LOVERRO: Snyder’s shenanigans pale in comparison to DeBartolo’s time with 49ers

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The Washington Commanders will host the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at FedEx Field, and if you want to hear about an NFL owner who would make Dan Snyder look like a Boy Scout, just check out the man who oversaw the 49ers’ success in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the new world order of sports gambling and the NFL, the Hall of Fame former owner of the 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., should be a case study.

DeBartolo, who already had a trail of corruption on his resume with his guilty plea of failing to report a felony when he paid former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards $400,000 to get a casino license, owed a gambling debt to one of the most ruthless mob bosses in America while he was owner of the 49ers, according to a new book.



The 77-year-old DeBartolo, who is still listed on the DeBartolo Development Corporation website as chief executive officer of DeBartolo Holdings, did not respond to a request for comment. 

According to a new book released this year, DeBartolo owed $200,000 to Nicky Scarfo, a Philadelphia mob boss whose war with rival mobsters resulted in more than 20 deaths in the 1980s. DeBartolo owed that debt at the same time his club was racking up Super Bowl wins, author Matt Birkbeck writes in “The Life We Chose.”

Scarfo and other members of his mob family were convicted in 1988 in a racketeering conspiracy involving 13 murders, with Scarfo found guilty of taking part in eight of those murders — as well as drug dealing, extortion, loansharking, and bookmaking.

A federal prosecutor said Scarfo was a “remorseless and profoundly evil man” who became one of the most powerful criminals in the country. This was who an NFL owner owed money to writes Birkbeck, the investigative journalist whose book on former mob boss Billy D’Elia came out earlier this year.

Birkbeck also wrote a 2013 book about powerful Mafia figure Russell Bufalino called “The Quiet Don.” Bufalino was a feature character in the Martin Scorcese film, “The Irishman.” D’Elia had been the right-hand man to Bufalino, the mobster often connected to the disappearance of former Teamster Union chief Jimmy Hoffa, before the mafia kingpin went to jail and passed away, with D’Elia taking over the reins as family boss.

Birkbeck’s books revealed a number of stunning revelations of mob influence in the sports world, including favors done for Bufalino by NFL legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas and heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. 

But perhaps the most shocking was the disclosure that DeBartolo owed $200,000 to a bookmaker who worked for Scarfo, who died in prison in 2017 while serving a life sentence.

We already know that DeBartolo was no angel. He was a central figure in the 1998 corruption case of Edwards, who was on trial for extortion and charged with demanding $400,000 from DeBartolo for a riverboat casino license. DeBartolo dropped out of the deal when he learned there was a criminal investigation, but he was charged and pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony, fined $1 million and given a sentence of two years of probation in return for his testimony against Edwards. De Bartolo was fined by the league as well and was barred from control of the team for a year. Rather than return, he gave up control permanently to his sister Denise York.

Yet in 2016 DeBartolo was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the official biography listed for DeBartolo on the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, it states, “DeBartolo was highly respected inside NFL circles.”

The Hall of Fame’s so-called values mention “respect,” as well as “integrity.”

In 2020, DeBartolo was pardoned for his crimes by President Trump.

 According to the Associated Press, Ohio pastor Darrell Scott, an early supporter and longtime ally of the president, said that he submitted the package advocating DeBartolo’s case.

I’m betting this excerpt from “The Life We Chose” about a gambling debt owed to a bookie named Label and how mobster Billy D’Elia was called in to help get it from DeBartolo, wasn’t in that package:

“’DeBartolo was a multimillionaire and a serious gambler, and Label calls and asks if I can get the money,’ said Billy. ‘So I call Joey (Naples was a soldier in the LaRocca crime family in Pittsburgh) and he makes a couple of calls and tells me to come meet him. So I go to Youngstown, pick up Joey and we go to DeBartolo’s offices. He and I go in the lobby and ask for so-and-so. They know who we are so they tell us to go to the money room. So we get in the elevator and go up and I get to see DeBartolo. He has a guy lead us into this room with guards and all this money in it.’

“’They come over with this brick of money wrapped in cellophane. It was like this big. We open it and there are two packages, each with one hundred thousand. We open those right there, count it, say goodbye, and I give it to Label.’

“But the matter didn’t end there. Nicky Scarfo was the head of the Philadelphia family, having assumed control after the murder of Angelo Bruno and the turbulence that followed. A short, untrusting man who left a trail of bodies during his ascent to boss, Nicky had a problem, and he asked Billy to come to Philadelphia to help settle it.’

“’I got a message from Nicky and I’m sitting there with him and some other guys and Label the bookie,’ said Billy, ‘and Nicky is saying he’s missing $200,000 from DeBartolo. I told him that I already picked it up. He was surprised and goes. ‘You got it. Where is it?’ I look over at Label and I point to him and say, ‘I gave it to him.’ He never told Nicky I gave him the money’”

Handing over bricks of money to mobsters to pay a debt to a brutal mob boss. And we thought withholding season ticket money from customers was a big deal here.

• You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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