The Scarfo family (formerly known as the Bruno family) is a powerfull organisation and has it’s biggest interestes in Atlantic City casino’s since the 1970′s. The Family, which is involved in loansharking, gambling, extortion and drugtrafficking, is one of the bloodiest families of all time.
The Philadelphia faction of La Cosa Nostra has been one of the strongest families in the American Mafia since the beginning in 1911. Salvatore Sabella was sent to Philadelphia by the bosses of the Sicilian Mafia to organize the city and its rackets (Some sources say Sabella only entered Philladelphia in 1919). Sabella was the boss of the Philadelphia mob from 1911/1919 until he retired, turning operations over to Joseph Bruno. Bruno was in power essentially from 1927 until 1946.
There was a period during his rule when his power was challenged by John Avena. This was sometime between 1934 and 1936. Avena was gunned down in 1936 at the corner of Washington and Passyunk Avenues. Joseph Bruno runs Philadelphia affairs from his headquarters in New Jersey until his death in 1946. Joseph Ida was the family’s next boss. He was in control of the family until a narcotics conviction forced him to flee to Sicily in 1959. His successor was Angelo Bruno. Angelo, son of Joseph Bruno, would be the man to put the Philadelphia Mafia on the map. Bruno was one of the men who got Atlantic City started up and is also remembered as the most famous gangster of Philadelphia.
The Rise of The Gentle Don
The Philadelphia Mob reached it’s apogee under the leadership of Angelo Bruno, known as the Gentle Don because he avoided using violence. He established close contact with the New York families, especially the Genovese Family. The Philadelphia mob was raking in more money than the families in cities such as Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. They were only behind the New York and Chicago families in terms of importance to La Cosa Nostra.
Angelo Bruno sat on the Mafia’s ruling commission. He also forbid the dealing of narcotics which upset a number of his men because of the lost opportunity for profit, especially when so many of the other families were generating lucrative funds from it – nevertheless the Philly Mob was powerful.
Bruno’s consigliere, Antonio “Tony Bananas” Caponigro, had been griping to associates about Bruno. He was unhappy that Bruno seldom used violence as a means to achieve his goals. He began plotting to kill Angelo Bruno. Angelo Bruno was assassinated on March 21, 1980. This would be the beginning of a series of civil wars in the family which would continue through to the 90′s and bring a great deal of attention to the family from both the FBI and the media. Angelo Bruno was gunned down as he was riding in a car driven by soldier John Stanfa. Stanfa pulled up to Bruno’s house, rolled down the passenger side window, and watched as Bruno was blown away.
Stanfa caught bullet fragments on his shoulder, but had no serious injuries. This was one of the biggest mob hits in history. Caponigro was sent to New York for a meeting with the heads of the five families, where a Genovese Family crew headed by Vincent “Chin” Gigante strangled and beat Caponigro and associate Alfred Salerno. Meanwhile, Phil Testa had been chosen by the The Commission to succeed Bruno as boss.
The Scarfo Takeover
Phil Testa appointed Pete Casella as his underboss. He also chose the violent and ruthless Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo as his consigliere. Scarfo had been banished to Atlantic City by Bruno, but he was now back in the picture in Philadelphia with Bruno gone. On March 15, 1981, almost exactly a year later Phil Testa was blown away, literally. A bomb was hidden under the porch of his duplex. It was detonated by a remote control when Testa was on the porch.
The bomb was packed with roofing nails and explosives. Underboss Pete Casella and capo Frank Narducci blamed the attack on the Philadelphia Roofers Union. They said that this was evident because of the roofing nails in the bomb. Later, it was discovered that Casella and Narducci were behind the killing of Phil Testa. Casella called a meeting of the family and said that he had been cleared by New York to be the next boss of the family. Scarfo, however did not believe him.
Scarfo, on the day of Testa’s funeral, went to New York and met with the heads of the Genovese and Gambino Families. He learned that no one had approved Casella’s ascension to the throne. Scarfo convinced them to proclaim him as the next boss of the family. Scarfo’s rule brought more violence to the Philadelphia mob than it had ever seen.
