Last Of A Dying Breed No Longer: Philly Mob Button Man Dominic Rugnetta Dead At 97, Was Most Veteran Mafiosi In US

July 30, 2021 – Father Time finally caught up to long-retired Philadelphia mafia soldier Dominic Rugnetta. The 97-year old wiseguy died of natural causes on July 4. He was believed to be the oldest living member of American organized crime before cashing in his chips earlier this month.

Rugnetta’s uncle, Joseph (Joe the Boss) Rugnetta, was the Philly mob’s ornery consigliere in the Bruno Era. He died in 1977.

For years, Dominic Rugnetta owned the South Philly Grill. FBI records indicate he was inducted into the Bruno-Scarfo family as a “made man” way back in the 1950s. Rugnetta retired from mob life some 30 years ago, according to federal records and sources who once did business with Rugnetta’s sports book.

New Jersey mob elder statesmen Joe Miranda is also 97. Miranda reportedly retired 15 years ago.

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“Scarface” Jenkins Scores Probation In Illegal Marijuana Co. Ownership Case, Providence Mobster Won’t Do More Time In Prison

July 30, 2021 – No more bars on the horizon for Providence underworld’s “Scarface.”

New England mob associate Raymond (Scarface) Jenkins will avoid prison time for a local police pinch back in the spring related to his silent ownership in a state-licensed marijuana business out of Rhode Island. The 57-year old Jenkins is linked to the Patriarca crime family’s Providence wing. He copped a plea this week in state court, where he pleaded no contest to a felony perjury charge and received two years probation.

Jenkins is alleged to have helped finance the Organic Bees cannabis cultivation company in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Organic Bees sells various forms of marijuana and CBD products to area medical dispensaries. The state of Rhode Island’s Department of Business Regulations is currently investigating the company and seeking to revoke its license due to the Jenkins situation.

In 2011, Jenkins was busted alongside New England mafia don Luigi (Baby Shacks) Manocchio in a racketeering and extortion case revolving around strip club shakedowns in the Providence area. They both pleaded guilty and did prison time. Jenkins, who was collecting tribute envelopes on behalf of Baby Shacks, did almost three years behind bars and was sprung from the pen in May 2014.

Manocchio, 94, is reportedly retired and the power in the crime family has swung back to Boston in recent years. Jenkins is part of the Patriarca crime family’s North Providence crew, per FBI and Rhode Island State Police documents related to the organization.

Tim White of WPRI TV (CBS 12) in Providence broke the Jenkins story originally in April and then was the first report on the plea deal Thursday. White is Rhode Island’s leading expert on mob activity.

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Free Like A Bird Once Again: No More Federal Oversight For Skinny Joey, Philly Mafia Don Let Off Parole

July 28, 2021 – From his comfy Boca Raton digs, Philadelphia mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino can now go about his business as he wishes with the lifting of all parole restrictions from his 2018 gambling conviction this week. Per three different sources, Skinny Joey threw himself a small party Monday night to celebrate the news.

The swashbuckling, larger-than-life Merlino did one year of prison time, one year of house arrest and one year of supervised release for a gambling bust five years ago out of federal court in New York. His flashbulb-heavy reign atop the rackets in the City of Brotherly Love has made him a household name in Philly, akin to a sports celebrity, popular movie actor or chart-topping musical artist.

Merlino’s trial on racketeering and sports betting charges ended in a mistrial and he copped to a single gambling count to avoid going back in front of a jury. Skinny Joey relocated to South Florida in 2011 after serving 12 years on a separate federal racketeering case from his days living in South Philly. Merlino, 59, was convicted in that case exactly 20 years ago this week, on July 20, 2001.

According to the FBI, Merlino and his crew of equally media-savvy boyhood pals took power by force in Philly’s Bruno-Scarfo crime family in the 1990s when they were just in their early thirties and still run the city’s Italian underworld today. Merlino, per the feds, runs his organization through a series of proxies and buffers, shuffling back and forth between Philly and Boca Raton.

FoxPhilly29 and Mob Talk Sitdown’s Dave Schratwieser was the first to break the news of Merlino’s pending parole lift earlier this month on one of his and NY Times Best-Selling author George Anastasia’s Mob Talk Sitdown video segments. Merlino is expected to be visiting South Philly and taking a vacation to the Jersey Shore in the coming weeks, according to multiple people in contact with Skinny Joey himself.

