TAMPA — Angelo Bedami has openly told tales of his criminal past since his release from prison nearly 30 years ago.
His book, Who Are These Guys? Tampa’s Underground Airline, details how he smuggled drugs into the United States with stolen planes that were then crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. He is now in negotiations for a television series based on those exploits.
But there is one story Bedami, 70, kept secret until now.
It involves the 1975 killing of Richard Cloud, a former Tampa police sergeant turned organized crime investigator for the federal government.
Cloud was scheduled to testify against Bedami’s brother and likely had information on him, too.
And that, Bedami said, is why “they whacked Cloud ... Vic and my cousin did him in.”
“Vic” is Bedami’s friend Victor Acosta, who organized the hit, and his cousin is Manuel Gispert, who provided the gun. Both men were later charged with the crime.
It has long been speculated that Cloud was assassinated to protect Angelo Bedami and his brother, Joe Bedami Jr., but there were other theories. One was that Acosta’s attorney was feeding information to Cloud.
Bedami is adamant that he did not know about the hit in advance.
“When you do something like that, the less people that know, the better,” he said.
The moment he heard about Cloud, Bedami said, he figured Acosta and Gispert were involved but was not certain until arrests were made. Bedami said he does not recall how or when he learned the motive.
Ken Larsen, a former Tampa detective who worked undercover for Cloud, was not shocked to learn the truth. But he does not believe Bedami was kept in the dark.
“If Angelo Bedami tells me it’s Tuesday, I’d check the calendar,” Larsen said. “Angelo was a street hoodlum who was lucky enough to have a father who was loved by Santo Trafficante. That’s why Cloud is not alive today.”
Bedami’s father, Joe Bedami Sr., was allegedly a hit man for the Trafficante family, which ruled Florida’s underworld from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Joe Sr.’s alleged victims included Charlie Wall, known as the dean of Tampa’s underworld. Wall was murdered in his Tampa home in April 1955. His head was battered with a baseball bat and his neck was sliced. The crime remains unsolved, but the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy who investigated the slaying once told the Tampa Bay Times that he believed Joe Sr. was the killer.
In 1968, Joe Sr. went missing shortly before a trial on arson charges.
Tampa mafia historian Scott Deitche said he’s been told by “good sources” that Joe Sr. was killed by people connected to Trafficante because some worried he might talk in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Bedami said it is possible his father was “whacked,” but does not believe it would have been anyone linked to Trafficante because his father would never have turned against him.
Still, from that point on, Trafficante looked out for the Bedami brothers, according to Deitche and Larsen.
“They were allowed to do their own thing without kicking anything up to Trafficante,” Deitche said. “That was unique during that time period.”
Bedami admits he operated outside the syndicate and was close with Trafficante.
Guys like the Bedamis, Larsen said, were operating illegal enterprises with little concern for law enforcement.
There were two reasons for this, according to Larsen and Deitche.
One was that some future criminals and law enforcement officers — both typically of Italian or Cuban descent — grew up together and their families were friends for generations in a city that still had a small town feel, Larsen said. They then remained friends even when on opposite sides of the law.
“They protected their own,” Larsen said. “Guys like that didn’t go to jail, except maybe overnight.”
More prevalent, Deitche said, was that some law enforcement officers and elected officials were on the mafia’s payroll.
“Political corruption in Tampa went a long way in keeping those guys above the law,” Deitche said.
In the 1950s, Tampa was listed as one of the most corrupt cities in the United States by the Kefauver Commission, which was charged with investigating organized crime throughout the nation. The commission cited was a friendly relationship between law enforcement, elected officials and gangsters.
Bedami said recently that he has no knowledge of the mafia corrupting local law enforcement or courts. He said something else in the 1980s, testifying that he bribed such people through a third party. His testimony did not lead to convictions.
When asked if he believed there were corrupt cops in the Tampa Police Department during his time there, Larsen said, “There’s no question.”
Cloud was aware of the problems in the department and asked the Florida Department of Criminal Law Enforcement to investigate, news archives show.
But things began to change with the election of Dick Greco as mayor in 1967, Larsen said. Despite growing up with the children of gangsters who went into the family business, Greco hired a police chief, James “Babe” Littleton, who would not look the other way.
Greco often tells the story about what came next. Underworld friends invited him to a meeting to ask why he turned his back on them and demanded that he fire Littleton. He refused.
Littleton then promoted Cloud to sergeant in charge of the vice squad’s narcotics division.
Cloud surrounded himself with men he could trust, Larsen said. If he was worried certain cases would not be properly investigated or tried, Cloud took those to federal law enforcement. One of his primary guys was Bill James, the chief assistant U.S. attorney in Tampa.
Cases were being prosecuted, Larsen said, and defendants were getting jail sentences.
Then Greco resigned as mayor in 1973. A year later, Littleton left for health reasons.
Larsen said that Cloud was worried that without Littleton’s protection, undercover agents would be outed.
