Philadelphia crime family
In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Founded by Salvatore Sabella
Years active 1911–present
Territory Various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Territory in Atlantic City, South Jersey, and Delaware (as well as Baltimore and Trenton).
Ethnicity Italian, Italian-American
Membership 50 made members approx, 100 associates approx
Criminal activities Extortion, bookmaking, loan-sharking, gambling, racketeering, conspiracy, and murder.
Allies Five Families, Chicago Outfit, Patriarca, Cleveland, and DeCavalcante crime families, as well as the Warlocks, Junior Black Mafia, Mara Salvatrucha and various South Philly Italian-American street gangs
Rivals The K&A Gang, The Pagans, and various other gangs over Philadelphia, including their allies


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Philadelphia crime family

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Joseph Ligambi, the current Boss of the Philadelphia crime family

The Philadelphia crime family, also known as the Scarfo crime family or Bruno crime family, is an Italian American criminal organization based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the most powerful Cosa Nostra families after the Five Families of New York and the Chicago Outfit. The family has been known to hold turf or influence in other nearby areas outside Philadelphia, including Atlantic City, South Jersey, Trenton, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Baltimore, and Newark. The Philadelphia family is notorious for their violence and for being a particularly dysfunctional family, mostly due to having a succession of very violent bosses.Under Angelo Bruno, the family enjoyed its most peaceful and prosperous rein. He was murdered in 1980 and Nicky Scarfo took over. He involved the family in narcotics, which Bruno had refused to do. The 1980s through the 1990s was a bloody reign and nonstop internal warfare took place. Scarfo's tenure saw the murder of over 30 of his own men. Eventually, he and his supporters were put in prison and Joseph Merlino took over. A young and flashy gangster, Merlino shared the personality type of John Gotti and attracted too much attention from the media and law enforcement. He was also put in prison in 2001, and Joseph Ligambi has been trying to stabilize the weakened family as boss ever since.Other powerful members have included mobsters such as Philip "Chicken Man" Testa, Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, Nicholas "The Crow" Caramandi, Salvatore "Salvie" Testa, "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, Phil Leonetti, and Harry Riccobene.


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The beginning
In the early 20th Century, several Italian-American Philadelphia street gangs joined to form what would eventually become the Philadelphia Crime Family. Salvatore Sabella was the first leader of the group that would later bear his name. They busied themselves with bootlegging, extortion, loansharking and illegal gambling, and it was during the Prohibition era that Sabella and his crew were recognized as members of the wider Sicilian crime syndicate of New York and Chicago. Sabella retired in late 1931.

John Avena and Joe Dovi
After Sabella's retirement two of his top lieutenants, John Avena and Joseph Dovi, began a five year war for control of the family. Avena was murdered by members of his own faction on August 17, 1936, and Joseph "Joe Bruno" Dovi became boss of the Philadelphia family.

Dovi had good connections with the Chicago Outfit and the Five Families of New York, and expanded operations to Atlantic City, South Philadelphia and parts of South Jersey. Narcotics, illegal gambling, loansharking and extortion activities provided the family's income, and connections to the Genovese and Gambino crime families grew throughout the 1930s and early 1940s.

On October 22, 1946 Dovi died of natural causes at a New York City hospital, and Joseph "Joe" Ida was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family and its rackets.

Influenced by Vito Genovese
Joseph "Joe" Ida ran the family throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Ida and the Philadelphia organization were heavily influenced by the bosses of the Five Families, especially the Genovese crime family, which sought to control both families as Vito Genovese, Underboss of the Genovese crime family assumed control in 1956 after the shooting of former boss Frank Costello, who subsequently retired due to illness. As the Philadelphia family gained more power in Atlantic City and South Jersey, they were viewed as a large faction of the Genovese crime family. Ida and his Underboss Dominick Olivetto were present during the 1957 Apalachin Convention with roughly 100 other top mobsters. It was around this time that Philadelphia separated from the Genovese crime family, and were given a seat in the national Mafia body, The Commission. The meeting was raided by US law enforcement and over 60 mafioso were arrested and indicted for association with known organized crime members. Ida was named in the indictment and fled to Sicily not long after the meeting, leaving Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina as Acting boss in Ida's absence.

