IN THIS ISSUE|
· Mob’s Most Dysfunctional Family
· Meet the New Boss
· Book Talk with the Expert
· Short Takes
· This Week in Mob History
· Trials and Tribulations
Mob’s Most Dysfunctional Family
Has the Merlino family dethroned the Gotti family as the underworld’s most dysfunctional family unit? One Philadelphia mob watcher told Americamafia.com, "This shit could pass as a bad episode of the Sopranos. No family has ever been this fucked up."
Let’s review the Gottis. The patriarch, John "the Dapper and former Teflon Don" Gotti is dying at the federal medical facility for prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. His brother Gene has been rotting away in prison since being convicted of narcotics charges in 1989. John A. "Junior" Gotti is currently serving a seven-year stretch. Son Peter has been bogged down with traffic problems – not drug traffic, but automobile traffic, he was arrested for driving without a license and has had his license suspended or revoked on four separate occasions. In 1994 he allegedly attacked a policeman who was in the act of issuing him a traffic citation.
John Gotti’s soon to be ex-son-in-law, Carmine Agnello was sent away for nine years a couple of a months ago. The two daughters, Victoria, a best-selling novelist and columnist for the New York Post and the oldest child Angel, are both living in denial of their old man’s criminal career. Finally, there is Victoria, John’s wife, who once crowned a neighbor with a baseball bat, sending him to the hospital for the accidental death of her son Frank.
Pretty impressive! Now let’s take a look at the Merlinos.
Author and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter George Anastasia gives us the following information on the Merlino brothers in his classic Blood and Honor book:
"Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, [Nicodemo "Little Nicky’"] Scarfo’s underboss and oldest friend in the mob. Brother of Lawrence Merlino. Demoted to soldier by Scarfo in 1985. Convicted of first degree murder in Frank D’Alfonso murder case. Convicted of RICO charges. Currently serving life plus forty-five years.
"Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino, former Scarfo family capo. Convicted of RICO and first degree murder charges. Became a government witness prior to sentencing in RICO case in May 1989."
Anastasia reveals that in the mid-1980s Chuckie Merlino, the father of Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, was looking at a four-year prison term. He began drinking heavily and drew the ire of "Little Nicky" Scarfo. The psychopathic Philadelphia mob boss was paranoid that Merlino, his underboss, was plotting against him. Merlino was drunk most of the time and when he was there was no telling what he might say. In Blood and Honor, the subject of the book, Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi, discusses an incident which took place at a 1985 Christmas party the gang had at a South Street restaurant where Chuckie Merlino was drunk and spent the night insulting people:
"Chuckie bothered so many people. He couldn’t even stand up. During the course of the night I’m talking to this doctor friend of mine and he’s got a cousin in California with the same last name as Chuckie – Merlino. So I call Chuckie over to introduce him and to tell him they’ve got a mutual cousin. Chuckie says, ‘Fuck you and him. I’ll kill youse both.’
"Eventually, they took Chuckie home. But this was the beginning of the end for Chuckie."
Chuckie Merlino’s daughter, Maria, was engaged in the mid-1980s to Salvatore "Salvy" Testa, the son of short-lived boss Philip "Chicken Man" Testa. Young Salvy, just 28 years old, was described as having great leadership qualities and being a ruthless, stone-cold assassin. Anastasia claimed he was "the youngest mob capo in America." Many believed he had aspirations of being the boss one day. That all came to an end when he jilted Maria Merlino and called off the wedding set for April 1984. Testa was murdered on September 14, 1984.
On December 4, 2001 Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his July 20 conviction on charges of extortion conspiracy, illegal sports gambling, loansharking and receiving stolen goods. With the time he has already served (Merlino has been in jail since bail was denied after his June 1999 arrest) and if he receives a "good behavior" reduction, Joey figures to be back on the streets in nine and a half years.
Not so, if the government is successful in a pending case that should come to trial next year in New Jersey. Merlino was indicted in a separate case there this past March. The government plans to try him again on charges of ordering the December 1996 killing of Joseph Sodano, a North Jersey capo. The Philadelphia Daily News claimed, "The murder was found to be ‘not proven’ as a racketeering act during the four-month trial in Philadelphia. In Newark, Merlino is charged with Sodano’s murder under a different count – violent crime in aid of racketeering."
While Rita Merlino, Joey’s mother, hasn’t beaten anyone over the head – as of this writing – no one who knows her would deny that she is capable. Rita has been a faithful wife while her husband has been away in prison for over a decade.
