Philadelphia crime family
|Founding location||South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|Territory||Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley, and South Jersey. Territory in Atlantic City, Delaware, Baltimore, Trenton, and North Jersey.|
|Ethnicity||Men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities employed as "associates"|
|Membership||40 made members approx, 150 associates approx|
|Criminal activities||Extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling and sports betting, racketeering, conspiracy, drug trafficking, money laundering and murder.|
|Allies||Five Families, Patriarca crime family, DeCavalcante crime family, K&A Gang, Warlocks Motorcycle Club, Philadelphia Greek Mob, the Italian-American 10th and Oregon Crew/Gang, Pagan's Motorcycle Club, Black Mafia / Junior Black Mafia,.|
|Rivals||Hell's Angels, various other gangs throughout Philadelphia, including their allies, occasionally 10th and Oregon Crew/Gang and The Pagans.|
The Philadelphia crime family, (pronounced [filaˈdɛlfja]) also known as the Philadelphia Mafia, or Philly Mob/Mafia, is an Italian American criminal organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the most active American Mafia families outside of the Five Families of New York. Formed and based in South Philadelphia, the family operates in various areas in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 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 and era of peace and prosperity. During this time law enforcement and the media starting calling the family the Bruno crime family. A complex dispute involving disgruntled subordinates, the New York Mafia and control of Atlantic City territory led to Bruno's murder in 1980. Bruno's murder set off an internal mob war that lasted over a year until Nicodemo Scarfo took over as boss.
During Scrafo'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 unstable. Unlike Bruno, Scarfo was infamous for his short temper and penchant for violence. Scrafo got the family involved 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's bloody tenure during the 1980s saw the murder of over 20 of his own men. The dramatic rise in violence attracted increased attention from the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police. Increased violence and law enforcement prosecutions also convinced several mobsters to cooperate with the government (including Scrafo's own nephew) in order to escape death or prison. Scrafo'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, John Stanfa was named boss of the Philadelphia crime family in 1991. However, a faction of young mobsters led by Joseph Merlino disputed his ascension and by 1993 another war for control of the family begun. During the war, Merlino survived over 12 attempts on his life. The war ended in 1994 when Stanfa and most of his supporters were arrested by the FBI. Merlino then took over the family and has been running it ever since. The Philadelphia crime family has been severely weakened due to it's violence, instability and a crack down on crime by law enforcement. Today, the family is mostly involved in illegal sports betting operations, loan sharking and extortion.
- 1 History
- 2 Current leaders and membership
- 3 Historical leadership
- 4 Government Informants
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
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 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
After Ida retired in 1959, and Pollina was demoted, Angelo "Gino" Bruno, nicknamed "The Gentle Don", was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family. Bruno, the first boss of Philadelphia with a seat at the Commission, gained much respect in the underworld and was soon seen as the most powerful Mafia boss outside the New York and Chicago area. He expanded the family's profit and operations in lucrative Atlantic City, which had now become known as the Philadelphia family's turf. Bruno himself avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and outbursts of violence that plagued other crime families, and avoided lengthy prison terms, despite several arrests. His longest prison term was two years for refusing to testify to a grand jury. In addition, Bruno did not allow his family to deal in narcotics, or to participate in any part of the drug trafficking that led to Vito Genovese's 15-year prison sentence in 1959. Apparently, Bruno preferred more traditional operations, including labor racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking, and loansharking. During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.
Philadelphia Mafia War
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On March 12, 1980, Bruno was returning home after dinner at a restaurant and as the car stopped he was suddenly shot in the back of his head. He died instantly. The killing was committed by capos Frank Sindone and John Simone, and was orchestrated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro. That April, Caponigro visited New York City, apparently under the assumption he was about to be confirmed as boss. Instead, he was tortured and murdered. His driver that night, John Stanfa, escaped with only minor injuries and also became a suspect in the murder. Stanfa would eventually be sentenced to eight years for refusing to testify during the trials. Within weeks Caponigro was found dead in the trunk of his car, and Simone and Sindone were murdered in September and October 1980, respectively. Their plan to overthrow Bruno and take the lead had led to their own demise. In the aftermath of his murder, about 16 men were killed.
