Saturday, January 14, 2017
Nicodemo D. “Little Nicky” Scarfo, who ruled the Philadelphia mob in the 1980s with a temperament and philosophy more suited to the 1920s, has died in a federal prison medical facility in Butner, N.C., according to underworld sources.
Prison officials could not be reached to confirm the report which began circulating in South Philadelphia this morning. Scarfo had been an inmate at the medical facility for more than a year where he was being treated for various medical ailments, including kidney failure. He died Friday.
The 87-year-old mob boss was serving a 55-year sentence on racketeering and murder charges. He was convicted in 1988 along with 16 co-defendants, most of them made members of his notorious crime family. The prosecution, which included charges of murder, attempted murder and extortion, brought down his organization and signaled the end of his eight-year reign as Philadelphia crime kingpin.
Based in Atlantic City, where he had been banished in 1963, Scarfo took over the Philadelphia crime family in 1981 following the nail bomb murder of mob boss Philip “Chicken Man” Testa.
Testa became boss after the 1980 shotgun slaying of longtime Philadelphia Mafia don Angelo Bruno who was killed as he sat in his car in front of his South Philadelphia home on a rainy Friday night in March 1980.
Bruno’s murder ended two decades of relative tranquility in the local underworld and set off an internecine power struggle that lasted for nearly 20 years. Scarfo was a Testa ally and his consigliere. After becoming boss he set about avenging Testa's murder by ordering the deaths of several individuals suspected to being behind the bombing.
The contrast between Bruno and Scarfo was stark. Bruno was a low-key Mafia boss who used murder as a negotiating tool of last resort. For the volatile Scarfo, murder was a calling card.
During the Scarfo era, nearly 25 mob members and associates were killed, most on orders of the diminutive, five-foot-three mob boss. In addition, nearly two dozen more mob members and associates were indicted and jailed as a result of his bungling leadership. The murders wiped out a generation of potential leaders. Federal prosecutions, fueled in large part by the turncoat testimony of mobsters who sought government protection after falling out of favor with Scarfo, took care of the rest.
The result was a crime family that was just a shell of the highly efficient, low-key organization that Bruno once ran.
Two key witnesses in the 1988 trial were admitted hitmen Thomas “Tommy Del” DelGiorno and Nicholas “Nicky Crow” Caramandi. Their testimony opened the flood gates and for a time Philadelphia had the unique underworld distinction of providing more cooperating witnesses per capita than any other Mafia family in America.
“It’s the South Philadelphia boys’ choir,” one law enforcement official quipped at the time.
Following the 1988 trial, two other close Scarfo associates, facing lengthy prison time, agreed to cooperate. Lawrence “Yogi” Merlino, a capo and a member of the Merlino family that had fallen out of favor with Scarfo prior to the trial, cut a deal after he was convicted.
Most embarrassing to Scarfo, however, was the defection of his nephew and underboss, Philip Leonetti. Leonetti, a highly effective government witness who testified at several trials up and down the East Coast, had his 45-year prison sentence reduced to five years, five months and five days as a result of his cooperation.
He is now living in another part of the country in the Witness Security Program with a new identify and a successful business career. He co-authored a book, “Mafia Prince,” in which he described his uncle as a satanic despot who ruined his life and the lives of many others.
Scarfo’s twisted legacy extended beyond his crime family and impacted all three of his sons.
His youngest, Mark, attempted to commit suicide during his father’s racketeering trial in 1988. The then teenager remained in a comatose state for nearly 25 years. He died two years ago.
Scarfo’s oldest son, Chris, assumed his wife’s maiden name in an attempt to avoid the infamy associated with his father’s reputation.
Scarfo’s namesake and middle son, Nicodemo, was convicted three times on mob-related gambling and fraud charges. He is currently serving a 30-year sentence. He was the target of a failed mob hit in 1989 at Dante&Luigi’s Restaurant, surviving a shooting in which he was hit six times. None of the bullets struck a vital organ.
The shooting, according to investigators, was set in motion by disgruntled crime family members who balked at the elder Scarfo’s attempt to continue to run the organization from prison by using his son as a proxy. Scarfo Jr. went into hiding in North Jersey after the murder attempt and eventually became a member of the Lucchese crime family.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.