By Ralph Cipriano
On Sunday night at 7 p.m., 60 Minutes will air a segment on John Veasey, the former Philadelphia hit man, mob turncoat, and government witness whose riveting testimony brought down the Stanfa mob.
It's a crazy story.
In a clip from the 60 Minutes segment, correspondent Byron Pitts explains to a national audience how back in the 1990s, John Veasey was volunteering during the day as a Boy Scout leader, driving around a station wagon full of scouts. And at night, he'd be driving around South Philly in a rented Cadillac, trying to hunt down and kill "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
Here's a clip:
I wrote a November 2010 cover story about Veasey for Philadelphia magazine that I expanded into a Kindle book and a paperback. You can read it in one sitting. It ain't James Joyce, but as a reporter based in Philadelphia, I don't think I've ever come across a more entertaining story.
The 60 Minutes segment tells the story about how a poor South Philly kid wound up becoming a hit man for the mob, and then got shot in the head by his fellow mobsters. Veasey survived the hit and testified against the Stanfa mob, putting the city's former mob boss away, along with several associates, for long prison stretches.
Veasey's next reincarnation was a Midwest car salesman, where he showed an amazing ability to connect with people from all walks of life. Veasey became a born-again Christian, and much of the Minutes piece focuses on whether that's for real:
I have come to know John Veasey well, and I can tell you although there's been some rough patches, John is sincere about wanting to change his life around and follow God. I know John, I know his new wife, and I know the pastor who's been discipling John. In fact, that's another Philadelphia story that we may have to explore at a later date.
Here's what John's pastor has to say about him:
"I believe John to be one of the most truthful people I've ever run into," the pastor said. "I've known him for a year now and I've always found him to be consistent."
So if you get a chance, tune in Sunday night. You won't be bored.