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Last Don Standing Natale Told Feds That “Mikey Lance” Was Involved In Two Hits In 90s Philly Mob War

July 26, 2021 – Deposed Philly mafia don Ralph Natale implicated notoriously cagey reputed Bruno-Scarfo crime family street boss Michael (Mikey Lance) Lancellotti in the Ciancaglini-Veasey brothers blood feud from the 1990s in his debriefings with the FBI and in bombshell testimony at the headline-grabbing 2001 Philly mob racketeering and murder trial. The now nearly blind 86-year old Natale, who became the first sitting American mafia boss to become a cooperating witness for the government, even pointed to Lancellotti in open court and told jurors Mikey Lance was a back-up shooter in the 1995 gangland slaying of mob associate Billy Veasey.

On the morning of October 5, 1995, Veasey was gunned down behind the wheel of his blue-and-green colored GMC Jimmy SUV by two masked assailants a half-block from his rowhouse near Oregon Avenue on his way to get his usual cup of morning coffee at Dunkin Donuts. Veasey’s younger brother “John-John,” a cowboy mob enforcer for former Philly mob boss John Stanfa, had recently cut a deal with the FBI and was set to testify later that day at Stanfa’s racketeering and murder trial.

But his slaying had nothing to do with the Stanfa trial. It was much more personal.

Twenty years ago this week, more than a half-dozen Philly mobsters were acquitted on murder charges, including the Veasey hit, but convicted on racketeering counts in federal court to bring an end to one of the City of Brotherly Love’s most memorable and talked-about criminal trials in memory. Mikey Lance was only a spectator at the trial, not an active participant at the defense table.

Lancellotti, 59, has a relatively clean criminal record, never having been found guilty of any racketeering offenses, nor ever charged in any homicides. He took an assault pinch in 2004 and was indicted in a federal racketeering and gambling case out of New Jersey in 2008 that he would soon be dropped as a co-defendant in and cleared of any charges.

These days, federal authorities consider Mikey Lance the Philly mob’s street boss, running day-to-day affairs of the organization on behalf of two of his close friends, longtime reputed don Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino, who lives in South Florida, and Merlino’s alleged acting boss George (Georgie Boy) Borgesi. Merlino inducted Lancellotti into the Bruno-Scarfo crime family in the 1990s, per FBI records. Lancellotti was promoted to a capo post in the 2000s and given control of large swaths of racket territory in South Philadelphia and Atlantic City, according to these records.

Merlino brought Lancellotti with him to a Christmas party thrown by leaders of the Genovese crime family in New York at a Bronx Italian eatery in December 2014 and introduced him to attendees as the “guy running Philly now,” court documents related to a Merlino gambling case show. While Merlino, 59, is known for living life large and loud, Lancellotti’s reputation on the street is for being quiet, reserved and understated, not saying much, if anything, to people he hasn’t known for most, if not all, of his life.

According to people present at the Genovese Christmas bash, Genovese mobsters were initially offended by Lancellotti’s standoffish nature in conversations, feeling as if he was being disrespectful by not engaging, until Merlino explained to them the situation and smoothed things over. In the months that followed, Lancellotti was given permission to “make” soldiers into the Bruno-Scarfo crime family and an October 2015 mafia induction ceremony he presided over and a subsequent celebratory meal at a New Jersey restaurant were taped by the feds.

Lancellotti’s loyalty to Merlino has served him well and stood the test of time. If you believe court testimony and FBI informant files, Mikey Lance fought on the frontlines of a shooting war Merlino launched in the 1990s for power in the Philly mob against John Stanfa, an old-world Sicilian backed by New York’s Gambino crime family. From that shooting war, a blood feud between the Ciancaglini brothers and the Veasey brothers erupted and Lancellotti found himself pulled into the fray due to his connection to the Ciancaglinis.

