Philadelphia crime family

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Philadelphia crime family
Founded by Salvatore Sabella
Founding location South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Years active 1911–present
Territory Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley, and South Jersey. Territory in Atlantic City, Delaware, Baltimore, Hazelton, Trenton, and North Jersey.
Ethnicity Men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities employed as "associates"
Membership (est.) 40 made members approx, 100 associates approx
Criminal activities Extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling and sports betting, racketeering, corruption, conspiracy, prostitution, drug trafficking, money laundering, and murder.
Allies Five Families, Patriarca crime family, DeCavalcante crime family, K&A Gang,[1] Detroit Partnership,[2] Warlocks Motorcycle Club, Philadelphia Greek Mob, the Italian-American 10th and Oregon Crew/Gang, Pagan's Motorcycle Club,[3] Black Mafia / Junior Black Mafia[4][5]
Rivals Hell's Angels,[3] various other gangs throughout Philadelphia area, including their allies, occasionally 10th and Oregon Crew/Gang and The Pagans.[6]

The Philadelphia crime family, (pronounced [filaˈdɛlfja]) also known as the Philadelphia Mafia,[7][8] the Philly Mob/Mafia,[9][10] the Bruno-Scarfo family,[11] the South Philly Mob/Mafia,[6][8] or the Philadelphia-South Jersey Mob/Mafia[12][13][14] is an Italian American criminal organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formed and based in South Philadelphia, the family primarily operates in various areas and neighborhoods throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area and Delaware Valley, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, especially South Jersey.[15][16][17][18] The Philadelphia family is notorious for its violence, due in particular to its succession of violent bosses and multiple mob wars.

Under Angelo Bruno's reign (1959–1980) the family enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity. During this time, law enforcement and the media started calling the family the Bruno crime family.[19][20] Bruno, nicknamed the "Gentle Don," became known for his cool-headed and deliberate approach to handling business disputes and preferring traditional rackets such as bookmaking, labor racketeering, and loansharking instead of high-risk operations such as drug trafficking. A complex dispute involving disgruntled subordinates and the Genovese crime family of New York City led to Bruno's murder in 1980. Bruno's death kicked off a gradual decline in power for the crime family and a rise in Philadelphia Mafia violence. Bruno's death led to an internal war for control of the crime family. Bruno was immediately succeeded by his loyal friend, Philip "The Chicken Man" Testa; however, within a year of Bruno's murder, Testa was also assassinated in a nail bomb explosion in 1981. Bruno and Testa's deaths were followed by multiple internal mafia wars and further violence.

When the dust settled from Bruno's death, Nicodemo Scarfo, "Little Nicky," became the boss of the crime family. During Scarfo's reign the family was known as the Scarfo crime family.[6][8][12][13][14][20][21][22] Scarfo's 10-year reign saw the family grow in power, but also become highly dysfunctional. Unlike Bruno, Scarfo was infamous for his short temper and penchant for violence. Scarfo increasingly involved the family in narcotics trafficking and demanded that all criminals pay a street tax for operating in any territory Scarfo considered his own. Scarfo also did not hesitate to order people murdered over moderate disputes. Scarfo ordered the deaths of over 20 mobsters from 1981 to 1987. The dramatic rise in violence attracted increased attention from the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police and New Jersey State Police. Increased violence and law enforcement prosecutions also convinced several mobsters to cooperate with the government (including Scarfo's own nephew) in order to escape death or prison. Scarfo's downfall came in 1988 when he and most of his top allies were arrested and sentenced to long prison terms.

Scarfo's imprisonment eventually led to another internal mob war. With the backing of the Gambino crime family in New York, Sicilian-born John Stanfa was named boss of the Philadelphia crime family in 1991. However, a faction of young mobsters led by Joey Merlino disputed Stanfa's ascension, and by 1992 another war for control of the family was underway. The war ended in 1994 when Stanfa and most of his supporters were arrested by the FBI. Merlino subsequently took control of the family and has allegedly been running the family to varying degrees ever since, allegedly utilizing at times multiple "figurehead" or "front" bosses throughout his reign so as to misdirect the attention of law enforcement. Unlike most of his Mafia contemporaries, Merlino was extremely prolific and never camera-shy, participating in various local charity events. With Merlino's imprisonment in 2001, Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi became acting boss, stabilizing the family and returning it to its status as a low-profile, profitable organization. Merlino, released from prison in 2011, is believed to have maintained his status as "boss" of the family during the Ligambi reign and following Ligambi's semi-retirement sometime between 2011-2014. Inevitably, the Philadelphia crime family has been weakened over the past 30 years due to violence, internal warfare and conflict, government turncoats, and the general widespread crack-down by law enforcement on organized crime following the passage of the RICO Act. Despite this, the Philadelphia family still remains one of the most active and powerful Mafia families in the country.