When law enforcement officers arrived at Joey’s Margate, New Jersey rented beach condo one early June morning in 1999 they knew they had their hands full when they saw Rita coming at them in a bedroom hallway. Their ears were still ringing with obscenities as they sped Joey away. Outside the house where Rita tried to intervene in a scuffle between officers and Martin Angelina, it was reported that an agent threw Rita into the bushes. At her son’s bail hearing Rita directed spectators away from where her family was seated. "You can’t sit here. You have to move," she told several people. Outside the courtroom afterwards her only comment to reporters was "They’re liars, of course."
As the Merlino trial and sentencing dragged on from March until December 2001, Rita’s relationship with her daughter-in-law, Deborah Wells Merlino, became strained. There was good reason for it. In October Rita and her two daughters, Maria and Natalie, voiced concerns when Deborah was seen with William "Billy" Rinick on several occasions.
Rinick, described as a "wealthy South Philadelphian, lost a leg several years ago when he was hit by a SEPTA bus. The 29 year-old used a multi-million dollar insurance settlement to invest in real estate and other business ventures.
Last year Rinick pled guilty to charges of videotaping underage teenage girls. Police say he is a suspect in the October 31 murder of Adam Finelli, a restaurant owner and reputed drug dealer. Rinick has been the target of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation Unit. Their surveillance revealed that Rinick’s car had been parked overnight several times outside the Merlino home.
On Thursday, December 6, just three days after Joey was sentenced, the Bureau of Narcotics Unit raided the Merlino home around 7:00 in the morning. Inside, hiding under the bed of one of the children, agents found Rinick. Rita Merlino soon appeared at the house cursing loudly at the officers and demanding to be allowed to enter the home.
Rinick’s indiscretion calls for an immediate execution according to mob protocol. Last word was that he was desperately trying to get a hold of Joey to offer an explanation. Meanwhile, Deborah Merlino has some explaining of her own to do before her mother-in-law, Rita, pulls a Victoria Gotti on her.
In reporting on Joey Merlino’s sentencing, talented Philadelphia Daily News reporter Kitty Caparella added a woman’s touch by stating that "His wife faces a decade without his affections." Apparently, unlike Rita, Deborah never planned to spend the time without any affections.
Finally…when officers entered the Merlino home two weeks ago they found hanging above the bar a photograph of Al "Scarface" Capone. This caused one officer to laugh and state "They just never get over this. It’s a lifestyle."
Enough of the kids already!
If you can believe the speculation of local law enforcement agencies, the Philadelphia Family has a new boss with a few years under his belt. Joseph Ligambi is 62 years old. He became "acting boss" in the wake of Joseph Merlino’s arrest and imprisonment in June 1999. Merlino is 39 years old while underlings Steve Mazzone (underboss) and George Borgesi (consigliere) are both 38.
Who is Joseph Ligambi?
The son of a "hard-working cab driver," Ligambi and his four siblings were raised by parents who "ruled in an Old World fashion." In the 1950s Joseph dropped out of South Philadelphia High School during his junior year. He joined the Air Force for a short time where he received his high school diploma. Ligambi got married when he was 26 and had two daughters. The marriage didn’t last.
One article about Ligambi stated, "The usual crime pattern didn’t fit Ligambi. He missed most of his peak years – age 15 to 35 – when would-be mobsters become ‘earners,’ then make their bones."
Ligambi was arrested and convicted three times in the early 1970s for cigarette smuggling, the first time coming in 1971 when he was 32. He also worked at legitimate jobs. He ran a car wash for eleven years and was a bartender in both Atlantic City and Philadelphia. In this latter capacity he met mobbed-up bookmakers and loansharks. He soon gained a reputation for sports handicapping.
Chuckie Merlino, underboss of the Scarfo Family befriended Ligambi. He became so impressed with Ligambi’s talents that he brought Scarfo to the bar to meet him. While sitting waiting to be introduced, "Little Nicky" quizzed an associate, "If he’s such a sports wizard, why is he tending bar?" Merlino became a mentor to Ligambi, who in turn became "like an uncle" to Chuckie’s son Joey.
Ligambi married again in 1983. This union produced three sons, two of them twins. As his relationship with Chuckie Merlino flourished so did his bookmaking operations. As they did he brought his brother Philip and nephew George Borgesi aboard. Ligambi "made his bones" for the Scarfo Family by being one of the triggermen in the June 1985 murder of Frank "Frankie Flowers" D’Alfonso, a former associate of Angelo Bruno. With Scarfo concerned about Merlino’s drinking problem, Nicky held off making Ligambi into the family since he had just demoted both Chuckie and Lawrence Merlino. Scarfo wanted to make sure just where Ligambi’s loyalties were. The following year Ligambi was made on June 24 along with five others.
