Philadelphia crime family
|Founded by||Salvatore Sabella|
|Founding location||South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Territory||Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, the Greater Philadelphia Area, and New Jersey (especially South Jersey), some activity in South Florida|
|Ethnicity||Men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities employed as "associates"|
|Criminal activities||Racketeering, extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking; gambling, sports betting; fraud, drug trafficking, money laundering, fencing, illicit cigarette trade, and murder.|
|Allies||Five Families |
DeCavalcante crime family
Bufalino crime family
Philadelphia Greek Mob
Junior Black Mafia
|Rivals||Hells Angels, various other gangs throughout Philadelphia area, including their allies, occasionally 10th & Oregon Crew and the Pagans.|
The Philadelphia crime family, also known as the Philadelphia Mafia, the Philly Mob/Mafia, or the Philadelphia-South Jersey Mafia, is an Italian-American Mafia family based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Formed and based in South Philadelphia, the criminal organization primarily operates in various areas and neighborhoods in the Greater Philadelphia Metropolitan Area (Delaware Valley) and New Jersey, especially South Jersey. The family is notorious for its violence, due in particular to its succession of violent bosses and multiple mob wars.
As the Bruno crime family under the 20-year reign of boss Angelo Bruno (1959–1980), the family enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity. A complex dispute involving disgruntled subordinates and territory claims by New York's Genovese crime family led to Bruno's murder in 1980. The killing marked the beginning of years of internal violence for control of the Philadelphia family, leading to a gradual decline in the family's power.
When the dust settled from Bruno's death, Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo emerged as boss of the crime family. During Scarfo's reign, the family was known as the Scarfo crime family. 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 his territory. Scarfo also did not hesitate to order people murdered over moderate disputes. 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 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. John Stanfa was named boss of the Philadelphia family in 1991. However, a faction of young mobsters led by Joey Merlino disputed Stanfa's ascension, and by 1992 yet another war within 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. Inevitably, the Philadelphia family has been weakened over the past thirty years due to internal violence, government turncoats, and law enforcement action following the passage of the RICO Act. Despite this, the family still remains one of the most active Mafia groups in the country.
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
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
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 the Philadelphia crime family. Vito Genovese, an underboss at the time, assumed control of what would become the Genovese crime family 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, it was viewed merely as a Genovese faction due to the Genoveses' substantial amount of influence over the Philadelphia family at the time. After a 1956 Commission meeting, however, the crime families of Philadelphia and Detroit, headed by Joseph Zerilli, were added to The Commission, establishing the Philadelphia crime family as its own organization independent of control by New York crime families.
Ida and his underboss Dominick Olivetto were present during the infamous 1957 Apalachin Convention with roughly 100 other top mobsters. The meeting was raided by US law enforcement, and over 60 mafiosi 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.
After Ida retired in 1959, and Pollina was demoted, Angelo Bruno was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family. Bruno, the first boss of Philadelphia with a seat at the Commission, was a close ally of Carlo Gambino, solidifying his position as leader of the Philadelphia Mafia. Bruno used his contacts and his own business mind to maintain respect and power among other Mafia bosses in the country. He expanded the family's profit and operations in Atlantic City, which, due in part to its location within the Philadelphia Metro Area, had naturally become known as the Philadelphia family's turf. Bruno himself avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and kept violence down. He spent almost three years in prison for refusing to testify at a 1970 hearing on organized crime in the state of New Jersey. After his release, he spent some time in Italy before returning to the United States in 1977.
Bruno had a reputation for seeking peaceful solutions to family issues instead of violence. Bruno oversaw the family's gambling syndicate and preferred more traditional operations such as labor racketeering, loan sharking, numbers games and infiltrating legitimate business. Since the late 1960s, the Philadelphia crime family used violence and intimidation to control various unions in the food and service industry such as 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. Family members owned or had a controlling interest in many restaurants, bars and social clubs throughout the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.
Bruno ran a fairly simple operation. He focused mostly on low risk crimes and gave his subordinates autonomy as long as he received a share of the profits. He was against any of his men getting involved in narcotics trafficking, fearing the long prison sentences that drug trafficking charges could bring. Many of his men disagreed with this decision, seeing the large profits that could be made. Some mobsters, like Harry Riccobene and Raymond Martorano, ran drug trafficking operations behind Bruno's back. His men were further angered because Bruno accepted money from John Gambino in order to let the Gambino crime family sell heroin on Philadelphia family turf in South Jersey.