History[edit]

The beginning[edit]

In the early 20th century, several Italian immigrant and Italian-American South 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 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 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 some crime families, and avoided lengthy prison terms, despite several arrests.

Bruno had a reputation for seeking peaceful solutions to family issues instead of violence.[23] Bruno preferred more traditional operations such as labor racketeering, illegal gambling and loan sharking. Since the late 1960s, the Philadelphia crime family used violence and intimidation to control Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union. The crime family plundered the local's health and welfare funds and used its control to extort money from bars and restaurants.[23] During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.

Bruno ran a fairly simple operation. He focused on low risk, high reward crimes like labor racketeering and large scale bookie operations. He also gave his subordinates autonomy as long as he received his share of the profits. He was against any of his men getting involved in narcotics trafficking fearing the long prison sentences they could bring. Many of his men disagreed with this decision, seeing the large profits that could be made. His men were further angered because Bruno accepted money from John Gambino in order to let the Gambino crime family sell heroin in south New Jersey. Many of his men saw Bruno as too old-fashion and too content with the criminal rackets the family already had. His consigliere Antonio Caponigro approached Genovese family boss Frank Tieri in order to seek the Commission's permission to kill Bruno and take over the crime family. Tieri, sensing an opportunity to take Caponigro's north New Jersey rackets, lied to Caponigro and told him he had the Commission's support.[24] On March 21, 1980, Bruno was shot in the back of the head while in his car by a gunman working for Caponigro.[25] That April, Caponigro visited New York City under the assumption he was about to be confirmed as boss. Instead, he was tortured and murdered for killing a Commission member without permission.[26] Caponigro's co-conspirators Frank Sindone and John Simone were also murdered in 1980.

"Little Nicky" Scarfo[edit]

Nicodemo "Nicky" Scarfo (center)
Scarfo mobsters congregating. Included in the photo are Phil Leonetti, Joey Pungitore, Philip Narducci and Nicholas Milano.

Bruno's successor, his underboss Philip Testa lasted just under a year before he was killed by a nail bomb on March 15, 1981. Testa's murder was believed to have been orchestrated by his underboss Peter Casella and Frank Narducci, Sr. in yet another attempt to take control of the family.[27] Casella called a meeting with Testa's consigliere Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo soon after Testa's death. Casella told Scarfo that, at a meeting with Paul Castellano and Fat Tony Salerno, he had been made the new Boss and that Narducci was to be the new underboss. Scarfo was suspicious and set up a meeting with the two New York Bosses. At that meeting, Scarfo discovered that Casella had been lying. Scarfo was a Bruno crime family mobster who operated in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Previously a struggling resort town, legalized gambling was a boom to the city's legal and illegal economy. Despite long being recognized as Philadelphia Mafia territory, the New York families now wanted Atlantic City to be an open town. Scarfo reached a compromise by giving the New York families portions of Atlantic City while keeping a significant portion for himself. With the Commission's support, Scarfo was named the boss of the Philadelphia crime family.

Scarfo named Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino as his underboss and Frank Monte as his consigliere. Narducci was murdered[28] by Joey Pungitore and Salvatore Testa (Philip's son) while Casella was forced into retirement in Florida. Scarfo demoted Bruno's mob captains and replaced them with Testa, Phil Leonetti, Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino and Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, Sr. In 1982, Tommy DelGiorno, Frank "Faffy" Iannarella, Joseph J. Scarfo and Pat "The Cat" Spirito were formally inducted into the Philadelphia crime family.