The Gentle Don
After Ida retired in 1959, and Pollina was demoted, Angelo "Gino" Bruno, nicknamed "The Gentle Don", was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family. Bruno, the first boss of Philadelphia with a seat at the Commission, gained much respect in the underworld and was soon to be seen as the most powerful Mafia boss outside the New York and Chicago area, as he expanded the family's profit and operations in lucrative Atlantic City, which had now became known as the Philadelphia family's turf. Bruno himself avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and outbursts of violence that plagued other crime families, as well as avoiding lengthy prison terms despite several arrests; his longest term was two years for refusing to testify to a Grand Jury. In addition, Bruno did not allow his family to deal in narcotics, or to be in any part of the drug trafficking that led to Vito Genovese's 15 year prison-sentence in 1959. Apparently, Bruno preferred more traditional operations like labor racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking and loansharking. During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.

Philadelphia Mafia War
Bruno held complete power over his family for two decades, but the offroad navigation of the narcotics operations, that many factions below him thought they should have a piece of, eroded his support. Additionally, he allowed the Five Families to work in Atlantic City after it turned into a gambling mecca. Atlantic City had long been recognized as part of the Philadelphia family's domain, but the New York families thought that Atlantic City, like Las Vegas, was too lucrative for one family to get all of the action. However, under the rules of the Mafia, a family couldn't set up shop in another family's territory without permission and Bruno gave in.

On March 21, 1980, the sixty-nine-year-old Angelo Bruno was killed by a shotgun blast to the back of the head as he sat in his car. It is believed that Bruno's Consigliere, Anthony Caponigro, ordered his murder. Caponigro was apparently ready to step up, but he was killed by Vincent Gigante's crew and stuffed in a body bag in New York. About $300 in bills were jammed in his mouth and anus. It was alleged that the Commission ordered his murder because Caponigro had assassinated a family boss, and a member of the Commission, without their sanction. After Caponigro's murder, various short-lived leaders were to run the family. Philip 'Chicken Man' Testa led the family for about one year, but was killed by a nail bomb at his home on March 15, 1981. The roofing nails in the bomb were to make it appear that it was retaliation by the Irish Mob for the killing of union president John McCullough. After taking over as Boss, Nicky Scarfo had the real conspirators, Frank Narducci and Rocco Marinucci, murdered for the unsanctioned hit. Testa's death resulted from an attempt by Peter Casella, Testa's reputed Underboss, to become the Boss of the Philadelphia family.

In the aftermath of Bruno's murder, many crime families across the country, including the Five Families, the Chicago Outfit, and the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family, mediated between the rival factions and took advantage of the situation. This included, among other things, the rackets in Atlantic City, of which the Genovese crime family eventually took large parts. The relations between the Philadelphia and the New York families eventually declined, and their seat at the powerful Commission was eventually taken from them in the 1980s.

Testa's killing spawned a string of intra-family wars that lasted until 1995. Testa's son, Salvatore Testa, became a rising star in the Philadelphia family. A few months after Testa's death, Scarfo, his successor, made Salvatore a caporegime.

Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, a powerful leader of the Atlantic City faction, had risen to become the full Boss of the Bruno family, which became known as the Scarfo family, and promoted his cousin Anthony Piccolo to Consigliere and later his nephew Phil Leonetti to family Underboss. Scarfo, a mobster quite different from Angelo Bruno, cut a deal with the Five Families of New York that allowed them a piece of the action in Atlantic City while keeping a significant slice for himself aiming to keep the partnership between Philadelphia and New York working. However, Scarfo was also known for being ruthless and organized the murders of at least 30 members in his own family, either because they were suspected rivals or even potential informants. During his bloody regime of the 1980s, reputed captain John Gotti of the Gambino crime family organized the shooting of his Boss Paul Castellano and his driver in 1985, leaving Gotti as the new Boss of the powerful Gambino crime family of New York. Scarfo was a close ally of Gotti during the time, and hoped Gotti would bring them back into the Commission in New York. However, Gotti had murdered his Boss without the approval of the other families and rival Genovese crime family Boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante conspired with Lucchese crime family leaders Vittorio "Vic" Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso to murder Gotti. A 1986 attempt on Gotti's life instead killed his Underboss Frank DeCicco. As Gotti's enemies conspired in the late 1980s, Scarfo's relations with New York lapsed. Scarfo and Gotti would soon become enemies.

US authorities had been investigating the Philadelphia crime family since the late 1970s, and many members of the family, including Scarfo, were charged with racketeering, illegal gambling, loansharking, extortion, drug trafficking, and murder. At the end of 1989, twenty members of Scarfo's organization were serving lengthy prison sentences, and another ten were on trial. To make matters worse, five members of the family had turned state's evidence against Scarfo: soldiers Nicholas Caramandi and Eugene Milano, reputed capos Thomas DelGiorno and Lawrence Merlino, and worst of all, Underboss and nephew Phil Leonetti. On April 5, 1989, Scarfo was convicted in Common Pleas Court of first degree murder in the 1985 death of rival mobster Frank D'Alfonso, along with six of his lieutenants. Scarfo, who had already been sentenced to 15 years in prison on extortion and conspiracy charges, was sentenced to life imprisonment the following day.