After Bruno’s and Testa’s murder several members who were not loyal to Scarfo were murdered. This created a violent war between Harry Riccobene and Scarfo. Scarfo would be hurt by those whom he thought were loyal to him. He had become a man that could not be trusted. One example of this was Salvatore “Salvie” Testa. Testa was an up and comer in the mob who had been elevated to the rank of capo in the months after his father, Phil Testa’s death.
Salvatore Testa was extremely violent. Scarfo used him as a hitman in over 15 murders. Then, for an unknown reason, Scarfo thought that Testa was getting jealous of him and ordered him killed. He elevated his nephew, Philip Leonetti, to the rank of underboss. He and Leonetti were based in Atlantic City. The two men in Philadelphia running the operations were capo Tommy DelGiorno and Frank “Faffy” Iannarella. Scarfo would eventually be brought down by his own people.
From 1987 to 1989, five made members of the Philadelphia mob would become government informants. They included underboss Philip Leonetti, capo Tommy DelGiorno, capo Lawrence Merlino, soldier Gino Milano, and soldier Nicholas “Nicky Crow” Caramandi. A whole generation of leadership was taken out in an extensive RICO case by the FBI against the Philadelphia mob. Scarfo was convicted in 1989 of the murder of Frank “Frankie Flowers” D’Alfonso. He maintained his control over the family until 1991, but is currently serving life in prison.
John Stanfa and the Young Turks
Eventually in 1991 John Stanfa stepped up to leadership of the Philadelphia mob. Stanfa was the only conspirator in the Angelo Bruno assassination to survive, all the others having been killed by the Mafia Ruling Commission for the unsanctioned killing of a boss. Stanfa was a native Sicillian and many people considered him to be the ideal choice to take over the position of boss. He appointed the sons of several jailed mobsters to high ranking positions in the family.
During his tenure as boss however there was a certain amount of dissension within the family between Stanfa and the younger generation of mobsters in the family, known as the “young turks”. The “young turks” were under the leadership of Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, son of one time underboss Salvatore Merlino. This dissension escalated into a civil war which resulted in a number of deaths on both sides.
Once Stanfa became boss he appointed Anthony Piccolo as his consigliere and 33 year old Joseph “Joey Chang” Ciancaglini jr. (son of a jailed Scarfo capo) as his underboss. Stanfa always used to talk about Scarfo’s flaws as a boss, but actually began to mimic many of his traits as boss. Namely he re-introduced the street tax Scarfo once had on all criminals and their activities. This immediately started causing tension on the streets of Philadelphia.
For Stanfa it was easy money but it upset a number of people to the point of rebellion. It is believed that the first casualty of the civil war was Felix Bocchino. Stanfa sent Bocchino to collect his street tax, when Bocchino got whacked Stanfa, nor the FBI knew who was responsible but it would soon become clear.
In South Philadelphia there was a group of younger mobsters, the sons, brothers and nephews of a number of jailed members of the Scarfo regime who did not feel connected to the new administration. The youngsters were lead by Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino. Merlino was the son of former Scarfo underboss Salvatore Merlino.
Other members of Merlinos young turks were Steven Mazzone, Marty Angelina, George Borgesi (whose father was an imprisoned Scarfo hitman), Gaetano “Tommy Horsehead” Scafidi and Vince Iannece (whose father was a jailed Scarfo Soldier). Merlino and his friends were doing a good job of running things, making large amounts of money, they already had a street tax in place and so when Bocchino came around trying to take what they felt was theirs he had to go.
The media jumped on the Bocchino hit straight away and branded Merlino and his friends as the “Young Turks”. In retaliation there was a botched hit on Merlino’s second in command Michael Ciancaglini. Michael’s father was a jailed Scarfo capo and his brother was doing 7 years for extortion. At the time of the murder attempt Merlino was in jail himself.
By the fall of 1992 Stanfa began plotting the fall of the Merlino faction. Stanfa operated on the saying: “keep your friends close but your enemies even closer”. As a a result Stanfa and Merlino would be seen together at various social events and mob meetings. In September Stanfa held a secret ceremony in which Merlino, Michael Ciancaglini and Biagio Adornetto (a Sicilian) were inducted into the Philly mob as made members.
Further botched hits would follow with Adornetto making advances to Stanfa’s daughter Sara and being rejected. Formally loyal Adornetto began bad mouthing Stanfa and his administration. Rosario Bellochi (another Sicilian) was sent to whack Adornetto, however the attempt failed and he escaped.
