The Chicago Syndicate: John Stanfa
Showing posts with label John Stanfa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Stanfa. Show all posts

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mob Strike Force Will Remain Intact to Confront Gangsters Returning from Prison

Recently there's been more intrigue about the fate of the U.S. Organized Crime Strike Force than about mob plots in Philadelphia.

Well, the strike force has dodged a bullet, sort of.

Officials of the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday that strike-force prosecutors would be devoted to organized crime - La Cosa Nostra and emerging ethnic groups from Russia, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. They will not be interchangeable with drug prosecutors, officials said.

The deal was worked out between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department in recent days. And it comes not a moment too soon, as dozens of mobsters are returning home from prison.

Last Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey underwent a proper moblike introduction to the cappi di tutti in Washington, D.C.

"This is Dave from Philly. He's a friend of ours," joked Fritchey, about his own introduction as the newly appointed chief of the strike force here.

The Boss of all Bosses, Matthew W. Friedrich, the acting assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, blessed Fritchey as chief and preserved the nine-prosecutor unit as part of his special-strike-force duties.

Fritchey, a longtime mob prosecutor, takes over the prestigious strike force, which put scores of mobsters behind bars during the reigns of several mob bosses, from Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo in the '80s to Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in '01. "I expect to do long-term projects and quick-hitting ones in real time," said Fritchey.

Robert Reed, deputy chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that he hopes for "cross-pollination" between the drug unit and strike force, now located next to each other after a move over the weekend.

"I think highly of Fritchey as a prosecutor. He's a very independent guy," said Louis Pichini, retired strike-force attorney and former chief of the Criminal Division. "But how much independence will he have?"

If strike-force attorneys had to try a tsunami of drug prosecutions as earlier suggested, retired prosecutors and investigators said, they would not have time to attack the most complicated organized-crime cases.

Nor could they monitor nearly 30 mobsters released from prison since the early 1980s, or others who pose threats to society, they said.

Recently, an intelligence analyst who studied organized-crime activities to find links among them was transferred to the terrorism unit.

"I strongly disagree with the dilution of the program," said Joel M. Friedman, strike-force chief for 22 years, now working with retired FBI director Louis J. Freeh's consulting firm, Freeh Group International.

"This is one of the most violent LCN [La Cosa Nostra] families in America," Friedman said. "They swear an oath to protect the family. They are getting out [of prison] and will reconstitute the family."

James T. Maher, retired FBI supervisor of the organized-crime unit, is so concerned that he still keeps track of mobsters coming home.

Last March, Vincent "Big Vince" Filipelli, 54, a bodyguard and enforcer for mob boss John Stanfa in the 1990s, was sent back to prison to serve a 66-month sentence for extortion. The "made" member earlier served a 54-month sentence for racketeering extortion in the Stanfa era.

In 2001, mobster Martin Angelina, 45, was convicted of racketeering with Merlino and served a 54-month prison sentence. Last year, Angelina was caught associating with mobsters and returned to prison for four months. And he may be in trouble again - he has a hearing tomorrow on a related matter.

Tomorrow, Thomas R. Perricone will be named deputy chief of the Criminal Division in charge of drugs and organized crime, and Faith Taylor will be named chief of the narcotics unit.

Thanks to Kitty Caparella

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Merging of Federal Organized Crime Strike Force Into Narcotics Unit Questioned by Former Prosecutors

The Organized Crime Strike Force, a prosecuting unit within the U.S. Attorney's Office that has a 20-year record of success in making cases against the Philadelphia mob, is being folded into a larger unit that will also focus on drug dealing and gang violence.

The changes are expected to take place in about a month, according to Laurie Magid, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and Linda Hoffa, head of the office's Criminal Division. Both said the move would enhance the unit's ability to make cases.

Critics, including former prosecutors and FBI agents, said the consolidation could hinder the development of intelligence-based investigations and marginalize the fight against organized crime.

