Born March 8, 1929 (age 85)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Known for Boss of the Philadelphia crime family
Spouse(s) (first wife – unknown), Domenica Scarfo
Children Christopher Scarfo
Nicodemo Salvatore Scarfo Jr
Family Phil Scarfo (father)
Catherine Piccolo (mother)
Nicholas Piccolo (uncle)
Joseph Piccolo (uncle)
Michael Piccolo (uncle)
Nancy Leonetti (sister)
Phillip Leonetti (nephew)
Joseph J. “The Shark” Scarfo (cousin)
Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Domenico Scarfo (born March 8, 1929) is a member of the American Mafia who eventually became the Boss of the Philadelphia crime family after the death of Angelo Bruno and Phil Testa. During his criminal career, Scarfo was by some accounts arrogant, nepotistic and full of avarice.
Scarfo orchestrated a particularly ruthless regime and ordered over a dozen murders during his time as boss. He was often described by informants as cold-hearted and narcissistic. He enjoyed the celebrity gangster life style and was an admirer of Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone. Scarfo would scan newspapers for his name and made sure his soldiers carried out murders in public to create a constant atmosphere of fear. Scarfo had very few scruples and approached organized crime activities such as drug trafficking to generate millions, while many other bosses avoided such activities known to bring law enforcement scrutiny. It was these methods which ultimately led to Scarfo’s downfall. Though Scarfo’s reign may have made him a rich man, in the long term, it almost destroyed the Philly mob that he dominated for a decade.
Scarfo was born on March 8, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Phil, and Catherine née Piccolo, sister of Nicholas, Joseph and Michael Piccolo, who were made men in the Philadelphia crime family. Scarfo’s family was of Calabrian descent. Scarfo’s nephew was future mobster Phil Leonetti. When Leonetti’s father abandoned him and his mother, Scarfo’s sister, Nancy Scarfo, assumed responsibility for the boy. He is also the father and namesake of Nicky Scarfo Jr. whom he fathered with the wife from his first marriage. Scarfo’s first wife, Domenica Nistico, still resides in Ventnor, New Jersey.
As a young boy he spent his summers working as a farm hand picking blueberries in the fields of Hammonton, New Jersey. When he became a teenager in the late 1940s, Scarfo first worked as a bantamweight boxer boxing under the name “Nick Scarfo.” As a boxer he amassed an impressive record in small club fights on the Philadelphia boxing circuit. then took a job parking cars in a valet service for the 500 Club in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was voted most talkative of his classmates at Benjamin Franklin High School, where he graduated from in 1947, and his senior yearbook declared that he was out to “lick the world.” The idols of his youth were actor Paul Muni and baseball player Ted Williams. His nephew Phil Leonetti said in Mafia Prince, “It’s sad to say, my uncle looked down on his own father because he was a hardworking guy and not a gangster. He was never outwardly disrespectful to his father, but they weren’t very close. My uncle’s only ambition in life was to be a gangster, even from the time he was young.” By the age of 25 he was taught by Felix “Skinny Razor” DiTullio on how to carry out murders. In the early 1950s, Scarfo’s uncle Nicholas “Nicky Buck” Piccolo, a caporegime in the Philadelphia family, gave Scarfo a bookmaking operation to run. At the time the Philadelphia family was led by boss Joseph Ida and controlled criminal activities in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Delaware, Baltimore, Maryland and Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Scarfo soon received the nickname “Little Nicky” due to his short stature (five feet six inches, 1.67 m). Most people did not call him “Little Nicky” to his face, since he disliked the name. After several years of service, Scarfo became a made man in the family’s Calabrian faction. In the late 1950s, Scarfo befriended Salvatore “Chuckie” Merlino who hadn’t turned 20 at the time, but was a promising associate to the mob. Scarfo once told his nephew Leonetti that he was inducted into the crime family by Joseph Ida in 1954 or 1955. The ceremony was held at the Sans Souci restaurant and bar near the race track traffic circle in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Scarfo’s cousin Anthony (Tony Buck) Piccolo and two maternal uncles Michael and Joseph were also inducted at the same ceremony. His uncle Nicholas had been inducted into the family about five years earlier. Between 1967 and 1970 Scarfo was a part-owner of The Penguin Club on the corner of North Virginia Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City with mob associate Thomas (Thomas Butch) Bucci. Leonetti would later say, “The Penguin Club was a “bust out” bar where strippers worked the bar and tables and tried to hustle the male customers. The strippers sat and flirted with the customers and tried to get them to buy over-priced bottles of champagne and drinks. On August 10, 1970 the liquor license was suspended for 100 days on charges that the strippers solicited drinks from patrons. He also had a hidden interest in The Haunted House bar in Atlantic City from September 1969 to June 29, 1972 and then again from 1972 to April 1, 1976. He first worked under Bruno family made man Felix (Skinny Razor) DiTullio as a mob associate. DiTullio took Nicky around and introduced him to many figures in La Cosa Nostra.