Bruno also faced pressure from New York’s Five Families to let them have a piece of the action in Atlantic City, a Philadelphia Mafia-controlled city that was at the time transitioning from a city in decline to a gambling mecca. Following its early 20th century heyday as a respected resort town, Atlantic City had been suffering from a sharp decline in the decades prior to the 1970s. With the introduction of legalized casino gambling, Atlantic City once again became particularly desired turf for organized crime. However, Atlantic City had long been reckoned as a fief of the Philadelphia family. Under longstanding Mafia rules, the Five Families could only come into Atlantic City with the Philadelphia family's permission–something Bruno was unwilling to give.
On October 15, 1976, Carlo Gambino died of a heart attack. With Gambino gone, Bruno lost his most important ally in the underworld. Many of Bruno's subordinates felt that they were missing out on money because of Bruno's old-fashioned and content ways. 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 gambling operation, lied to Caponigro and told him he had the Commission's support. On March 21, 1980, Bruno was shot in the back of the head while in his car by a gunman working for Caponigro. That April, Caponigro visited New York City under the assumption that he was going to be confirmed as boss. Instead, he was tortured and murdered for killing a Commission member without permission. Caponigro's co-conspirators Frank Sindone and John Simone were also murdered in 1980.
First Philadelphia Mafia War (1980-1984)
Beginning with Bruno’s murder in 1980, a violent struggle for power erupted within the Philadelphia Mafia. Bruno's successor, his former underboss Philip Testa, lasted just under a year as the boss of the family before he was killed by a nail bomb under his front porch on March 15, 1981. Testa's murder was orchestrated by Frank Narducci in yet another attempt to take control of the family. Afterwards, Peter Casella and Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, the late Testa's underboss and consigliere respectively, were both vying to take over the family. Scarfo was close with Genovese family consigliere Louis "Bobby" Manna and approached the Genovese hierarchy with his suspicions that Narducci and Casella orchestrated Testa's murder. The Genovese family set up a meeting with Scarfo and Casella, where Casella confessed that Narducci killed Testa so that they could take over the family. Narducci was killed and Casella was banished from the Mob and fled to Florida.
Nicodemo Scarfo was a powerful Bruno crime family mobster who operated mostly in Atlantic City, New Jersey prior to his accession to boss. Atlantic City witnessed a boom in its economy when it enacted measures allowing casino gambling in the late 1970s. Scarfo was able to expand his power base by infiltrating the expanding construction and service industries in Atlantic City. Despite Atlantic City being turf of the Philadelphia Mafia, Scarfo let the Commission operate in Atlantic City under his discretion in return for their support for him as boss. Scarfo named Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino as his underboss and Frank Monte as his consigliere. Scarfo demoted Bruno's mob captains and replaced them with Phil Leonetti, Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino and Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, Sr.
The last person to stand in Scarfo's way was well respected, long-time mobster Harry Riccobene. Riccobene believed Scarfo was an unfit, greedy boss, and Riccobene refused to pay tribute to Scarfo. While Bruno never asked Riccobene for a regular share of his illicit profits, Scarfo demanded a typical "kick up" tribute. With Scarfo off the street serving a brief prison term in Texas, the "Riccobene War" ensued between 1982 and 1984. The Scarfo faction was able to kill three of Riccobene's men. The Riccobene faction was able to kill Scarfo's consigliere Frank Monte, while Riccobene himself survived two attempts on his life. In 1984, the two gunmen in the Monte murder, along with Riccobene's brother, were arrested and agreed to cooperate with authorities. They testified at trial that Riccobene ordered Monte's murder. Riccobene was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, ending the war.
"Little Nicky" Scarfo's reign (1981-1991)
When Nicodemo Scarfo became Boss, he wanted to unify organized crime in the area and dreamed of running a smooth criminal empire. He soon installed a "street tax" on Philadelphia/South Jersey criminals. Although financially extorting criminals is a common Mafia racket, it was a somewhat alien practice in Philadelphia. Enforced by soldiers and associates of the family, the tax was paid by criminals working independently from the Mafia. Criminals such as drug dealers, bookmakers, loan sharks, pimps, and number runners operating in 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, 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.
