The mayor handpicked Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s son-in-law for a $50,000-a-year post in a city agency.
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 29, 2001
TAMPA -- On Independence Day this year, Mayor Dick Greco spent a long weekend at a Montana ranch accompanied by close friends. Among the activities: trout fishing. Among the guests: a mid-level bureaucrat in Tampa's Real Estate Department.
Such access to the mayor is unusual for a rank-and-file city employee. But the ranch belonged to Greco's longtime friend Eddie DeBartolo Jr. And the employee, Bruce "Buzz" Papalia, is DeBartolo's brother-in-law.
In March, Greco had handpicked Papalia for a $50,000-year-a-year job that involved cataloging vacant city properties. It was an appointed position, and there were no other applicants.
Papalia, 57, lasted five months before he resigned, complaining of the heavy workload and saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Fernando Noriega, the city's administrator of development who oversees the Real Estate Department, said the mayor had called him to say Papalia was available for work. Noriega said he had a vacant position at the time.
"Sure, I knew who he was," Noriega said of Papalia's connection to the DeBartolo family. Noriega added: "He seemed to have some experience. He seemed to have the type of personality that would blend well with the department."
Asked if Papalia would have gotten the job save for his family connections, Noriega replied: "I treated him like I would treat anyone else."
Mayor Greco could not be reached for comment.
Greco's links to the DeBartolo family are deep and long-lasting. In the 1970s, during his first stint as mayor, he resigned mid term to become Florida vice president of the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., the nation's leading builder of shopping malls. It made Greco a millionaire.
Financial disclosure records show that as late as 1997, DeBartolo Corp. owed Greco a $450,000 promissory note. In recent years Greco has reported receiving numerous gifts from Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, including round-trip plane tickets to Montana, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.
In 1997, DeBartolo slipped former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards a cash-filled suitcase in the hopes of winning a Louisiana casino gambling license. He later pleaded guilty to failing to report the payoff, testified for the state against Edwards and received two years' probation and $1-million in fines. DeBartolo then moved to Tampa Bay, where he remains close friends with Mayor Greco.
Papalia, the man briefly employed in the Tampa Real Estate Department, is the brother of DeBartolo's wife, Candy. Papalia said he applied for jobs with the city in previous years, while living in Ohio, but that nothing was available at the time.
Papalia said he does not believe he got special treatment. He said he moved to Tampa in February after working in Youngstown, Ohio, for 12 years as the elected county recorder overseeing real estate dealings.
A February 1997 newspaper article in the Youngstown Vindicator mentioned that Papalia came under fire for frequently leaving his recorder's job early in the day to work at a lottery ticket booth he owned. The booth was at a mall owned by the DeBartolo Corp.
Papalia said he does not have a business affiliation with DeBartolo. He said he moved to Florida to be close to his sister. "The only thing the DeBartolos (did) is sort of coaxing me to move here," he said.
Papalia said he and Mayor Greco came separately to the DeBartolo ranch during the July Fourth weekend. He said they spent time there fishing together, but had scant dealings together while Papalia worked for the city.
He declined to elaborate on their relationship.
"The mayor is a friend of mine, and I'd rather just leave it at that," Papalia said.
- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.