Relationship with nephew Phil
In 1962 Nicky implicated his nephew Phil Leonetti as an accessory after the fact in the murder of Dominick (Reds) Caruso. Caruso was murdered for disrespecting Joseph (Joe the Boss) Rugnetta, who was the consigliere of the family that served under Angelo Bruno. Caruso tried to extort Rugnetta for money and slapped him at his home in Southwark, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After Caruso’s body was dropped off at the intended burial site in Vineland, New Jersey Scarfo drove the pick-up truck to his parents’ apartment building in Atlantic City where Leonetti lived. Leonetti was about nine years old at the time. Scarfo picked up Leonetti and took him for a ride to Philadelphia to use him as a decoy. Scarfo figured that if anybody saw the killers using the truck in the murder and reported it to the police, the police would never think that a truck with a little kid in it had been used in a murder. Scarfo told Leonetti on the day of the murder that he had just “killed a very bad man” and explained to Leonetti why he wanted Leonetti to ride with him to Philadelphia. Scarfo drove the truck to Philadelphia for it to be destroyed so that it could never be used as evidence. Dominick “Reds” Caruso was reported missing by his wife on January 30, 1962. Caruso’s body has not been found.
The Bruno regime
In 1957, Ida moved to Italy and was replaced as boss by Antonio Pollina. However, in 1959 the New York Mafia Commission removed Pollina from power and replaced him with mobster Angelo Bruno. Pollina had previously plotted to murder Bruno, who then used his influence with Gambino boss Carlo Gambino on the commission to remove Pollina.
Scarfo soon engaged in several actions that created friction with the family leadership. Family consigliere Joe Rugnetta approached Scarfo about marrying Rugnetta’s daughter. Scarfo declined and allegedly implied that the girl was ugly. The enraged Rugnetta asked Bruno for permission to kill Scarfo, but Bruno refused out of respect for Scarfo’s uncle, Nicolos Piccolo. In the early 1960s, Scarfo’s friend Merlino was having a sexual relationship with the niece of made men Alfonse “Funzi” Marconi and Guarino “Mark” Marconi. When the Marconi brothers discovered the relationship, they demanded that Merlino be killed. Rugnetta arranged a sit down with Scarfo, Dominic “Mickey Diamond” DeVito, and the Marconis. During the meeting, Scarfo supported Merlino’s false claims that he wasn’t having an affair with the Marconis’ niece. Scarfo’s duplicity hurt his standing with Rugnetta even more. In 1963, Scarfo stabbed a longshoreman to death in the Oregon Diner in Philadelphia. He was eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served under one year in prison. Scarfo was released in 1964.
At this point, Rugnetta wanted to kill Scarfo. However, Scarfo’s death would have alienated the Piccolo crew. To solve the problem, Bruno sent him to Atlantic City, ostensibly to revive the family’s fortunes there. In truth, however, Bruno sent him there as punishment for his brutality. Atlantic City was in the midst of a long-term decline, and Philadelphia bosses had begun sending members there after they’d stepped too far out of line.
In Atlantic City, Nicky ran a bookmaking and loan sharking operation. He invested in an adult bookstore owned by Alvin Feldman. He moved into an apartment owned by his mother Catherine. He was soon joined there by his sister Nancy Leonetti and her eight-year-old son Phillip. Scarfo raised a family in the house with his second wife Domenica who gave birth to Nicodemo Salvatore Scarfo Jr and Mark Scarfo. Soon Scarfo’s first son Chris was living with them, as well.
In 1971 Scarfo met Nicholas “the Crow” Caramandi, a con man with connections to DeVito. The two began running scams together, two of which made $15,000. Scarfo was later incarcerated for contempt. During his incarceration he heard that Feldman had been stealing money from him; upon Scarfo’s release from prison Feldman disappeared.