In July 1987 more than a dozen Scarfo Family members, including Ligambi, were arrested and charged in the D’Alfonso murder and other crimes. During the arrest Ligambi allegedly attacked a federal officer, but that assault charge was later dropped. Six months later Ligambi was arrested in a massive RICO indictment, which eventually sank the Scarfo Family.
Ligambi’s attorney, M. W. "Mike" Pinsky, got his client’s case severed from the racketeering trial. He pled guilty and was sentenced to three and a half years. However, in state court he was convicted for his role in the D’Alfonso murder and sentenced to life in prison. When he won a retrial in 1997, witnesses with foggy memories allowed Ligambi to go free.
With the arrest of Joey Merlino, Ligambi seemed to be the logical choice for "acting boss." His loyalty to "Skinny Joey’s" father was unquestionable and his nephew, George Borgesi, had been promoted to consigliere of the family. Still, one former Scarfo Family member-turned-government-witness said, "I can’t picture him as the boss. He’s not a thinker…He was a guy who always did what he was told." Obviously in agreement here is Ligambi’s attorney, Mike Pinsky. George Anastasia quoted the lawyer as stating; "…I can tell you that we deny that he is the boss of the Philadelphia mob…That’s frivolous and unsubstantiated."
In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article Ligambi was referred to as "A bartender with a penchant for handicapping football games." Instead of trying to be a mob boss Ligambi has focused his attention on his gambling interests. So much so that a state-federal probe is investigating his reputed involvement in sports bookmaking, illegal video-poker machines and a numbers operation.
In addition, Ligambi was recently implicated in the 1999 murder of Ronald Turchi by former Philadelphia hitman Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio. In court Caprio has testified that Ligambi told him Turchi was murdered due to his relationship with former boss Ralph Natale. "We dimed Ronnie out to teach Ralph a lesson," Caprio claims Ligambi told him.
Captain James Murphy, leader of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Organized Crime Division commented, "We think [Ligambi] is letting the dust settle…But when you think about it, why would anyone want the number one slot? You become the main target. Why would anyone want that job?" Murphy’s statement is supported by the fact that every boss of the Philadelphia Family since 1980 has been murdered or is currently in prison.
Ligambi’s attorney Mike Pinsky was kind enough to talk to AmericanMafia.com. Pinsky told us that law enforcement has always had his client under scrutiny, but that Ligambi is being labeled something he is not. Pinsky states that, "Ligambi likes his privacy and is a family person, he doesn’t like publicity." Pinsky points out that despite recent revelations Ligambi has not been subpoenaed, there are no charges against him and no indictments have been issued. "All I’ve seen is what’s in the press," Pinsky says.
Meanwhile, New Jersey law enforcement sources claim Ligambi was videotaped this past summer in Atlantic City meeting with mob figures from North Jersey. Other sources say members of Ligambi’s inner circle include Gaeton Lucibello, Michael Lancelotti, Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and Anthony Staino. Authorities believe the underboss and consigliere roles will be filled from this group.
Those of you who follow my column know that I often poke fun at mob book expert extraordinaire Russ McDermott. Despite the fact that the millions Russ has made from people like me makes Donald Trump’s money look like chump change, he is still a down to earth kind of guy. So much so that when I asked him to prepare a listing of what he considered the rarest mob books of all-time Russ readily obliged He actually prepared two lists. In this week’s listing Russ presents what we’ll call the "rarest of the rare." Next week he’ll delve into what he considers the market’s most over priced mob books.
Below Russ opens with what I term his qualifier for the "rare" category:
"The criteria I used for this list is how often the book comes on the market as well as demand. Though prices can be high, that is not necessarily an indication of rarity. Demand factors in because, although some books may indeed be quite rare, if there is little demand there is basically no way to know. All booksellers get requests to find books and they communicate with other sellers. So a book in demand will tend to bring out available copies. But if there are few or no available copies, that means a true scarcity. Without demand, there may be quite a few copies of a supposedly "rare" book sitting on dealers’ shelves."
1. The Dixie Mafia, by D. M. Kern - Very rare book. I only know of three copies in existence and one is under lock and key in an Alabama library. Rex Armistead has another and I have the third.
