From Bolita to blow: Remembering the Tampa Mob - FOX 13 News

From Bolita to blow: Remembering the Tampa Mob

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'Bolita' balls used to be part of Tampa's illicit gambling scene. 'Bolita' balls used to be part of Tampa's illicit gambling scene.
TAMPA (FOX 13) -

If you like The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the Sopranos, you might be a Mafia buff. Bill Iler fits the bill, but he got to see the Tampa mob first-hand as a native Tampanian and a Tampa police vice detective.

"I went to school with a couple of people who were sons and daughters of those people," said the retired detective, who also met some of their alleged crime associates during his 20 years on the force.


Iler says when he became a cop, he knew what he was getting into. "You've heard the words 'Little Chicago,' and that's what other people saw Tampa as."

Tampa's most famous reputed mobster was Santo Trafficante Jr. For decades, gambling was the main business of the Tampa mob. An illegal game called Bolita flourished here for much of the 20th century.

But as Bolita faded in the 1970's, the local mob turned to prostitution, sports gambling, and the drug trade.

"A lot of organized crime people went to narcotics because there was a lot of money in that," continued Iler. "Big loads of cocaine came up from South America into the Tampa Bay area."

Iler says he and other detectives made scores of drug arrests, but suspects hardly ever gave up information that led to the biggest players.

"When interviewing these people after they'd been arrested, of course all of them denied that there was somebody up top," he said.


Iler's supervisor in the mid 70's was Sgt. Richard Cloud. He acquired many sources in the underworld and conferred often with state and federal authorities who suspected widespread corruption among Tampa's elected and appointed officials.

On a fall day in 1975, a man knocked on the door of Cloud's home on W. Alva Street. When he answered the door, the man shot Cloud to death. The resulting manhunt eventually led to two low-level mobsters.

One killed himself with pills smuggled in by a jail guard. The other went to the electric chair without revealing any others who had knowledge of the killing.

Iler wasn't surprised. "The Omerta was you wouldn't cop out on them," he recalled.

He admits there's much he will never know about the Tampa Mob. Many of the old crime figures have died. And those who are left may carry the secrets to their graves.

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