The crime family's biggest racket was the control of labor unions. During Bruno's and Scarfo's reigns, 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. 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, which was the drug of choice in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. At first, the family extorted money from local meth dealers. When Greek-American gangster Chelsais Bouras, boss of the Philadelphia Greek Mob, began horning in on the methamphetamine trade in Philadelphia and refused to pay Scarfo's street tax, Scarfo had him killed. Although the Philadelphia Greek Mob has long been a close ally and partner with the Philadelphia Italian crime family, and despite the fact that some Philadelphia Italian crime family members were themselves involved in Bouras's methamphetamine trafficking ring, the hot-headed and ruthless Nicky Scarfo decided to send a message to all local crime organizations about respecting the street tax and the primacy of the Philadelphia crime family by having Bouras killed in public. Bouras was eating dinner with his girlfriend, friends and Scarfo soldier Raymond Martorano when a hit team ambushed and killed Bouras and his girlfriend. The Philadelphia crime family then started controlling the meth trade in the area by supplying illicit P2P (the key meth ingredient) to meth manufacturers. 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). The crime family also had some involvement in cocaine and marijuana trafficking.
Scarfo became notorious for his ruthless, paranoid 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. 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."
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. On September 14, 1984, Scarfo loyalist Salvatore Testa was murdered. Despite serving faithfully 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 demoted him to soldier and promoted his nephew Phil Leonetti as his new underboss.
In November 1988, Scarfo and 16 of his men were convicted of racketeering, 10 murders, 5 attempted murders, extortion, gambling and narcotics trafficking. 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. 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. 15 of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 30 to 55 years. In 1989, six members, including Scarfo and two others in the previous indictment, were convicted for Frank D'Alfanso's murder. 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 sports betting operations that took in bets totaling hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Scarfo's underboss and nephew Phil Leonetti was the next defector who agreed to cooperate with the FBI after being sentenced to 45 years in prison. Many more mobsters would later be sentenced to long prison terms for crimes such as racketeering, narcotics trafficking and murder. 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 indictment and six turned government witnesses. The Pennsylvania Crime Commission reported that there were only 24 members who were free and not facing criminal charges.
Second Philadelphia Mafia War (1991-1995)
With all of Scarfo's loyalists serving 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. 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 crime families, 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 on the street level in Philadelphia, especially among the new generation of young Philadelphia street mobsters. The New York Mafia's intrusion in Philadelphia Mafia affairs was not well received by many of these younger mobsters, who saw Stanfa as an outsider who had not worked his way up in the organization due to being imprisoned during the entire Scarfo era. Many of these young mobsters, born and raised on the streets of Philadelphia, were the next generation of jailed Scarfo lieutenants and capos. Deeply resentful of having been overlooked by the meddling New York families and dismissed by many of the older, more traditional Philadelphia mobsters, the new generation of mobsters felt it was their turn to run the crime family. This group of young, ruthless, overly ambitious men were led by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, the son of former underboss Salvatore Merlino.
While serving prison time together in 1990, Merlino met Ralph Natale. 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 with the support of the Genovese crime family. When Merlino was released from prison, he recruited his best friend Michael Ciancaglini and his other childhood friends into the plan. Stanfa was aware of the divide in his family and tried to find a peaceful solution. He named Michael's older brother Joseph, Jr., as his new underboss. Stanfa hoped that this would appease the Merlino faction and bring them under his banner. However, tensions escalated and by 1992 another war for control of the Philadelphia crime family was underway. Merlino loyalists shot and incapacitated Joseph Ciancaglini, Jr. while Stanfa's faction killed Michael Ciancaglini. They continued attacking each other for months, including a freeway ambush Stanfa survived and several failed attempts on Merlino's life. The Stanfa faction was still solidifying its control of the crime family and recruited a lot of outside hitmen to fight in the war. The Merlino/Natale faction was a much smaller, tightknit group, but was just as ruthless. They had allies in other Philadelphia criminal organizations and convinced some members of the Philadelphia crime family to switch sides.
On March 17, 1994, Stanfa and 23 of his men were arrested on racketeering related chargers. This was the second major indictment on the crime family in seven years. The Federal case was the largest prosecution of an organized crime group in Philadelphia history. 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 attorney's office and doctor's office. Believing attorney–client privilege and doctor-patient confidentiality would protect him, Stanfa openly talked about important Mafia business with his men. However, the FBI was able to get a warrant to place covert listening devices in both offices once they figured out they were being used to aid criminal conspiracies. Stanfa, in an unusual tactic recruited for his side several men who were not of Italian heritage, including the Veasey brothers. According to the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Frederick T. Martens, "Stanfa brought in people, like the Veasey brothers, who had no background in the mob but who were willing to break legs and pull a trigger". On the day of Stanfa's trial on October 5, 1995, William Veasey, John Veasey's brother who was scheduled to testify against Stanfa, was murdered. John Veasey, who pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering and murder, entered the witness protection program the year prior.