Stanfa eventually decided it was time to take Merlino out. Merlino was a notorious gambler and readily collected his winnings, but when he lost wouldn’t pay the bookmakers. Stanfa believed that going to war with Merlino would be the easiest thing in the world, but Merlino was already way ahead of him. On March 2nd 1992 Stanfa’s underboss Joseph “Joey Chang” Ciancaglini jr. was hit in his social club.
He was shot in the head, neck and chest but managed to survive. However he was no longer able to take an active role and so retired at aged 35. Stanfa was outraged at this and could not believe Merlino had the nerve to do such a thing. He soon discovered that Merlino had been receiving advice from Joe Ciancaglini sr. (Joey chang’s father), his own father Salvatore Merlino and contacts he had made in prison. His cell mate in Prison; 64 year old Ralph Natale who was a member of the Angelo Bruno regime, who was doing time for arson and drug trafficking was due for parole in two years and would be a principle rival for the postion of boss. Natale also had ties in New York, people who wanted to see Stanfa gone, Natale had the backing of the Genovese Family.
Stanfa’s next move was to order the assassination’s of Merlino and his top two associates. By the summer of 1993 however they were still alive. On August 5th 1993 Merlino and his 2nd in command Michael Ciancaglini were shot in a drive-by shooting. Ciancaglini was killed but Merlino was hit in the anus and escaped. Although still alive Stanfa was happy, believing Merlino would fall soon. Merlino retaliated on August 31st when Stanfa, his son Joe and their driver carelessly drove into an ambush.
Whilst stuck in traffic a van pulled up along side them, the door slid open and bullets rained down on the trio. Joe Stanfa was hit in the face. The driver got them away from the van and Joe survived but for Stanfa this meant war. It was at this point that the FBI decided to turn the heat up on the Philadelphia family. Mob hits in alley ways was one thing, but mob hits on busy motor ways with civilians in danger was too much – this had to end. For the next several weeks both factions were constantly on the look out for hit teams from the opposite side. Two of Merlino’s associates were killed and so Merlino and his top men went underground. One of Merlino’s men changed sides, Gaetano “Tommy Horsehead” Scafidi went to Stanfa with info about Merlino.
On November 15th 1993 Merlino was arrested by the FBI and charged with violating his parole. He was sent back to prison on November 23rd. Meanwile Stanfa was in trouble too, he found out there was a rat in the organisation. He gave the order to have the informant whacked. He was shot twice in the head, but manged to fight off his atackers and escape. Stanfa’s reign was relatively short as he was along with 23 other associates were convicted on racketeering charges. This came about as a result of a bug planted by the FBI in the office of his attorney, Salvatore Avena, as well as the testimony of an informant. Stanfa is currently serving 5 consecutive life sentences.
The Natale/Merlino Era
Ralph Natale, having done more than 15 years for drug dealing and arson charges back in 1979, emerged from prison to a family he believed had been run into the ground by John Stanfa. Joseph Merlino, who having won a bloody mob war against Stanfa in the early 1990s became allied with Ralph Natale in what authorities feared to be a blending of the old with the new. Natale and Merlino plotted to take over the Philly Mob whilst they were cellmates in a federal prison in 1990.
They both hated former boss Nicodemo Scarfo and wanted to take control from him, however Nicky Scarfo was sent to prison in 1988. Joseph Merlino was released from prison before Ralph Natale was and returned to a family with John Stanfa now in charge. Merlino was not prepared to let this stop him from achieving his plan and so began a bloody mob war for control, which he won regardless of being sent back to prison for parole violation.
Whilst Merlino was on the street fighting the war, Natale was safe in prison, occasionally giving Merlino advice. Following Stanfa’s 1994 sentencing and Merlino’s return to prison Ralph Natale was released from prison himself in 1995. It was at this point he took over as boss, with Merlino in position as underboss. Merlino inducted him as a new made man of the family as he had been made under Stanfa’s reign.
Natale thought he was the top man now, the boss of the family, calling all the shots – however Merlino actually conspired to put Natale in as boss to take the attention away from himself, as underboss Merlino was the real power in the family and would secretly be making all the decisions behinds Natale’s back – Ralph Natale was really just a figurehead for the family, not too disimilar to the fictional Junior Soprano.
