Monday, November 11, 2013

The Saga Of Nicky Skins Continues

By George Anastasia

Pete the Crumb Caprio was a no-show this morning at the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi.
Nicky Skins

The 84-year-old mobster-turned-informant reportedly tripped, fell and broke his knee while on his way to a safe house after testifying Thursday. Caprio, who was offering the jury a history lesson on the Philadelphia mob, is expected to be recalled as a witness once he recovers.

Prosecutors hoped the testimony of the admitted murderer would establish the fact that Ligambi and Borgesi were leaders of the Philadelphia crime family, a key element in the racketeering conspiracy charge they are facing.

Caprio was a longtime member of the organization and a member of a crew based in Newark. He was a soldier and later a capo. In testimony at previous trials, he has admitted that he plotted to kill Ligambi, Borgesi and another Philadelphia mob leader in the late 1990s with the idea of taking over the family.

Before that could happen, Caprio was indicted on unrelated murder and racketeering charges. He then cut a deal with the government to cooperate.

Changing gears with Caprio on the shelf, the prosecution today began setting the stage for the jury to hear from another North Jersey mob figure although he won't be on the witness stand. Just as they did in the first trial that ended in February, prosecutors plan to play a tape made by Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli, the Gambino crime family soldier who wore a wire for the FBI for two years. Stefanelli, 69, committed suicide in March 2012, but tapes that he made for the feds live on.

The jury will hear an hour-long composite of a five-hour lunch meeting Stefanelli taped in May 2010 at LaGriglia, a posh restaurant just off the Garden State Parkway in Kenilworth, NJ. Assistant U.S.
Attorney Frank Labor has called the session a meeting of the "board of directors" of organized crime.

Ten mobsters, including Ligambi, Anthony Staino and Joe Licata from the Philadelphia crime family and the brothers Joe and John Gambino from New York's Gambino organization broke bread and drank wine that day.

Stefanelli was a made member of the Gambino organization and, with Licata, helped set up the meeting. The defense, as it did in the first trial, argued in opening statements that the lunch was merely a get-together for aging friends (most of those at the meeting were in their 60s and 70s) who talked about the old days.

But on the tape, Licata can be heard introducing Ligambi to the Gambino crime family members as "our acting boss." At another point, Licata and the others discuss a dispute with the Luchese crime family over territorial rights and poaching in New Jersey. The Lucheses, authorities allege, were horning in on Philadelphia's territory and Ligambi and Licata were trying to get the Gambino organization to support them in the dispute.

Talk also focused on a "making ceremony" -- a mob initiation rite -- that Ligambi presided over. Again, authorities hope that will solidify in the jury's mind Ligambi's role as the boss of the local crime family.

Whether it supports the conspiracy charge he faces, however, is another question.

The jury in the trial that ended in February couldn't decide. While it acquitted Ligambi of five charges tied to gambling and extortion, it hung on the conspiracy charge (along with two other gambling charges and an obstruction of justice count), leading to the retrial.

That same jury, however, found Licata not guilty of conspiracy when the only substantial evidence against him as the LaGriglia tape. (Licata's lawyer in that case, Christopher Warren, is now representing Borgesi who also faces a conspiracy charge. But Borgesi was in prison in May 2010 and had nothing to do with the LaGriglia meeting.)

The LaGriglia tape was the first Stefanelli tape played publicly. A second meeting at the American Bistro in Belleville attended by Stefanelli, Licata and mobster Louis "Big Lou" Fazzini, was also used in the first trial.

There are dozens of other tapes that have yet to surface, part of ongoing investigations that may or may not lead to indictments in New York and North Jersey. Stefanelli moved up and down the East Coast for the Gambino crime family. He met with Joey Merlino in Florida and he taped meetings with Anthony DiNunzio, a Rhode Island mob boss.

Merlino, the relocated Philadelphia mob leader, said he was leery of the smooth-talking wiseguy, avoided any discussion about organized crime and dismissed Stefanelli's business propositions.

"He was trying to set me up," said Merlino in an interview in May after learning that Stefanelli had been wearing a wire when they met.

DiNunzio, the New England mob leader, wasn't as cautious. He pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge last year built in part around tape recordings made by Stefanelli.

Those tapes are Nicky Skins' legacy. The fact that there have not been any other indictments raises questions in some circles about how good the rest of the Stefanelli tapes really are. And it also has led to speculation about the relationship between the FBI and the wiseguy.