Stanfa was convicted in 1995, and sentenced to life in 1996. With most of Stanfa's supporters being convicted and locked up in 1995, Natale and Merlino 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.
Natale turns informant and Merlino takes over
Stanfa's conviction capped off a 15-year period that saw the family become decimated after experiencing two bosses get murdered, two internal wars, two major federal crackdowns on the family and nonstop violence. 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 depleted 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 law enforcement 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.
While Natale ran the family, Merlino and his young allies maintained control on the street, collecting extortion payments 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 including the Pagan's Motorcycle Club and the Junior Black Mafia. Merlino was only 32 years old, a young age for any Mafia member, let alone a leader of a Mafia family. Merlino and his allies were all young and inexperienced 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.
In June 1998, Natale was jailed for a parole violation; Merlino subsequently took control of the family and cut off support to the imprisoned boss. Angered by this, Natale offered to secretly record conversations with Merlino, but it was not until September 1999, when he was indicted for financing drug deals, that he formally struck a deal to cooperate. In doing so, Natale became the first sitting boss in the history of the American Mafia to become government informant.
Between 1999 and 2001, Merlino, along with his underboss Stephen Mazzone, his consigliere George Borgesi, Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini and others were arrested and put on trial for racketeering, illegal gambling, loan sharking, extortion, murder and attempted murder. Natale testified against Merlino during his 2001 racketeering trial, but was unable to secure a conviction for the murders he claimed Merlino committed. On December 3, 2001, Merlino was however convicted of racketeering charges and given a 14-year prison sentence. In 2005, Natale was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for drug dealing, racketeering and bribery. He was released in May 2011, and placed in witness protection.
The rise of Ligambi
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. 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, maintained membership and restored relations with the New York families. 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. His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Anthony Staino. When Merlino faction leaders 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 Merlino maintained 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. By the mid-2000s, the family consisted of approximately 50 members, half of whom were incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates. During Ligambi's tenure, around a dozen made men were released from prison, filling the ranks. Many of these men had been young players who fell victim to the family's unstable history and are now middle-aged. He named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss. Under Ligambi's direction, the family was able to muscle in on several video poker gambling machine businesses in the Philadelphia area. In 2007, 23 people including four men connected to the Philadelphia crime family, were charged with running an illegal sports betting operation out of a poker room at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. The operation was accused of taking in $60 million in bets in a 20-month period. Most of those involved pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from probation to five years.
Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and served out his three-year parole in Florida. 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, video poker gambling machines and loan sharking. Seven of those indicted pleaded guilty to lesser charges. One became a government witness and seven went to trial in October 2012. 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 continues to serve as the boss of the crime family while living in Florida. He has run things by proxy since his release, delegating most duties since 2011 to senior members in Philadelphia. Their criminal operations have greatly reduced over the years, but some experts believe they have been able to quietly maintain power and stability. In 2016, it was reported that some members were involved in Philadelphia's booming construction and home rehab industry. In January 2018, Merlino went on trial for racketeering, fraud and illegal gambling charges. After a trial ended in a hung jury, Merlino pleaded guilty to one illegal gambling charge and was sentenced to two years in prison.
In April 2018, four soldiers and associates in New Jersey were arrested on drug trafficking charges. They are accused of distributing large amounts of methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana.
Current leaders and membership
- Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino
- Acting Boss/Street Boss - Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti
- Underboss - John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini
- Acting Underboss – Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini
- Consigliere - Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi
- Capo - Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. A 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.
- Soldier - Anthony Nicodemo. He was charged with the murder of Gino DiPietro, and was a suspect in 2003 when John Casasanto was gunned down. Pleaded guilty to being the driver in the DiPietro murder and is serving a 25-50 year sentence.
- Soldier - Salvatore "Sonny" Mazzone. He is the brother of Philadelphia crime family underboss, Steve Mazzone, who attacked and bit off a part of a civilian's nose on the streets of Philadelphia.
- Soldier - Joseph Massimino. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering related to gambling and loan sharking, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. As of October 2012, he was on trial for additional charges of racketeering related to electronic gambling devices.
- 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. He has a couple of other family members working as associates for the Philadelphia crime family. He was released from prison on January 24, 2014.
South New Jersey faction
- Capo - Anthony Staino. He was charged with loansharking. Henry Scipione, a Philadelphia bookie who owed Staino $80,000, testified against Staino saying that he had threatened to put a bullet in his head.
- 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.