Bruno's funeral procession had over one hundred cars and there were about a thousand bystanders. He was buried in the family plot at Holy Cross Cemetery. He was succeeded as head of the family by Philip Testa, Bruno's underboss. Testa lasted as boss for just under a year, as on March 15, 1981, he was killed by a nail bomb. Testa's murder was believed to have been orchestrated by his own underboss, Peter Casella, in yet another attempt to take control of the family. Casella's power grab, however, was thwarted by Testa's consigliere Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, who won the support of the New York families to take power himself and had Casella exiled from the territory of the Philly mob.
"Little Nicky" Scarfo
Pete Casella called a meeting with 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 the next day. At that meeting, Scarfo discovered that Casella had been lying.
Scarfo gave the Gambino and Genovese families permission to operate in Atlantic City in exchange for their backing for him to become Boss. With their backing, Scarfo easily took over the Philadelphia family, promoting Frank Monte to consigliere and Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino to underboss. Scarfo soon cut a deal with the other families allowing them a piece of the action in Atlantic City while keeping a significant slice for himself.
Little Nicky forced Casella into "retirement" in Florida and promoted Leonetti, Salvatore Testa, Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino and Ciancaglini to captains of their respective crews. When Scarfo became the Boss, he wanted to unify the organization and dreamed of running a smooth criminal empire.
Scarfo soon installed a mob practice somewhat alien to Philadelphia criminals. The "street tax" was enforced by soldiers like Tommy DelGiorno and associates like Nick "The Crow" Caramandi. The tax was paid by any criminal working independently from the Mafia. Drug dealers, bookmakers, pimps and guys running numbers in the territory that Scarfo deemed his own were forced to pay his "street tax" weekly. The money was then divided between the guys collecting the tax (who got 50%) and their caporegimes or bosses.
In April of that year, Scarfo was convicted in federal court in Camden, N.J. of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But sentencing wasn't until August of next year. So Nicky continued as normal.
Chelsais Bouras was enjoying a meal in a restaurant with his girlfriend Janette Curro and several other friends, including Ray Martorano, when a man entered and motioned for Martorano to get out of the way as he took aim. The hit man opened fire killing Bouras and his girlfriend Curro. Scarfo ordered the death of Greek Mob Boss Chelsais because he had been horning in on the methamphetamine trade in Philadelphia and not paying Scarfo's "street tax."
Johnny Calabrese and Ciancaglini walked from Cous' Little Italy, a restaurant owned by Tommy DelGiorno, who had bought it from the Piccolo brothers. As Calabrese and Ciancaglini walked Tommy DelGiorno and Frank "Faffy" Iannarella ran up behind them. When the shooting started, Chickie casually walked away. Four bullets killed Calabrese, and his killers escaped in a car driven by Pat Spirito. Johnny Calabrese was a loan shark and drug dealer who operated through a chain of pawn shops in Atlantic City. Calabrese had refused to pay the "street tax." Scarfo was more than pleased with how DelGiorno and Iannarella had handled the assignment.
After Calabrese was left dying in the gutter by Scarfo's hit men, Frankie "Flowers" D'Alfonso was brutally beaten by Salvatore Testa and Joey Pungitore for refusing to pay the "street tax."
In 1982, Tommy DelGiorno, "Faffy" Iannarella, Joseph J. Scarfo (aka "The Shark") and Pat "The Cat" Spirito were formally inducted into the Philadelphia crime family. The ceremony was held at the Buena Tavern in Vineland, New Jersey.
Chickie Narducci's borrowed time finally ran out when Scarfo gave Salvie Testa permission to kill him. Narducci was shot six times in the chest and face by Testa and Joey Pungitore. Narducci's bullet riddled corpse was left in the gutter.
