TAMPA — Anthony Scarpo was 12 when he found his dad beaten in the tub and realized his family was in a dangerous business.
“The water was tinged with blood, his knuckles ravaged," said Scarpo, 58.
Undaunted, his father quipped, “You should see the other guys.”
Today, Scarpo owns Anthony Louis Ltd., a diamond import company, and has taken up philanthropy. His generosity has included a gift of $1.35 million to the Academy of the Holy Names in 2017.
But in his youth, he was part of a family that made its money on bookmaking and fought bloody battles with organized crime in Tampa. Scarpo lays it all out in a new self-published memoir, La Mia Famiglia, “my family.”
The book neither glorifies a lifestyle built on crime nor sullies Scarpo’s own good name, he insists.
“This is a story of survival," he said "This is how we survived.”
His 82-year-old dad Art Scarpo echoed that sentiment.
“It makes me proud to know we all made it through the tough times,” he said, "and that we found peace and happiness in this community.”
A 1979 graduate of Chamberlain High School, Anthony Scarpo was raised in north Tampa and his father owned a string of bars in and around Sulphur Springs.
“In the ’50s and ’60s, Sulphur Springs was a bustling place,” Scarpo said. “It was a place where people could walk the sidewalks and go shopping.”
His dad’s first tavern, Art’s Bar — serving beer, wine, pizza and Cuban sandwiches — sat next to the Tampa Greyhound Track on Nebraska Avenue.
“My father realized early on he was not making it as a tavern owner,” Scarpo said. “So, he looked across the street to a betting empire."
Customers were blue collar types who, comfortably seated after work with a cold beer and slice of pizza, had little desire to fight the crowds at the track, Scarpo said. So they made bets with his father. It didn’t take long for the Trafficante family crime syndicate to hear of the operation, the son said.
“My father was Italian enough and he was making money in a section of town they didn’t want to be in because it was very redneck to them,” Scarpo said. “They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
Still, Art Scarpo did refuse. He didn’t want to get caught up with the Mafia so he just quit taking bets, his son said.
A few years later, though, when the family needed money, he started up again. He added jai alai bets, pool, dice and other games of chance, still operating outside the Trafficante organization. By then, Anthony Scarpo said, his father had a protective posse — a few dozen people in his extended family plus loyal Sulphur Springs customers.
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“They were the people in Tampa who didn’t fit into the black community, the Spanish community, the Italian community,” Scarpo said. “They were good ol’ Tampa southern folk who became attached to my father."
The posse also included carnival workers, Scarpo added, “the real-life alligator man and bearded lady. With his own posse, the war began to escalate.”
The Mafia sent a gang of thugs to kill his father one night, Scarpo said. The posse defended him and took a beating, but sent the hit men on their way. That’s when Anthony Scarpo found him in the tub in just one of a number of violent encounters the son recalls.
Anthony Scarpo was charged with protecting his mother and two younger sisters each night when his father went to work. When he was 13, Scarpo said, he heard men trying to break into the house.
“I stayed to the right of the door and said, ‘I have a gun and will blow your head off,’” he said. “A minute or two later, I busted out the door and started shooting my 12-gauge. They were already gone.”
By the late 1970s, he said, the family had gotten out of bookmaking and into check cashing.
Scarpo went on to earn a master’s degree in marketing from Florida State University and establish his diamond importing company, now based in the Tampa Commons building on N Dale Mabry Highway at Kennedy Boulevard.
The family rarely brought up its lawless legacy afterward. Then a year ago, at a family reunion, Scarpo was reminiscing about the old days with a dozen or so younger relatives.
“I told them the story of the mob and the carnival people,” he said. “For an hour, I captivated them. After they left, I decided I’d start writing this book the next day."