“You won’t see him no more….” – Nicodemo Scarfo on Alvin Feldman
Caramandi kept in touch with Scarfo and every once in a while would run a scam with him. But Scarfo was struggling to survive in Atlantic City let alone rebuild his reputation within the Philly Mob, although his conviction for contempt had proven he could keep his mouth shut.
In 1972 Scarfo attempted to arrange a lenient sentence for Nicholas Virgilio who had been convicted in a murder case. Scarfo went to Edward Helfant and gave him $12,000 to reduce Virgilio’s sentence. But Virgilio got 12 years, hardly the lenient treatment he and Scarfo were expecting.
Scarfo’s fortunes changed with the legalization of casino gambling in 1976, which brought Atlantic City new prosperity and soon made Scarfo a powerhouse.
He soon established close ties with Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HEREIU). Scarfo’s longtime relationships with Frank Gerace (former local president) and Frank Lentino (former union business agent) gave him access to Atlantic City mayor Michael Matthews. Scarfo turned Local 54 into a cash cow for the mob. He began receiving monthly payments of about $20,000 from the union.
Around this time many members of the Family began to suspect that Bruno was allowing members of the Gambino crime family to engage in drug trafficking activities throughout New Jersey in exchange for a cut of the profits. This was in contradiction to Bruno’s zero-tolerance policy towards drug trafficking among his soldiers.
In 1977, Rugnetta died and was succeeded by Tony Caponigro as consigliere. Caponigro was the captain of the Newark branch of the Philadelphia crime family.
In 1978, Nicky Virgilio was released from prison after serving six years. Scarfo helped arrange for Virgilio to be able to get revenge on Helfant. Not long after Virgilio’s release, Eddie Helfant was shot five times as he sat in a bar with his wife.
Soon the first casinos were opening in Atlantic City and money was soon pouring into the former backwater. Scarfo took full advantage and set about squeezing the casinos of their income. As Atlantic City once again began booming, the heads of the Five Families became interested in the City. While Atlantic City had long been recognized as the domain of the Philadelphia crime family, the New York families wanted a piece of the action as well. However, under the rules of the Mafia, no other family could set up shop in another family’s territory without permission—and Bruno only let them in reluctantly.
In 1979, Scarfo helped arrange the murder of Mickey “Coco” Cifelli, a known drug dealer who was no longer “welcome” in Philadelphia. Coco was gunned down in a restaurant in South Philadelphia. Coco’s murder had been sanctioned by Bruno, but it wasn’t long until Scarfo would kill without permission.
By that time, Scarfo, Leonetti, and the Merlino brothers had set up a concrete company Scarf Inc. This was a way for them to insure that their families would get a “piece” of both the legitimate and illegitimate world. Vincent Falcone began belittling Scarfo and Leonetti behind their backs. It wasn’t long until they found out about Falcone’s “loose lips”.
Scarfo watched with glee as his beloved nephew Phil Leonetti took out a .38 and shot Falcone in the back of his head. Scarfo mocked Falcone’s body calling him a “cocksucker” and a “no good motherfucker.” Scarfo then bent down and listened to where Falcone’s heart would’ve been beating if he were alive. Scarfo then suggested that Leonetti shoot him once more and Phil did as told; he shot Falcone in the chest. Merlino helped Scarfo and Leonetti dispose of the body. Not long after, Falcone’s body was discovered stuffed in the trunk of a car.
Genovese Boss Frank Tieri began to try to gain a cut of the lucrative bookmaking operation Caponigro was running in New Jersey. The operation made $2 million a week. Bruno defended his consigliere’s propriety rights at a meeting with Funzi (Tieri) and the other heads of the New York families, who ruled in Bruno’s favor. Funzi humbly accepted the decision, on the surface.
The end of an era
In 1980 Bruno was shot in the back as he sat in a car driven by John Stanfa just outside his home. The shooter was Alfred Salerno acting on orders from Caponigro. Caponigro was attempting to seize control of the Philadelphia family by force; he was planning to promote Frank Sindone to underboss and to kill off Phil Testa, Scarfo and Frank “Chickie” Narducci.
