Excerpt from Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops & Killers, by Michael Connelly
THE OPEN TERRITORY
THE MOB SQUAD
They are the most covert of cops, working in the shadows and watching the underworld. They’re closing in on the Open Territory.
SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL March 29, 1987
Little Nicky was driving his white Rolls-Royce on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, heading for some dinner, when he saw the blue light in the rearview mirror. He pulled over.
Nicky immediately recognized the cop walking up to his window. It was one of the local detectives who stopped him from time to time to tell him to watch himself down here.
“Mr. Drago, howya doin’?” Nicky said after rolling down the window.
“Fine, Nicky,” the detective said. “You got your license with you?”
“I better have that, right Mr. Drago?”
“Yeah, Nicky, you better.”
Nicodemo Scarfo, reputed overlord of mob activities in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, and frequent Fort Lauderdale resident, handed Detective Chuck Drago his license. Everything was in order – not like the time Little Nicky’s 300-pound driver and bodyguard had handed Drago a counterfeit license and gotten himself arrested.
This time Drago and Scarfo talked almost like old acquaintances. Scarfo said he was leaving town that night, taking a charter up to Pomona Airport near Atlantic City. He’d had enough Florida sun for a while.
“I like your style,” Scarfo said. “You’re not sneaking around, watching me, trying to sit near me in restaurants, following all the time. You come up to me, man to man. I like that.”
Drago smiled. Nicky Scarfo had just paid him the highest possible compliment, without knowing the reason why.
The fact is, Drago and members of the secret police unit he belongs to did sneak around and follow Nicky, go to the track with him and eat at the same restaurants – sometimes at the tables right next to him. They followed his yacht down the Intracoastal, even went to the barbershop with him. They were closer than Scarfo could have guessed, as his compliment to Drago had just conﬁrmed.
This is a tale from the Open Territory: Broward County, a location unclaimed by any single mob yet a place worked and sometimes called home by members of many of the nation’s organized crime families.
It used to be that South Florida was tolerant of the mobsters. But the nature of the territory is changing – and Nicky Scarfo is a sign of the times. After Scarfo had rolled his car window up and gone on his way, Detective Drago went to a phone and made a long-distance call. And that night, when Scarfo stepped off the plane in New Jersey, he was met by FBI agents and the police. He left the airport in handcuffs, facing his second indictment on mob-related charges in as many months.
Drago had done more than just tip his northern counterparts that Little Nicky was on his way. He and his partners’ work down here had helped put Scarfo in jail up there. They, too, are a sign of the times, a reason why the Open Territory is changing. They are covert cops, part of a new cult of police intelligence.