Not long after, Larsen said, photos of undercover agents were stolen from the police station and hung on the wall of a bar frequented by members of the underworld. “My photograph was in that package.”
Still, Larsen said, his cover wasn’t compromised.
“The pictures were of clean cut patrolmen,” he said. “I had grown out my hair and facial hair. I had substantially changed my appearance. We did not think I’d been identified.”
In February 1975, Larsen made an undercover deal with Charles Alfonso to buy $25,000 in counterfeit bills from Joe Bedami Jr. The investigation was a partnership between Tampa police and the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Larsen said Alfonso was Joe Jr.’s bodyguard and that Alfonso handed him the bills as Joe Jr. watched. Both men were arrested.
Because of their relationship with Trafficante, Larsen said, Tampa’s organized crime syndicate considered the Bedami brothers to be “untouchables.”
A month later, two men who had just been bonded out for a small crime started a fight with two undercover narcotics detectives in the police headquarters parking lot.
“They were angry and looking for trouble,” Larsen said. “They had no idea the men were detectives.”
The instigators were arrested and questioned by Cloud. They said he beat them while they were handcuffed to chairs. Cloud was fired for refusing to take a lie detector test as part of the investigation.
Larsen did not defend Cloud’s actions.
Corrupt people within the police department “were looking for a reason to get rid of Cloud” so they could dismantle his narcotics squad, Larsen said. “Cloud handed his enemy a knife, and his enemy stabbed him with it.”
But Cloud did not walk away from law enforcement. Instead, he helped federal agencies with investigations into Florida organized crime.
Joe Jr.’s federal hearing ended in a mistrial in October 1975 after the jury could not reach a verdict. Cloud agreed to testify at the retrial.
“That is when Victor and my cousin went in there and put a hit on him,” Angelo Bedami said. “He was going to mention all he knew about the counterfeiting.”
Bedami owned the Ponderosa Lounge on the corner of Armenia and Waters avenues. Victor Acosta owned the Alibi Lounge at 900 N. Dale Mabry Hwy. They met through a musician friend.
Bedami said he then introduced Acosta to his cousin when Gispert was looking for work after finishing a four-year sentence for breaking and entering.
“I can’t help what they do behind my back,” Bedami said. “I wouldn’t want to get involved.”
When asked to describe Gispert, Bedami said: “He’s a bad son of a gun. He will do anything.”
Cloud was not the only target.
Tampa’s organized crime syndicate had a hit list of those threatening their interests. Cloud’s attorney, Bernard Dempsey, was on it, as was U.S. attorney James. Two businessmen who refused to sell their liquor licenses to the mafia also were targeted.
Starting in June 1975, there were three attempts to blow up the cars — and their occupants. There were multiple drive-by shooting attempts. In every case, there were only minor injuries reported.
Then, in September 1975, the crime syndicate broke Benjamin Gilford out from the DeSoto Correctional Institution, where he was serving a sentence for robbery. He climbed a wall at the minimum security center and escaped in a waiting getaway car.
Investigators said Acosta paid Gilford $15,000 to assassinate Cloud and that Gispert supplied the 32-caliber pistol. Gilford hid the weapon inside a box, pretended to be a delivery man and shot Cloud dead when he answered the door.
Cloud was 33. He had a wife and two sons, but no one else was home. His widow, Wanda Cloud, now lives in Texas. The Times could not reach her for comment.
Bedami said he was scared when he heard about the killing and figured his cousin and friend were involved. “I don’t believe in none of that. I’m into making a dollar.”
Why didn’t he say so when questioned by a federal grand jury weeks after the murder?
“I didn’t want to get involved,” Bedami said.
In January 1976, Bedami’s brother was acquitted of the counterfeiting charge when his attorney argued that Larsen made the deal with Alfonso, the bodyguard, not Joe Jr.
Alfonso operated on his own as a “one-man crime wave,” the attorney told the court, and explained away Joe Jr.’s fingerprints on the bills by saying he had been playing with the fake money.
Gilford pleaded guilty to Cloud’s murder in federal court but, in July 1976, died by suicide in his cell before he was sentenced.
Acosta remained on the run through 1977. He was arrested in New York City but overdosed on sleeping pills in his cell before his trial.
The federal court sentenced Gispert to 60 years for his involvement in Cloud’s murder and the hit list. He died in prison.
Another 10 men associated with the hit squad were found guilty.
The Tampa Police Department posthumously reinstated Cloud to his former position.
In 1983, Bedami was arrested and convicted of federal drug charges. He smuggled in millions of dollars of marijuana and cocaine purchased from Pablo Escobar’s cartel. Bedami said he served 36 months.
The Times asked Bedami in 2014 if the rumors were true that Cloud was murdered to protect Bedami’s family. He declined to comment. He again declined in 2019. Joe Jr. died last year.
Why come forward in 2021? Bedami cried for a few moments and then said, “It was a hard time.”
When asked again later, he said, “It’s spilled milk.”
He praised Acosta and Gispert.
“I love them,” Bedami said. They “really cared for me.”