Caponigro thought he had gained the backing of the Five Families through Tieri and would be elevated to head of the Philadelphia underworld. Caponigro and Salerno were summoned to a meeting in Manhattan expecting to meet with the heads of the Five Families and be elevated to Boss. Instead, Caponigro and Salerno were greeted by Vincent Gigante and his crew. The crew brutally tortured Caponigro and Salerno then left their bodies in the trunks of two separate cars parked three miles apart.
Rise to power
The Commission promoted underboss Phil Testa to Boss of the Philadelphia crime family. Testa promoted Scarfo to consigliere and Peter Casella to underboss. Ironically, being banished to Atlantic City had been a blessing in disguise for Nicky Scarfo. Once a disgraced soldier, he was now a success and had risen to the rank of consigliere in the Philadelphia crime family.
Though being indicted for the murder of Falcone was a sobering event in the lives of Scarfo, Leonetti, and Merlino, the trio was acquitted of the murder.
Testa decided it was time to “open the books.” Salvatore Testa, Leonetti, Salvatore “Wayne” Grande, Chuckie and Lawrence Merlino were all made official members of La Cosa Nostra.
The new administration began putting Caponigro’s loyalists in line. Felix Bocchino was the first to defect along with Dominic DeVito. Joseph “Chickie” Ciancaglini defected after Testa and Scarfo interrogated him at gunpoint in a garage about his involvement with Caponigro.
Scarfo had plans to kill DeVito. Despite this, their mutual friend Nick Caramandi stood by DeVito and Scarfo wouldn’t have DeVito killed out of respect to Caramandi. John Simone and Frank Sindone weren’t as lucky. Both met grisly ends at the trigger fingers of hit men sent by Testa and Scarfo.
John McCullough, president of the Philadelphia Roofers Union, Local 30, began infringing on Scarfo’s Atlantic City rackets and refused to stop his labor racketeering activities. McCullough was shot to death by a hit man posing as a deliveryman.
On March 15, 1981 Testa was killed by a nail bomb detonated beneath his porch. The murder was intended to look like retaliation by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, with which McCullough had close ties as well as the Roofer’s Union as evidenced by usage of roofing nails. The truth was that the killing was in fact done by members of Scarfo’s own crime family. Peter Casella had hoped to ascend to Boss by having Testa killed. Frank “Chickie” Narducci was in on the plot as well and Rocco Marinucci was the man who personally detonated the bomb by remote control. They also received backing from the New York families, as Testa had shared Bruno’s opposition to opening up Atlantic City.
The Scarfo regime
Pete Casella called a meeting with Scarfo soon after Testa’s death. Casella told Scarfo that, at a meeting with Paul Castellano and Fat Tony Salerno, he had been made the new Boss and that Narducci was to be the new underboss. Scarfo was suspicious and set up a meeting with the two New York Bosses the next day. At that meeting, Scarfo discovered that Casella had been lying.
Scarfo gave the Gambino and Genovese families permission to operate in Atlantic City in exchange for their backing for him to become Boss. With their backing, Scarfo easily took over the Philadelphia family, promoting Frank Monte to consigliere and Salvatore “Chuckie” Merlino to underboss. Scarfo soon cut a deal with the other families allowing them a piece of the action in Atlantic City while keeping a significant slice for himself.
Little Nicky forced Casella into “retirement” in Florida and promoted Leonetti, Salvatore Testa, Lawrence “Yogi” Merlino and Ciancaglini to captains of their respective crews. When Scarfo became the Boss, he wanted to unify the organization and dreamed of running a smooth criminal empire.
Scarfo soon installed a mob practice somewhat alien to Philadelphia criminals. The “street tax” was enforced by soldiers like Tommy DelGiorno and associates like Nick “The Crow” Caramandi. The tax was paid by any criminal working independently from the Mafia. Drug dealers, bookmakers, pimps and guys running numbers in the territory that Scarfo deemed his own were forced to pay his “street tax” weekly. The money was then divided between the guys collecting the tax (who got 50%) and their caporegimes or bosses.
In April of that year, Scarfo was convicted in federal court in Camden, N.J. of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But sentencing wasn’t until August of next year. So Nicky continued as normal.