The last person to stand in Scarfo's way was well respected, long-time mobster Harry Riccobene. Riccobene was a well respected, long time mobster who neither liked or respected Scarfo. While Bruno let Riccobene operate without without asking for a share of his illicit profits, Scarfo demanded a typical "kick up" tribute.[29] With Scarfo off the street doing a brief prison term, the "Riccobene War" ensued between 1982 and 1984. The Scarfo faction was able to kill three of Riccobene's men.[23] The Riccobene faction was able to kill Scarfo's consigliere Frank Monte, while Riccobene himself survived two attempts on his life. Eventually, one of Riccobene's men was arrested for Monte's murder and agreed to cooperate with the government for a lighter sentence. The war ended in 1984 when Riccobene was arrested and convicted of Monte's murder.

When Scarfo became Boss, he wanted to unify organized crime in the area and dreamed of running a smooth criminal empire. He soon installed a mob practice somewhat alien to Philadelphia criminals. The "street tax" was enforced by soldiers and associates of the family. The tax was paid by any criminal working independently from the Mafia. Criminals such as drug dealers, bookmakers, pimps, and number runners operating in any territory that Scarfo deemed his own were forced to pay his "street tax" weekly. Those who refused to pay the tax were usually murdered. Loan shark, drug dealer and pawn shop owner John Calabrese was killed by Joseph Ciancaglini, Sr., Tommy DelGiorno and Frank Iannarella and Pat Spirito. Frankie "Flowers" D'Alfonso was brutally beaten by Salvatore Testa and Joey Pungitore for refusing to pay the "street tax." He was later murdered in 1985 by Joseph Ligambi and Frank Narducci's two sons Phil and Frank, Jr.

The crime families biggest racket were control of labor unions. Since Bruno's reign, the Philadelphia crime family maintained some degree of influence over Roofers Union Local 30, Iron Workers Union Local 405, Laborers Union Local 332 and Teamsters Union Locals 107, 158, 331 and 837.[23] The crime family used this influence to extort businesses, steal from the union treasuries and receive paychecks and benefits for little to no work. Scarfo also got the crime family heavily involved in methamphetamine trafficking. At first, the family extorted money from local meth dealers. When Greek-American mob boss Chelsais Bouras began horning in on the methamphetamine trade in Philadelphia and refused to pay Scarfo's street tax, Scarfo had him killed. Bouras was eating dinner with his girlfriend, friends and Scarfo soldier Ray Martorano when a hit team ambushed and killed him and his girlfriend. The crime family then started controlling the meth trade in the area by supplying illicit P2P (a key ingredient) to meth manufactures.[23] By controlling the supply of P2P the Philadelphia crime family was generally able to control the methamphetamine trade in the Philadelphia/South New Jersey area. Some criminals borrowed money from Mafia members to finance meth operations (and benefited from working with the Mafia instead of being extorted by them).[23] The crime family also had some involvement in cocaine and marijuana trafficking.

Scarfo became notorious of his ruthless nature. Scarfo demanded complete allegiance to him and ordered people murdered over signs of disrespect, insubordination or resistance. Described by a former crime family member:

[i]f you were in good graces with him, he loves you and you love him. You understand? But you never knew from one day to the next. He'd turn on anybody, and he drew no lines when it came to killing. Most Mob bosses were not like him. The Mob is basically run the same in every city, but our "family" was unusual in that it was a very paranoid family because we all feared each other and feared Scarfo the most. He held grudges. If you didn't say hello to him 20 years ago, he never forgot. He used to say, "I'm like the turtle. I get there." You know, we were the best of friends. He believed in me, and I believed in him. But he was very, very paranoid. He betrayed himself. His own nephew turned.

— Nicholas "The Crow" Caramandi

Soon after his promotion to boss, the number of organized crime related murders escalated in the 1980s. Between his accession to boss in 1982 and his arrest in 1987, Scarfo ordered the murder of almost 30 mobsters. Philadelphia mobster turned government witness Nicholas Caramandi described Scarfo's violent nature in a 2001 interview: "Scarfo was a cowboy. He didn't want a guy taken in a house and shot easily in the back of the head. He wanted it outside, in broad daylight, with a million people around. Restaurants, funeral homes, anywhere. Then it gets written up in the papers, and it puts fear in people. He loved that cowboy stuff."[30]

Salvatore Testa avenged the death of his father Philip in 1982. Despite serving faithfully under Scarfo, Scarfo granted Salvatore Merlino permission of kill Sal Testa for breaking off his engagement to Merlino's daughter.