It wasn’t long however before Natale realized that Merlino was running his own organization. People were getting whacked without his permission and associates were dropping off money for Merlino from scams Natale had no knowledge of. This was all happening less than a year into his tenure as boss, increasingly he was being left out of business deals and even though he began to realize that Merlino and his crew weren’t loyal he let them get comfortable and increasingly more relaxed with running things behind his back.
As a result Natale resorted to some independent drug dealing to make up for the profit he was missing out on. It did not take long for the Feds to arrest Natale and facing 20 to life on prison he agreed to testify and become a rat. He still ended up being sent to 13 years in prison, it seems Ralph Natale may never enjoy freedom again.
The Merlino Era
Once Joseph Merlino took over the Philly mob proper he appointed his inner circle to top positions. He allegedly appointed George Borgesi as his consigliere and Steven Mazzone as his underboss. Ron Previte, a major player in the Philadelphia and New Jersey factions of the family was actually an FBI informant during the late 90′s. He taped a number of conversations with Joseph Merlino and his testimoney eventually resulted in the conviction of both Natale and Merlino.
The Philadelphia family has been in decline since the downfall of Scarfo in the late 1980s, in which the federal governments successful prosecution caused numerous soldiers to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in becoming informants. As of 2005, federal authorities believe the present membership of the organization is around 100 members, under the leadership of Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.
Merlino was convicted on racketeering charges on December 3, 2001 and, along with family consiglieri George Borgesi, was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. It is suspected Underboss Joseph Ligambi is presently acting head of the crime family.
Second article on the Philly Crime Family
Skinny Joey Hits the Streets….of Florida
Joseph Merlino steps out onto the iron-railed balcony of his $400,000 Boca Raton townhouse. Bare-chested, ripped and clad in nothing but grey skivvies, he looks more like a former Calvin Klein underwear model than one of the most ruthless mobsters of his time.
A year out of prison, Joseph Salvatore “Skinny Joey” Merlino isn’t so skinny anymore. But he looks almost as boyish at 50 as at 39, when he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for racketeering. Back then, he was a five-foot-three, 100-pound dapper young don who masterminded the bloody takeover of the Philadelphia mob. Today, he is a two-hour plane ride from the Southwest Philadelphia row house where he grew up to become an underworld icon, both feared and eerily revered in the City of Brotherly Love.
“How’d ya find me?” he asks, his Philadelphia accent unmistakable.
Surely Merlino, who has survived at least a dozen attempts on his life and has been accused and acquitted of ordering the grisly murders of plenty of wise guys, knows the answer to his question: If you really want to, you can find just about anyone.
He grins and says he doesn’t want to talk. This is something of a surprise, because Merlino is a mob star who, at least at one time, loved seeing himself in the spotlight so much that he used to ask friends to tape the TV news if there was a chance he would appear.
Once dubbed the “John Gotti of Passyunk Avenue,” an Italian district considered the heart of South Philadelphia, Merlino is now the ex-Mafioso, supposedly, of Boca’s Broken Sound Boulevard, where he lives in a cookie-cutter development still partly under construction off Interstate 95 and Yamato Road.
“I mean no disrespect,” he says in a cliché as fitting as the Frank Sinatra tunes neighbors say he blares in the middle of the night.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” he counters when asked about a possible movie deal about his gangster life, or to address evidence suggesting he is back at the helm of the Philly-South Jersey La Cosa Nostra from his suburban South Florida outpost.
Mobsters have flocked to Florida since the first trees were planted on Palm Island, where Al Capone moved into a mansion in 1928. The state has always been open territory for organized crime, a wise-guy retreat where legends like Meyer Lansky and underlings from just about every crime family have angled for turf — from gambling to extortion to prostitution to money-laundering to running drugs.
Merlino says he is in the carpet-installing business. The owner of his posh townhouse, Bruce DeLuca, is CEO of U.S. Installation Group, a primary flooring and carpeting subcontractor for Home Depot. Through a spokesperson, DeLuca said he didn’t lease the place to Merlino, doesn’t know him and would never have rented the house had he known who would be living there.