2. Mafia, by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics – only published or in-house use by drug officials, this book contains dossiers on most major mob figures in the late 1940s through the 1950s. Very hard to find, especially in complete condition because agents would tear pages out when individuals died.
This is the only government publication on the list even though volumes of the Kefauver Hearings (not the summaries published for the public, but the original volumes) and the McClellan Hearings are as rare as anything on this list. Pennsylvania Crime Commission Reports for 1980 and 1990 are also hard to find, as are most House, Senate and various state crime commission organized crime publications prior to 1970. New Orleans Crime Commission publications seldom come on the market. So I'll lump then all at this level.
3. Barboza, by Joe Barboza and Hank Messick – How I wish I could find some of these. I have a waiting list for this title totaling 23 names and I have only been able to buy one copy in the past year.
4. Razzle Dazzle, by Hank Messick – arguably Messick's best book (along with The Silent Syndicate.) But it was also his last book and was essentially self-published by a bookstore in Kentucky. Not many of these to begin with and they sold fast.
5. Carlo Gambino: King of the Mafia, by David Hanna – At one time it was as hard to find as those listed above. Today it is not quite as rare because the high prices paid for it on eBay have brought other copies out of hiding.
6. The City and the Syndicate: Organized Crime in Philadelphia, by Gary W. Potter, Ph.D. and Philip Jenkins – A very hard to find work by Potter a professor who specializes in police studies at Eastern Kentucky University.
7. Don Carlo: Boss of Bosses, by Paul Meskil – Not as hard to find as Carlo Gambino: King of the Mafia, but still uncommon enough to be included here. Meskil is trying to get the book reprinted, but no deal has been concluded yet so it will probably be a while.
8. Squeal, by Les Coleman – The only book specifically about the mob in Connecticut and still a bargain; you can pick up a copy for $30-40 when they become available.
9. Gangster #2, by Mark A. Stuart – the biography of Longy Zwillman isn't as hard to find as it once was and the price has come down; you can buy it in the $50 and up range. There is a British soft-cover edition called simply Gangster that is the same book and usually will only cost a few bucks if you can find it.
10. The Jersey Mob by Henry Zeiger, paperback. This look at the Genovese Family crew in New Jersey headed by Ray De Carlo has become much sought after in the wake of the Sopranos.
Russ McDermott can be contacted, and books can be purchased from him, at www.mobbooks.com Tell Russ you heard about his website through AmericanMafia.com and be surprised at the special discount you’ll receive.
Side Note: A special thank you to Russ for helping me find a book this week which I have spent five years searching for. Now I’ll Tell, was written in 1934 by Carolyn Rothstein, the widow of "The Brain." I’m embarrassed to say Russ found it in my own backyard and I drove to the near-West Side of Cleveland to pick it up.
Kansas City – As states around the nation look at ways to increase revenue by permitting gambling – New York and Rhode Island to name a couple – the Kansas City Star reported on December 6 that in Boonville, Missouri "state regulators allowed a Caribbean-themed floating casino to open in this community with a long and storied riverboat heritage." The license was approved after a "mock gambling" session was held, using play money, to show the regulators the operation in action. According to the article the mock session included "simulations of a robbery at the teller’s cage and two gamblers trying to cash out more than $10,000 in winnings without filing tax paperwork." However, they left out the simulating of knuckle-draggers taking skim out of the counting rooms. Just kidding –
Party on, Boonville!
Miami – Last week I contacted Larry Lebowitz of the Miami Herald last week to find out what was going on with the Tony Pep trail. Lebowitz flat out told me that the higher-ups didn’t consider the "trial worth gavel to gavel coverage." This is in contrast to this past summer’s Gold Club trial in Atlanta. Not only was their daily coverage, but they issued trail update several times each day. Lebowitz said he expected the trial to wrap up by December 15. Let’s hope an update is in the works.
Philadelphia – The last of the sentences from this summer’s trial have been handed down. Consigliere George Borgesi received a fourteen-year sentence; Martin Angelina got six and a half years; and John Ciancaglini and Angelo "Fat Ange" Lutz were both handed nine. And the beat goes on.
Youngstown – US District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells ruled that Mahoning Valley Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr. has the court’s permission to represent himself at his upcoming trial. The judge, however, rejected the congressman’s motion that the testimony of government witnesses who accepted plea agreements be suppressed. Traficant argued that "a recommendation for a reduced sentence in exchange for guilty pleas and testimony is illegal and amounts to bribery." In a status hearing scheduled for December 14 the issue of counsel for Traficant’s co-defendant, Richard Detore, will be heard. There is a possibility of a waiver of trial by jury. If not, this could prove to be interesting, as it would mark the first time Traficant would have an attorney at the defense table.
