Philadelphia crime family

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Philadelphia crime family
Founding location South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Years active 1911–present
Territory Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Territory in Atlantic City, South Jersey, and Wilmington (as well as Baltimore and Trenton).
Ethnicity Men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities employed as "associates"
Membership 50 made members approx, 100 associates approx
Criminal activities Extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling, racketeering, conspiracy, drug trafficking, Money laundering and murder.
Allies Five Families, Chicago Outfit, K&A Gang, Warlocks Motorcycle Club, Philadelphia Greek Mob
Rivals various other gangs over Philadelphia, including their allies and The Pagans.[1]

The Philadelphia crime family, also known as the Bruno crime family, Scarfo crime family, Philadelphia Mafia, Philadelphia Mob, Philly Mafia, or Philly Mob, is an Italian American criminal organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the most active American Mafia families outside of the Five Families of New York. The family has been known to hold territory or influence in other nearby areas outside Philadelphia, including Atlantic City, South Jersey, Trenton, Camden, Newark, Chester, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore. The Philadelphia family is notorious for its violence, due in particular to its succession of very violent bosses.

Under Angelo Bruno (1910–1980), the family enjoyed its most peaceful and prosperous reign. He was murdered in 1980 and Nicky Scarfo took over. Scarfo involved the family in narcotics, which Bruno had refused to do. Scarfo's tenure saw the murder of over 30 of his own men. Eventually, he and his supporters were imprisoned and Joseph Merlino took over. Merlino was imprisoned in 2001, at which point Joseph Ligambi took over.


The beginning[edit]

In the early 20th century, several Italian immigrant and Italian-American Philadelphia street gangs joined to form what would eventually become the Philadelphia crime family. Salvatore Sabella was the first leader of the group that would later bear his name. They busied themselves with bootlegging, extortion, loansharking, and illegal gambling, and it was during the Prohibition era that Sabella and his crew were recognized as members of the wider Sicilian crime syndicate of New York and Chicago. Sabella retired in late 1931.

John Avena and Joe Dovi[edit]

After Sabella's retirement, two of his top lieutenants, John Avena and Giuseppe Dovi, began a five-year war for control of the family. Avena was murdered by members of his own faction on August 17, 1936, and Joseph "Joe Bruno" Dovi became boss of the Philadelphia family.

Dovi had good connections with the Chicago Outfit and the Five Families of New York, and expanded operations to Atlantic City, South Philadelphia, and parts of South Jersey. Narcotics, illegal gambling, loansharking, and extortion activities provided the family's income, and connections to the Genovese and Gambino crime families grew throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

On October 22, 1946, Dovi died of natural causes at a New York City hospital, and Joseph "Joe" Ida was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family and its rackets.

Influenced by Vito Genovese[edit]

Joseph "Joe" Ida ran the family throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Ida and the Philadelphia organization were heavily influenced by the bosses of the Five Families, especially the Genovese crime family, which sought to control both families as Vito Genovese, underboss of the Genovese crime family, assumed control in 1956 after the shooting of former boss Frank Costello, who subsequently retired due to illness. As the Philadelphia family gained more power in Atlantic City and South Jersey, they were viewed as a large faction of the Genovese crime family. Ida and his underboss Dominick Olivetto were present during the 1957 Apalachin Convention with roughly 100 other top mobsters. Around this time, Philadelphia separated from the Genovese crime family, and were given a seat in the national Mafia body, The Commission. The meeting was raided by US law enforcement, and over 60 mafioso were arrested and indicted for association with known organized crime members. Ida was named in the indictment and fled to Sicily not long after the meeting, leaving Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina as acting boss in Ida's absence.

The Gentle Don[edit]

After Ida retired in 1959, and Pollina was demoted, Angelo "Gino" Bruno, nicknamed "The Gentle Don", was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family. Bruno, the first boss of Philadelphia with a seat at the Commission, gained much respect in the underworld and was soon seen as the most powerful Mafia boss outside the New York and Chicago area. He expanded the family's profit and operations in lucrative Atlantic City, which had now become known as the Philadelphia family's turf. Bruno himself avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and outbursts of violence that plagued other crime families, and avoided lengthy prison terms, despite several arrests. His longest prison term was two years for refusing to testify to a grand jury. In addition, Bruno did not allow his family to deal in narcotics, or to participate in any part of the drug trafficking that led to Vito Genovese's 15-year prison sentence in 1959. Apparently, Bruno preferred more traditional operations, including labor racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking, and loansharking. During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.

