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Episode 3: Steroids & “Juiceman Joe”
My mother stayed in a mental hospital for several months, which really allowed me to hustle hard from my house. But my neighbors soon caught on to what I was doing. Naturally, I had traffic coming and going all day. So when several neighbors told our landlord that my sister and I were living alone in the house, and that they suspected I was selling drugs, he told my grandfather, who of course he was afraid of. Everyone knew my grandfather, and they all knew about our Family. Our Famiglia.
My grandfather was not happy. He never mentioned the drugs, but he didn’t think we should be living on our own. So he gave us a choice: Move in with him and my grandmother or go live with our dad. My sister and I adored our grandparents, but we were smart enough to know that we would have a lot more freedom living with our father, who worked by day and was an alcoholic by night. I especially knew I would do better at my dad’s house, since living with him would make it easier to continue my hustle.
My dad lived in St. Clair Shores (pictured above), a middle class suburb only a few miles north of Detroit, where there was a large Italian community. I figured it would be the perfect place to expand my weed operation. But right away I felt like I didn’t fit in. For starters, I dressed differently. I wore Troop and Fila, while most of the kids wore Polo, Izod, and Girbaud. I wore gaudy gold chains and nugget rings. I drove a tinted Mustang with a HUGE kicker in it. People looked at me like I was a punk, and I soon developed a bit of a complex. Which quickly grew into a chip on my shoulder. I’d always been an intrinsic fighter. I had a black-out temper and was naturally good with my fists. Within a week of moving to my dad’s I got in a fight with the second toughest kid in my school. I won the fight and my reputation grew exponentially as more fights followed. Soon I was one of the toughest kids in the neighborhood. Even guys several years older than me began to show me a lot of respect, whereas just a few months previously they looked down at me like was just a little drug dealing punk.
But I was still barely 150 lbs. And I hated that I was constantly having to fight in order to prove myself. I knew if I were bigger, I wouldn’t have to fight so much. There was a guy from the neighborhood named Gino. A big, handsome Italian kid, who I’m still very close with today. His cousin eventually became the driver and bodyguard of the Family’s recently deceased Underboss, Tony Zerilli. But that’s another story. Back then, Gino WAS the toughest kid in the neighborhood. And he looked it. Stocky and all muscle, nobody messed with him. Girls flocked to him. I wanted to be like him. But our friendship got off to a rocky start—I almost shot him with a Mac-10 sub machine gun one night at a party when I was drunk and he thought he could bully me. It was the last day anyone tried to bully me. After that day, he and everyone else walked on eggshells around me.
Thinking back, I don’t even remember how Gino and I became friends. We just sort of started hanging out a little. When I told him I wanted to start lifting weights so I could add some muscle, I was assimilated into his workout crew. There were about five of us and we began lifting weights at this little local gym called “Muscles,” which is no longer around. It was a real small place. Just a dump by modern gym standards. But I had no idea at the time that it was one of the most steroid infested gyms in America. And I’m not just saying that arbitrarily. The largest steroid bust in American history (at the time) would be centered around that gym in 1991. I would be one of the ones involved in the bust.
Working out in a gym full of giants was very intimidating. Or perhaps emasculating is a better way of putting it. No joke, I was literally the smallest guy in the gym. Granted, I was only 16, but walking in there at a scrawny 140 lbs only fueled my self-esteem issues. So I approached my Uncle Pete, who seemed to have a connect for everything, and asked him if he could get me some steroids.
“Yeah, I know a guy,” my uncle shrugged. “How much you looking to spend?”
Well, his guy happened to be one of the guys I saw regularly at the gym, a huge Italian named Joe. The funny thing was, I already suspected the guy was selling steroids. He worked out with a big crew of giants. None of them seemed to have jobs, yet all of them drove nice cars. I’d hear them in the gym talking about their girls, their boats, their nights out at the clubs. But Joe was the one guy who always seemed all business. He had these eyes… greyish blue, like those of an Alaskan Malamute. They were very intimidating and I always tried to avoid eye contact with him. Which is probably why I had no idea that he had been paying close attention to me also.
Using “Juiceman Joe” as his supplier, my uncle began selling me steroids. I never did a whole lot myself, because I had good genetics and grew quickly, but I began selling a lot of them to my boys, some of whom hit the stuff hard. And of course this progressed into them selling ‘roids for me to support their own “cycles.” The steroid racket took off fast. There were huge profits to be made selling them. Within a few months we had every high school football team in the area strung out on ‘roids. It was great supplemental income. I would easily make $500—$600 a week on top of my weed profits, which were at least double that. I was making money so fast I didn’t even know how to spend it. I mean, a guy can only wear so many gold rings and chains. I just started buying stuff for my boys—leather coats, jewelry, clothes, whatever. I bought my grandparents a $10,000, all-inclusive trip to Hawaii. I even bought my cousin Anthony a motorcycle. Well, I actually gave him my old Ninja and bought myself a new one.
I was doing great until my uncle ended up going to jail for a short stint. I can’t even remember why he went to jail, but he was going to be gone for about a year. Just a county jail bid. I think it was for busting up a bar owner who didn’t want to pay a protection tribute, which was a regular thing for us back then. Before he turned himself in (he’d been out on bond) to start his sentence, he was supposed to have introduced me to “Juiceman Joe,” so I could continue my steroid hustle while he was away. But he didn’t.
With my uncle locked up, I had no steroid plug and my orders quickly began backing up. With thousands of dollars at stake, I did something radical. I broke all operational protocol and approached Juiceman Joe myself. Normally this was extremely frowned upon, because there was a strict operational hierarchy that we were expected to adhere to. But I really had no choice. It was very awkward and scary for me. I mean, here was this huge older wiseguy—with these scary freakin’ eyes—who I thought didn’t even know I existed. And there I was, this little 17-year-old kid who even at that point only weighed about a 155 lbs. I’ll never forget it. He was warming up by the squat rack when I walked over and asked him if I could have a private word with him in the locker room.
“What’s up, kid?” he asked when we were alone the locker room.
Right away I used my uncle’s name.
“I’m Pete Tocco’s nephew…”
I then went on to explain how I’d been going through my uncle to buy steroids from him.
He nodded and said, “Yeah, I know. I figured you and your crew were the ones buying Pete’s stuff.” He then wrote his address and phone number on a business card. “Call me later. Say you want to come over and use my tanning bed.”
That was the code I’d end up using every time I needed to pick up a load of ‘roids. He turned out to be a really cool guy. And a MUCH bigger dealer than I realized. This freakin’ guy was moving SERIOUS steroids, with distribution points all across America and Canada. But he liked me and always introduced me to his buddies. Called me “Little Al,” which I eventually learned from an FBI agent (after the bust went down) was because Juiceman Joe also dealt with a guy named “Big Al.”
The interesting thing about Joe was that he owned a jewelry store. And before “the bust,” he began selling me some nice pieces of jewelry. He also taught me how to value diamonds, high-end watches, and gold. Which led me into my next major racket… fencing stolen goods and pawnshop swaps. But I’ll save that for next time. Make sure to stay tuned. It’s a good one!
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