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Philadelphia crime family

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Title: Philadelphia crime family  
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Philadelphia crime family

Philadelphia crime family
Founding location South Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Years active 1911–present
Territory Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Territory in Atlantic City, South Jersey, and Wilmington (as well as Baltimore and Trenton).
Ethnicity Men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities employed as "associates"
Membership 50 made members approx, 100 associates approx
Criminal activities Extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling, racketeering, conspiracy, drug trafficking, Money laundering and murder.
Allies Five Families, Chicago Outfit, K&A Gang, Warlocks Motorcycle Club, Philadelphia Greek Mob
Rivals various other gangs over Philadelphia, including their allies and The Pagans.[1]

The Philadelphia crime family, also known as the Bruno crime family, Scarfo crime family, Philadelphia Mafia, Philadelphia Mob, Philly Mafia or Philly Mob, 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. The family has been known to hold territory or influence in other nearby areas outside Philadelphia, including Atlantic City, South Jersey, Trenton, Camden, Chester, Wilmington, Baltimore, and Newark. The Philadelphia family is notorious for its violence, partially due to having a succession of very violent bosses.

Under Angelo Bruno (1910–1980), the family enjoyed its most peaceful and prosperous reign. He was murdered in 1980 and Nicky Scarfo took over. He involved the family in narcotics, which Bruno had refused to do. Scarfo's tenure saw the murder of over 30 of his own men. Eventually, he and his supporters were put in prison and Joseph Merlino took over. Merlino was put in prison in 2001, and Joseph Ligambi took over.


The beginning

In the early 20th Century, several Italian immigrant and Italian-American 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 to be seen as the most powerful Mafia boss outside the New York and Chicago area, as he expanded the family's profit and operations in lucrative Atlantic City, which had now became 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, as well as avoiding lengthy prison terms despite several arrests; his longest 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 be 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 like 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

On March 21, 1980, Angelo Bruno was assassinated outside his home. The murder was orchestrated by his consigliere, Antonio Caponigro; Caponigro was unhappy with Bruno's conservative leadership style and had been led to believe that, if he attempted a coup, he would have the support of the Genovese family.[2] 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.[3]

Bruno's underboss Philip Testa subsequently took control of the family.[4] Testa lasted just under a year; on March 15, 1981 he was killed by a nail bomb. Testa's murder is 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 Scarfo; Scarfo won the support of the New York families to take power himself and had Casella exiled from the territory of the Philly mob.[5]

Scarfo and Merlino

The rise of Ligambi

Ligambi, who took over as the official boss in 2001, has stabilized the family,[6] increased membership, and more importantly has restored relations with the New York families.[7] He has had to contend with the damage Merlino had done to the family's relationship with illegal bookmakers, who refused to do business with the Philadelphia crime family because Merlino would make huge bets, then never paid when he lost.[8] The family currently consists of approximately 50 members, half of whom are incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates.[9][10] Around a dozen made men will be released from prison in the following years, filling the ranks.[11] 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.[12] Ligambi is now considered, by the FBI and the New York families, the indefinite godfather of the Philadelphia Mafia.[6] In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintains a low profile, and is more interested in making money, not headlines.[6] He has named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss.[6]

Ligambi has 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.[6] His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters such as Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti.[13] Recently released Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steven Mazzone have also appeared to have fallen in line behind Ligambi. What role Merlino would have when his parole restrictions expire was unknown.[6] Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and served six months in a halfway house in Florida.[14]

On May 23, 2011, Ligambi and 11 other members and associates of the crime family were indicted by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking.[15] A superseding indictment added three more defendants to the case. Steve Mazzone, who was not charged and is not on probation, has been named acting boss as a result of the arrests made.[12] Merlino is reportedly running the crime family from Florida and may have been in charge the entire time he was in prison.[15][16] Five of those charged pleaded guilty to lesser charges, one became a government witness and seven went to trial in October 2012.[17] The defendants were acquitted on 45 counts, found guilty on five counts and a were undecided (hung jury) on 11 counts. Ligambi and Borgesi were not convicted of any charges. Facing a retiral, Staino took a plea agreement while Ligambi and Borgesi will be retried on the counts the jury was split on.