Philadelphia Mafia War[edit]

On March 21, 1980, Angelo Bruno was assassinated outside his home. The murder was orchestrated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, who was unhappy with Bruno's conservative leadership style and had been led to believe that, if he attempted a coup, he would have the support of the Genovese family.[2] That April, Caponigro visited New York City, apparently under the assumption he was about to be confirmed as boss. Instead, he was tortured and murdered.[3]

Bruno's underboss Philip Testa subsequently took control of the family,[4] lasting just under a year. On March 15, 1981, he was killed by a nail bomb. Testa's murder was believed to have been orchestrated by his own underboss Peter Casella in yet another attempt to take control of the family. Casella's power grab, however, was thwarted by Testa's consigliere Nicodemo Scarfo, who won the support of the New York families to take power himself and had Casella exiled from the territory of the Philly mob.[5]

Scarfo and Merlino[edit]

George Borgesi

The rise of Ligambi[edit]

Joseph Ligambi, who took over as the official boss in 2001, stabilized the family,[6] increased membership and, more importantly, restored relations with the New York families.[7] He had to contend with the damage Joey Merlino had done to the family's relationship with illegal bookmakers, who refused to do business with the Philadelphia crime family because Merlino made huge bets, then never paid when he lost.[8] The family currently consists of approximately 50 members, half of whom are incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates.[9][10] Around a dozen made men will be released from prison in the following years, filling the ranks.[11] Many of these men were young players who fell victim to the unstable Scarfo and Merlino eras, and are now middle-aged. Much of the Philadelphia family's earnings come from illegal poker machines.[12] Ligambi is now considered, by the FBI and the New York families, the indefinite godfather of the Philadelphia Mafia.[6] In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintains a low profile, and is more interested in making money than headlines.[6] He named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss.[6]

Ligambi created a tight-knit group around the family's new leadership, rarely conducting business without going through intermediaries, thereby insulating himself from law enforcement scrutiny.[6] His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters such as Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti.[13] Recently released Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steven Mazzone have also appeared to have fallen in line behind Ligambi. What role Merlino would have when his parole restrictions expired was unknown.[6] Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and served six months in a halfway house in Florida.[14]

On May 23, 2011, Ligambi and 12 other members and associates of the crime family were indicted by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking.[15][16] A superseding indictment added three more defendants to the case. Steve Mazzone, who was not charged and is not on probation, has been named acting boss as a result of the arrests made.[12] Merlino is reportedly running the crime family from Florida, and may have been in charge the entire time he was in prison.[15][17] Five of those charged pleaded guilty to lesser charges. One became a government witness and seven went to trial in October 2012.[18] The defendants were acquitted on 45 counts, found guilty on five counts, and a were undecided (hung jury) on 11 counts. Ligambi and Borgesi were not convicted of any charges. Facing a retiral, Staino took a plea agreement, while Ligambi and Borgesi were retried on the counts on which the jury was split. On January 24, 2014, Borgesi was acquitted and released from prison, while Ligambi was acquitted of one charge and the jury was hung again on the other four.

Current leaders and membership[edit]

  • Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino[19][20][citation needed]
  • Underboss - Joseph Massimino.[19][20] In 2004, he pled guilty to charges of racketeering related to gambling and loan sharking, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.[21] As of October 2012, he was on trial[22] for additional charges of racketeering related to electronic gambling devices.[23]
  • Consigliere - George Borgesi. Ligambi's nephew, he was scheduled to be released from prison on July 3, 2012, before being charged with overseeing a loan sharking operation in Delaware County from his prison cell in North Carolina.[24] His relationship with Ligambi is said to be strained.[25][26] The two have a couple of other members of their family working as associates for the Philadelphia crime family.[27]

South Philadelphia faction[edit]

  • Capo - Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. A smart and low-key captain described by authorities, has never been sentenced or charged for a serious crime. Lancelotti has only been charged in 2004 for assault.[28]
  • Soldier - Anthony Nicodemo. He was charged with the murder of Gino DiPietro, and was a suspect in 2003 when John Casasanto was gunned down.[29] He is currently on trial for murder.
  • Soldier - Frank Gambino. Gambino and four other Philadelphia crime family members allegedly stole $405,871 worth of goods from a Philadelphia shipping port.[30]
  • Soldier - Salvatore "Sonny" Mazzone. He is the brother of Philadelphia crime family acting boss, Steve Mazzone, who attacked and bit off a part of a civilian's nose on the streets of Philadelphia.[31]
  • Soldier - John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini. A known criminal in Philadelphia, his family can be traced back to Nicky Scarfo's teenage years. Ciancaglini's father is currently serving a 45-year prison sentence for racketeering back in 1988. He also has served prison, on an extortion charge for a full nine-year sentence.[32]

South New Jersey faction[edit]

  • Capo - Anthony Staino. He was charged with loansharking after a Philadelphia bookie, Henry Scipione, failed to pay Staino his $80,000. Scipione testified against Staino and said that Staino threatened to put a bullet in his head.[33]
  • Soldier - Anthony Borgesi. Philip Ligambi and Borgesi were charged in 1994 with assault on a mother and her 16-year-old son over a business deal.[34]

North New Jersey faction[edit]

  • Capo - Martin "Marty" Angelina. In 2001, he was convicted of racketeering with Joey Merlino, and was sentenced to 78 months. In September 2012, he was sentenced to 57 months on racketeering, loansharking and illegal gambling charges.[35]
  • Capo - Joseph "Scoops" Licata. A former acting captain, he was sentenced to 14 years in 1994 after George Fresolone recorded secret conversations, and Licata was charged under major gambling operations in Newark.[36]
  • Soldier - Vincent "Beeps" Centorino. In 1994, he and other high-profile Philadelphia crime family mobsters, including Nicky Scarfo Jr., were tapped by the FBI, and all pleaded guilty.[37]