The “Changs” in Philadelphia are a genuine mob brand dating back to the 1960s. Joseph (Chickie) Ciancaglini, Sr. and Skinny Joey Merlino’s dad, Salvatore (Chuckie) Merlino, came up in the Philly mob during the Bruno Era and then were leaders of the crime family in the Scarfo Era of the 1980s, when Merlino and Chickie’s three sons, “Mikey Chang,” “Joey Chang” and “Johnny Chang,” were young mob gofers.

Merlino and Mikey Chang were childhood best friends. Upon their dads being sent to prison, Skinny Joey and Mikey Chang, still just in their late 20s, decided to try to unseat the city’s new Godfather, the out-of-touch Stanfa, and take power for themselves by knocking off the sitting regime in a coup. The unrest was encouraged and co-signed by an imprisoned Ralph Natale, like their fathers, a man who traced his mob roots to the Bruno regime and saw Skinny Joey as his way to the throne. Merlino and Natale had been cellmates in prison and plotted to overthrow Stanfa as soon as Merlino got out of the can and rounded up his crew of likeminded baby mob rebels.

Mikey Lance was a trusted and valued part of that crew. Merlino, Mikey Chang, Mikey Lance and others in their inner circle would take pilgrimages to see and receive counsel from Natale in the prison yard at the very height of the Stanfa war throughout much of 1992 and 1993, per federal prison visitor logs. The night Natale was released from his 16-year stay behind bars on arson and drug charges in September 1994, Lancelotti was part of Natale’s homecoming committee, getting him from the prison gate to situated in his new posh penthouse apartment overlooking the Delaware River in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

Mikey Chang wasn’t at Natale’s homecoming party. He was dead, killed a year earlier in the mob war he and Skinny Joey had ignited with their bold ambition and heavy-artillery power play. Ciancaglini was shot down by Stanfa gunmen in a passing car as he walked across the street outside his South Philly clubhouse hangout on the afternoon of August 5, 1993. Merlino was wounded in the attack in which John (John-John) Veasey would eventually admit to being the triggerman in.

With their father away in the pen and their most level-headed brother finishing out a prison sentence of his own, two of the Ciancaglini brothers wound up on opposite sides of the Stanfa-Merlino power struggle. While Mikey Chang was Skinny Joey’s No. 2 man, his older brother, Joey Chang, sided with Stanfa and was named Stanfa’s underboss. The two rival brothers had been trying to kill each other for well more than a year when Mikey Chang was gunned down. Joey Chang was permanently handicapped in an early-morning March, 2, 1993 assassination attempt inside his Warfield Express Diner headquarters in the only mob-hit-in-progress ever captured on FBI surveillance video from a camera planted on top of a light post in the parking lot.

According to Natale’s debriefings with the FBI, Mikey Lance took part in the Warfield Express Diner hit; Natale pegged Lancellotti as the getaway driver for the hit team. He also connected Lancellotti to the Billy Veasey murder as a back-up shooter. Per Natale’s debriefing documents and court testimony, Johnny Chang was the triggerman in the Billy Veasey slaying in a macabre “brother for a brother” double murder scenario.

Johnny Chang was acquitted of killing the 34-year old Veasey, who had stayed neutral in the Stanfa war and tried pulling his baby brother from the eye of the storm on multiple occasions, at the 2001 trial. John-John Veasey wrote a book titled The Hitman (released in 2014) and is reportedly living in the Witness Protection Program working as a car salesman. In recent years, Veasey returned to South Philly and reportedly began harassing Johnny Chang and his wife, telling them he still wanted vengeance for his brother’s death.

Stanfa, 80, is currently doing life in prison for racketeering and murder. Hours following his brother’s slaying in the fall of 1995, a more-resolute-than-ever John-John Veasey took the witness stand and gave a riveting and raw account of life as Stanfa’s top enforcer and how he went from a construction worker to a mob soldier in a matter of weeks. John-John Veasey survived a 1994 hit ordered by Stanfa where he was shot in the back of the head in a South Philly apartment, but nonetheless able to fight off his assailants and flee for help.

Natale’s testimony regarding the murders he ordered during his reign as boss was paper thin and proved unworthy of guilty verdicts. Rumors have long swirled that the Merlino camp intentionally fed Natale false information on the specifics of homicides they were carrying out in case he ever turned on them. His cooperation deal with the government began being hammered out in 1998 as he was being forced from power by Merlino after a parole violation put him behind bars.