Who was playing whom?

"My opinion, Skins did as much to sanitize his recordings as possible," said Steven Lenehan, a former North Jersey mobster who has been there.

Lenehan was the FBI's guy on the streets in the early 1990s, a mob associate-turned-informant who wore a wire as he interacted with dozens of gangsters, including Stefanelli. In fact, Lenehan recorded a heroin deal with Stefanelli in 1994 that led to Nicky Skins arrest and first federal prison sentence.

Everyone is different, Lenehan said in a series of phone conversations and emails over the past six months, but there are ways to "protect" your friends even when you're wearing a wire. Lenehan's work as an informant resulted in about 30 arrests. He said he could have helped make even more cases.

He's not expecting anyone still out on the streets to thank him, but as he looks from afar at the Stefanelli case he wonders."I think Skins might have protected a lot of guys," he said, offering an explanation of why there have not been any more indictments.

That Skins was a player in the underworld for decades is not in dispute. That he corporated was, according to several individuals who knew him, out of character.

"He was raised in organized  crime," said Bob Carroll, a former prosecutor with the New Jersey Attorney General's Division of Criminal Justice. "He moved freely among the (crime) families."

Low-key, intelligent but also a suspected killer, Stefanelli came from the old school, Carroll said. The former prosecutor said he was "surprised" to learn Nicky Skins had become a cooperator.

"His temperament wasn't conducive to that kind of behavior," said Carroll who described Stefanelli as a guy who would do his time rather than turn government informant. "He was a longtime player, a career guy."

Stefanelli began cooperating in 2009 after he was again facing drug trafficking charges. Why he killed himself is open to speculation.The conventional wisdom is that as the investigations he was involved with were winding down and as the prospect of taking the witness stand publicly against his former associates grew nearer, Stefanelli decided he couldn't do it.

Instead, he went out with a bang.

Authorities say two days before committing suicide, Stefanelli walked into a video poker machine distribution office in Bloomfield, NJ,  and shot and killed Joseph Rossi, the owner of the business. Sources say Rossi was the FBI informant who got Stefanelli and Stefanelli's son jammed up in a drug case in 2009.

In order to get out from under that charge -- and keep his son from being arrested -- Stefanelli cut a deal with the government and agreed to wear a wire, according to that theory. Once Stefanelli decided that he couldn't testify, he chose to end it all. First, in an act of revenge, he shot and killed Rossi. Then he checked into a hotel near the Meadowlands in North Jersey. Two days later his body was found in a hotel room. Cause of death was a drug overdose.

That's the theory of what happened, but no one in authority has provided specific details.

Anthony Rossi, who is the executor of his brother's will, says his family has been less than satisfied with what they've been told so far. And what they've been told, he adds, is very little.

The family has retained an attorney who is trying to get to the bottom of the FBI's relationship with both Stefanelli and Joe Rossi. The questions the family has, said Anthony Rossi, have to do with whether the feds were providing the kind of protection his brother deserved if he was cooperating.

The irony that his brother was killed by another FBI cooperator only adds to the uncertainty surrounding the case.

"We'd like some answers," Anthony Rossi said recently, adding that the family was prepared to file a civil suit against the federal government. "We've just heard so many stories and right now all we have are questions."

Anthony Rossi said he knew Stefanelli from the neighborhood. They were all from the Newark-Belleville-Bloomfield area. The "type of guy he was," doesn't fit with the stories that are being told, he added.

Lenehan also has his doubts. His take is that Stefanelli went to Rossi to shake him down, to grab some ready cash before he was taken off the streets and whisked into federal custody. Lenehan, who has been down that road, knows how the game is played.

"My opinion of Skins is that he was a tough guy, a gentleman and always reasonable," said Lenehan. "I'm sure if I hadn't been with Team America, he and I would have remained good friends. His defection shocked me.

"As to his suicide, I think he realized he blew his deal with the feds after the video poker guy was clipped. Skins was capable. It was a shakedown gone bad. Forget the nonsense he was paying the guy back for ratting on his kid. He was probably ready to be relocated and he knew (after Rossi was killed) instead of Iowa or Kansas, he was headed to prison forever. That's why he offed himself."

he jury in the Ligambi case, of course, won't get all the details and the speculation. They will hear that Stefanelli was a cooperator, that he made a tape of a meeting at LaGriglia and that he later killed himself.