Scarfo had recently inducted member Pasquale "Pat the Cat" Spirito murdered in 1983. During the Riccobene War Spirito switched sides and aligned himself with Scarfo, but was killed for turning down a murder contract on Riccobene's brother.[23] On September 14, 1984 Scarfo loyalist Salvatore Testa was murdered. Despite serving under Scarfo and committing several murders on his behalf, Scarfo granted his underboss Salvatore Merlino permission to kill Testa for breaking off his engagement with Merlino's daughter. After Merlino's drinking problem got out of hand, Scarfo promoted his nephew Phil Leonetti to underboss.

Nicky Scarfo wanted Dominic DeVito aka "Mickey Diamond" dead, but couldn't have him killed because of the friendship DeVito had with his Scarfo's friend Nick Caramandi. Finally, Scarfo decided that he'd have DeVito killed and anyone else that did not follow his orders as he saw fit. He gave the contract to Funzi and Mark Marconi to test their loyalty to him. In the aftermath of the hit, Pat "The Cat" Spirito was promoted to captain. Nick "the Crow" Caramandi acquired DeVito's loan sharking books and began collecting from the debtors. Caramandi had demonstrated himself loyal to Scarfo.

In November 1988, Scarfo and 16 of his men were convicted of racketeering, 10 murders, 5 attempted murders, extortion, gambling and narcotics trafficking.[23] The large arrest and trial crippled the Philadelphia crime family permanently. Along with Scarfo, underboss Philip Leonetti, three of the family's four capos or captains, Joseph Ciancaglini, Francis Iannarella Jr. and Santo Idone, and soldiers such as Albert Pontani, Salvatore Merlino and Charles Iannece were arrested.[31] The prosecutions were strengthened by Mafia members Tommy DelGiorno and Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi agreeing to cooperate with law enforcement and testify at trial for the government in order to escape long prison terms and Scarfo's ruthless regime.[23][31] 15 of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 30 to 55 years.[23] Successful investigations and prosecutions decimated some of the crime family's most profitable criminal operations. Law enforcement severely crippled the Mafia's influence on local labor unions, the local mob's biggest money maker. Police also broke up numerous mob-run illegal betting parlors that took in bets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Scarfo's underboss and nephew Phil Leonetti was the next defector who agreed to cooperate with the FBI in return for a lighter sentence. Many more mobsters would later be sentenced to long prison terms for crimes such as racketeering, narcotics trafficking and murder.[32] This caused the number of Mafia members in the family to dwindle in the 1990s, with fewer new guys available to replace all those being convicted of serious crimes. By 1990, 21 members were incarcerated, 11 were under indicted and six turned government witnesses.[33] The Pennsylvania Crime Commission reported that there were only 24 members who were free and not facing criminal charges.

Philadelphia Mafia War[edit]

John Stanfa (right) talking to Tommy "Horsehead" Scafidi.

After all the defendants received lengthy prison terms, it became clear that Scarfo would not be able to maintain control of the family from prison much longer. To avoid a total power vacuum in the Philadelphia Mafia, Sicilian-born mobster John Stanfa helped run the family for Scarfo while Scarfo was in prison. With the support and endorsement of the influential Gambino crime family in New York, Stanfa was named boss of the Philadelphia crime family in 1991. To many older mafia members, and especially in the eyes of the New York Mafia, Stanfa had substantial mafia credentials; he was born in Sicily to a Sicilian Mafia family, he was an old friend of Gambino boss Carlo Gambino, and he had served as a bodyguard and driver for the respected late Angelo Bruno starting in the 1960s. However, Stanfa was less respected in Philadelphia, especially among the new generation of young, ambitious Philadelphia street mobsters. The presumptuous intrusion of the New York Mafia into Philadelphia Mafia affairs and New York's paternalistic installment of a new boss was not well-received by many of these young mobsters, who saw Stanfa as an outsider beholden to New York and unsuitable to run the Philadelphia family.[34] Many of these young mobsters, born and raised in the streets of South Philadelphia, were the sons or nephews of jailed Scarfo and Bruno lieutenants and capos. Deeply resentful of having been overlooked by the meddling New York families and dismissed by many of the older, more traditional Italian Philadelphia mafiosi, the new generation of mobsters felt it was their turn to run the crime family. This crew of young, overly ambitious men became known as the "Young Turks" gang. The "Young Turks" were led by the especially ambitious and often ruthless Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, the son of former underboss Salvatore Merlino.

