THE HIT THAT EXPOSED SOME OF TAMPA’S ELITE
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 of 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 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 not to involve the prey’s family. Unfortunately, this particular hitman did not seem to care about the “rules.” Instead, 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, “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 to the left shoulder, one to 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 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. However, 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 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 provided Cigar City Magazine with Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff list, and for the first time, the names are exposed. They are (as they appear on the list):
Manny Garcia, Nelson Spoto, Julio Palaez, Octavio Alfonso, Ed Ray, Chief Eddings, Sheriff Culbreath, Grimaldi (Columbia Bank), Judge Hendry 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. Maybe the men on this list were guilty of being in cahoots with known 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 historical rearview mirror to cast some doubt on the grand jury’s decision. Perhaps the grand jury was wrong, or it was persuaded to make the wrong decision. And maybe Jimmy 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 levels. Perhaps, even the mayor of Tampa and the governor of Florida were involved.
As the old saying goes, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And that is how the tale of Jimmy Velasco’s alleged payoff list begins–with a power struggle that started in 1947.