Magid said she wanted the same expertise that has been used against organized crime employed in cases against major drug gangs.

"Our commitment to fighting organized crime is in no way diminished," she said yesterday shortly after announcing the changes at a regularly scheduled staff meeting.

Magid, the former first assistant U.S. attorney, was named interim head of the office in July when Patrick Meehan, her boss, resigned.

"The strike force is not being disbanded," added Hoffa. "Far from it. We're putting together a stronger and larger team."

Nine federal prosecutors who work in the strike force unit are being transferred to new offices and will report to Thomas Perricone, currently the supervisor of the narcotics and dangerous drugs section. Perricone, who joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in 1994 from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, will head a newly formed narcotics and organized crime section.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, who was the supervisor of the strike force, will return to prosecuting cases under Perricone and will hold one of two senior litigation counsel posts created under the new structure. Troyer declined to comment last week.

Two former prosecutors who worked some of the biggest mob cases in Philadelphia history questioned the move, as did James Maher, a retired FBI agent who supervised an organized crime squad that in the 1980s and 1990s worked with the strike force to decimate one of the most violent Mafia families in America.

"That wasn't by chance, it was because of the commitment," said Barry Gross, a former federal prosecutor who worked dozens of mob cases during a career that spanned three decades.

A member of the prosecuting teams that convicted mob bosses Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, John Stanfa, Ralph Natale and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, Gross said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the change.

Louis Pichini, a former strike force prosecutor who directed the 1988 racketeering prosecution of Scarfo and 16 of his top associates - a case that gutted the local mob family - said "the acid test will be in the implementation" of the proposed changes.

Pichini, who also headed the criminal division before leaving the U.S. Attorney's Office, said it was important for "the unit to maintain an identity and expertise" and to be given the time to develop long-term cases.

If not, he said, prosecutors working there would be interchangeable with prosecutors from any other section, and the expertise and mandate of the strike force would be lost.

Strike forces were set up in the 1970s to develop broad-based cases and intelligence in the fight against traditional organized crime groups like La Cosa Nostra and the Sicilian Mafia. Over the years, their targets have been expanded to include Russian and Eastern European crime cartels, Asian criminal organizations, and ethnic gangs like the Latin Kings.

In the Eastern District, the strike force left its biggest mark attacking the South Philadelphia-based mob that once dominated the local underworld.

Perricone said yesterday that he had "tremendous respect" for those accomplishments.

"Having grown up in South Philadelphia and seeing what the mob can do, I can tell you that not on my watch will I allow resources to be taken away," he said. But critics question whether what is being called an expansion is in fact a dilution of a unit that had a clear agenda and a defined focus.

One current federal prosecutor, who asked not to be identified, said that without a supervisor to advocate and promote strike force cases, investigations could get bogged down or marginalized in the internal politics and bureaucracy of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Sources in both the U.S. Attorneys Office and the FBI have said that an ongoing investigation into reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi and his top associates had gone "off track" twice because of bureaucratic squabbling.

Maher, who headed the FBI's organized crime squad in Philadelphia for nearly two decades, called the strike force "one of the most important weapons" in the war against organized crime. "Agents working the cases had attorneys who spoke the same language," Maher said in an e-mail response to questions about the consolidation.

He pointed out that the local mob family is built around "people who have grown up with one another in evolving relationships. ... To combat those relationships, you need agents and attorneys who don't need to learn them all over again when a case starts to develop."

Strike forces were once separate entities from U.S. Attorney's Offices. They were consolidated into those offices but remained separate units. Now they may be the victims of their own successes as well as the changing priorities of the Justice Department.

Traditional organized crime has taken a series of prosecutorial hits in most major cities and experts say that the American Mafia in 2008 is an organizational shell of what it was just 30 years ago.

In addition, the emergence of violent ethnic drug gangs, the proliferation of illegal weapons, and the need to focus on terrorism and its related threats have led federal prosecutors in other cities to reassign assets and resources, and consolidate strike force operations.