Stanfa recruited John Veasey as an enforcer during the war with Merlino.[35] Veasey would later become a government turncoat and testify for the prosecution at Stanfa's trial.

While serving prison time at the Federal Correctional Institution, McKean in 1990, Merlino he met Ralph Natale.[36] Natale was an older mobster who used to be friends with deceased boss Angelo Bruno. It was in prison with Natale that Merlino first discussed taking over the Philadelphia family. The plan was for Merlino to start a war for control of the crime family, then have Natale named boss when he was released from prison. When Merlino was released from prison, he recruited his childhood friends into the plan. These men included Michael Ciancaglini, Stephen Mazzone, George Borgesi, Martin Angelina and Michael Lancelotti. Stanfa was aware of the divide in his family and tried to find a peaceful solution. He named Joseph Ciancaglini, Jr., the brother of Merlino's best friend, as his new underboss. Stanfa hoped that this would appease the Merlino/Natale faction and bring them under his banner, but it did not work. Tensions escalated and by 1992 another war for control of the Philadelphia crime family was underway. Merlino's loyalist shot and incapacitated underboss Joseph Ciancaglini, Jr. while Stanfa's faction killed Merlino's top lieutenant Michael Ciancaglini.[37] They continued attacking each other for months while Merlino escaped several attempts on his life. Being the boss of the Philadelphia crime family, Stanfa had a larger army at his command and also recruited a lot of outside hittmen to fight in the war.[38] The Merlino/Natale faction was much smaller, but it allied with other Philadelphia criminal organizations including the Pagan's Motorcycle Club and the Junior Black Mafia while also convincing some members of the Philadelphia crime family to switch sides.

In 1994, Stanfa and 21 of his men were arrested on racketeering related chargers.[38] This was the second major indictment on the crime family in seven years. The star witness at the trial was John Veasey, who was recruited by Stanfa to fight in the war with Merlino and eventually was inducted into the family. The Federal case was the largest prosecution of an organized crime organization in Philadelphia.[39] The second major indictment against the crime family was another strong case for the prosecution. A key piece of evidence was two years of recorded conversations Stanfa would have with mobsters in his lawyer's office. Protected by attorney–client privilege, Stanfa openly talked about important Mafia business with his men. However, once the FBI figured out the true nature of these "lawyer visits", they were able to get a warrant to place a covert listening device in his attorney's office. The secretly recorded conversations implicated Stanfa and his men of many criminal acts. Stanfa and most of his co-defendants were each sentenced to decades in prison in 1995. Earlier that year, Natale was released from prison. With most of Stanfa's supporters being convicted and locked up in 1995, Merlino and Natale moved in on the criminal rackets of Philadelphia and grabbed control of the Philadelphia crime family. Natale was named boss of the Philadelphia crime family, Merlino was named underboss and Ronald "Ronnie" Turchi became consigliere.

Merlino takes over[edit]

George Borgesi is a childhood friend of Joey Merlino and the nephew of Joseph Ligambi. He fought for the Merlino faction and eventually rose to consigliere in the late 1990s.

While Natale had the support of the Genovese family, he was unfamiliar with the current criminal landscape of the Philadelphia/South Jersey area due to his 15-year imprisonment. Merlino was charged with running most of the crime family's day-to-day activities. However, it soon became clear that Merlino held more power in the Philadelphia Mafia than Natale. In reality, Merlino and his allies decided to allow Natale to become boss in hopes of drawing the attention of authorities away from themselves and redirecting it towards Natale; while Merlino outwardly positioned himself as merely an "underboss," Ralph Natale, a seeming newcomer on the rise in the Philly underworld, would become the new focus of law enforcement attention. Merlino was effectively the street boss, collecting street tax and, along with his young allies calling shots and profiting from rackets and schemes Natale was not made aware of. Merlino was also the crime family's main link to many of the other criminal groups in Philadelphia. Merlino was only 32 years old, an extremely young age for any Mafia member, let alone a leader of a Mafia family. Merlino and his allies were all young and unexperienced in running a criminal organization of such magnitude. They were also flashy, violent and loved the limelight. Merlino was often spotted by reporters and cameramen on the streets of South Philadelphia followed by a large entourage. Merlino's high profile brought a lot of attention from the press and law enforcement. The crime family itself was unstable, with things poorly managed by Merlino's crew whose violent reputation was used to keep things in order. The Merlino faction's arrogance and aggressiveness turned off a lot of criminals from working with the crime family. Merlino's associates were also involved in drug deals in Philadelphia and Boston while overseeing the crime family's gambling, loan sharking, stolen goods and extortion rackets.[40]