In 2017, Natale penned the memoir, The Last Don Standing, with Dan Pearson and New York mob reporter Larry McShane. Filmmaker Benny Boom (All Eyez On Me), a Philly native, is developing a scripted drama based on Natale’s life.

This article was originally posted here

The Drop Is Nearby & Booming: BMF TV Show Gets Debut Date, 50 Cent-Helmed Project To Premiere This September

July 22, 2021 — The date is finally set. The definitive story of BMF will hit television screens in just two months.

The Black Mafia Family scripted television drama will make his much-anticipated premiere on September 26 on the Starz cable network. Red-hot on the heels of his Power franchise, rapper and actor 50 Cent is executive producing the BMF show, which chronicles the real-life rags to riches story of Detroit drug bosses Demetrious (Big Meech) Flenory and Terry (Southwest T) Flenory. The Flenorys rose from humble beginnings in the Motor City during the crack era to rule the American cocaine trade in the first half of the 2000s, their BMF crew influencing culture in a way and at a level that no criminal group had ever done.

Power is Starz’s signature scripted property and has spawned two spinoffs and a frenzied fanbase. 50 Cent brought along much of the team behind Power to the BMF show, headlined by Randy Huggins, a native Detroiter, who is show-running the series following crafting storylines for Power, a fictional gangland drama centered around a New York drug kingpin named “Ghost.̶

The BMF series has been in production in Detroit and Atlanta since the winter. Aspiring rapper Demetrius (Lil’ Meech) Flenory, Jr. is playing his dad, the iconic “Big Meech.” Rapper and actor Da’Vinchi plays Big Meech’s little brother, “Southwest T.” Veteran character actors Russell Hornsby and Michole Briana White are cast the Flenorys parents, Charles and Lucille.

Snoop Dogg will play a recurring role on the series as a shady, but charismatic church leader. Rumors have swirled that the King of Detroit hip hop, Eminem, makes a cameo in the show’s first season as well. The Queen of Detroit’s rap scene, Kash Doll, is making her acting debut in the series as paralegal in a high-powered criminal defense law firm engaged in a romantic affair with Big Meech.

The Flenory brothers launched their “Black Mafia Family” in Detroit in 1990 and by the end of the decade had expanded throughout the country. At the time of the Flenorys arrest in 2005, BMF operated franchises in 23 different states, with Big Meech stationed in Atlanta and Southwest T living in L.A. and overseeing affairs in Michigan from afar. Their social strata included celebrities, actors, musicians of all kinds and their entire organization became famous for its lavish partying. Big Meech commissioned billboards put up along I-75, the expressway running from Detroit to Atlanta, advertising BMF as a brand and music label.

Both Flenory brothers copped pleas and received 30-year federal prison terms for heading a drug trafficking conspiracy. Southwest T, 50, walked free last spring from a compassionate release relegating him to serving the remainder of his sentence under home confinement. Big Meech, 52, is serving his time in a Oregon correctional facility and isn’t scheduled for release until October 2027.

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Italy arrests 16 Sicilian Greco clan mafia members

An operation by Palermo’s District Antimafia Directorate (DDA), in collaboration with the police and Carabinieri, has brought the arrest of 16 men, for crimes of mafia association and extortion.

The investigation has also revealed much about the inner workings of the Greco, Roccella and Brancaccio clans of the Sicilian mafia.  They also showed that much of Palermo, in particular the Brancaccio-Ciaculli neighborhood, is still under the control of Cosa Nostra.

“We have identified the leaders of the Brancaccio-Ciaculli clan, one of the most fierce and historic organizations in Palermo,” said General Arturo Guarino, Provincial commander of the Carabinieri. “We have identified the leader, his supporters and the extortion activities that they carried out in the city. Relations with the other families of the clan and with foreign organisations, especially in the United States of America, a further blow to Cosa Nostra that emphasizes the will of the Carabinieri to give them no respite.”

Among those arrested were Giovanni Di Lisciandro and Stefano Nolano, head of the Roccella family. The two bosses operated a widespread system of extortion, without any resistance from the business owners who never turned to law enforcement.