North New Jersey faction
- Capo - Joseph "Scoops" Licata. Licata was sentenced to 14 years in 1994 after George Fresolone recorded secret conversations, and Licata was charged under major gambling operations in Newark. He was acquitted of racketeering in 2012. Licata received the nickname "Scoops" because he was always privy to underworld gossip.
- 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.
Boss (official, acting and front)
- 1911–1931 — Salvatore Sabella — retired, deceased in 1962
- 1931–1936 — John "Nazzone" Avena — murdered on August 17, 1936
- 1936–1946 — Giuseppe "Joseph Bruno" Dovi
- 1946–1959 — Giuseppe "Joseph" Ida — deported in 1958, deceased in 1960s-1970s
- Acting 1958–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Miggs" Pollina — deposed by Commission
- 1959–1980 — Angelo "The Gentle Don" Bruno — murdered on March 21, 1980
- 1980–1981 — Philip "the Chicken Man" Testa — murdered on March 15, 1981
- 1981–1991 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo — imprisoned for life, deceased in 2017
- Acting 1981–1984 — Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino
- Acting 1987–1989 — Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo
- 1991–1995 — Giovanni "John" Stanfa — imprisoned for life
- 1995–1999 — Ralph Natale — arrested in 1998, turned informant in 1999
- Street boss 1995–1999 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino
- 1999–present — Joey Merlino — arrested in 1999, released in 2011
- Acting boss 1999–2011 — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi
Underbosses (official and acting)
- 1911–1931 — John "Nazzone" Avena — became boss
- 1931–1936 — Giuseppe "Joseph Bruno" Dovi — became boss
- 1936–1946 — Giuseppe "Joseph" Ida — became boss
- 1946–1956 — Marco "Small Man" Reginelli
- 1956–1957 — Dominick Olivetto — retired
- 1957–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Miggs" Pollina — deposed by Commission
- 1959–1970 — Ignazio "Natz" Denaro
- 1970–1980 — Philip "the Chicken Man" Testa — became boss
- 1980–1981 — Peter "Petey" Casella — deposed by Commission
- 1981–1986 — Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino — demoted, deceased in 2012
- Acting 1982–1984 — Salvatore "Salvie" Testa — murdered on September 14, 1984
- 1986–1989 — Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti — turned informant
- 1989–1990 — Pasquale "Patty Specs" Martirano
- 1991–1992 — Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini Jr. — shot and incapacitated
- 1992–1995 — Frank Martines
- 1995–1999 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino — became official boss
- 1999–2004 — Steven Mazzone — imprisoned in 2000
- 2004–2012 — Joseph "Mousie" Massimino — imprisoned June 2004 – 2010
- 2011–present — John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini
- Acting 2015–present — Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini
Consigliere (official and acting)
- 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 Piccolo
- Acting 1984–1987 — Anthony Piccolo
- 1989–1994 — Anthony Piccolo — imprisoned for life, deceased in 2004
- 1995–1996 — Ronald "Ronnie" Turchi — demoted, murdered in 1999
- 1996–1999 — Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone — promoted to underboss
- 1999–2004 — George Borgesi — imprisoned in 2000
- Acting 2001–2004 — Joseph "Joe Crutch" Curro
- 2004–2011 — Gaeton Lucibello
- 2014–present — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi
List of murdered victims
|Louis "Louie Irish" DeLuca||May 24, 1990||55-year old DeLuca worked for former Scarfo-era capo Francis "Snuffy" Iannarella and Charles Iannece. Ralph Natale allegedly set-up the murder for Merlino, with Michael Ciancaglini and Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi allegedly serving as the hitmen. The two gunmen shot DeLuca 3 or 4 times and killed him while he was parking his car on Shunk Street, South Philadelphia.|
|Felix "Little Felix" Bocchino||January 29, 1992||Bocchino and Tony Ferrante reportedly transported the shotgun used in the 1980 Angelo Bruno murder from Newark, New Jersey to Front Street, Philadelphia. He was a capo in the Stanfa regime and was reportedly in line to serve as underboss. While behind the wheel of his 1977 Buick car, Bocchino was shot 3 times in the neck and head and killed, allegedly by Michael Ciancaglini and Steven Mazzone.|
|James "Jimmy Brooms" DiAddorio||May 20, 1992||Philly mob associate and Stanfa loyalist. Shot to death by two men while speaking on the phone at Vulpine Athletic Club in Philadelphia for refusing to pay street tax from his bookmaking business and drug operations, and for negatively talking about Merlino and his crew in several local bars.|
|Francesco DiGiacomo||November 29, 1992||Philly mob associate and Stanfa crew loyalist. Shot and killed in New Jersey by Rosario Bellocchi for not repaying a debt to the Stanfa crew.|
|Billy Shear||1993||Philly mob associate based in North Jersey. Killed by Philip "Philly Fay" Casale in Newark, New Jersey for being a suspected police informer.|
|Rod Colombo||January 7, 1993||29-year old Philly/Los Angeles Mafia associate, shot 3 times in the back of his head in Audubon, New Jersey while sitting in his Cadillac car.|