When Natale was arrested in 1998, he agreed to become a government witness and cooperate with the FBI in exchange for a light sentence and admittance into the Federal Witness Relocation Program. Natale had enough of Merlino undermining him and did not want to face spending the rest of his life in prison. In 1999, Merlino, along with his underboss Stephen Mazzone, his consigliere George Borgesi, Martin Angelina and John Ciancaglini were arrested for racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion and murder. Natale testified on the government's behalf, going into detail of the crimes Merlino's crew committed. Despite the prosecutions strong case, the defendants were acquitted of all murder charges. Merlino was also acquitted of narcotics trafficking charges. However, they were all convicted of racketeering related charges with Merlino and Borgesi getting the longest prison sentences at 14 years each.

The rise of Ligambi[edit]

In 1997, Joseph Ligambi was released from prison after he successfully appealed his murder conviction and was acquitted at retrial. After 10 years in prison, Ligambi returned to a much different Mafia family that saw two violent regime changes and the family under the control of a group of young mobsters.[40] Ligambi, who is Borgesi's uncle, was a Scarfo era soldier when he was imprisoned in 1987 and was also mentored by Merlino's father, Salvatore. Upon his release, Ligambi went right back to work for the crime family. He was well respected among his peers for staying strong when sentenced to life in prison instead of betraying his crime family to the authorities to escape prison time. When Merlino and company were arrested, Merlino named Ligambi acting boss of the family. Ligambi continued as acting boss after their convictions on racketeering related crimes in 2001.

Ligambi stabilized the family when he took over,[41] maintained membership and restored relations with the New York families.[42] Ligambi was smart and unlike previous leaders, maintained a very low profile and was less likely to resort to violence to settle disputes. 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.[41] His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Anthony Staino.[40][43] When Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steven Mazzone were released from prison in the 2000s (decade), they all fell in line with Ligambi. With many people approving of the way Ligambi ran things, law enforcement believed that he had taken over the family permanently. However, the FBI would later learn that unlike some of his predecessors, Merlino would be able to maintain control of the crime family while in prison.

Ligambi was left to deal 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 use to make huge bets, then never paid when he lost.[44] By the mid-2000s, the family consisted of approximately 50 members, half of whom were incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates.[45][46] During Ligambi's tenure, around a dozen made men were released from prison, filling the ranks.[47] Many of these men were young players who fell victim to the family's unstable history and are now middle-aged. In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintains a low profile, and is more interested in making money than headlines.[41] He named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss.[41] Under Ligambi's direction, the family was able to muscle in on several video poker gambling machine businesses in the Philadelphia area.[48]

In May 2011, Ligambi and 14 other members and associates of the crime family were indicted by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking.[9][49] Seven of those indicted pleaded guilty to lesser charges. One became a government witness and seven went to trial in October 2012.[50] The defendants were acquitted on 45 counts and found guilty on five counts, and 11 counts were undecided (hung jury). Joseph Licata was acquitted of his only charge and Staino, facing a retrial on the charges he was not convicted of, took a plea agreement for a lighter sentence. Ligambi and Borgesi beat all the remaining charges against them at a retrial and were released in January 2014.

Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and served six months in a halfway house in Florida.[51] Merlino continues to serve as the boss of the crime family. He has run things by proxy, delegating most duties since 2011 to Steven Mazzone and John Ciancaglini (both released from prison in 2008).[52]

Current leaders and membership[edit]

  • Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino[53][54]
  • Acting Boss - Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi
  • Underboss - Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone
  • Consigliere - Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini

South Philadelphia faction[edit]

  • Capo - Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti.[55] A smart and low-key captain who has not been convicted of a major crime.
  • 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.[56]
  • Soldier - Anthony Nicodemo. He was charged with the murder of Gino DiPietro, and was a suspect in 2003 when John Casasanto was gunned down.[57] Pleaded guilty to being the driver in the DiPietro murder and is serving a 25-50 year sentence.
  • Soldier - Frank Gambino. Gambino and four other Philadelphia crime family members allegedly stole $405,871 worth of goods from a Philadelphia shipping port.[58]
  • 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.[59]
  • Soldier - Joseph Massimino.[53][54] In 2004, he pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering related to gambling and loan sharking, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.[60] As of October 2012, he was on trial[61] for additional charges of racketeering related to electronic gambling devices.[62]
  • Soldier - 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.[63][64][65] He has a couple of other family members working as associates for the Philadelphia crime family.[66] Was released from prison on January 24, 2014.

