FBI surveillance photograph of Nicky Scarfo on the street
March 8, 1929|
Brooklyn, New York, United States
January 13, 2017 (aged 87)|
Federal Medical Center, Butner, North Carolina
|Resting place||Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina|
|Other names||"Little Nicky", "Little Lethal Nicky", "Lethal Nicky", "The Killer"|
|Occupation||Crime boss, mobster, extortionist, racketeer|
|Known for||Boss of the Philadelphia crime family|
|Criminal charge||Extortion (1988), 9 counts of murder, 1 of attempted murder of Harry Riccobene, and several other RICO charges (1989)|
|Children||3, including Nicodemo Salvatore Scarfo Jr|
Nicodemo Domenic "Little Nicky" Scarfo (March 8, 1929 – January 13, 2017) was a member of the American Mafia who eventually became the boss of the Philadelphia crime family after the death 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.
Scarfo orchestrated a particularly ruthless regime and ordered over a dozen murders during his time as boss. He was often described by informants as cold-hearted and narcissistic. He enjoyed the celebrity gangster lifestyle and was an admirer of Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone. Scarfo would scan newspapers for his name and made sure his soldiers carried out murders in public to create a constant atmosphere of fear. Scarfo engaged in organized crime activities such as drug trafficking to generate millions, while many other bosses avoided such activities known to attract law enforcement scrutiny. It was these methods that ultimately led to Scarfo's downfall. Though Scarfo's reign may have made him rich, in the long term, it almost destroyed the crime family that he dominated for a decade. After being 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 used to carry 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.
Scarfo was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Philip and Catherine Scarfo, both Catholics. At the age of 12, Scarfo and his family moved to New Jersey, where he worked as a young laborer and later graduated at Franklin High School in 1947. He earned himself a reputation by becoming an amateur boxer, fighting in small boxing clubs throughout Philadelphia, known for his aggressive temper in the ring.
Early criminal years
Having not become a success in the boxing world, Scarfo joined his uncle Nicky Buck, a Philly Mob soldier, to venture in illegal activities in Philadelphia. 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 feared[according to whom?] hitman Felix "Skinny Razor" Di Tullio, who taught him how to kill.
Later criminal years
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, causing a brief friction within the family. In 1963, Scarfo pleaded guilty to manslaughter for fatally stabbing an Irish longshoreman with a knife over an argument at a Philadelphia restaurant, while he was with Chuckie Merlino. He spent around 10 months in prison. After his release, he was sent to Atlantic City 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. He served his time with boss Angelo Bruno and Genovese crime family members Gerardo Catena and Louis Manna, the latter 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. 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. 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.
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, 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. 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. This also sparked an outrageous war within the family after Bruno's gangland execution. Scarfo seized the top position for himself, promoting his nephew as his Underboss and Frank Monte as his Consigliere. Scarfo would go on to lead the family for a decade with a bloody rampage, fueled by paranoia and aggression. 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. In 1984, Scarfo ordered the death of Salvatore Testa, one of his Capo's and top hitman, for the reason of jealousy and Scarfo was insecure about his power as he thought he was becoming too ambitious. Testa was also the son of former Boss Phil Testa, who was a close friend and mentored Scarfo. Scarfo became known as disloyal and several criminal organizations across the USA began to distrust him as his motive for ordering the death of Testa was for very little reason.
Downfall of Scarfo and the family
In 1985, Scarfo plotted to extort $1 million from major commercial developer Willard Rouse, and so he sent 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. In 1986, Caramandi was indicted for his role in the extortion case and decided to cooperate in fear of Scarfo ordering a hit on his life. A year later, Caramandi testified against him in court. Scarfo received 14 years for the extortion as a result of Caramandi's testimony. With the help of several informants, including his blood relative Phil Leonetti, Scarfo was convicted of nine murders and of the numerous failed attempts on Harry Riccobene in 1989 and other RICO charges; he was handed a life sentence.
Scarfo was serving his prison time at the Atlanta federal penitentiary. 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.
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| Philadelphia crime family