He was nearly killed in one of the most infamous gangland shootings in the violent history of the Philadelphia mob.
His older brother has changed his name to get out from under the family stigma.
A younger brother tried to commit suicide for the same reason and has been comatose for 25 years.
That's part of the depressing personal history of Nicodemo S. Scarfo, a story that has made its way into testimony in the now seven-week old racketeering and fraud trial playing out in federal district court in Camden.
Scarfo, 47, is the lead defendant in the case. He and Salvatore Pelullo, a 45-year-old Mafia wannabe, are charged with orchestrating the secret takeover of a Texas mortgage company in 2007 and then ripping it off to the tune of $12 million.
Scarfo and his jailed father, Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo, are at the center of that story.
"You're aware, aren't you, that he was shot in 1989 and almost killed?" Scarfo's lawyer, Michael Riley, asked his client's probation officer, Sharon O'Brien as she testified earlier today.
O'Brien, who is due back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow, said she was. One can assume the jury is also aware since this was not the first time Riley has mentioned the Halloween night shooting at Dante & Luigi's Restaurant that left the younger Scarfo with seven bullet holes in his body.
|The dining room at Dante & Luigi's|
Riley has masterfully laid out the defense claim that prosecutors have used the spectre of organized crime to sensationalize and prop up fraud allegations that have little, if any, foundation. He has also told the jury that his client has been targeted by law enforcement -- often unjustly -- for most of his adult life because he shares the same name with his infamous father.
Little Nicky Scarfo is considered one of the most violent mob bosses in the history of the American Mafia and has been described by some prosecutors as a "psychopath" with a disturbing penchant for violence.
Prosecutors have painted Scarfo and Pelullo as corporate gangsters who used strong arm Mafia tactics, including threats of violence, to take over FirstPlus Financial and then, in a classic mob play, bust the joint out.
Ironically, it is Pelullo, based on witness testimony and on secretly recorded conversations picked up on FBI wiretaps, who has made most of those threats and who has talked like a B-movie bad guy. Scarfo's story, however, is the wheel around which the mob allegations spin.
It could be months before the jury is asked to sort it all out. Scarfo and Pelullo, both convicted felons, could face prison sentences of 30 years or more if convicted. Five other defendants, including four attorneys and the former CEO of FirstPlus are also on trial.
Scarfo's father and Lucchese crime family boss Vittorio "Vic" Amuso have been identified as unindicted co-conspirators in the case. Testimony and evidence has included details of visits Scarfo and Pelullo made to a federal prison in Atlanta where Scarfo was serving a 55-year term
The elder Scarfo, 84, has a parole date of 2033, meaning he will probably die in jail. From testimony and evidence offered by the prosecution, he has been portrayed as a sounding board and cheerleader for what authorities say was the plan to takeover and loot FirstPlus.
He also warned his son about problems in the New Jersey underworld, describing several key members of the Lucchese family with whom the young Scarfo was associated as "rats" who should be avoided.
A letter Scarfo wrote to his son from prison in January 2008 -- about the same time the FirstPlus scam was unfolding according to authorities -- was introduced as evidence earlier in the trial. Attached to the letter, according to testimony, were court documents related to a wiretap affidavit and transcript from a 1999 federal investigation of organized crime figures.
The targets of that probe apparently included brothers Michael and Martin Taccetta and several members of the Perna family, fathers and sons, all of whom were members or associates of the Lucchese organization.
"My dear Son," Scarfo wrote, "hold on to these 39 pages for the future. Review them. Tacettas and Pernas are rats and the younger ones are glorified rats by proxy. And who knows how far they will go in the future. As far as I'm concerned, they're all lying rats.
"Love, Dad xxoo"
"Hardly a Hallmark card, is it?" Riley quipped when cross-examining a federal prison official about the letter.
Donald Manno, a former Scarfo lawyer who is a co-defendant in the case, described the note as an attempt "by an old man" to "protect his son as best he could." Manno, who is representing himself, asked the same prison official the question that Riley posed to the probation officer today.
There has been no detailed explanation of what led Scarfo to make the allegation about the Taccettas and Pernas. The Taccetta brothers have been jailed on federal racketeering charges and on murder charges tied to a state case in Toms River involving the bludgeoning death of a video poker machine operator with golf clubs.
Martin Taccetta, released from prison a few years ago, is under indictment in Morris County in a pending state racketeering gambling case that includes 30 other mob members and associates, including the younger Scarfo and four members of the Perna family.
Michael Taccetta is due to be released shortly.
One underworld source, while not discounting the possibility that some of those individuals mentioned by Scarfo may be cooperating, added that Scarfo, in jail since 1987, "is delusional. He thinks everybody's a rat."
The letter and bits and pieces of the overlapping mob connections are part of the intriguing back story that the jury in the FirstPlus case has been hearing. The jury also was shown a letter from the elder Scarfo to Pelullo and one from Amuso to the younger Scarfo congratulating him on being remarried.
Scarfo's marital problems were also part of the testimony today. He divorced his first wife in February 2008 and married his current wife on Valentine's Day of that year. His wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo, was indicted in the FirstPlus case and has pleaded guilty to a mortgage fraud charge linked to the couple's purchase of a $715,000 home in Egg Harbor Township.
The down payment for that home came from money siphoned out of FirstPlus, authorities allege, and the mortgage itself was arranged through companies the government has linked to the scam.
O'Brien, the probation officer, was asked about two of those companies today, Global Net and Learned Associates and Scarfo's ties to them. O'Brien said she never determined exactly what the relationship was, but said her office was aware of the ongoing FBI investigation into FirstPlus and did not want to jeopardize it by raising questions with Scarfo.
Evidence introduced at the trial indicates that at the time Scarfo completed his three years of probation under O'Brien's supervision in March 2008 he was being paid $33,000-a-month as a consultant for Seven Hills Management, a Pelullo-backed company that authorities allege was also part of the scam. Scarfo also told O'Brien that he was about to begin working a second job for William Maxwell, a Texas lawyer whose brother John was the CEO of FirstPlus.
William Maxwell was special counsel to FirstPlus at the time. The Maxwell brothers are co-defendants in the ongoing trial. A letter from Maxwell indicated that he was going to pay Scarfo $150,000-a-year to develop business contacts and identify companies that could be purchased in New Jersey. The job also included a car, cell phone and business expenses.
"An opportunity like this is one I can build a tremendous career on," Scarfo said in a note to O'Brien about the job offer. The government alleges the salary from Maxwell and the consulting fee from Seven Hills were part of the scam and ways to funnel money from FirstPlus to Scarfo.
O'Brien said that Scarfo never fully disclosed his finances to the probation department, as he was required to do under the terms of his supervised release. She also said he lied to her by denying he had had contact with convicted felons and organized crime figures, two other prohibitions.
Personal details of Scarfo's life were also part of her testimony. She told the jury that before moving, Scarfo was living in Ventnor with his first wife, his daughter, his mother and his (comatose) brother.
Later, after divorcing and remarrying, she said Scarfo made a point of asking her to come and see his new baby. His second wife gave birth of a baby boy a few months after they were married on Valentine's Day 2008, she said.
O'Brien said Scarfo proudly told her he had named the enfant "Nicodemo Scarfo 3d."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.