidence was uncovered that could bring charges against Santo Trafficante.
Clifton then set up men at every exchange point along the route. When each exchange was made, that specific officer radioed in the news via code words. The chosen code was baseball. For example, when the first exchange was made, an officer would say, “The ball game has started.” When the second was made, an officer would say, “The batter is coming up,” the third officer said, “He is on first base,” and so on. Eight exchanges had eight different baseball phrases, with the final delivery to Diecidue being “Homerun.”
Clifton, a former newspaper reporter, knew this raid would be massive, so that morning, he called a friend who worked with a local television station and tipped him off, offering to bring a camera crew with him when they broke down the door.
Around 3:50 p.m., the raid began. Clifton went to the front door with the camera crew and some backup officers. Whitt and some additional officers went to the back door to ensure no one could escape, and more backup officers surrounded the house.
When Clifton knocked, Diecidue’s wife, Rose, looked outside, saw the small army of law enforcement officers on her lawn, and asked what they wanted, to which Clifton replied that if she didn’t open the door, they would force it open. She refused to open it, so Clifton ordered Whitt and his officers to force the back door open using a fire axe. Once inside, Clifton and his crew arrested six people– Biaggio Savrino, Frank Ippolito, Rose Diecidue, Alice Lazzara, and Primo Lazzara. Upon searching the home, all the law enforcement agents were blown away by what they found. They knew this raid would be big, but not this big.
They found thousands of bolita tickets hidden throughout the house–the most Clifton had ever seen in one place– adding up to tens of thousands of dollars. But, more importantly, they found the names of 50-100 individuals involved in that bolita ring–a ring estimated to earn millions of dollars a year. This was one of the largest bolita raids ever on the west coast of Florida. The only thing missing from the house was the key man; Frank Diecidue was nowhere to be found. But this was his home. Clifton knew he had him, so he waited.
Following the raid, the television crew’s footage was broadcast on the evening news, so Diecidue must have known about it. He didn’t run, though. Instead, he returned to his home and was peacefully arrested.
Diecidue was convicted of running an illegal lottery, but the other six defendants were freed after mistrials. No evidence was uncovered that could bring charges against Santo Trafficante. This raid was considered a resounding success despite convicting only one individual. In the ensuing weeks, the list of individuals involved in bolita led to numerous raids throughout the Tampa Bay area.
Soon after the raids, the Tampa underworld began wondering who the informants were and who they could trust. And, with bolita profits taking a hit because of the numerous raids, factions began jockeying for control of their competitors’ games. These two issues would turn Tampa into a mafia warzone in the months ahead, as hits were ordered on potential stool pigeons and competitors. But that is a Vice Squad Tale for another time.
Originally written for Cigar City Magazine
Paul Guzzo is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. He found the lost segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery. His unique beat also includes the local film industry, Tampa history, professional wrestling, and the odd and unique people who make up this area. Guzzo has been a journalist in Tampa since 1999, including a senior writer for Cigar City Magazine and Tampa Mafia Magazine. In his younger years, he was an independent filmmaker best known for an award-winning documentary on Charlie Wall, Tampa’s first crime lord.