The Philadelphia/Atlantic City Mob
The Late Angelo “The Docile Don” Bruno
Nicodemus “Nicky” Scarfo, Boss
Philip Leonetti, Underboss
Nicodemus “Nicky” Scarfo was Philip Leonetti’s uncle. Leonetti testified against several mafia families as an FBI informant.
Leonetti confessed to the murdered of 10 people.
Philadelphia had one representative on the five-member Commission of La Cosa Nostra in New York, along with Chicago.
Scarfo is a violent killer who orchestrated dozens of brutal killings.
Leonetti’s mother is Scarfo’s sister. Leonetti’s father abandoned him at a young age and his uncle, “Nicky” helped raise the boy in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.
Scarfo was exiled to Atlantic City when he became involved in a barroom brawl in the early 70s.
Angelo Bruno was the boss of the Philadelphia family, known for his efforts to reconcile differences rather than using violence. He was also a powerful friend of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union leader Ed Hanley.
Leonetti was inducted as a “made” member of the Philadelphia/Atlantic City mob in a ceremony that resembled other La Cosa Nostra members. His finger was pricked by the local boss, in this case Scarfo, who then dripped the blood on a piece of tissue paper.
The tissue paper was placed in Leonetti’s hands and was set on fire. Scarfo asked Leonetti to envision the tissue paper as an image of a Catholic Church Saint. He was told to repeat, “May I burn like this Saint if I betray my friends,” over and over again until the tissue had completely burned into ashes. He was told that if he were to violate his membership in La Cosa Nostra, he would burn like the Saint in his hands. When the tissue was burned completely, Scarfo rubbed his hands together rubbing the charred remains against his skin.
Leonetti kissed Scarfo on both cheeks, and then both cheeks of each of the witnesses. Leonetti said that the men joined in a circle with one spot open, and after Scarfo said a few words in Italian, Leonetti was then invited into the circle to complete the circle by joining his hands with the others.
Scarfo’s Rise to Power:
Philadelphia Mob Boss Angelo Bruno was murdered in the summer of 1980. Bruno Underboss Philip Testa and Consiglieri Anthony Campanegra split after Bruno’s murder, until Campanegra was subsequently killed one month later. Testa named Peter Cassella as his underboss. (Testa’s son is Salvi Testa.)
Testa named Scarfo as Consiglieri to the new Bruno family.
Chickee Narducci, a captain in the Bruno family. Testa charged Narducci was robbing the family in the he numbers business, Narducci had asked Testa for a $50,000 loan, even though he had millions in cash, and that Testa had borrowed $50,000 from another family member. Testa believed Narducci was planning to murder him, too. That same week, Narducci had Testa murdered.
The New York Commission fingered Narducci as the killer, believing that Narducci had committed an unauthorized murder of a family boss, Testa. The New York bosses selected Scarfo to murder Narducci. He was found in a pool of blood in the back of his Cadillac. Another Narducci conspirator was also murdered, a homemade bomb was taped in his mouth when it exploded.
Scarfo was named the new head of the Bruno Family and given a seat on the commission in 1981, and became an ally of the powerful Genovese Family.
Leonetti was named Underboss to Scarfo.
Bruno was described as a racketeer. Scarfo was described as a gangster, a common analogy used in many mafia families to describe predecessors. (A similar comparison was made between New York’s Paul Castellano and his killer, underboss and successor John Gotti.)
Scarfo had been exiled to Atlantic City years before casino gambling arrived, and had established strong connections there. When casinos were approved on Nov. 2, 1976 by the New Jersey legislature, Scarfo and the Philadelphia Bruno family used those ties to create the steel and concrete companies that were later hired to lay the foundations for the new casinos along the Atlantic City beachfront.
This allowed them to sidestep the controls that New Jersey had set up. They controlled the concrete and steelwokers unions, threatening job strikes against uncooperative casino developers. They worked on the Showboat, Bally’s Caesers, the Golden Nugget and the Taj Mahal.
A 30 day delay in the opening of one of the new casinos would have cost the developers as much as $15 to $20 million, making cooperation with the unions a must for developers. The mob controlled unions and contractors guaranteed there would be no delays on their “sanctioned” projects.
The President of the Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union in Atlantic City was Frank Gerace, a close associate of the Scarfo/Bruno family. The head of the National union was Ed Hanley. Gerace arranged the contracts and the behind-the-scenes deals.
Between 1977 and 1978, 35 casino projects were announced.
