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Ralph Natale owns up to 7 killings in mob career. 'Guilty' to life of crime.

May 6, 2000

by Kitty Caparella
Philadelphia Daily News Staff Writer

Ralph Natale's charcoal suit arrived before he did.

His U.S. marshal's plane was fogged in yesterday, making Natale late landing in Pennsylvania. But federal agents were waiting with his suit, which they brought him from his Pennsauken penthouse.

When Natale finally appeared for his historic hearing in federal court in Camden, he was two hours late.

But it was a new Natale. Still short, but now deeply-tanned, slimmed down, physically fit, sporting a dark moustache and white goatee. He wore the suit, a navy tie and a crisp white shirt. Sans handcuffs.

Yesterday, the boss of the Philadelphia-South Jersey La Cosa Nostra from 1994 to 1998, officially repudiated the Mafia - the first crime boss to do so in American Mafia history.

Natale pleaded guilty yesterday to a nearly-30-year criminal career that included seven murders, five attempted murders, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking.

He also admitted to bribing and getting favors for the mob from the mayor of Camden, Milton Milan, who is also under indictment.

And he did it in front of U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas and the case's chief federal prosectors, Barry Gross and Mary Futcher. Also there were members of two U.S. attorney offices, FBI agents, Philadelphia police, N.J. state troopers, defense attorneys, a media horde, his wife, Lucy, his son, Frank, and one lone defendant's wife, Kathy Ciancaglini.

During the one-hour hearing, his voice was loud, determined and, at times, jocular, answering "yes," "certainly," "I understand that," "yes, I did," as he admitted crime after crime of the past 28 years.

Swearing he was telling the truth, Natale said he was 65. His former friends say he keeps getting younger every time he gives his age. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles filed a document in Philadelphia federal court charging Natale with racketeering conspiracy that included assorted murders, attempted murders and other mob-related crimes.

Robert S. Cleary, U.S. attorney for New Jersey, filed a similar document yesterday in Camden federal court, charging Natale with an eighth murder, the bribery of Milan, and a methamphetamine conspiracy to which he had earlier pleaded not guilty.

Natale admitted it all, including meeting Milan in a Cherry Hill restaurant and paying for the mayor's 1997 inauguration dinner. Once referring to Milan as "our guy," Natale admitted he had bribed the mayor with dinners, vacations and cash totaling $30,000.

Natale said that beginning in the spring of 1996, he and mob associate Dan Daidone began giving Milan cash and gifts in exchange for mob favors and government contracts.

Natale told then-mob capo Ronald Previte that he could not be seen with Milan but that he had given him "three in an envelope" meaning $3,000, he admitted.

Milan, in turn, instructed an aide to smooth the way for Natale to obtain a liquor license for his bar-restaurant, Pal Joey's, in Pennsauken, Natale said.

Milan has vociferously denied any dealings with Natale. Natale also admitted he ordered the gangland slaying of his mob capo, Joseph Sodano, after he refused to pay tribute to Natale and his then-underboss, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

After the hearing, Natale, now unburdened by his crimes, hugged and shook hands with his attorney, Marc Neff.

Neff, who once dated Natale's daughter, Vanessa, said he had not convinced Natale to cooperate with the government.

"It was a complicated decision he had to make. For all of his reasons, he made his own decision."

Attorney Michael Pinsky, who represents one of the people Natale has fingered - acting consigliere George Borgesi - was the only member of the defense team from an upcoming racketeering trial to attend the hearing.

"I came to watch the government make a deal with a serial killer," said Pinsky, adding that Natale's confessions raised no surprises.

Natale is expected to testify against his successor and rival, reputed acting mob boss Joey Merlino, 10 other co-defendants, and possibly other crime families.

Besides the Sodano murder, Natale admitted killing George Feeney in 1970, Joseph McGreal in 1973, conspiring to kill Louis "Louie Irish" DeLuca in 1990; Felix Bocchino and James "Jimmy Brooms" DiAddorio, (which the government spelled Diadorro), in 1992, William Veasey in 1995 and Anthony Turra in 1998.

He admitted ordering the murder contract of Anthony Milicia, who was wounded, in 1996; conspiring to kill rival mob boss John Stanfa and his faction, which resulted in the 1993 wounding of his son, Joseph; the 1993 wounding of his underboss, Joseph Ciancaglini and of Leon "Yonnie" Lanzilotti, (which the government spelled Lanzilotta).

Natale's maximum prison time for all the crimes in both documents amounts to two life sentences and more than $8 million in fines, but he's expected to do much less time in jail.

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