Thanks to George Anastasia



Friday, October 12, 2007

A Look Back at the Philly Mob

Pop culture is riddled with more mob movies and TV shows than an unlucky gangster's body is with bullets. Americans are fascinated with the dark side and have made “The Sopranos” the poster children for the Mafia and Victoria Gotti, daughter of John “The Dapper Don” Gotti, and her spoiled-rotten offspring its royal family with the reality show “Growing Up Gotti.”

But contrary to what pop culture loves to portray, the mob is far from glamorous and exciting. Just take a look at where Cosa Nostra — Sicilian for “our thing” — landed South Philly's own tough guys, all of whom made headlines at one point or another: Angelo “The Gentle Don” Bruno, Phil “Chicken Man” Testa and his son Salvatore Testa got whacked, while Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo, John Stanfa, Ralph Natale, “Skinny” Joey Merlino and Ron Previte are all in prison for racketeering and murder among other offenses,

George Anastasia, who has written extensively about the mob for The Philadelphia Inquirer since the late 1970s and authored four bookson the subject, noted, “If you look at the list, you see where these guys have ended up,” Anastasia, a native of the 1700 block of Watkins Street who now lives in South Jersey, told the Review.

Bruno was the longest running crime boss and perhaps one of the most respected for the low-key approach that earned him his nickname.

Bruno ruled from '59 to March 21, 1980, when he was shot to death in his car with driver John Stanfa in front of Bruno's home at 934 Snyder Ave. Under the Sicilian immigrant's tenure, “he did everything low-key — he didn't do any public shootings in restaurants or in the street” unlike how later-day mobsters such as the ruthless Scarfo conducted business, Capt. Charles Bloom of the police department's Central Intelligence Bureau said. “If you had to describe Bruno, you could say, ‘make money, don't make headlines,'” Bloom said.

His attitude in life did not mark his death. His violent end received press from outlets such as The New York Times, which covered the fallout from Stanfa's trial for perjury in connection to the killing to FBI testimony in '81 that Scarfo was the new head of the family.

Stanfa suffered a graze wound in the Bruno ambush, Anastasia said, adding, “To this day there's conflicting reports. Some people believe Stanfa was part of the plot and he knew what was going to happen and others say he didn't. I tend to believe the former.”

Under Bruno's reign, the Philadelphia crime family was among the most powerful in the United States, trailing closely being New York and Chicago. The Gentle Don carved out a close relationship with Carlo Gambino, leader of New York's family — a friendship that saved Bruno when short-lived Philly boss Antonio Pollina wanted him killed in '59.

As the story goes, Bruno pledged his loyalty to Pollina despite being passed over for the job, but the new boss still felt threatened. When Pollina ordered a hit, Gambino intervened by not only halting the slaying, but putting his new friend in charge of the Philadelphia crime family. The first notch in Bruno's belt of civility was sparing Pollina.

According to Bloom, the Philly mob, which controlled this city and South Jersey including Atlantic City, has always been in New York's shadow and the former often cannot operate without the latter's blessing.

Bruno's death at 69 paved the way for a slew of flamboyant, young wiseguys to take the helm. “That totally destabilized the organization and it's been destabilized since then. It's been disorganized organized crime,” Anastasia said.

The new guns included Bruno underling Testa, who was blown up March 15, 1981, on his front porch on the 2100 block of Porter Street in Girard Estate by a nail bomb and later immortalized in Bruce Springsteen's song “Atlantic City,” whose lyrics say, “Well they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night/Now they blew up his house too.” The song, featured on the Boss' “Nebraska” album, which made it to No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Pop Album charts, brought the scene to the attention of countless music fans worldwide.

More than 20 years later, Testa's fatal bombing is still making news. An Oct. 7 Time article cited the killing in its piece “The Sicilian Connection,” which explores the U.S. Cosa Nostra's alleged link to the Sicilian Mafia.