Supermarkets, auto-shops, butchers, bars, clubs, pharmacies, bakeries, construction companies and car dealerships were all targeted amounting to a total of 50 episodes extortion, with no complaints ever being made to the police. Even during the lockdown the few shops that remained open, no matter how small the business, were forced to pay protection money.

Also arrested were Filippo Marcello Tutino and Girolamo Celesia, heads of the Brancaccio clan. Tutino managed relations between the members of the clan and trained affiliates on how to get the most from traders and businessmen.

The operation also revealed that after the January 2019 arrest of Leandro Greco, a descendent of the Greco clan, one of the most powerful in Sicily for much of the 20th century, power passed to his cousin Giuseppe Greco, known as ‘The Senator’, like his father Salvatore.

Giuseppe dealt with dealings between members of the Brancaccio, Roccella and Corso dei Mille families, advised by the elderly Ignazio Ingrassia. The two organized the purchase and sale of real estate and made agreements with the ‘Ndrangheta for the purchase of cocaine also from the ‘Ndrangheta, the biggest importers in Italy.

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Brooklyn gangster helped friend after escape from Rikers jail barge: feds

A high-ranking Eastern European gangster who terrorized Brooklyn helped a member of his crew escape the city’s floating jail, prosecutors said in a Tuesday court filing.

Roman Nikoghosyan planned to wire money to fellow KavKaz Nation member David Mordukhaev after his July 10 escape from Vernon C. Bain Correctional Facility, a barge near Rikers Island on the East River, prosecutors said.

Nikoghosyan was heard on police wiretaps pushing his own mother to take up the fugitive while he tried to set him up with a car to get out of New York, a memorandum of law from Acting US Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said.

Mordukhaev told Nikoghosyan in a phone call that he used a rope to climb down from the fifth story, then jumped from the barge into the water and swam to shore, the court filing claimed.

The escapee told his friend he “almost died today” and added that authorities “won’t even know I am gone for another week probably,” the filing states.

The new insight into Mordukhaev’s escape came after Nikoghosyan was arrested Thursday morning in California. He will be extradited to New York on extortion charges.

David Mordukhaev, the gang member who escaped from jail on July 10 and was later recaptured.
NYPD
Roman Nikoghosyan tried to help David Mordukhaev after the escape.
U.S. Attorney’s Office

Nikoghosyan, who prosecutors said was known for his strong-arm tactics with KavKav on Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach, was heard on wiretaps trying to get his mother to send $2,000 to the escapee, according to the charges.

He allegedly tried to set up the fugitive with his car by having a doorman at his building give him the key. Later, he called his mother to tell her that Mordukhaev was going to go to her house to rest — a move she was uncomfortable with, prosecutors said.

When his mother said there were cameras in the building, he told her “It doesn’t matter, he will hold his head down.”

Roman Nikoghosyan was allegedly caught on wire taps trying to get his mother to help Mordukhaev after the escape.
U.S. Attorney’s Office

The fugitive was arrested before he made it to the mother’s house, officials said.

KavKaz is an enterprise that engages in drug trafficking, extortion and other crimes, prosecutors claim. The group allegedly has ties to the Caucus region, including Armenia, Uzbekistan and parts of Russia.

In photos included in the court filing, members are shown using a hand signal with their fingers splayed in a “K.” Members say “K-WAY IS THE ONLY WAY,” prosecutors alleged.

The court filing requests to keep Nikoghosyan behind bars pending his trial. His role in the escape is one of several incidents outlined in the memo, including one where he is heard on wiretaps apparently in the midst of beating up someone.

He’s allegedly heard, out of breath telling someone, “You’re gonna die now, n—“ and adding “You’ll suck d—k I’m gonna f—k you,” prosecutors alleged.

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No First Step To Freedom: Gangster Disciples Leader Larry Hoover, Chi. Crime Legend, Doesn’t Get Sentence Relief From Feds

July 20, 2021 – As a last-ditch effort to find freedom, Gangster Disciples boss Larry (The Chief) Hoover tried his hand at the First Step Act and failed. U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber in Chicago recently denied Hoover’s motion for a sentence reduction on his 1996 federal drug conviction.

