Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Is the Philadelphia-South Jersey Mob in Decline?

Joseph Ligambi, reputed boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob, heads a criminal organization that has nearly as many active members in jail as it does on the streets.

Decimated by a 20-year onslaught of federal prosecutions, bloody internecine power struggles, and turncoat testimony, the local branch of La Cosa Nostra - which in the 1980s had roughly 80 members - now has a base of about 20 "soldiers." And nine of them are in prison.

Simply put, the Philadelphia Mafia has fallen on hard times. It is no longer the dominant player in the underworld, and is dwarfed in size by some of the area's more violent drug gangs.

That's the picture that has emerged based on a crime-family organizational chart compiled by the Philadelphia Police Department and introduced as evidence at an ongoing hearing into a casino service-industry license for Joseph N. Merlino, cousin of jailed Philadelphia mob leader Joseph S. "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

The hearing, before a Casino Control Commission examiner, resumes today. Joseph N. Merlino is scheduled to testify by the conclusion of the proceedings this week.

Merlino, 42, and his mother, Phyllis, head Bayshore Rebar, a Pleasantville construction company that has twice been denied a service-industry license because of suspected mob ties.

The hearing has included testimony from an ex-FBI agent called as a witness for Merlino who has said that, based on his knowledge and on information from mob informants, he does not believe Merlino, his mother, or Bayshore have organized-crime connections.

Other former agents also are expected to testify on Bayshore's behalf.

The Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has presented law enforcement testimony, surveillance reports, and videos it contends show a continuing organized-crime association.

It is in that context that a picture of the beleaguered Philadelphia-South Jersey mob has emerged.

The chart compiled by the Intelligence Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department has provided a graphic outline of the current structure of the crime family.

Sgt. Daniel McCullough, a unit supervisor, testified for the DGE and noted that Ligambi, mobster Martin Angelina, and other high-ranking members of the organization are under constant surveillance by Philadelphia police or other law-enforcement agencies.

McCullough said he could not testify about specifics without "jeopardizing ongoing investigations." But he did present an overview of the crime family.

His remark underscored reports from other law enforcement sources that the Ligambi organization is the target of an FBI racketeering probe.

The Police Department chart used by the DGE included color photos of most of the key figures in the organization along with their birth dates, addresses, and criminal identification numbers.

Ligambi, who turned 70 last month, is listed as the boss. Angelina, 46, is the acting underboss.

Michael Lancellotti and Anthony Staino are said to be capos, or captains. Staino's data includes the designation "South Jersey."

The nephew of onetime high-profile mobster Ralph "Junior" Staino, Anthony Staino lives in the Swedesboro area and, according to authorities, oversees the mob's South Jersey interests.

He and Angelina have been spotted meeting on a regular basis with Ligambi, according to police. Staino's meetings often take around 6 a.m. as Ligambi walks his dog in the Packer Park section of South Philadelphia, where he lives.

Another major figure, Steven Mazzone, onetime underboss of "Skinny Joey" Merlino, is listed on the chart as a member of the "Merlino faction" but has no rank.

Police sources say this reflects the fact that Mazzone, on supervised release for a 2001 racketeering conviction, has remained low key and has not been spotted meeting with organization members.

Angelina, who was convicted in the same racketeering case, was jailed twice for violating terms of his supervised release. Philadelphia police surveillance reports of Angelina meeting with Ligambi were used to support those violation charges.

According to the organizational chart, the crime family currently is operating without a "consigliere," or counselor. That post is listed as vacant.

The soldiers listed on the chart are John Ciancaglini, Anthony Nicodemo, Martin Curro, Nicholas Olivieri, Frank Gambino, Anthony Pungitore Sr., Anthony Pungitore Jr., Gaeton Lucibello, and Joseph Stanfa, son of jailed mob boss John Stanfa.

The younger Stanfa's designation may simply be a matter of record-keeping. Most sources say he has been "shelved" and not actively involved since his father lost a mob war in 1994 to the organization's Merlino faction.

Three other "inactive" soldiers are listed: Nicholas Milano, a hit man who served nearly 20 years on murder and racketeering charges and who is the brother of mob informant Eugene "Gino" Milano; Luigi Tripodi, a onetime soldier with the Stanfa organization; and "Junior" Staino, a larger-than-life wiseguy who was recently released from prison and who, at 77, is reported to be in poor health.

The jailed members shown on the chart are "Skinny Joey" Merlino; George Borgesi, who is Ligambi's nephew; former Ligambi underboss Joseph Massimino; convicted drug dealer Damion Canalichio; former Stanfa soldier Vince Fillipelli; and four members of the Scarfo organization convicted in a 1988 racketeering case: Frank Narducci, Salvatore Scafidi, Joseph Pungitore, and Charles Iannece.

Thanks to George Anastasia

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