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 didn't follow his orders as he saw fit. He gave the contract to Funzi and Mark Marconi to test their loyalty to him. They proved themselves loyal and shot DeVito in the head, then left his body in the trunk of a car.
In the aftermath of the hit, Pat "The Cat" Spirito was promoted to captain. Nick Caramandi acquired DeVito's loan sharking books and began collecting from the debtors. He gave DeVito's girlfriend $6,000 to pay for the funeral, but Caramandi made sure that every other penny went directly into Scarfo's pockets. Nick the Crow had clearly shown himself deeply loyal to Scarfo.
It had been one year since Phil Testa's murder when Salvie Testa shot Rocco Marinucci to death in a parking lot. In this act, Testa had finally got his revenge for his father's death. The police later found three unexploded firecrackers lodged in Marinucci's mouth, a reference to the explosion used to murder the elder Testa.
Second Mafia War, Merlino takes over
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The rise of Ligambi
Joseph Ligambi, who took over as the acting boss in 2001, stabilized the family, increased membership and, more importantly, restored relations with the New York families. He had to contend with the damage Joey Merlino had done to the family's relationship with illegal bookmakers, who refused to do business with the Philadelphia crime family because Merlino made huge bets, then never paid when he lost. The family currently consists of approximately 50 members, half of whom are incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates. Around a dozen made men will be released from prison in the following years, filling the ranks. Many of these men were young players who fell victim to the unstable Scarfo and Merlino eras, and are now middle-aged. Much of the Philadelphia family's earnings come from illegal poker machines. In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintains a low profile, and is more interested in making money than headlines. He named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss.
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 such as Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. Recently released Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steven Mazzone also fell inline with Ligambi. Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and served six months in a halfway house in Florida.
On May 23, 2011, Ligambi and 12 other members and associates of the crime family were indicted by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking. A superseding indictment added three more defendants to the case. 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, found guilty on five counts, and a were undecided (hung jury) on 11 counts. 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 were acquitted on all charges during a retrial and were released in January 2014.
Merlino continues to serve as the Boss of the crime family. He has run things by proxy, delegating most duties since 2011 to his acting boss, Steven Mazzone and his acting underboss John Ciancaglini (both released from prison in 2008).
Current leaders and membership
- Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino
- Acting Boss - Steve Mazzone
- Acting Underboss - John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini - A known criminal in Philadelphia, his family can be traced back to Nicky Scarfo's teenage years. Ciancaglini's father was recently released from prison after serving nearly 30 years for racketeering related activities. The younger Ciancaglini has also served prison, on an extortion charge for a full nine-year sentence.
- Consigliere - Joseph Ligambi - Former acting boss now in semi-retirement.
South Philadelphia faction
- Capo - Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. A smart and low-key captain described by authorities, has never been sentenced or charged for a serious crime. Lancelotti has only been charged in 2004 for assault.
- 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 - Frank Gambino. Gambino and four other Philadelphia crime family members allegedly stole $405,871 worth of goods from a Philadelphia shipping port.
- 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.
- Soldier - Joseph Massimino. In 2004, he pled 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. Was released from prison on January 24, 2014.
South New Jersey faction
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 1991-1994 — Giovanni "John" Stanfa — imprisoned for life.
- 1994–present — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino — arrested in 1999, released in 2011.
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 — imprisoned in 1986, 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
- 1990-1994 — Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini Jr. — shoted, paralyzed and incapacited.
- Acting 1992-1994 — Frank Martines
- 1994-1999 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino — became official boss.
- 1999-2004 — Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone — imprisoned in 2001.
- Acting 2004-2004 — Joseph Massimino
- 2004–2012 — Joseph "Mousie" Massimino — imprisoned June 2004 – 2010.
- 2012-present - John "Johnny Chang" 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 "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
- 2011–present - Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi
- Nicholas "Nicky The Crow" Caramandi
- Mario Riccobene
- Ron Previte
- Ralph Natale
- Phil Leonetti
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- IPSN: The Philadelphia/Atlantic City Mob