The 2,900-square-foot, two-story, Mediterranean-style townhouse sits at the end of a cul-de-sac of former model homes in a community occupied by upper-middle class, educated people who mostly work day jobs. It has an ornamental cross atop its tower-like roof.
But if Merlino has joined the work force, he isn’t installing carpets 9 to 5, according to neighbors. They say he has thrown loud parties, with beefy men and scantily clad women coming and going at all hours. Last Christmas season, somebody threw his fully decorated tree — tinsel, balls and all, from his balcony onto the street.
“They’re scary,” said one neighbor who asked not to be identified. “We’ve had the police come several times. It’s been very stressful living near them. There is always screaming and fighting.”
The neighbors say what they find most disturbing are the banging noises in the middle of the night, as if furniture or equipment is being moved about.
“I’m not easily frightened,” another neighbor said when informed a convicted mobster lived a few doors away. “I don’t know who he is, but he does have a lot of visitors.”
Retired Philadelphia Police Sgt. Walt Coughlin, who followed Merlino for much of his 47-year career, said the former mob boss seemed to like everybody — except those who were out to kill him. His neighbors welcomed him, as he often gave them Christmas trees and offered to help them if they couldn’t pay their heating bill.
“There were quite a few murders we thought he did, but there were no witnesses,’’ said Coughlin. “Nobody would cooperate with police. They were afraid, and he was a hometown boy.”
It’s not clear whether Merlino’s wife, Deborah Wells Merlino, and his two children are living with him in Boca. Neighbors say they haven’t seen any children at the house.
Boca Raton police said they have no record of any calls to the address, but if police were summoned because of noise, they wouldn’t necessarily write up a report, said spokeswoman Sandra Boonenberg.
Merlino appears to work out of his home. He named his Wi-Fi connection “Pine Barrens,” a reference to the heavily forested area near Atlantic City, N.J., where organized criminals often disposed of bodies. It was the scene of one of the most famous — and frightening — Sopranos episodes.
It would not surprise those who know Merlino if he is still living the “life.”
“I can tell you that I would not want to live next door to Joey Merlino,” said Stephen LaPenta, a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant who worked undercover as a mob informant, and infiltrated Merlino’s inner circle. LaPenta, now retired and living in Florida, says he still keeps tabs on the flamboyant ringleader.
“The Joey I know was a hard-drinking, womanizing, gambling drug user who would strangle you,” he said.
Merlino had ruthless power, as well as panache.
“If Joey sneezed, 20 people would hand him a handkerchief,” LaPenta said.
So why Boca Raton, a place without real cheese steaks, Mummers and the Eagles?
Organized crime experts say that Merlino, one of the many Teflon dons who have beaten multiple murder raps, has a better shot of staying under the radar in Boca. He was high-profile in Philly, with an entourage of pretty women and bodyguards. He was always followed by police and undercover agents.
Richard Mangan, a professor at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Criminology, said Merlino is no stranger to South Florida. At one time, he was part of Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo’s regime in Philadelphia. Scarfo owned a home in Fort Lauderdale, and Merlino is among those whose photo was taken on Scarfo’s boat, the “Casa Blanca,” also known as “The Usual Suspects.’’
Mangan said it’s likely Merlino has been in charge of the family all along, even from prison.
“The speculation is that yeah, why wouldn’t he be running things, especially in this digital age,” Mangan said.
According to various media reports, Merlino has talked about getting into the restaurant business. In August, Don Michael Petullo, a former Las Vegas businessman who worked in the casino industry, registered a company, DNS Inc., at Merlino’s Boca Raton address. Petullo, who could not be reached for comment, doesn’t appear to be in the carpet business.
In February, a confidential FBI memo was leaked by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks that said Merlino “appears to be restoring and developing significant relationships for a potential South Florida crew,” and that he was getting involved in gambling/bookmaking activities.
Then in May, a detention memo filed by prosecutors referenced a secretly recorded conversation among New Jersey mobsters discussing Merlino’s status in the organization as the man in charge who would decide, after his release from prison, which candidates would be initiated into the mob. Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi, up until then considered the top boss, is recorded as saying Merlino would “make” the guys he wants. Ligambi is now in prison.
A former boss of one of Florida’s crime families, now retired, said Merlino is inviting trouble by moving to Boca.
