He's a throwback, a standup guy in a mob decimated by turncoat witnesses.
And as a result, he's looking at 23 more years in state prison.
On the eve of his retrial for the December 2012 murder of Gino DiPietro, mobster Anthony Nicodemo pleaded guilty this morning to third degree murder, conspiracy and weapons charges.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, under the terms of a plea deal, sentenced the reputed South Philadelphia hitman to a minimum of 25 years in prison. With two years already served, Nicodemo, 43, will be able to apply for parole in 2038.
According to several sources, Nicodemo rejected offers to cooperate that could have resulted in substantially less jail time. The married father of two young children opted instead to live by an underworld code that has been shattered again and again by members of the Philadelphia mob.
Omerta, the code of silence, is like the Liberty Bell, broke and inoperative. So many members and associates of the Philadelphia mob have chosen to cooperate that the once secret society has
But Nicodemo, who is also a suspect in the murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto, proved to be old school.
"He could have walked out the door," said one source in the legal community who said federal authorities were prepared to go to bat for the bulky mob enforcer had he decided to cooperate.
Nicodemo's lawyer, Brian McMonagle, declined to discuss specifics of the plea negotiation, but said, "Anthony did this for his family. He will be coming home."
Had he gone to trial, Nicodemo ran the risk of being convicted of first degree murder and receiving a life sentence. The negotiated plea and the third degree murder charge carried a severe prison term, but one with an ending that could result in Nicodemo experiencing freedom at some point.
But not any time soon, a prospect that could result in the feds making another run at him.
"If he were going to cooperate, he would have done it already," said another source, pointing out that it's more complicated to work out a deal with good benefits after you've been sentenced.
Dressed in a blue shirt, tie and slacks, his hands cuffed in front of him, Nicodemo said little other than "yes," "no" and "guilty" in response to questions posed during the brief, 15-minute proceeding.
He nodded and smiled to family members and friends who had packed the 11th floor courtroom but declined an offer from Minehart to address the court before sentencing. Minehart imposed a 20-to-40 year term for the third degree murder charge and a consecutive five-to-10 for the conspiracy count. The weapons offenses resulted in slightly lesser sentences that were to run concurrent.
As a result, the overall sentence was 25-to-50 years, the range agreed upon in pre-sentence negotiations.
In a brief statement to the judge, DiPietro's sister said, "by no stretch of the imagination is this a happy day for anyone here." She was one of several members of DiPietro's family who also attended the hearing.
"My brother will always and forever be missed," she said.
Nicodemo was arrested minutes later after a witness told police he saw a masked gunman jump into a waiting Honda Pilot which sped from the scene. A license tag led police to Nicodemo's door in the 3200 block of South 17th Street, a five-minute drive from the murder scene.
He was taken into custody that day and after obtaining a search warrant police found a .357 Smith&Wesson automatic under the driver's seat of the Honda which was parked behind his house. Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo said ballistics proved that the gun was the murder weapon.
Jury selection was set to begin on Monday for Nicodemo's retrial. His first trial in May ended after four days when three of the 14 jurors (two were alternates) had been dismissed for various reasons. With only 11 jurors Minehart was forced to declare a mistrial.
In his opening statement during that trial, Zarallo said Nicodemo was the getaway driver for the murder but was just as culpable as the shooter. The DA identified South Philadelphia mob associate Domenic Grande as the suspected hitman. Grande has never been charged. That investigation is continuing, according to police sources.
Nicodemo's defense, presented in McMonagle's opening in May, was considered bizarre and outlandish to most observers. He claimed that he was carjacked that afternoon by a masked gunman who ordered him to drive away. The gunman jumped out of the Honda a few blocks from the murder scene, but left the gun behind.
One of the dismissed jurors in the first trial called that argument ridiculous. Nicodemo offered that defense at trial, but never mentioned the alleged carjacking at the time of his arrest or during the nearly two years he sat in prison denied bail.
Sources say Nicodemo could have worked out a much better plea deal if he had decided to cooperate
and provide details about both the DiPietro shooting and the murder of Casasanto. The Casasanto hit which occurred in 2003 is one of three unsolved mob murders that city police and federal authorities had hoped to lay on the doorstep of then mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his administration.
Ironically, Ligambi, 73, and several top associates were on trial for racketeering at the time the DiPietro hit was carried out. Ligambi beat the racketeering charges -- built around gambling, loansharking and extortion -- at two trials and was released last year.
He is now said to be semi-retired and serving as the consigliere in a crime family being overseen by a three-man committee comprised of street bosses Steve Mazzone, John Ciancaglini and Philip Narducci.
Nicodemo heads off to prison, law enforcement sources say, while the local mob tries to regroup and return to the shadows where making money rather than headlines is paramount.
"He's a young guy but he's a dinosaur," said the legal source. "Look at all the guys his age who have cooperated and gotten out. He's a throwback to another generation."
Nicodemo will have a long time to ponder his decision. He will be 66 when he can first apply for release, according to legal experts, and, they add, there is no guarantee that he will be sprung the first time he is eligible.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.