LACNDB.COM
|Philadelphia|  Family - Scarfo

Birth: October 6, 1908

Death: /












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 Scarfo Family, which is involved in loansharking, gambling, extortion and drugtrafficking, is one of the bloodiest families of all time.

Origins
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.


Conflict Begins

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.


Recent Years

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.


Bosses of the Philadelphia Crime Family

1911–1931 — Salvatore Sabella (retired) (1881–1962)
1931–1936 — John "Nazzone/Big Nose" Avena (killed) (–1936)
1936–1946 — Joseph "Joe Bruno" Dovi (1889–1946)
1946–1959 — Joseph "Joe" Ida (deported 1958) (–)
1958–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina (acting boss) (deposed) (1892–1993)
1959–1980 — Angelo "The Gentile Don" Bruno (killed) (1911–1980)
1980–1981 — Philip "Chickenman" Testa (killed) (1924–1981)
1981–1991 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo (jailed) (1929–present)
1982–1984 — Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (acting boss)
1987–1991 — Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo (acting boss)
1991–1994 — John Stanfa (jailed) (1940–present)
1994–1999 — Ralph "Buddha" Natale (jailed 1998, defected 1999) (1935–present)
1998–1999 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino (acting boss) (ascended)
1999–2006 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino (jailed 1999) (1962–present)
1999–2005 — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (acting boss) (ascended)
2006–present — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (1946–present)


.:Back to American Mafia:.

2007 - 2015    |    Contact Webmaster