Authorities believe the 70-year old Hoover is the most powerful African-American crime lord in America. He is housed in the Supermax prison facility in Florence, Colorado, where he is locked up 23 hours a day. Per federal court filings from earlier this year in a case involving other Gangster Disciples, Hoover still has final say in gang affairs on the street.

The First Step Act was signed into legislation by President Donald Trump in 2018 aimed at giving non-violent drug offenders early releases from lengthy prison sentences. Many of Hoover’s lieutenants have received sentence reductions as a result of the First Step Act in the past two years.

Hoover has been incarcerated since 1973 on a state murder case out of Illinois. The Gangster Disciples, a massive street gang empire he helped build, is based in Chicago and boast a national roster of more than 25,000 members. He was moved to a federal prison in the 1990s after he was busted overseeing a drug and racketeering enterprise from his prison cell in Vienna, Illinois.

Attorneys for Hoover hoped a federal sentence reduction from Judge Leinenweber, which would have returned him to state custody to serve the remainder of his time on the William (Pookie) Young slaying, would lead to a parole from the state of Illinois on his 200-year term. Young was kidnapped and murdered on Hoover’s orders in February 1973 for stealing drugs and money from Gangster Disciples coffers.

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Philly Mob Trial Was All The Rage In Summer Of ’01, Bruno-Scarfo Don “Skinny Joey” Beat Murder Raps, Still Did 12 Yrs.

July 19, 2021 – Before things were going viral on social media, the 2001 Philadelphia mafia federal racketeering and murder trial went viral across the Keystone State. Twenty years ago this week, magnetic Philly mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino and his crew were convicted on racketeering counts, but acquitted of multiple gangland slayings tied to infighting in the Bruno-Scarfo crime family capping a two and a half month jury trial that transfixed the public and press alike in the City of Brotherly Love.

The heavily-scrutinized courtroom drama and gavel-to-gavel coverage brought the nearby fictional Sopranos crime family to life for local mob watchers in real-time and sharp color. Some of the alleged violence had Shakespearian elements that further sensationalized the case, brothers attempting to kill each other, childhood best friends turning against each other and a flashy and fearless Skinny Joey Merlino taking over the entire city of Philadelphia by the time he was in his early thirties by defeating an old-school Sicilian don in a blood-soaked shooting war.

Meanwhile, a decade prior to Mob Wives hitting VH1, the Philly mafia-wife and girlfriend brigade was taking centerstage for the region’s tabloids and gossip columnists. Fashion reporters were chronicling the latest gangster chic style trends being worn by the wiseguys and their gal pals every day. Word spread quickly that the co-defendants had set up a schedule of alternating days for their wives and girlfriends to be able to attend the proceedings and not run into one another.

In other worlds, it was a three-ring media circus and captured the imagination of the masses.

“The whole thing, the trial and the surrounding fanfare, was surreal, unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in a courtroom during my days as a reporter,” Mob Talk Sitdown and FoxPhilly29’s Dave Schratwieser said. “There were a lot of boxes checked in terms of why people were so fascinated, you had mobsters, multiple generations of mafia dons, infiltrators, tapes, turncoats and treachery. That’s an enticing mix and people ate it up.”

The stylish 59-year old Merlino did 12 years in prison on the case in which he also beat drug charges. The verdicts came down on July 20, 2001 and all seven co-defendants were convicted on the racketeering counts. According to the FBI, Skinny Joey still leads the crime family today from afar, living in Boca Raton, Florida. Next week, Merlino will get off supervised parole from a recent gambling conviction.

The star witness against Skinny Joey back in 2001 was Ralph Natale, Merlino’s mentor and the first sitting American mafia don to enter the Witness Protection Program. Natale and Merlino were prison cellmates in the early 1990s and plotted their climb to the top of the Philadelphia underworld together from behind bars.

A labor-union racketeer, arsonist and hit man for the Philly mob in the 1960s and 70s, the old-school Natale gave the shoot-first, ask-questions-later young-buck Merlino credibility with the Five Families in New York and Skinny Joey and his crew provided Natale with muscle and moxie on the street. Merlino and his loyalists never got behind Sicilian-born mob boss John Stanfa and went to the mattress instead. By 1994, Stanfa was locked up on racketeering and murder charges and Natale and Merlino were victors in a violent power struggle.