Chelsais Bouras was enjoying a meal in a restaurant with his girlfriend Janette Curro and several other friends, including Ray Martorano, when a man entered and motioned for Martorano to get out of the way as he took aim. The hit man opened fire killing Bouras and his girlfriend Curro. Scarfo ordered the death of Greek Mob Boss Chelsais because he had been horning in on the methamphetamine trade in Philadelphia and not paying Scarfo’s “street tax.”
Johnny Calabrese and Ciancaglini walked from Cous’ Little Italy, a restaurant owned by Tommy DelGiorno, who had bought it from the Piccolo brothers. As Calabrese and Ciancaglini walked Tommy DelGiorno and Frank “Faffy” Iannarella ran up behind them. When the shooting started, Chickie casually walked away. Four bullets killed Calabrese, and his killers escaped in a car driven by Pat Spirito. Johnny Calabrese was a loan shark and drug dealer who operated through a chain of pawn shops in Atlantic City. Calabrese had refused to pay the “street tax.” Scarfo was more than pleased with how DelGiorno and Iannarella had handled the assignment.
“Jesus Christ, that was great. These guys are f—in’ great.”-Nicodemo Scarfo, Boss of the Philadelphia crime family (1981–1991)
After Calabrese was left dying in the gutter by Scarfo’s hit men, Frankie “Flowers” D’Alfonso was brutally beaten by Salvatore Testa and Joey Pungitore for refusing to pay the “street tax.”
In 1982, Tommy DelGiorno, “Faffy” Iannarella, Joseph J. Scarfo (aka “The Shark”) and Pat “The Cat” Spirito were formally inducted into the Philadelphia crime family. The ceremony was held at the Buena Tavern in Vineland, New Jersey.
Chickie Narducci’s borrowed time finally ran out when Scarfo gave Salvie Testa permission to kill him. Narducci was shot six times in the chest and face by Testa and Joey Pungitore. Narducci’s bullet riddled corpse was left in the gutter.
“I wish that m———– was alive so I could kill him again.” – Salvatore Testa on Frank Narducci
Nicky Scarfo wanted Dominic DeVito aka “Mickey Diamond” dead, but couldn’t have him killed because of the friendship DeVito had with his Scarfo’s friend Nick Caramandi. Finally, Scarfo decided that he’d have DeVito killed and anyone else that didn’t follow his orders as he saw fit. He gave the contract to Funzi and Mark Marconi to test their loyalty to him. They proved themselves loyal and shot DeVito in the head, then left his body in the trunk of a car.
In the aftermath of the hit, Pat “The Cat” Spirito was promoted to captain. Nick Caramandi acquired DeVito’s loan sharking books and began collecting from the debtors. He gave DeVito’s girlfriend $6,000 to pay for the funeral, but Caramandi made sure that every other penny went directly into Scarfo’s pockets. Nick the Crow had clearly shown himself deeply loyal to Scarfo.
It had been one year since Phil Testa’s murder when Salvie Testa shot Rocco Marinucci to death in a parking lot. In this act, Testa had finally got his revenge for his father’s death. The police later found three unexploded firecrackers lodged in Marinucci’s mouth, a reference to the explosion used to murder the elder Testa.
The Riccobene war
By August 1982, only one man stood in Little Nicky’s way. 70 year-old Harry Riccobene was the leader of a crew that were heavily involved in loan sharking, gambling, vending machines, and methamphetamine distribution. In the old days, the Riccobene faction would send Bruno a cut once a year around Christmas, and they were both content with that arrangement. Harry would have liked to continue the tradition with Little Nicky, but Scarfo wanted a weekly tribute as opposed to a yearly cut and lip service.
Harry the Hunchback balked at Scarfo’s demands, and Little Nicky put contracts out on Harry and his half brothers Sonny and Bobby. Chuckie Merlino began spreading rumors that Harry was an FBI informant; Frank Monte and Nicky came up with a plot to kill Harry. The plan was to persuade Sonny Riccobene who didn’t get along with Harry to set up the Hunchback.
Frank Monte went to Sonny Riccobene and attempted to persuade him to help set up his half brother Harry. But Sonny ran to his half-brother and told him of Scarfo’s intentions. The Riccobenes decided to strike first. Not long after Frank and Sonny’s meeting, Frank Monte was shot dead by a sniper named Joseph Pedulla. Pedulla was a hit man working for Harry Riccobene.