“I don’t know who he thinks he is, but it’s stupid, very stupid,” said the ex-mobster, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Why Boca? He could go anywhere, Phoenix, even Central Florida.” Boca, he said, will only create more police scrutiny of his dealings. “Boca is just too hot for someone like him.”
The old-timer said the brash and brazen Merlino will not be welcomed by the local La Cosa Nostra.
“I guarantee you that there are people out there who won’t want him,” he said.
New York’s five organized-crime syndicates — the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Colombo and Lucchese families — have always considered Florida to be “open,” with no family claiming exclusive rights to operate.
But many of the older bosses have either gone to jail or are dead. In the old days, the guys didn’t want to attract attention, but young turks like Merlino enjoy the limelight, said the old boss.
During the time he was in prison, Merlino reportedly spent a lot of time in the gym, bulking up. Meanwhile, the mob was led by Ligambi, although speculation among law enforcement is that Ligambi was actually a figurehead for Merlino.
Merlino, released in 2011, served time in a Boca Raton halfway house before being freed last year.
If he is running the Philadelphia mob, he is likely doing so through associates still living in Philly and South Jersey, according to the confidential FBI memo. Merlino is prohibited from associating with known felons and is still on federally supervised release.
“The word we got is Joey has a benefactor, he has somebody pumping money into him. How else could he get out of prison and move into a $400,000 house and drive a Mercedes?,’’ LaPenta said. “It’s trouble for South Florida in the sense that because Joey is there, others will follow.”
Third article on the Philly Crime Family
Two decades of tranquility in the Philadelphia Crime Family came to an end on the night of March 21, 1980. Late that evening, as Mafia boss Angelo Bruno and his driver John Stanfa sat in a car outside Bruno’s row house chatting and smoking cigarettes, a gunman stepped out of the shadows, leveled a shotgun behind the “Docile Don’s” right ear and pulled the trigger.
Several theories abounded regarding the murder of the popular Philadelphia boss. One was that Bruno was getting old and losing control of the family and needed to be moved aside. Another held that he was asserting himself in Atlantic City, moving certain union people in to take advantage of the construction boom created by the legalization of gambling casinos there.
Still others believe that the crime families of New York wanted to capitalize on the new casino industry in Atlantic City and orchestrated the murder. Whatever the reason, by March 1981, Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo had positioned himself to take control of the Philadelphia mob, including Atlantic City, and had negotiated an agreement with the New York families.
The change in leadership did not mean that tranquility was not about to return to the “City of Brotherly Love.” Not as long as “Harry the Hunchback” was around.
“Harry the Hunchback” was Harry Riccobene. The hump on his back was from a birth defect that caused a curvature of his spine. Sometimes called “Harry the Hump,” Riccobene was barely five feet tall, spoke in a high pitched voice, and had a long white beard. How imposing could this guy be?
Once a prospective juror described him as looking like “a little Santa Claus.” While Harry never kept a sleigh full of toys, he was prone to deciding who was naughty and nice. Like “Bugsy” Siegel and “Scarface” Al Capone, no one ever called Riccobene the “Hump” or “Hunchback” to his face.
Harry Riccobene was born in Sicily in 1910 and was brought to the United States by his parents when he was three years old. Harry had two half brothers, Mario, known as “Sonny,” and Robert. Harry became a made member of the Philadelphia Crime Family in the early 1930s. He was involved in bootlegging, gambling, loansharking, and at one time had a talent agency. In the 1950s, he was convicted in Cleveland for selling heroin and spent the better part of twenty years in prison. In March 1975, he was released and returned to Philadelphia.
After the deaths of Bruno and his successor, Philip “Chicken Man” Testa, Nicky Scarfo began purging the family of the people he felt wouldn’t fall in line under his leadership. Some family members were upset that Scarfo had moved so quickly into the top spot. John Calabrese was one of them He was murdered in October 1981. Frank “Chickie” Narducci, another, took ten bullets in the face, neck and chest on January 7, 1982. (At the time of Narducci’s murder he was involved in a RICO trial that had begun three days before. Harry and Sonny Riccobene were co-defendants in the case.) In addition, Frank “Frankie Flowers” D’Alfonso, an important family earner, was given a vicious beating as a warning to keep in line.
