Nicodemo Scarfo

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Nicodemo Scarfo
Nicky Scarfo.jpg
Nicodemo Domenico Scarfo

(1929-03-08)March 8, 1929
DiedJanuary 13, 2017(2017-01-13) (aged 87)
Other names"Little Nicky", "Little Lethal Nicky", "Lethal Nicky", "The Killer"
OccupationCrime boss, mobster, extortionist, racketeer
Spouse(s)Domenica Scarfo (second wife)
Children3, including Nicodemo Scarfo Jr.
RelativesPhil Leonetti (nephew)
AllegiancePhiladelphia crime family
Conviction(s)conspiracy, racketeering, first-degree murder (1987–1989)
Criminal penalty14 years imprisonment, 55 years imprisonment, life imprisonment (1987–1989)

Nicodemo Domenico "Little Nicky" Scarfo (March 8, 1929 – January 13, 2017) was a member of the American Mafia who became the boss of the Philadelphia crime family after the deaths of Angelo Bruno and Phil Testa. During his criminal career, Scarfo was described by some as psychotic, cruel and vicious. From many accounts of his former criminal associates who testified against him, he would want to murder someone if he was shown the slightest bit of disrespect or even if he was stared at.[1][2]

Scarfo orchestrated a particularly ruthless regime and allegedly ordered over a dozen murders during his time as boss. Scarfo engaged in organized crime activities such as drug trafficking, while many other bosses avoided such activities known to attract law enforcement scrutiny. It was these methods that ultimately led to Scarfo's downfall. He was convicted of multiple RICO charges in 1988 including drug trafficking, loansharking, extortion, attempted murder, and first degree murder, and with damaging testimonies of several informants, who had carried out his murders, and his top lieutenants including his second in command and nephew, Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti. Scarfo died in prison on January 13, 2017, while serving his prison sentence.[3][4]

He is also the father of Nicky Scarfo Jr., a Lucchese family soldier, who was sentenced in 2015, to 30 years in prison for security fraud, racketeering, and illegal gambling.

Early life[edit]

Scarfo was born on March 8, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York, to Philip and Catherine Scarfo, Italian immigrants from Naples and Calabria.[5] At the age of 12, Scarfo and his family moved to South Philadelphia, where he worked as a young laborer and later graduated at Benjamin Franklin High School in 1947.[6] He became an amateur boxer, fighting in small clubs throughout Philadelphia, earning himself a reputation for his aggressive temper in the ring.

Early criminal years[edit]

After failing to become a success in the boxing world, Scarfo joined his uncle Nicky Buck, a Philly Mob soldier, in illegal activities in Philadelphia.[7] He worked as a bartender at a club owned by his uncle and was apprenticed by him and his two brothers. He also committed his first murder with hitman Felix "Skinny Razor" Di Tullio, who taught him how to kill.

Later criminal years[edit]

In 1954, Scarfo was proposed for membership into the Philadelphia crime family. He was inducted by then boss Joseph Ida at a ceremony held in New Jersey, alongside two of his uncles who were also inducted as full-fledged soldiers. Scarfo was reportedly arrogant and stubborn, having declined to marry the daughter of Consigliere Joe Rugnetta, leaving him embarrassed and disrespected, briefly causing friction within the family. In 1963, Scarfo pleaded guilty to manslaughter for fatally stabbing a longshoreman; he spent about six months in prison.[5] After his release, he was sent to Atlantic City, New Jersey by Angelo Bruno to oversee the operations there. Scarfo served almost two years in prison from 1971 to 1973 for refusing to testify for the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation.[8] He served his time with boss Angelo Bruno and Genovese crime family members Gerardo Catena and Louis Manna, the latter of whom he formed a close relationship with.

In 1976, Atlantic City legalized gambling, and Scarfo prioritized gambling as his main source of income. His cement contracting company, which was shared with his nephew, Scarf, Inc, received good business as developers built new casinos in Atlantic City; Scarfo would intimidate businesses into buying from his company, including Donald Trump.[9][10] In 1978, Scarfo and his associate, Nicholas "Nick the Blade" Virgilio, shot and murdered judge Edwin J. Helfant for refusing to cooperate with them and to help Virgilio receive a lighter sentence as he was facing murder charges, in exchange for $12,500. Scarfo acted as the getaway driver. Meanwhile, Virgilio fired numerous rounds into the judge as he dined with his wife in a restaurant. He made it a public execution and made him an example to anyone that wasn't willing to give him what he wanted.[11][12][13] In 1979, criminal associate and contractor Vincent Falcone was shot twice and killed by Phil Leonetti on orders of Scarfo after making negative remarks about the company and Scarfo.[14]

Power struggle[edit]

Longtime Boss Angelo Bruno was murdered in 1980. His murder was orchestrated by his Consigliere, Antonio Caponigro. Weeks later, Caponigro faced the consequence of killing a Boss without the approval of the American Mafia Commission. He was found shot dozens of times in a car trunk and $300 in bills were jammed in his mouth and anus as a sign of his own greed.[15] Phil Testa became the new Boss of the Philadelphia crime family, appointing Scarfo as his Consigliere. However, his tenure as Boss would be a short one. Testa was killed by a nail bomb under his porch in 1981, on orders of his Underboss and drug trafficker Peter Casella and Capo Frank Narducci Sr., which later resulted in Narducci being gunned down and Casella being banished from the Mob and fleeing to Florida.