The day of the sentencing for Nicky’s gun conviction came up in August. Little Nicky planned to run things from his prison cell through his beloved nephew Phil Leonetti. In their last meeting, Nicky gave Pasquale “Pat the Cat” Spirito the Bobby Riccobene contract. Nicky received two years in prison for possessing an unlicensed firearm.
Whilst in prison, Nicky passed orders to his new consigliere Nicholas Piccolo and underboss Chuckie Merlino through Phil Leonetti. Salvie Testa took on a large role in running the Family in Scarfo’s absence. Also, he was going to marry Chuckie’s daughter Maria.
Harry Riccobene was making a call in a phone booth to his 23-year-old mistress when he was shot five times by Wayne Grande. Harry survived and attacked Grande, eventually taking his gun away from him. Harry recovered, but it wasn’t long until he would become a target again.
In retaliation, Harry ordered the murder of Salvie Testa, using Victor DeLuca and Joseph Pedulla again. DeLuca and Pedulla drove past a candy store where Salvie sat outside eating raw clams. A shotgun blast from their van hit Testa and almost severed his arm. Testa survived the shooting and his arm fully healed, as well.
Harry was sitting in his car when a man in a jogging suit ran past and opened fire. Harry ducked down under the dash board and the hit man only succeeded in shattering glass. A hit on Frank Martinez also went awry when he somehow survived when Nick “The Crow” Caramandi, Charlie Iannece, and Gino Milano riddled his vehicle with bullets. The media began to call Nicky’s organization the “Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight” which enraged Scarfo.
Drug dealer Robert Hornickle was later killed. When it became apparent that Pat Spirito was “talking treason” about Nicky Scarfo and his friends, he was also marked for death. Spirito was shot in the back of his head twice by Charlie Iannece. Iannece and Caramandi became proposed members after that murder. Riccobene associate Sammy Tamburrino met his end in a candy store at the hands of Scarfo’s hit men.
Little Nicky handpicked the target that would hurt Harry most and made it clear that there was no room for error. Four hit teams, each consisting of three or four hit men, were sent to kill Bobby Riccobene. “Faffy” Iannarella was the hit man who found Riccobene with his mother. Faffy knocked Mrs. Riccobene down with the butt of his gun and then shot Bobby dead with a shotgun as he tried to flee the scene.
Harry’s nephew Enrico Riccobene later shot himself when he thought he was being stalked by Scarfo’s hit men. After these events, Harry Riccobene gave up the war with Scarfo and surrendered his territory and operations to Scarfo’s men. Harry was later convicted of arranging the murder of Frank Monte.
With the war over, Scarfo could relax in his prison cell in Texas and his hit men could turn their attention from killing to making money. At the time, methamphetamine was the drug of choice in Philadelphia. Tommy DelGiorno and Nicky Caramandi began “taxing” drug dealers. In one such case they found meth dealers known as the Renzulli crew from 10th and Carpenter streets. They were importing gallons of P-2-P purposely mislabeled as “oil in from Europe” and using the “oil” to produce methamphetamine. Tommy Del and Nick the Crow “taxed” the Renzulli cousins John A. and John R. $2,000 per every gallon they imported. Salvie Testa began lending money to some drug traffickers in West Philadelphia.
In March 1984 Nicky Scarfo was released from prison and was greeted at the prison gates by his nephew Phil Leonetti who was leading an entourage of young mobsters. Scarfo spent the day partying at a hotel. The next day he flew to Atlantic City where the celebrations continued. Little Nicky was at the height of his power.
Scarfo was the undisputed Boss of the Philly Mob. But the Riccobene war had left him paranoid. When Chuckie Merlino began to complain about Salvie Testa, his paranoia and greed grew worse. Testa had recently broken off the engagement to Merlino’s daughter and Merlino was determined to have Testa killed. He began telling Scarfo that Testa was trying to put together his own criminal organization, that he was using drugs and was going into business with an African-American street gang in West Philly.
Salvatore “Salvie” Testa had virtually led the Philadelphia crime family during the war with the Riccobene faction, for most of the war Little Nicky was in a prison cell in Texas. Salvie had even taken a bullet for Scarfo during the Riccobene war. Salvie survived and nearly lost his arm. Salvie Testa was loyal and the epitome of La Cosa Nostra, his father Phil had taught him well.