Months after the Chicken Man's demise, Scarfo had Frank Narducci and Rocco Marinucci whacked for the unauthorized hit of his mentor, according to Anastasia.

Long before he ascended to power, Scarfo was banished to AC by Bruno in the '60s after the young hothead knifed a man inside Oregon Diner, 302 W. Oregon Ave, the writer said. Scarfo stayed in AC — a wasteland at the time — but hung around long enough to benefit from gambling when the casinos hit town.

With Testa gone, Scarfo took over in '81 and made Testa's son Salvatore a capo. That same year, Testa and two others survived an ambush outside the Italian Market, but three years later, the capo wasn't as lucky when Scarfo had the young man killed Sept. 14, 1984. So much for loyalty to his mentor — he had his son killed, Anastasia said, adding, “That's the way he was.”

Testa was lured to a now-gone candy store on Passyunk for a meeting, where a Scarfo hit man shot him, wrapped his body in a rug and dumped it by a dirt road in Gloucester County, N.J., the writer said. Scarfo told his organization he had Testa killed because he broke off an engagement with Salvatore Merlino's daughter, Maria, but according to Anastasia, Scarfo saw Testa as a possible threat. “He used the broken engagement as an excuse,” the author said. In years to come, Merlino's son Joey would become a reputed mob boss.

Scarfo held control for six years until his arrest and conviction for a racketeering case that included counts of murder, Anastasia said. Little Nicky got 55 years and remains in the Big House. But his impression was indelible. In a '91 Time interview with former soldier-turned-informer Nicholas “The Crow” Caramandi, interviewer Richard Behar refers to Scarfo as the “most vicious Mob boss of his generation” and proceeds to ask Caramandi about working under him, as well as the killing of Salvatore Testa.

In '89, Bruno's former driver Stanfa, who grew up on Passyunk Avenue near the Melrose Diner and later moved to Jersey, became boss. In '95, he got five life terms for racketeering and murder.

That opened the way for Natale. After serving 15 years for drug dealing and arson, Natale was released in '95 and became boss in an alliance with Merlino, who was his underling, Anastasia said. Merlino associate Previte helped build a case against Natale by wearing a wire for the feds. The tapes resulted in the then-69-year-old Natale and then-37-year-old Merlino arrested on drug charges in '99 with Natale tied to a major South Jersey meth ring and Merlino to a Boston cocaine ring. Natale became the first mobster to cooperate with the feds and, as a result, got a 13-year sentence, which he's serving in a protected witness wing, Anastasia said.

That leaves Merlino, who by all appearances may be one of Philadelphia Cosa Nostra's last bad boys.

Despite the feds pursuing him aggressively for years, the style-conscious young turk with the striking wife did not shy away from the media, becoming a magnet for his organized softball league and Christmas parties for the poor. In typical Merlino fashion, his 2001 trial on murder and racketeering charges was a press event. And, he may have beaten the rap for Joseph Sodano's '96 murder in Philadelphia court, but a federal judge in New Jersey upheld charges in the same case against the reputed mob boss in October 2001. The New York Times, among other national and international papers, covered the trial.

Merlino and seven codefendants — including Previte — were convicted of bookmaking, racketeering and extortion. These days, “Skinny Joey” is serving a 14-year sentence, set to be released in '11, Anastasia said.

The reigning alleged crime boss has been identified as 68-year-old Joe Ligambi, who was with the Stanfa organization. In '89, Ligambi was sent away for 10 years after being convicted of murder, which was overturned on appeal. Ligambi came back to South Philly in '99 and, when Merlino went to jail, became acting boss, Anastasia said. According to the author, “he's kind of gone back to the Bruno model of low-key, not flashy.”

Bloom contends Cosa Nostra is still very much alive and well. “It's not as powerful as it was 20 years ago but it's still there. They haven't gone away. They took a lot of hits from law enforcement pressure and each other, but they didn't throw in the towel,” the captain said.

Thanks to Lorraine Gennaro

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