Testa's murder sparked a war within the family. Scarfo seized the top position for himself, promoting his nephew as his Underboss and Frank Monte as his Consigliere.[16][17] Scarfo would go on to lead the family for a decade with a bloody rampage, fueled by paranoia and aggression.[18] Between August 1982 and January 1984, Scarfo was imprisoned in a Texas penitentiary for gun possession. During that time, aging Capo Harry Riccobene began to form another faction that opposed Scarfo. The war would cost him his little brother's life, his brother Mario to become a government informant and Riccobene himself to be given a life sentence for first degree murder.[19][20]

In 1984, Scarfo ordered the death of Salvatore Testa, one of his Capos and top hitmen, as Testa's ambition and growing popularity made Scarfo feel threatened. Testa was the son of former Boss Phil Testa, who had been Scarfo's close friend and mentor.[21] As a result of Salvatore Testa's murder, Scarfo gained a reputation for disloyalty, and several criminal organizations across the United States began to distrust him.[22]

Downfall of Scarfo[edit]

In 1985, Scarfo plotted to extort $1 million from major commercial developer Willard Rouse, sending his soldier Nicholas Caramandi and another associate to do it. Rouse refused and immediately contacted the FBI. The FBI began a case to tackle Scarfo, sending an undercover agent to pose as a representative of Rouse. This led Caramandi, a notable and feared hitman, to cooperate and testify against the organization.[23][24][25] In 1986, Caramandi was indicted for his role in the extortion case and decided to testify in court.[5] Between 1987 and 1989, Scarfo was convicted three times—for conspiracy, racketeering, and first-degree murder, being sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 14 years, 55 years and life, although the life sentence was later overturned.[26] His nephew, Phil Leonetti, also testified against him after facing a 45-year prison sentence, in 1989.[26]


Scarfo began his sentence at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.[27][28] He was later transferred to the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, where he died of natural causes on January 13, 2017. His register number was 09813-050.[29][30][31]


  1. ^ "On the anniversary of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, a look at history's most fearsome mob bosses". Nicholas Parco. The New York Daily News. February 14, 2016. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  2. ^ "Nicodemo - Little Nicky - Scarfo". La Cosa Nostra Database. LCNDB. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  3. ^ "NICODEMO SCARFO". Federal Bureau of Prisons. USA Gov. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  4. ^ "Always A Joker, Never A Rat. In Mobster's Obituary, Unexpected Family". George Anastasia. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Nicky Scarfo, Mob Boss Who Plundered Atlantic City in the '80s, Dies at 87". January 17, 2017.
  6. ^ via Associated Press. "Nicodemo Scarfo, ex-Philadelphia mob boss, dies in prison", Utica Observer-Dispatch, January 17, 2017. Accessed July 22, 2019. "Scarfo graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1947, where classmates voted him 'loudest,' 'most talkative' and 'best cutter'."
  7. ^ "Nicodemo Scarfo". Bio. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Chris Frates. "Donald Trump and the mob". CNN. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  10. ^ Micah J. Fleck. "Journalist Calls Out Donald Trump on Potential Mob Ties in Resurfaced Report". The Libertarian Republic. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  11. ^ Kitty Caparaella. "'The Blade' Is Cut Down Killer Nicholas Virgilio Dies In Prison". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  12. ^ Toni Locy. "Her Memory Of 'The Blade' Wasn't Sharp Fed's Witness Mistakes Scarfo For Virgilio". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  13. ^ Vicky Hyman. "N.J.'s most notorious murders | The mobsters". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  14. ^ "Book excerpt from 'Mafia Prince:' The story of Philip Leonetti's mob hit of Vincent Falcone as ordered and watched by Nicky Scarfo". NY Daily News. November 19, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  15. ^ "Mobster's South Philly House Up for Historical Nomination". Philly Curbed. Melissa Romero. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  16. ^ "This Mob Shot Its Brains Out Crime boss Ralph Natale, in rare testimony against his own, tells a tale of murder--and ineptitude". Stephen Braun. The LA Times. May 4, 2001. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  17. ^ "Mob Violence Is Personal For Narducci's Sons". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  18. ^ "The Mafia Prince Next Door". Huffington Post. Phil Leonetti. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  19. ^ "Too tough to fuggedabout: Notable Mafia nicknames". Fox News. Fox News. May 11, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  20. ^ "Former Philly Police Captain Dies at 71". NBC News. NBC News Philadelphia. January 8, 2014. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  21. ^ "The Story Of Sal Testa, Former Scarfo Protege". Michael B. Coakley. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  22. ^ "What happened to the Scarfo crime family?". Press of Atlantic City. Donna Weaver & Brian Ianieri. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  23. ^ "Scarfo Guilty of Rouse Extortion". Jim Smith. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  24. ^ "Reputed Mob Boss Has Florida Ties". Sun Sentinel. Deborah Petit. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  25. ^ "CRIME CHIEF GUILTY IN EXTORTION PLOT". NY Times. The New York Times. May 7, 1987. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  26. ^ a b Writer, By George Anastasia, Staff. "Tyrannical Mafia boss Nicodemo 'Little Nicky' Scarfo, 87, dies in prison hospital".
  27. ^ "Reputed Mob Leader and 16 Others Are Convicted". Robert Strauss. The New York Times. November 20, 1988. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  28. ^ "SCARFO AND 11 INDICTED IN JERSEY AS CRIME CONSPIRATORS". The New York Times. Donald Janson. November 4, 1986. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  29. ^ "Inmate Locator". Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  30. ^ "Former mob boss Nicodemo 'Little Nicky' Scarfo dead at 87". Retrieved October 25, 2017.
  31. ^ "Inmate Locator". Retrieved October 25, 2017.
American Mafia
Preceded by
Philip Testa
Philadelphia crime family

Succeeded by
John Stanfa