|Mario "Sonny" Riccobene||January 28, 1993||Philly mob soldier and older brother of Harry Riccobene. Killed by the Stanfa crew after he testified in 1984 and entered the witness protection program and later returned to South Philadelphia.|
|Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini||August 5, 1993||Philly mob soldier, 10 to 15 shots were fired at him and Joey Merlino by Philip Colletti and John Veasey on a South Philadelphia street corner as they left a mob social club. Ciancaglini died from gunshot wounds to the chest and lungs, and Merlino was shot in the buttocks.|
|Frank "Frankie Bronze" Baldino||September 17, 1993||Shot 5 to 7 times in the head and torso by John Veasey outside the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia; Frank Martines and Giuseppe Gallara accompanied Veasey in the drive-by shooting.|
|William "Crazy Willie" Gantz||May 8, 1994||Philly mob associate. 44-year old Gantz served as a driver and bodyguard to Philadelphia crime family capo Joseph Sodano.|
|Michael "Mikey Ice" Brennan||December 6, 1994||Philly mob associate. Shot and killed, wrapped in a floor carpet, and dumped in the woods after an alleged falling out with the Merlino faction.|
|Ralph Mazzuca||February 24, 1995||Philly mob associate and drug dealer. Shot in the head and back, hog-tied, and set on fire after he robbed two kilograms of cocaine from Joey Merlino's driver-turned government informer Roger Vella and tied up Vella’s sister and dad at their home during the robbery in 1994. |
|Michael "Dutchie" Avicolli||April 4, 1996||Shot and killed, allegedly by Merlino and Steven Mazzone, for having an affair with Mazzone's wife. He was reportedly buried on farm property in New Jersey and his car was disposed of.|
|Billy Veasey||October 5, 1996||Philly mob associate and brother of John Veasey, 35-year old Veasey was shot 4 times by John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini on the morning his brother was set to testify against the Philadelphia crime family.|
|Joseph "Joe the Nodder" Sodano||December 7, 1996||Philly mob capo based in North New Jersey. Shot twice in his SUV in Newark, New Jersey by Philip Casale and Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio. Casale took Sodano’s jewellery and $12,000 from the murdered man’s wallet immediately after the hit. Sodano was allegedly killed for trust and loyalty concerns.|
|Robert Matonis||1997||Philly mob associate and drug dealer, killed by Philip Casale in Harrison, New Jersey.|
|Anthony Turra||March 18, 1998||Leader of the South Philadelphia Italian-American gang known as the 10th and Oregon Crew. Shot in the back and his right eye outside his South Philadelphia home while en route to court for his federal racketeering trial after he previously sanctioned an assassination attempt on Joey Merlino due to a dispute between Merlino and his son Louis Turra. Steven Mazzone is suspected in his killing.|
|Gino Marconi||April 10, 1999||Shot 3 times in the chest from a rifle by the Boston crew.|
|Ronald "Ronnie" Turchi||October 26, 1999||Found tied up and dead in the trunk of his wife's car with a plastic bag over his head. Allegedly, he had been attempting to use his earnings to buy his way into the position of boss.|
|Raymond "Long John" Martorano||January 17, 2002||Shot near his home while sitting in his car. Died in the hospital days later.|
|John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto||November 23, 2003||During a hit allegedly ordered by Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, Casasanto was shot twice in the back and head and killed by members of the Merlino/Ligambi faction. Damion Canalichio and Anthony Nicodemo are suspects in his killing. Casasanto was a suspect in the January 2002 Raymond Martarano murder.|
|Rocco Maniscalco||June 10, 2010||South Philadelphia bookmaker and loan shark, reportedly killed on orders of Joseph Ligambi for refusing to pay "protection money".|
|Gino DiPietro||December 12, 2012||Shot and killed by Philly mob soldier Dominic "Baby Dom" Grande. DiPietro was allegedly murdered over an unpaid debt in a backdoor poker game. Anthony Nicodemo was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to the murder. According to George Anastasia, Nicodemo rejected several offers to cooperate against the Philadelphia crime family.|
Government informants and witnesses
- Ron Previte - former capo. Previte was a Philadelphia Police Department officer for over a decade and was forced to resign around 1979. He became a bouncer in an Atlantic City casino shortly after. In 1985, he was arrested on theft charges and agreed to become an informer for the New Jersey state police. By 1993, he was a soldier in John Stanfa's Philadelphia crime family, though he wasn't formally inducted, Stanfa allegedly told him to consider himself as a made man. He became an informer in 1997 and agreed to wear a wire for the FBI, he was also paid over $700,000 for information during his time as an informant. His cooperation, in part, led to former boss Ralph Natale's decision to cooperate in 1999. His testimony and cooperation has brought down at least 50 Philadelphia crime family members and associates. He died in August 2017 at the age of 73.