Current leaders and membership

  • Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino[18][19]
  • Underboss - Joseph Massimino[18][19] - In 2004, he pled guilty to charges of racketeering related to gambling and loan sharking and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.[20] He is currently (as of October 2012) on trial[21] for additional charges of racketeering related to electronic gambling devices.[22]
  • Consigliere - George Borgesi - Ligambi's nephew who was scheduled to be released from prison in July 3, 2012 before being charged with overseeing a loan sharking operation in Delaware County from his prison cell in North Carolina.[23] His relationship with Ligambi is said to be strained.[24][25] The two have a couple other members of their family working as associates for the Philadelphia crime family.[26]

South Philadelphia faction

  • Capo - Michael Lancelotti "Mikey Lance" - A smart and low-key captain described by authorities, has never been sentenced or charged on a serious crime. Lancelotti has only been charged in 2004 for assault.[27]
  • Soldier - Anthony Nicodemo "Tony Nicks" - He was charged with the murder of Gino DiPietro, and was a suspect in 2003 when John Casasanto was also gunned down.[28]
  • Soldier - Frank Gambino - According to Joey Merlino, Gambino and four other Philadelphia crime family members stole $405,871 worth of goods from a Philadelphia shipping port.[29]
  • Soldier - Salvatore Mazzone "Sonny" - He is the brother of Philadelphia crime family acting boss, Steve Mazzone. Mazzone attacked and bit off a part of a civilian's nose on the streets of Philadelphia.[30]
  • Soldier - John Ciancaglini "Johnny Chang" - A known criminal in Philadelphia, his family can be traced back in Nicky Scarfo's teenage years. Ciancaglini's father is currently serving his 45-year prison sentence for racketeering back in 1988. He also has served prison, on an extortion charge for a full nine-year sentence.[31]

South New Jersey faction

  • Capo - Anthony Staino - He was charged for loan-sharking 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.[32]
  • Soldier - Anthony Borgesi - Philip Ligambi and Borgesi were charged in 1994 for assault on a mother and a 16-year old son over a business deal.[33]

North New Jersey faction

  • Capo - Martin Angelina "Marty" - 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, loan sharking and illegal gambling charges.[34]
  • Capo - Vincent Centorino "Beeps" - In 1994, he along with other high-profiled Philadelphia crime family mobsters were tapped by FBI including Nicky Scarfo Jr. and all pleaded guilty.[35]
  • Soldier - Joseph Licata "Scoops" - A former acting captain, was sentenced for 14 years in 1994 after George Fresolone recorded secret conversations, and Licata was charged under major gambling operations in Newark.[36]

Historical leadership

Bosses (official and acting)

  • 1911–1931 — Salvatore Sabella (retired) (died of natural causes in 1962)
  • 1931–1936 — John "Nazzone" Avena (killed August 17, 1936)
  • 1936–1946 — Giuseppe "Joe Bruno" Dovi (died October 22, 1946 of natural causes in New York hospital)
  • 1946–1959 — Joseph "Joe" Ida (deported 1958)
    • Acting 1958–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina (deposed by commission)
  • 1959–1980 — Angelo "Gentle Don" Bruno (killed) (1911–1980) (killed March 21, 1980 by shotgun blast)
  • 1980–1981 — Philip "Chickenman" Testa (killed) (1924–1981) (killed March 15, 1981 by bomb blast)
  • 1981-1991 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo (imprisoned in 1987 on Racketeering and Murder Charges)
  • 1991-1995 — John "Homicide John" Stanfa (imprisoned in 1994 on Racketeering and Murder Charges)
  • 1995 - Present — Joey "Skinny Joey" Merlino
  • Front Boss 1995–1999 — Ralph Natale
    • Acting 1999-2011 — Joseph Ligambi
    • Acting 2011 - Present — Steve Mazzone

Underbosses (official and acting)

  • 1911-1931 — John Avena
  • 1931-1936 — Giuseppe Dovi
  • 1936-1946 — Joseph Ida
  • 1946–1956 — Marco Reginelli (Died)
  • 1956–1957 — Dominick Olivetto (Retired)
  • 1957–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina (Became "Acting Boss)
  • 1999–2004 — Steve Mazzone (imprisoned 2001,[37] Deposed by Commission)
  • 2004–present — Joseph "Mousie" Massimino (imprisoned June 2004 – 2010)[38]
    • Acting 2007–2010 — Martin "Marty" Angelina (Promoted to Acting Underboss to appease Merlino's loyalists)[39]
    • Acting 2010 — Anthony Staino[6][40]

Government Informants

  • Nicholas "Nicky The Crow" Caramandi[41]
  • Mario Riccobene[42]
  • Ron Previte[43]

See also


Further reading

  • Anastasia, George. Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob, the Mafia's Most Violent Family. 2004, ISBN 0940159864
  • Anastasia, George. Goodfella Tapes.
  • Anastasia, George. The Last Gangster.
  • Wagman, Robert J. Blood Oath.

External links

  • "Hitting the Hit Men Even alleged killers can be beaten up by a gang of thugs" by Brendan McGarvey
  • IPSN: The Philadelphia/Atlantic City Mob
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