Riccobene’s operation was run by his own family members, including his stepmother. He had always recognized Bruno as the boss and paid him his due respect. A Philadelphia police detective once described the Bruno / Riccobene relationship: “Harry was an independent guy. Every year at Christmas he’d send Bruno something and that would be it.” Apparently “Harry the Hunchback” could play Santa Claus.
In the early 1980s, Harry continued to run his operations – gambling, loansharking, video poker games, vending machines, and a methamphetamine business – hoping that his arrangement with Bruno would carryover to Scarfo. It didn’t. Scarfo wanted a percentage of Riccobene’s operation. When the “Hunchback” refused, Scarfo declared war.
In George Anastasia’s, “Blood and Honor,” in my opinion one of the best books ever written on organized crime, the author gives this over view of the war:
“This might seem strange to someone not familiar with the workings of the criminal underworld. But life inside the Scarfo organization was a three-dimensional chess game. Plots and intrigue unfolded on several different levels, and collisions occurred on various planes. So for months during the Riccobene war, protagonists would be in each other’s company and, on the surface at least, appear to be getting along famously. They would socialize at weddings and funerals. If they happened to be in the same restaurant, they’d greet each other warmly and buy each other a round of drinks. It was all part of the Mafia machismo that had taken over the Scarfo organization, all part of the battle being fought on Scarfo’s terms, a battle of cunning, guile, and deceit.”
Scarfo assigned the contract on Harry Riccobene to Pasquale “Pat the Cat” Spirito. He was ordered to use Charles “Charlie White” Iannece and Nicholas “Nicky Crow” Caramandi to carry out the hit. After several blown opportunities during the early months of 1982, Scarfo put together a new plan. Frank Monte, the new Philadelphia Family’s consigliere, and Raymond “Long John” Martorano paid a visit to Harry Riccobene’s half-brother Mario. After listening to an offer to “serve up” Harry, Mario told the two men he would get back with them. Instead, he went straight to the “Hunchback” and exposed the plot.
Riccobene, who had hoped to avoid open warfare, now went on the offensive. Frank Monte became the first victim of the war. On May 13, 1982, Riccobene gunmen Joseph Pedulla and Victor DeLuca staked out Monte’s car, which was parked outside a Southwest Philadelphia gas station. When Monte returned to his automobile around 9:00 p.m., Pedulla, with a .22 caliber rifle with a scope mounted on it, put six slugs in Monte’s head and back. He died within an hour.
With the first casualty of war recorded, Anastasia states, “For the rest of 1982 and for all of 1983, squads of gunmen cruised the streets of South Philadelphia looking for targets.”
In June 1982, Scarfo forces got their first shot at Harry Riccobene. The “Hunchback,” who was almost seventy years old at the time, was in a phone booth talking to his twenty-three-year-old girlfriend. Scarfo gunman Salvatore “Wayne” Grande approached and pumped five bullets into the little man. Incredibly, Riccobene wrestled the gun away from Grande who was one hundred pounds heavier and nearly fifty years younger. Police arrived and found Riccobene leaning against the phone booth, and bleeding all over the sidewalk; an empty six-shooter in his hand. True to mob protocol, Harry told police that he couldn’t identify his assailant.
In July the Riccobene forces struck back. Pedulla and DeLuca spotted Salvatore “Salvie” Testa, the “Chick Man’s” son, enjoying a bucket of clams outside a South Philadelphia pizza shop. A shotgun blast from Pedulla knocked Testa off a wooden crate he was seated on, and nearly severed his left arm. Although in critical condition, Testa survived and looked forward to the day he could return to the fray.
Meanwhile, Harry, who had made a quick recovery from his wounds in June, was the target again in August. As he was sitting in his automobile, a gunman, disguised as a jogger, ran by and emptied his gun into the car. Miraculously none of the bullets hit Riccobene this time.
While both sides blasted away at each other, “Little Nicky” Scarfo was able to stay out of harm’s way as he was safely tucked away in Joe Valachi’s former home, the federal prison in La Tuna, Texas. Scarfo was serving seventeen months for being found in possession of a weapon as a convicted felon.
Scarfo gunman Nick Caramandi, one of the main characters of Anastasia’s, “Blood and Honor,” talked about stalking Harry and later Mario Riccobene all over the city. He said the hit team would sometimes work from 7:00 a.m. until late into the night. They staked out Riccobene’s step-mother’s home, girlfriend’s apartments, the homes of friends and business associates, all in hopes of getting an open shot at their adversaries.