The mob must be in the holiday spirit as Christmas approaches – there are only three murders to report this week.
December 18, 1931 – Jack "Legs" Diamond was one of New York’s most colorful gangsters during the Prohibition years. A flamboyant, ruthless, yet charismatic killer, Diamond became known as the "clay pigeon" of the underworld due to the many time he was wounded in attempts to murder him. His list of associates ran the gamut from Arnold Rothstein to Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Diamond was celebrating an acquittal in Albany, New York and returned to his rooming house quite drunk. Two gunmen entered the room and made sure the "clay pigeon" never flew again.
December 18, 1978 – Parnell S. "Stacks" Edwards was a "gofer" and a wannabe member of the James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke gang. He yearned to be a successful blues singer and sometimes performed at Robert’s Lounge. Edwards kept his day job performing a variety of services for the gang including chauffeur. He was paid with the swag (stolen merchandise) from the crew’s various hijackings, which he then peddled on the street. Edwards was also a convicted credit card thief and helped Henry Hill at times with various scams. Following the infamous Lufthansa heist in December 1978, Edwards was supposed to take the van used in the robbery and have it destroyed in New Jersey. For reasons unknown, he didn’t, and the police recovered it. His punishment for not following instructions was being murdered by Thomas "Tommy" DeSimone. See my article http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters3/lufthansa/
December 20, 1973 – Richard Cain (Ricardo Scalzitti) was a flamboyant member of the Chicago Police Department and a made member of the Chicago Outfit. In 1964 he was convicted of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, the conviction was later reversed. In 1967 he was indicted for conspiracy, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. An intimate of Sam Giancana, Cain later began furnishing FBI Agent William Roemer with information on the Outfit’s activity. When the mob caught wind of this they murdered Cain during a staged holdup at a sandwich shop.
AmericanMafia.com attempts to keep its audience advised of ongoing legal matters in the world of organized crime. New entries and addition to existing information will appear in RED.
December 13, 2001 – Bergen County, New Jersey – A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Daniel Provenzano who was charged in a 44-count racketeering indictment.
January 7, 2002 – Atlanta – Former Atlanta police officer Jack Redlinger goes on trial for allegedly fixing traffic tickets for Gold Club employees in exchange for cash. Redlinger is the last of 17 people indicted in the Gold Club case. Everyone else has either gone to trial or pled guilty.
January 28 – Boston – Retired state trooper Richard J, Schneiderman goes on trial on charges that he hampered the FBI’s search for James "Whitey" Bulger by letting Bulger family members know that the FBI had requested pen registers on their telephones.
January 2002 – New York City – Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico is scheduled to go to trial with five others on a racketeering indictment.
January 2002 – Chicago – Michael Spano, Sr., alleged mob boss of legendary Cicero, Illinois, goes on trial for attempting to bribe a high-ranking federal official to obtain a pardon or clemency for former Chicago Outfit boss Rocco Infelice in 1998.
February 2002 – Boston – Stephen "the Rifleman" Fleming is scheduled for trial this month. The co-Winter Hill Gang leader is charged with killing ten people.
February 2002 – Miami – Genovese mobster and Trafficante Family associate John Mamone and members of the Tampa family's Miami faction go on trial for racketeering and money laundering. AM.com contributor Scott Deitche will keep us posted on this one when it comes up.
February 4, 2002 – Cleveland – Mahoning County Congressman James A. Traficant, Jr. begins his third trial. The flamboyant former sheriff is one for two in successfully representing himself.
April 2, 2002 – Providence – Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr. goes to trial for his indictment in Operation Plunder Dome.
May 2002 – Chicago – Michael Spano, Sr. and Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese go to trial for looting the city coffers of millions of dollars.
January 11, 2002 – Queens, NY – Ralph Romano will be sentenced for his recent conviction in the murder of John Spensieri
January 21, 2002 – New York City – John "Porky" Zancocchio, a Bonanno Family soldier will be sentenced for his October 28 guilty plea to charges of loan sharking and tax evasion.
January 23, 2002 – Boston – Four men found guilty of involvement in an armored car heist will be sentenced.
January 31, 2002 – Chicago – William Hanhardt, 72, the former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, will be sentenced for his guilty plea to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to ship stolen jewels across state lines.
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