- Andrew Thomas DelGiorno - former captain. DelGiorno first became active with the Philadelphia crime family around 1964 and had gotten involved in the bookmaking business. He admitted to his participation in 5 murders during the 1980s. He testified against boss Nicky Scarfo and 16 other Philadelphia mobsters in November 1988.
- Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi - former hitman and soldier. In 1986, Caramandi alongside Robert Rego and former Democratic-Pennsylvania House of Representatives member, Leland Beloff, attempted to extort $1 million from real estate developer Willard Rouse, for funding revolved around the construction of Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. As a result of the 1984 slaying of Philadelphia captain Salvatore Testa, Caramandi, Joseph Grande and Charles Iannece were inducted into the Philadelphia family. After he received a message from Philadelphia crime family member Raymond Martorano while in prison, who alleged boss Nicky Scarfo was planning to have him murdered, and facing over 20 years in prison, Caramandi agreed to become a government witness.
- Eugene "Gino" Milano - former soldier and hitman. In 1981, he and captain Salvatore Testa allegedly beaten up Frank D'Alfonso, on orders of Scarfo. In January 1988, he was indicted on murder, attempted murder, extortion, gambling and conspiracy to distribute narcotic charges, alongside boss Nicky Scarfo and 18 others. Milano became a government witness in early 1989 and admitted to participation in the murder of Frank D'Alfonso on July 23, 1985. It is noted that he has testified against his younger brother. In 1990, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, however in 1993, his sentence was reduced to 9-years imprisonment.
- Lawerence "Yogi" Merlino - former captain. He is the deceased uncle of current Philadelphia family boss Joey Merlino and the brother to Chuckie Merlino. Due to his ownership of a construction company based in Atlantic City, Merlino relatives have been repeatedly denied a gaming license by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission since 1989. In 1989, he agreed to become an informer and pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges and to a murder charge. He died in 2001.
- Phil "Crazy Phil" Leonetti - former underboss and nephew of former Philadelphia crime family boss Nicky Scarfo. He participated in his first murder at the age of 10 and helped Scarfo dispose of a corpse, a man Scarfo killed with an ice pick in a New Jersey bar for disrespecting him, the young Leonetti was used as a decoy. The first person he killed was a drug user named Louie DeMarco in 1976 on orders of boss Angelo Bruno. In 1978, he shot Vincent Falcone twice and killed him, which prompted associate Joe Salerno to become a government witness. He was inducted into the Philadelphia mob as a soldier in 1980. Leonetti was sentenced to 45 years in prison in 1987. He decided to become a government witness in 1989. Leonetti admitted to being the trigger man in 2 murders and participated in 8 separate murders. He was scheduled to testify against Gambino crime family boss John Gotti on January 21, 1992, however Gambino underboss Sammy "the Bull" Gravano agreed to testify instead. In May 1992, former federal judge Franklin Van Antwerpen reduced Leonetti's sentence to 6-years imprisonment. He testified against Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante in 1997 and claimed Gigante ordered 6 murder contracts as retaliation for murdering Philadelphia bosses Angelo Bruno and Phil Testa without approval from the other crime families, specifically in New York. He released a book about his life in 2012.
- George Fresolone - former soldier. During his imprisonment for illegal gambling and loansharking, Fresolone became an informant for the New Jersey State police in 1988. He recorded more than 400 conversations and his information was responsible for the indictment of nearly 40 mobsters. He wore a wire during his ceremony in July 1990 to become an official member of the Philadelphia mob. He died in 2002.
