Thursday, August 06, 2015

Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit

If you wanted to grab a book for an in-depth look at mob activity in Michigan, you might not find much. Most Mafia books focus on activity in New York City or Chicago, or solely on the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. But there’s some material. West Bloomfield native Scott Burnstein, 29, has published his first book, “Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit (Images of America).”

“When I wrote this book, I was thinking, ‘What would I want to read?’” Burnstein said last week, amid a busy schedule chock-full of book signings at Borders stores in Troy, Rochester Hills, Grosse Pointe, Utica, Detroit, Flint and East Lansing.

The graduate of Roeper School, Indiana University and John Marshall Law School in Chicago dove into the research, spending hours engrossed in the pages of historical archives at Wayne State University and local newspapers. He tracked down retired FBI agents who worked the cases, interviewing them and gathering never-before-seen photographs that are among the 200 in the book.

Of all Burnstein’s research, the most interesting to him, like the general public, is the information he gleaned regarding Jimmy Hoffa. “I was able to talk to federal law enforcement who were on the case when it happened,” he said, adding that he was in the midst of his research last summer when the FBI spent weeks digging at a farm in Milford on a tip that the mobster’s body was buried there.

“Motor City Mafia” reveals new information and pictures related to the Jimmy Hoffa disappearance and murder; includes crime scene photos taken from various local murders; and captures never-before-seen mug shots of many notorious Detroit-area criminals of the past and present. It also unveils FBI surveillance photographs of numerous local wise guys, mobsters and crime syndicate leaders; and even contains photographs and stories involving alleged affairs between the Mafia and Detroit sports legends Isiah Thomas, Alex Karras, Tommy Hearns and Denny McClain. But it’s not just the sensationalist stories that interest Burnstein.

“People are interested in gangsters because of the blood and guts, but the part that interests me is the nuts and bolts [of the organization], how the power flows vertically and horizontally up the ladder, and the politics about how something like this is run,” he said. “These guys are really the crème de la crème of gangsters in the city of Detroit. They’re college educated, all incessantly trying to avoid the spotlight, where in other cities they like being portrayed as wise guys. These guys are business-like, with a corporate-like structure in terms of the underworld savvy. There’s not a lot of people who can top these guys.”

The response to “Motor City Mafia” has so far been positive, he said, although with relatives of those mentioned in the book living nearby, he might get a little bit of flak. “I want to make it clear that I’m not passing judgment; I’m not trying to get people in trouble with law enforcement, nor am I trying to pump these guys up,” Burnstein explained. “This city has a rich tradition of underworld activity, and people are fascinated by that. It’s such a unique part of our society, but until now, there’s been nothing to read about it. This is for history’s sake.”

Thanks to Jennie Miller

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