Later that same year, Scarfo's son Nicodemo Scarfo, Jr. was shot and wounded in a South Philadelphia Italian restaurant. Some reports suspect Joey Merlino of being Scarfo Jr.'s assailant. Fearing his rivals had sanctioned his son's murder, Scarfo had him inducted into the Lucchese crime family in 1990 to provide protection. Scarfo's cousin Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo became the acting boss of the family from the time Scarfo was arrested until the early 1990s. In the early 1990s mobster Giovanni "John" Stanfa was then promoted to official boss, but his reign ended in 1995 after a two year war with Joseph Merlino in an attempt to gain the family's control. Several murder charges resulted in Stanfa being sentenced to five consecutive life sentences in 1995. Ralph Natale, a former Bruno associate and ally of Merlino, took over as boss upon Stanfa's conviction. In a move that remains controversial today, Natale was inducted into Cosa Nostra by Joey Merlino, who was at the time just a soldier in the Philadelphia crime family. Natale immediately took over the title of boss on the same day as his induction.

Ralph Natale eventually became a government witness after he was arrested for running the Philadelphia and South Jersey rackets. After years of being plagued with internal power struggles, informants and federal indictments Joey Merlino took over as boss of the family in the late 1990s with Steven Mazzone holding the title of underboss and George Borgesi as consigliere. However, the entire administration was imprisoned soon after, passing leadership to acting boss Joseph Ligambi, who is Borgesi's uncle.

The rise of Ligambi
Ligambi, who took over as the official boss in 2001, has stabilized the family, increased membership, but more importantly has restored relations with the New York families. He has had to contend with the damage Merlino had done to the family's relationship with illegal bookmakers, who refused to do business with the Philadelphia crime family because Merlino would make huge bets, then never paid when he lost. The family currently consists of approximately 60 made men, half of which are incarcerated, in addition to approximately 100 associates. Around a dozen made men will be released from prison in the following years, filling the ranks. Many of these men were young players who fell victim to the unstable Scarfo and Merlino eras, and are now middle-aged. Much of the Philadelphia family's earnings come from illegal poker machines. Ligambi is now considered, by the FBI and the New York families, the indefinite godfather of the Philadelphia Mafia. In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintains a low profile, and is more interested in making money, not headlines. He has named Anthony Staino, his closest and most loyal associate, as his underboss.

Ligambi has created a tight-knit group around the family's new leadership, rarely conducting business without going through intermediaries, thereby insulating himself from law enforcement scrutiny. His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters such as Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Gateon Lucibello, and Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. Recently released Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steven Mazzone have also appeared to have fallen in line behind Ligambi. What role Merlino will have, if any, when he his parole restrictions expire is still unknown. Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and is required to serve six months in a halfway house in Florida.

On May 23, 2011, Ligambi and 12 other top members of the crime family were indicited by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking. No murder or violent crimes were alleged. Two mobsters not arrested or on probabtion have been listed as candidates to become acting boss if Ligambi goes to prison. Ligambi has supported John Ciancaglini for acting boss while Merlino (whose still in a halfway house in Florida) has supported Steve Mazzone. Another theory is that they will both run the organization while Merlino gives orders from Flordia.

Current leaders and membership

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In September 2009, it was reported by George Anastasia that Joseph Ligambi was boss, Marty Angelina was serving as acting underboss, Anthony Staino was a capo running South Jersey, and Michael Lancelotti was a capo running Philadelphia.

  • Boss - Joseph Ligambi
  • Underboss - Joseph Massimino - Old school mobster, close associate of Ligambi. Was Acting Underboss before his imprisonment in 2004, has since been released. Has been arrested 34 times and spent more than 20 years in prison.
  • Consigliere - George Borgesi - Ligambi's nephew who is currently imprisoned until July 3, 2012. His relationship with Ligambi is said to be strained.


  • Anthony Staino - crew leader in charge of South Jersey. Has also been listed has the #2 man in the family. He is Ligambi's closest and most trusted man. Has never been convicted of a crime.
  • Michael Lancelotti - crew leader in charge of Philadelphia
  • Joseph Licata - North Jersey crew leader

Merlino faction

  • Marty Angelina - Former acting underboss. Was a Joey Merlino faction leader. Was elevated to acting underboss to appease former Merlino faction.
  • Steve Mazzone - Former underboss of Joey Merlino. Is off of probabtion and maintains a low profile.