Lenehan says it's more complicated than that. It always is. He makes no excuse for himself, for Stefanelli or for anyone else who has become a cooperator. He said he toyed with the idea of suicide at one point and still wrestles with his own decision to become an informant.

"The world is so enamored with this (mob) life," he said. "(But) it's a business of greed and murder....My advice, if you're in the life, get out before you get pinched...You are not going to beat the federal government....You have more rats on the street than in the (witness protection) program. I took a shortcut at everyone's expense. Not an easy look back in the rear view mirror. I think that Steve Lenehan was Steve Lenehan's worst enemy, not the guys on the street and not the feds...I might be the only guy like me who thinks he deserves to get clipped for what he did. White washing your decision to turn by blaming others -- I read Phil Leonetti's book -- is hypocritical. I'm a guy who told on his friends. That's my legacy.

"But I'm not a hypocrite...I know what I did and I'm not trying to sugarcoat it."

 Neither, apparently, was Stefanelli. He just chose a different way to deal with it.

George Anastasia can be contacted at


  1. Amazing George. You are the man.

  2. It so sad this OLD man had to take he's life ,if he did, but it just goes to show how much these guys care about you, when your dead and gone no one cares for the families or their kidS..THESE GUYS ARE A BUNCH OF LOW LIFE SCUM BAGS WHO WOULD KILL THEIR MOTHER BROTHERS AND PROBLALY THEIR OWN KIDS, THATS HOW FUCKED UP THEY ARE. ALL THEY DO IS DRINK ALL DAY AND STAY UP ALL NITE WONDERING IF THEY ARE THE NEXT ONE ON THE LIST.

  3. That's not Nicky Skins in that pic, that's the late Frank Gambino

  4. No, that's Stefanelli. Frank Gambino was taller than that.

    Great article, George! Any update with the Nicodemo case?

  5. Steven Lenehan a mobster? lol, he, his wife and kids had to live with his parents he was so broke. He was a hang-around drunk that induced people as a customer - not an operator!

  6. "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli was an outcast from the outset. He had to go across town to Vailsburg to link up with a crew that would accept him, since he didn't have the moxie or acceptance to run with the guys from our neighborhood. Lenehan was just a broke, degenerate wannabe

  7. that is nicky skins in the photo, not gambino.

  8. I've learned in my old age not to judge people unless you've walked in their shoes...

  9. lenehan was a mere customer and sucker to streetguys from just about every crew. that's how he was able to entangle so many for the feds. he never had any real acceptance by anyone, let alone stature. we called him the dirty irishman & shanty. Interestingly, he has you reporters fooled into believing he is a mob expert; looks like the golden era of reporting & credible sourcing for news fodder has fallen to the wayside analogous to the mob's decline.

  10. Funny how this guy goes and meets Merlino on several occasions. .. then he's found dead..Suicide was the cause of dead ( Chills) How do these guys sleep at night. .What A Life ..The Money Isn't there anymore so what are they fighting over??? Power..Jail Time..Coffins..Wacked out Girls..Can someone Please tell me WTF they are in this life for ..Don't they want to be a family man and lead by example most of them have kids heart breaks for them kids... you can't buy your kids love forever Quality Time last forever ...material things don't! .You would think some of them wouldn't want that life for their kids because you see where their fathers sad for the families ...their the ones who always suffer for what they do..

  11. The jury in all of these cases should know everything about the man who made these tapes.

  12. Just for the record. The FBI was planning on taking Steffanelli off the street that Sunday from the start. And put him into the protection program. The paying for his own funeral was part of this plan. Many people believe they were going to say he commited suicide from the start and his deal with the FBI was to make the tapes but never to testify. Do not be fooled by the power of the FBI.

  13. Its funny how everyone bad mouths lenehan. If he was such a low life or wannbe then why did everyone do business with him? The problem is people read to much bull on the internet bc they think its glamorous life and just like the crap that people read about lenehan on the internet they post about lenehan on the me its real easy to say something bad about a guy over a computer anonymous and where no one knows where his 20 years later. I know him better then any one of you guys and i have my fair share to say about him but wannabe? Low life? Come on..yea what he did changed a lot of lives including my own and i wasnt even involved in that life.


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