Historical leadership[edit]

Boss (official, acting and front)[edit]

Underbosses (official and acting)[edit]

Consigliere (official and acting)[edit]

Government Informants[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How the Pagans Bested the Mob | Cover Story | News and Opinion". Philadelphia Weekly. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  2. ^ Anastasia, George (1991). Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob - The Mafia's Most Violent Family. New York: William Morrow and Company Inc. pp. 86–88. ISBN 0-688-09260-8. 
  3. ^ Anastasia (1991), pp. 91-92
  4. ^ Anastasia (1991), p. 93
  5. ^ Anastasia (1991), pp. 106-109, 112
  6. ^ a b c d e f g George Anastasia (December 26, 2010). "Still Home for Holidays". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 4, 2010. 
  7. ^ McGarvey, Brendan. "Happy Birthday to Joe :: News :: Article :: Philadelphia City Paper". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  8. ^ McGarvey, Brendan. "Sins of the Fathers". Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  9. ^ "Police data show Philadelphia mob in decline". New Criminologist. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  10. ^ "Waste And Abuse" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  13. ^ Porello, Rick (December 17, 2001). "Meet The New Boss". (Internet). 
  14. ^ [3][dead link]
  15. ^ a b "Merlino still runs Philly mob, court document says". 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  16. ^ PATRICK WALTERS (2011-05-23). "Reputed Philly mob boss, 12 others arrested |". Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  17. ^ [4][dead link]
  18. ^ &MARYCLAIRE DALE (2012-10-08). "Ligambi goes on trial Tuesday in Philly mob case | Action News at 4pm". Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  19. ^ a b FBI Makes Major La Cosa Nostra Arrests In Philidelphia [sic] (May 23, 2011) Justice Department Section
  20. ^ a b Reputed mob boss Ligambi and others indicted on gambling, loan-sharking charges by George Anastasia (May 24, 2011)
  21. ^ George Anastasia (July 23, 2009). "Mob underboss seeks sentence reduction Joseph Massimino, who ran a gambling operation in South Jersey and Pa., has served half of a 10-year term.". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  22. ^ WILLIAM BENDER; MORGAN ZALOT (Dec 13, 2012). "Apparent mob hit in South Philadelphia". Philadelphia Media Network. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  23. ^ Barry Leibowitz (May 23, 2011). "Alleged Phila. mob boss, a dozen more, hit with federal indictment for rackateering, gambling - Crimesider - CBS News". CBS News. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  24. ^ "Ex-mob consigliere Borgesi pleads not guilty". 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  25. ^ "Ligambi ordered held without bail". 2011-05-27. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  26. ^ [5][dead link]
  27. ^ "Angry 'Wiseguys' In Corner Argument". Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  28. ^ "Informant testifies at Ligambi trial". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  29. ^ "Shooting death of South Philadelphia man termed a mob hit". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  30. ^ "U.S. Says Reputed Mobsters Fenced Bikes and Baby Goods". NY Times. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  31. ^ "Nose Job". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  32. ^ "On tape, mob suspect gets personal John Ciancaglini, on trial, was recorded talking about his family's losses in a 1993 mob war.". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  33. ^ "Prosecution witness says Staino seldom threatened him". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  34. ^ "Reputed Mob Associates Charged In Attack On Mother, Son Anthony Borgesi, 29, And Philip Ligambi, 24, Are Charged. Police Say The Fight Was Over A Business Deal.". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  35. ^ "Mobster receives 57 months for racketeering". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  36. ^ "Mob Boss Sentenced To 14 Years Joseph Licata Admitted Having Headed A Loan-sharking And Gambling Ring In The '80s.". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  37. ^ "Secret Tape Captures A Mob Initiation Rite A Bombshell Lands On 'Tony Buck' Piccolo.". Retrieved 2 February 2013. 
  38. ^ Joseph Merlino: The mobster next door
  39. ^
  40. ^ Underboss sentenced as war on mob continues Merlino associate Steven Mazzone was given a nine-year term. The probes go on, authorities say by George Anastasia (December 06, 2001)
  41. ^ Mob underboss seeks sentence reduction Joseph Massimino, who ran a gambling operation in South Jersey and Pa., has served half of a 10-year term. by George Anastasia (June 23, 2009)
  42. ^ Who’s Who Now In The Philly Mob September 4, 2009
  43. ^ Reputed Mob Underboss Wins Bail Release
  44. ^ "A Crow Turns Stool Pigeon: NICHOLAS CARAMANDI". 1991-06-17. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  45. ^ McGarvey, Brendan. "Die Another Day :: Philadelphia City Paper.". Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  46. ^ "Former 'Capo': 'I Was Underpaid'". CBS News. 2007-12-05. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Anastasia, George. Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob, the Mafia's Most Violent Family. 2004, ISBN 0940159864
  • Anastasia, George. Goodfella Tapes.
  • Anastasia, George. The Last Gangster.
  • Wagman, Robert J. Blood Oath.

External links[edit]