Historical leadership of the Philadelphia family

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Bosses (official and acting)

  • 1911–1931 — Salvatore Sabella (retired) (died of natural causes in 1962)
  • 1931–1936 — John "Nazzone/Big Nose" Avena (killed August 17, 1936)
  • 1936–1946 — Joseph "Joe Bruno" Dovi (died October 22, 1946 of natural causes in New York hospital)
  • 1946–1959 — Joseph "Joe" Ida (deported 1958)
    • Acting 1958–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina (deposed by commission)
  • 1959–1980 — Angelo "Gentle Don" Bruno (killed) (1911–1980) (killed March 21, 1980 by shotgun blast)
  • 1980–1981 — Philip "Chickenman" Testa (killed) (1924–1981) (killed March 15, 1981 by bomb blast)
  • 1981–1991 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo (Jailed for Life)
    • Acting 1982–1984 — Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (Promoted to Acting Boss while Scarfo was away on weapon charges)
    • Acting 1987–1991 — Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo (Acting Boss for remainder of Scarfo's reign)
  • 1991–1994 — Giovanni "John" Stanfa (Jailed for Life)
  • 1994–2001 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino (was the Actual Boss under figurehead of Ralph Natale; Deposed by Commission in 2001)
    • Front Boss 1994–1999 — Ralph Natale (was the figurehead Boss, jailed 1998, defected 1999)
    • Acting 1999–2001 — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (was Acting Boss for remainder of Merlino's reign)
  • 2001–present — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi

Underbosses (official and acting)
  • 1946–1956 — Marco Reginelli (Died)
  • 1956–1957 — Dominick Olivetto (Retired)
  • 1957–1959 — Antonio "Mr. Migs" Pollina (Became "Acting Boss)
  • 1959–1970 — Ignazio "Natz" Denaro (Died)
  • 1970–1980 — Philip "Chickenman" Testa (Became Boss)
  • 1980–1981 — Peter "Petey" Casella (Deposed by Mafia Commission)
  • 1981–1986 — Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino (Demoted)
    • Acting 1982–1984 — Salvatore "Salvie Testa (Served as Acting Underboss after Merlino was promoted to Acting Boss)
  • 1986–1989 — Phillip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti (Became Government Informant)
  • 1989–1990 — Pasquale "Patty Specs" Martirano (Died)
  • 1991–1994 — Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini Jr. (Shot, incapacitated)
    • Acting 1992–1994 — Frank Martines (Promoted to Acting Underboss after Ciancaglini was shot)
  • 1994–1999 — Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino (Became Boss)
  • 1999–2004 — Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone (imprisoned 2001, Deposed by Commission)
    • Acting 1999 — Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (became Acting Boss)
    • Acting 2000–2004 — Joseph "Mousie" Massimino (Served as Acting Underboss after Mazzone was indicted)
  • 2004–present — Joseph "Mousie" Massimino (imprisoned June 2004-2010)
    • Acting 2007–2010 — Martin "Marty" Angelina (Promoted to Acting Underboss to appease Merlino's loyalists)
    • Acting 2010–present — Anthony Staino

Consiglieres (official and acting)
  • 1947–1977 — Guiseppe "Joe the Boss" Rugnetta (Died)
  • 1977–1980 — Antonio "Tony Bananas" Caponigro (Murdered by Commission)
  • 1980–1981 — Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo (Became Boss)
  • 1981–1982 — Frank Monte (Murdered by Riccobene faction)
  • 1982–1989 — Nicholas "Nicky Buck" Piccolo (Died)
    • Acting 1984–1987 — Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo (Promoted to Acting Consigliere because of "Nicky Buck's" health)
  • 1991–1994 — Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo (Imprisoned for Life)
  • 1994–1996 — Ronald "Ronnie" Turchi (Demoted) (Murdered 1999)
  • 1996–1999 — Steven "Handsome Stevie" Mazzone (Promoted to Underboss)
  • 1999–present — George "Freckles" Borgesi (Currently imprisoned until 2012)
    • Acting 2001–2004 — Joseph "Joe Crutch" Curro (Acting Consigliere during Borgesi's incarcernation) (Died)
    • Acting 2004–present — Gaeton Lucibello (Rumored to be current Acting Consigliere)

See also

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  • South Philadelphia
  • Italian Market (Philadelphia)
  • Bella Vista, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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