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