The honeymoon period for the Natale and Merlino partnership was short lived. Within a few years, the animosities between the two began to bubble over, with Merlino and his boys tiring of Natale’s braggadocio and Natale seeking a cooperation agreement with the FBI in the weeks after he was locked up on a parole violation in the summer of 1998. Natale eventually flipped a year later following getting slapped with a narcotics trafficking indictment.

Although Natale admitted to ordering or personally carrying out 11 murders, many of them alleged to have been in tandem with Merlino, his testimony at the 2001 trial linking Merlino and others to the gangland homicides charged proved flimsy – it appeared Merlino kept Natale in the dark about specifics of day-to-day operations in Philly as Natale held court at a New Jersey racetrack. Natale was on the stand for a grueling 14 days, seven days of direct and seven days of what turned out to be a crippling onslaught of cross exams, led by the legendary Philly defense attorney Eddie Jacobs, representing Merlino.

“Ralph took the stand being pumped up by the government as the best witness to ever testify at a racketeering trial, after six days of cross examination, I don’t think there was one person in the court room who believed anything he had to say,” Jacobs told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the end, Natale, 86, did more time behind bars for his role in the Philly mob as a cooperator than Merlino or any of his co-defendants in the case did. His memoir, The Last Don Standing, co-authored by Dan Pearson and Larry McShane of The New York Daily News, was released in 2017 and is in development for a scripted television or film project helmed by Philly’s own Benny Boom.

Besides Natale, federal prosecutors brought to the witness box two high-ranking turncoats in former Bruno-Scarfo crime family capos Ron (Big Ronnie) Previte and Peter (Pete the Crumb) Caprio and a member of Merlino’s crew of soldiers and boyhood friends, Gaetano (Tommy Horsehead) Scafidi. All three gave riveting testimony.

Previte, a one-time police officer in New Jersey, wore a wire for three years on Natale and Merlino. During the Philly mob unrest of the early 1990s, Previte was a bodyguard for John Stanfa. On the stand, Previte testified to doing a cocaine deal on Merlino’s behalf in Boston.

Caprio had been Natale and Merlino’s crew chief in Newark and acted as their liaison to the New York mafia. He admitted to scheming with shot callers in New York’s Five Families – some say in cahoots with Natale from a Witness Protection unit – to kill three Merlino underlings and seize power in the organization for himself. Skinny Joey was already incarcerated in 2000 at the time Caprio was angling to pull off his coup.

Tommy Horsehead changed sides in Merlino’s war with Stanfa and aligned with the out-of-touch Sicilian Godfather against his childhood buddies at the tail end of the conflict. Scafidi, who came from a rich lineage of Philly-NJ mob figures, told jurors he became a witness for the government upon his release from prison on another case fearing the Merlino mob was going to kill him for his betrayal.

Longtime Merlino confidants, George (Georgie Boy) Borgesi, Steven (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone, John (Johnny Chang) Ciancaglini and Marty Angelina all went down in the landmark case. Borgesi, alleged to be Merlino’s current acting boss, was his consigliere at the time of the trial. Mazzone was his underboss and is facing another racketeering case filed late last year highlighted by more made-guy rats and incriminating audio recordings.

Scafidi’s 2001 testimony shed light on the feuding Ciangalini brothers, recounting how “Johnny Chang’s” two siblings, “Joey Chang” and “Mikey Chang” found themselves on opposite sides of the Merlino-Stanfa mob war. “Joey Chang” was permanently injured in a March 1993 assassination attempt in a warehouse district luncheonette (it’s the only attempted mob hit ever caught on surveillance video). He was Stanfa’s underboss.

“Mikey Chang,” Merlino’s capable and ambitious best friend, was murdered in a hail of bullets outside a South Philly clubhouse hangout and died in Skinny Joey’s arms in August of that year. “Johnny Chang” was accused but found not guilty of murdering the brother of the trigger man in “Mikey Chang’s” slaying.

The ultimate authority on Philly mob politics and historical events in the post-Bruno era, New York Times Best-Selling author, George Anastasia, wrote a book with Big Ronnie Previte on the 2001 trial and the events surrounding it titled The Last Gangster (2003). Previte passed away four years ago at age 73.

This article was originally posted here