Salvie had accomplished more in the last four years than most other mobsters in the Philly Mob. Testa at 28 was a caporegime in the Scarfo Mob. He was a millionaire thanks to a successful real estate deal with Donald Trump. He owned a boat and lived in a mansion. He had great leadership abilities; he was charismatic, confident, popular and loyal.
In April, Scarfo had made up his mind and gave the order that Salvie Testa had to die. Despite the qualities Testa possessed, Scarfo clearly was convinced that he was a major threat to his position. It’s possible that he may have feared a Testa/Merlino alliance and was only too happy to arrange the murder of such a popular and ambitious individual.
Tommy DelGiorno and Faffy Iannarella were put in charge of supervising the Testa murder, Nick Caramandi and Charlie Iannece were going to be the shooters. But it was difficult, Testa was a professional hit man and knew all the tricks of the trade. He was extremely cautious and checked everyone who hugged him for a gun. The job seemed almost impossible and Little Nicky was getting restless.
So Tommy and Faffy brought Salvatore “Wayne” Grande and Joseph “Joey Pung” Pungitore into the conspiracy. Pungitore was Testa’s closest friend and would only go along with the job if he didn’t have to pull the trigger. Wayne Grande on the other hand jumped at the opportunity to put a bullet in Testa.
Joey Pung arranged a meeting with Testa. At that meeting in the back of a candy store Salvie greeted Wayne who was sitting on a couch in the back room. Salvie then turned to talk with Joe Pung; Wayne took out a gun from under the cushions on the couch and shot Testa in the back of his head. Wayne stood up to shoot Testa once more. Nicky the Crow, Charlie Iannece and Joe Grande helped clean up the scene and get Testa’s corpse out of the store. Salvie’s hogtied remains were found at the side of a dirt road in Gloucester Township, New Jersey.
Nicky Scarfo had Nick Caramandi, Charlie Iannece and Joe Grande made official members. He promoted Tommy Del and Faffy to acting Capos. Wayne Grande was given 25% of Testa’s business and Nicky took a third of the profits made by a major bookmaking operation Testa had put together with DelGiorno and Pungitore.
Mayor Matthews and Lentino were indicted for corruption. Matthews received 15 years in federal prison. In 1984, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission removed Grande from his position at Local 54. Scarfo escaped charge for his labor racketeering activities. Nicky soon had a new friend in City Hall and business resumed as usual.
That same year Nicky and Phil Leonetti used Nick Caramandi and Charlie Iannece to cheat two casinos in Atlantic City out of $2.7 million. By now Nicky was getting a reputation for greediness. He began to divide his time between Fort Lauderdale and Atlantic City, but began to spend much less time in Philadelphia.
By 1985 Little Nicky was a target of the New Jersey State Police in a major gambling investigation. But their wiretaps were useless because Nicky never talked business on the phone and very rarely in his home. He preferred face-to-face conversation in regards to business usually in public places like the boardwalk in Atlantic City.
Frank “JR” Forlini was found dead in his pickup truck near a K-mart in Marple Township, PA. He had been shot five times. Many including Scarfo believed that the killer was Tommy DelGiorno, who had been feuding with Forlini for months over the drug trade.
Nicky Scarfo decided to settle an old problem and send Frankie Flowers D’Alfonso one last message. He put Tommy Del in charge of overseeing the hit. Tommy used the Milano brothers and the Narducci brothers to execute Frankie Flowers. D’Alfonso was beaten with a hammer, shot 5 times and his body was left in the trunk of his car by two hit men who dumped their weapons and fled in a car driven by two other men.
In 1986 Nicky Scarfo’s world began to slowly unravel. His underboss Chuckie Merlino’s drunken behaviour had gone too far, he was arrested for drunk driving and attempting to bribe the cop who pulled him over.
Little Nicky called a meeting of his top associates and at that meeting he stripped Chuckie Merlino of his rank, reducing him to a soldier. Phil Leonetti replaced Merlino as underboss and capo Lawrence “Yogi” Merlino was demoted simply because he was Chuckie’s brother. Nicky then promoted Tommy DelGiorno and Faffy Iannarella to official captains of their crew. Scarfo help with part of Chester County Land Fill With Daniel Rubino. They Made lots of money of the Land fill.