- Salvatore "Wayne" Grande - former soldier. On September 14, 1984, he shot and killed captain Salvatore Testa, the son of Phil Testa, who became boss of the Philadelphia mob for a brief period and who also inducted Grande four years earlier. According to former Philadelphia crime family underboss and government witness Phil Leonetti, Grande repeatedly attempted to murder Harry Riccobene but failed, an enemy of the Scarfo faction, including an incident where Riccobene managed to survive 5 gunshot wounds to his face. In 1988, he was convicted on federal racketeering charges and informed on American Mafia mobsters later on during his imprisonment. Some of his relatives remain in the mob, including his son, who was allegedly inducted in 2011.
- John Veasey - former associate and hitman. He was part of the Stanfa faction during the Philadelphia mob war from 1992 to 1994. In August 1993, Veasey shot and killed Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini during a drive-by shooting, and wounded Joey Merlino with 4 gunshot wounds. In September 1993, he shot and killed Frank Baldino, Sr. outside of the Melrose Diner in South Philadelphia. He alleged that Stanfa became withdrawn after Veasey's complaints and ordered a contract on him. On January 14, 1994, he was lured to a second-floor apartment and noted that the room was covered in plastic, the hitmen alleged that they were "painting". Moments after, he was shot 3 times in the head and once in the chest. Veasey managed to stab one of the attackers and hit the other one, eventually fleeing the apartment. In January 1994, he became a government witness. On the day of John Stanfa's trial in October 1995 which Veasey was scheduled to testify at, his brother, William "Bill" Veasey, was murdered. He was sent to prison in the mid-1990s and was released in 2005. He released a book about his life in January 2012.
- Rosario Conti Bellocchi - former soldier and hitman. He was engaged to John Stanfa's niece. Along with fellow Philadelphia mob soldier, Biagio Adornetto, he departed Sicily to work for Stanfa.
- Biagio Adornetto - former soldier. He survived a failed assassination attempt on his life as friend and fellow Philly mob soldier, Rosario Bellocchi, loaded the shotgun with the wrong size of bullets; Adornetto was accused of flirting with John Stanfa's niece.
- Philip Colletti - former soldier. He was part of the Stanfa faction. According to Colletti, he created a remote-control bomb which was planted under Joey Merlino's car in 1993 and failed to detonate multiple times. His wife testified that Colletti and his wife participated in the disposing of a car which was used in a mob hit, the death of Michael Ciancaglini and wounding of Merlino, and fellow Philadelphia mob member and informer John Veasey testified that Colletti was with him when the shooting took place.
- Ralph Natale - former boss between 1994 and 1998. Natale was inducted by Joey Merlino while in prison in 1994 however he later claimed that he became a member under Angelo Bruno. He reached out to the FBI in the summer of 1998 while imprisoned on parole violations however a deal was worked out in 1999 after facing a charge of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine's in Philadelphia and New Jersey, alongside Joey Merlino. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to illegal gambling, extortion and drug distribution charges, including participating in 7 murders. He also admitted to handing bribes of around $50,000 to Milton Milan, the Democratic 45th mayor of Camden, New Jersey. He was interviewed by Trevor McDonald in 2015 and released a book about his mob life in 2017.
- Robert "Boston Bob" Luisi Jr. - former captain under Joey Merlino. Originally an associate of the Patriarca crime family, he joined the Philadelphia mob and became inducted in 1998. On November 6, 1995, his father, cousin, brother and family friend were killed by gunman Anthony Clemente who fired 13 shots inside of a Charlestown restaurant. It is noted that he attempted to seize control of the criminal rackets of Whitey Bulger in Boston during the 1990s, and attempted to meet Kevin Weeks in 1998. He was indicted by the FBI on June 28, 1999, alongside 13 others for conspiracy to acquire and distribute cocaine. In 2000, he admitted to the murder of Anthony DiPrizio in 1997. He later became a pastor and relocated in Tennessee using the alias Alonso Esposito.
- Pete "the Crumb" Caprio - former capo. In July 2000, he admitted to conspiring to commit murder, extortion and other crimes. During the case, he was accused of participating in the murder of William Gantz in 1994 and Joseph Sodano in 1996. Caprio testified against the absent Genovese crime family captain Lawrence Ricci in October 2005, who was murdered a few weeks before his trial.
- Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi - former soldier. By 1986, he was a money runner for boss Nicky Scarfo, collecting and delivering money payments each week on behalf of Scarfo. His brother, Tori Scafidi, was also a soldier in the Philly crime family and was inducted in 1986. He joined the Merlino faction during the Philadelphia mob war in the 1990s, who opposed new boss John Stanfa. However he switched sides and was shortly after inducted into the crime family by Stanfa. In 1993, two gunmen attempted to kill him however the bullet shattered his car mirror. He became an informer in 2000.
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