But controlling the unions wasn’t enough. They also decided to target local politics. To guarantee that their hidden construction interest were not discovered, the Philadelphia/Atlantic City mob used their money and power to push for the election of Mike Mathews as mayor of Atlantic City. Mathews won his election with the solid backing of the Atlantic City unions and the Bruno and Scarfo family in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, under threat of death if he refused to cooperate.
Under Scarfo, Philadelphia’s rising mob family took lessons from Chicago and new York families, muscling loan sharks, and providing protection. They demanded a piece of every independent business operation in their areas under threat of murder.
At one point, Scarfo targeted the Riccobene faction of the former Bruno family which was under Scarfo’s control. More than 24 members of the Riccobene family were targeted. The war went on for months. Two Attempts to murder Harry “The Hunchback” Riccobene failed.
Scarfo drove a white Rolls Royce and took the entire Bruno family to Florida on vacations. The name of the yacht, frequently photographed by the Feds, the boat was named “Casablanca” and “Usual Suspects,” a line from the movie. The Federal Government used the photographs of the gatherings to prove that the individual criminals were working as one family.
Vincent Falcone, was a partner with Scarfo in his construction company. Scarfo believed that Falcone was ripping him off, but his only real crime was to criticize Scarfo’s quality of workmanship in the construction business. Scarfo and Leonetti invited Falcone to a hideaway where they had dinner. After the ate and drank, Leonetti shot Falcone in the back of the head. Scarfo celebrated by drinking more, putting his hand on Falcone’s still body to feel for his heart beat, ordering his nephew, Leonetti to shoot him one more time in the heart. With them at the time was another Bruno family member, Joe Salerno, who feared he, too, would be killed.
Scarfo and Leonetti were arrested and charged in the Falcone murder in 1983. Salerno became the star witness for the FBI under the witness protection program. Salerno testified against Scarfo and Leonetti.
A local cop who was on the Bruno family payroll testified that Scarfo’s car was not at the property where the murder was committed, contradicting Salerno, who testified Scarfo had parked his black Cadillac outside in front of the home. The cop was thrown off the police force as a result of his testimony.
Scarfo, Leonetti and a third defendant were all found not guilty. Scarfo declared after the trial, “Thank God for the American Jury system. And an honest jury.”
Scarfo eventually also ordered the murder in September of 1984 of Salvi Testa, who was Leonetti’s boyhood friend. That murder angered Leonetti who had just been approved to be the underboss to his uncle Scarfo by the Genovese family. Leonetti could not warn his friend, who he hung around with everyday. Although Testa suspected he was going to be murdered, he believed that Leonetti would have warned him. He did not.
During Scarfo’s reign, more than 28 people were murdered. Half were members of his own family.
Using that, the FBI infiltrated the Scarfo family and waited for the right moment. Leonetti was arrested in 1988 on charges of murdering his friend, Salvi Testa. Before he was sentenced in the summer of 1989, Leonetti reached out to the FBI and offered to plead guilty.
Leonetti called the FBI days prior to his sentencing, but the FBI told him they would have to inform the judge and his defense attorney if that kind of contact were made. The FBI suggested that they wait until after he was sentenced to make the content. Leonetti was sentenced to 45 years for the murder. One week later, that contact was made. Leonetti agreed to testify and in exchange, the FBI agreed to go to the judge and explain his cooperation to assist in reducing his sentence, offering him protection while in prison. He went into protective custody with his wife, his son and his daughter.
Leonetti was released after serving only five years.
His testimony beginning resulted in the convictions of dozens of high ranking members of the Philadelphia/Atlantic City mafia families. His testimony was also used in the John Gotti trial.
Scarfo was convicted in 1988 on extortion and murder, serving a 69 year prison sentence. Leonetti’s testimony helped confirm that verdict and opened the door to the convictions of other Scarfo associates.
From the Past:
Maxie “Booboo” Hoff: a Prohibition era bootlegger. He had a shared interest in local boxers and was a part of the sporting world in Philadelphia.
He exploited Prohibition and re-distilled the alcohol for resale, resulting in large numbers of deaths because of alcohol poisoning.
He ran the Turf Club and several other clubs, where he supplied illegal booze. These “Speakeasys” became very popular during the Prohibition Era. Many of America’s most famous musicians performed at these Speakeasys.
It was a Maxie Hoff thug who pressured Duke Ellington to perform at the Cotton Club in New York, which was owned by an early New York Prohibition Ear mobster named Madden.