Jeremy Jacobs Looks Like a Saint Compared To His Father
The April issue of Boston magazine includes my story on how Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs has all but taken over the town of Wellington, Florida. For years, Jacobs has presided over the clubby equestrian scene there, fighting to keep the community just the way he wanted it. But when a Boston entrepreneur named Mark Bellissimo rode into town, the two clashed immediately, setting off a huge feud that threatens to consume the town. Jacobs has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on local political campaigns in hopes of electing Wellington town councilors favorable to his views. Bitter fighting and chaos has ensued.
It might surprise fans to learn, then, that compared to what his father, Louie, is alleged to have done, Jeremy Jacobs is a saint. Louie was the original founder of the company that became Delaware North, the vast conglomerate that’s the source of the Jacobs family wealth. He started it as a concessions business with his brother in 1915, originally calling it Jacobs Brothers and then Sportsservice and then Emprise. Over time, Louie Jacobs began to be known as a sort of godfather of the sports industry, happy to help bail out struggling owners in need (after all, you can only sell hot dogs if the stadium’s open). As Sports Illustrated put it in a lengthy 1972 exposé on the company, “Jeremy Jacobs, the youngest son and heir apparent, learned at his father’s feet.”
When Louie died in 1968, Jeremy took over the company at just 28-years-old. The company that Jacobs took over, though, was alleged to have a seedy underside. That SI story was titled, “Look What Louie Wrought,” and carried this sub-headline: “In Washington, a congressional committee is conducting hearings into the involvement of organized crime in sport. The name most heard is not that of a mobster, but a corporation—Emprise—whose sports investments may exceed those of any company in the world. Here is Emprise—from the beginning to today.” Picking up the story after Louie’s death, the piece read:
That was the winter of 1968. Now it is the spring of 1972, and the Jacobses of Buffalo have not been called angels for quite some time. In the past two years they have, in fact, been called almost everything else. The old man’s empire, so carefully constructed behind the veil afforded a totally owned “family business,” has been under virtual siege since March 4, 1970 when an Arizona Congressman in cowboy boots named Sam Steiger read into the Congressional Record a speech he called, “Emprise: A Lesson in Corporate Calumny.” Steiger charged that Emprise was riddled with corruption, that it exerted its corruptive influence to gain concession advantages, hidden control and sometimes overt control of sports franchises throughout the country and, most damning of all, that it worked its will hand-in-hand with organized crime.
Although in some cases Steiger was reaching—and overreaching—he named names. He read into the Congressional Record the identity of underworld characters he said had come within the widening circle of Emprise’s business dealings over the years: Sam Tucker of River Downs Raceway in Ohio, a member of the “Purple Gang”; Moe Dalitz of Cleveland, identified by the Kefauver Committee years ago as a leading hoodlum; Raymond Patriarca, head of the New England Mafia; Big Bill Lias (now deceased) of Wheeling Downs racetrack and Shenandoah Downs in West Virginia, a man whom the U.S. Immigration Department once tried to deport as an undesirable alien. Steiger cited Emprise’s 12% interest in Hazel Park, outside Detroit, as a flagrant example of its dealings with the Mafia. He pointed out that the board of directors at Hazel Park included Anthony J. Zerilli, president; Giacomo (Jack) W. Tocco, executive vice-president; and, until July 25, 1969, Dominic P. (Fats) Corrado. The three—Zerilli, Tocco and Corrado—had been identified by the McClellan Committee as members of the Detroit Mafia, he said.
Though some have questioned his practices, there’s little doubt that, over the years, Jeremy Jacobs has cleaned up Delaware North—nobody’s accusing the company of mob ties today. Louie Jacobs was obviously a man accustomed to getting his way, though. As we see today in Wellington, so is his son.