The failure to kill the Riccobenes infuriated Scarfo and he responded by ordering the murder of Pat Spirito, who he had handed the original murder contract to. Described as a “reluctant hit man,” Spirito was murdered by Iannece and Caramandi on April 29, 1983. Caramandi describes Spirito and the aftermath of the hit:
“Spirito was not cut out for the Scarfo mob. He had come out of Trenton and moved to South Philadelphia at a time when mob members were low-key operators concentrating on gambling, loan-sharking, and bookmaking. He was greedy and ambitious, attributes that Scarfo could appreciate, but he lacked the killer instinct. He thought he could slide by generating enough money to keep the Little Guy down the shore satisfied. But he underestimated Scarfo’s bloodlust. Spirito was a money-maker, but he was also a whiner and complainer.”
After we killed him, “everybody was happy. Everybody hated him. I never seen a guy hated so much.”
After Spirito’s murder, Caramandi and Iannece were assigned to Salvatore Testa. Caramandi stated that the word coming from Scarfo out of La Tuna was that he wanted to “hear noise.” Scarfo was pleased that Caramandi and Iannece had taken care of Spirito. They were promised their “buttons,” – becoming made members of the family – when Scarfo returned.
One of the reasons Scarfo wasn’t hearing any “noise” was because both Harry and Mario Riccobene were behind bars themselves, having been convicted of the aforementioned RICO charges. Caramandi and Iannece were told their next target was Robert Riccobene. They were assigned at first to work with Eugene “Gino” Milano, a made member of Salvatore Testa’s crew, and later with Francis “Faffy” Iannarella.
Six months would go by before there was another casualty in the war. On November 3, 1983 Nick Milano and Phillip Narducci followed Riccobene loyalist Salvatore “Sammy” Tamburrino into a variety store he operated on the ground floor of his home. As his horrified mother watched, Tamburrino was shot to death.
The last murder in the Riccobene / Scarfo War came a little over a month later on December 6. Two crews of hitmen had been stalking Robert Riccobene all day. That afternoon, Iannarella, Iannece and Joey Pungitore caught up with him outside his mother’s house. Riccobene had just driven up with his mother and parked. As they walked toward the house Riccobene spotted Iannarella carrying a sawed-off shotgun. Riccobene took off with “Faffy” in pursuit. Iannarella fired a blast as Riccobene vaulted a fence. The shot caught Riccobene in the back of the head killing him.
During the chase, Mrs. Riccobene had grabbed Iannarella and screamed at him to stop. “Faffy” responded by hitting the terrified mother in the face with the butt of the shotgun. It was the second murder in a row where the victim was killed in front of his mother, an infringement of so-called mob murder etiquette.
Four days after Robert Riccobene’s killing, Testa, Milano, and Pungitore were ambushed as they were driving in South Philadelphia. No one was injured and this would be the last effort on the part of the Riccobene forces in the war. Scarfo gang member Chuckie Merlino would soon announce that the war was over.
A sad side note to the war was the death of Enrico Riccobene, Mario’s twenty-seven-year-old son. Enrico had no real connection to the hostilities that were going on other than being a blood relative. While working at his jewelry store on December 14, 1983, he was notified that Testa, Phil Leonetti, and Lawrence Merlino were looking for him. Enrico went to the safe, pulled out a gun and shot himself in the head.
Testa would later tell Caramandi, “Now we can kill guys without bullets. They use their own guns. That’s how afraid they are of us.”
Harry and Mario Riccobene were still in jail when the war ended. However, Mario, despondent over the deaths of his brother and son, pleaded guilty to a third degree murder charge involving Frank Monte and became a government witness. Where as before he had refused to set up his brother for the Scarfo forces he now served up Harry to the United States government. Also set to testify were former Riccobene gunmen Victor DeLuca and Joseph Pedulla. Harry Riccobene, who didn’t stand a chance against the trio, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The Riccobene / Scarfo War was over, but the senseless killing that marked “Little Nicky’s” rise and fall would continue throughout the 1980s as Scarfo etched his name in blood into organized crime history.