Nick the Crow set up a large drug deal that profited $2 million. Caramandi was also involved in a bookmaking operation that made $60,000 a week and had a sports betting operation that could make up to $300,000 a week during football season. The shakedowns were making $200,000 a year. Caramandi and his friend Charlie Iannece had $500,000 invested in a loan sharking operation. They had made $150,000 from their shark business so far and had made a $375,000 from a methamphetamine deal. And Scarfo got a cut of it all.
Nick Caramandi later estimated that he generated between $5 and $7 million from 1982 until 1986. Scarfo got his cut of everything his soldiers made. Scarfo’s hacienda style mansion in Fort Lauderdale was worth nearly $750,000. He kept $3 million in cash hidden behind a wall.
In June Nick Caramandi was arrested attempting to extort $1 million from Willard Rouse III and had failed to get a penny out of Penn’s Landing. A drug dealer who had been ripped off by members of the DelGiorno/Iannarella crew was threatening to go to war with Scarfo. Now Nicky regretted promoting Tommy Del to capo. So Little Nicky demoted Tommy Del to the rank of soldier and gave Faffy all the responsibility of captain of that crew.
Whilst Nick the Crow was in prison Nicky Scarfo began talking of arranging his murder to avoid indictment himself. But a friend of Nick’s warned him that Scarfo was mad at him. Caramandi became an informant.
Nicky Scarfo was later indicted on extortion charges. But when he listened to the wiretaps the prosecution had made and had given to his defense attorneys he heard the voice of Tommy DelGiorno, belittling him and Phil Leonetti. Scarfo put Tommy Del at the top of his list, but DelGiorno disappeared into the Witness Protection Program and had become an informant.
On May 6, 1987, Scarfo was convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion of the waterfront developer Willard Rouse III. DelGiorno and Caramandi testified against him in court. From his prison cell Scarfo continued to exercise authority over his men. Piccolo and Leonetti began to run things for him as he passed orders to them during visiting time in jail.
Scarfo experienced a brief moment of triumph when he was faced with federal drug conspiracy charges but was later acquitted on December 12, 1987. That moment didn’t last very long at all.
Things got worse as Scarfo was indicted on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges that included drug trafficking, loan sharking, extortion and murder. The murders of Helfant, Cifelli, Falcone, Narducci Sr, Calabrese, Spirito, Tamburrino, Riccobene and Salvatore Testa were among the counts of the indictment. Charges of attempted murder of Riccobene, Martines, Salerno Sr and Vento Jr were also included.
On November 19, 1988, Scarfo was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 45 years in prison. Merlino became an informant and gave damning testimony against him.
In 1989 Leonetti became an informant after being convicted of RICO charges and receiving a 55-year prison term. In February of that same year Piccolo died, but Scarfo continued to run things from prison and promoted his cousin, 78-year-old Anthony “Tony Buck” Piccolo, to acting Boss.
Scarfo’s son Nicky Jr swore that he would find a way to kill Leonetti. But he didn’t and instead had to flee Philadelphia for New Jersey after being shot eight times by Joey Merlino as he sat in Dante & Luigi’s Italian restaurant. Scarfo Jr luckily survived the shooting. Although police never charged anyone with the attempted murder, police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation believed Merlino was behind the shooting to avenge an earlier plot by Scarfo Sr. on Merlino’s father. Another motive for the attempted hit was to send a clear message that neither Scarfo nor his son were in charge of South Philadelphia any longer.
Already serving 14 years imprisonment for extortion and 45 years for violating numerous RICO predicates, on April 5, 1989 Scarfo was convicted in the Courts of Common Pleas of first-degree murder in the 1985 death of rival mobster Frank D’Alfonso, along with six of his lieutenants. Eugene “Gino” Milano, Tommy DelGiorno and Lawrence Merlino testified against him. He was convicted and received another life sentence.
Scarfo managed to keep control through Piccolo, who made sure that Scarfo’s wife Domenica was taken care of and that Mark’s medical bills were paid. But in 1991 Piccolo at the age of 80 stepped down as acting Boss and allowed the Gambinos to install John Stanfa as Boss of the Philadelphia crime family. It’s doubtful that Scarfo would have been able to stop the bosses in New York.
He managed to overturn his life sentence and got transferred to the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta. As of 2012 he is incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Butner, North Carolina. His scheduled release date is January, 2033. At age 103 it is effectively a life sentence.