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.[67]
  • 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.[68]

North New Jersey faction[edit]

  • Capo - Joseph "Scoops" Licata.[69] 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.[70]
  • 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.[71]

Historical leadership[edit]

Boss (official, acting and front)[edit]

Underbosses (official and acting)[edit]

Consigliere (official and acting)[edit]

  • 1911-1931 — Giuseppe "Joseph Bruno" Dovi — became underboss.
  • 1931-1936 — Giuseppe "Joseph" Ida — became underboss.
  • 1936-1946 — Marco "Small man" Reginelli — became underboss.
  • 1946-1977 — Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Rugnetta
  • 1977-1980 — Antonio "Tony Bananas" Caponigro — murdered by Commission.
  • 1980-1981 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo — became boss.
  • 1981-1982 — Frank Monte — murdered.
  • 1982-1989 — Nicholas "Nicky Buck" Piccolo
    • Acting 1984-1987 — Anthony Piccolo
  • 1989-1994 — Anthony Piccolo — imprisoned for life, deceased in 2004.
  • 1994-1996 — Ronald "Ronnie" Turchi — demoted, murdered in 1999.
  • 1996-1999 — Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone — promoted underboss.
  • 1999–2011 — George "Frekles" Borgesi — imprisoned in 2001-2012.
    • Acting 2001-2004 — Joseph "Joe Crutch" Curro
    • Acting 2004-2011 — Gaeton Lucibello
  • 2012–2015 - Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi

Government Informants[edit]

Philadelphia police officer turned mobster turned government informant Ron Previte (middle).
  • Nicholas "Nicky The Crow" Caramandi - Soldier.[77]
  • Mario Riccobene[78]
  • Ron Previte - Capo.[79]
  • Ralph Natale - Boss
  • Phil Leonetti - Underboss
  • Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino - Capo
  • Andrew Thomas DelGiorno - Capo
  • Tommy "Horsehead" Scafidi - Soldier.
  • John Veasey - Soldier.
  • Salvatore "Wayne" Grande - Soldier - Cooperated in the 1980s after he was sentenced to 38 years for racketeering and murder.
  • Peter "The Crumb" Caprio - Captain - Testified that he conspired with members of the Gambino and Genovese families in New York to take control of the Philly mob. He began to cooperate in 2000 shortly after his arrest.
  • Robert "Bobby" Luise Jr -Captain
  • Eugene "Gino" Milano - Soldier - Became an informant in 1988 or 1989 after he was convicted of murder charges. He was a hitman during the Nicky Scarfo era of the 1980s. In 1990, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.[80]
  • Biagio Adornetto - Soldier - Cooperated with the FBI during the 1990s after John Stanfa ordered a hit on his life, a gunman had pointed a shotgun at him but mistakenly he had put bullets into the gun that did not fit.[81]
  • Rosario Bellochi - Soldier - A former hitman for the Philadelphia crime family. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for murder and kidnapping charges in 1996 despite cooperation.[82]
  • Sergio Battaglia - Soldier.[83]
  • George Fresolone - Held the rank of captain. Died in 2002 at the age of 48.[84]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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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.
  • Morello, Celeste Anne. Book One Before Bruno: The History of the Mafia and La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia. Publication date: 4/28/2000, ISBN 9780967733418
  • Morello, Celeste Anne. Book Two Before Bruno: The History of the Philadelphia Mafia, 1931-1946. Publication date: 11/28/2001, ISBN 9780967733425
  • Morello, Celeste Anne. Book Three Before Bruno and How He Became Boss: The History of the Philadelphia Mafia, Book 3--1946-1959. Publication date: 8/28/2005, ISBN 9780977053209

External links[edit]