The Bruno/Scarfo family of La Cosa Nostra
came into existence along with most of the other
LCN groups in 1931. With 55 members and 250
associates, the group is believed to have experienced little growth in membership since its inception. The majority of its members and associates
live and operate in South Philadelphia, and in the
"Down Neck" section of Newark. Additionally,
there are a few members in Trenton, as well as in
some areas of southern New Jersey. Beyond this
concentration of membership, the group has a small
contingent conducting business in Delaware and
some gambling operatives in New York City.
Historically known for its stability, the family has been transformed during the last decade into a group marred by violence and discord. With the murder of boss Angelo Bruno in 1980, the family began a decade of decline fueled by murders and prosecutions of key members. Bruno's short-lived successor, Philip Testa, was replaced by the now notorious Nicodemo Scarfo. Unlike Bruno, Scarfo's propensity for violence became his primary method of maintaining discipline in the family. Since taking over, Scarfo has been responsible for committing or ordering numerous murders, along with several failed murder attempts. As a result of Scarfo's indiscriminate use of violence, he has been convicted of several crimes including murder and will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Although Scarfo's mismanagement of the group has largely accounted for its decline, at least five high level family members charged with him and facing long prison terms have violated the LCN's traditional code of silence and are cooperating with law enforcement. These five are Philip Leonetti, Scarfo's nephew and family underboss; Thomas DelGiorno and Lawrence Merlino, both capos; Nicholas Caramandi and Eugene Milano, both soldiers. The five are believed to be talking not just about family run rackets but about LCN traditions and practices. For example, during underboss Leonetti's testimony, he confirmed that in the early years there was an LCN ruling commission that always included the bosses of the five New York families as well as the Chicago and Philadelphia families. As Leonetti said, "It's our Supreme Court."
As of the end of 1989, a total of 20 members of Scarfo's organization were in prison for lengthy terms, while an additional 10 were under indictment or awaiting grand jury action. As those cooperating with law enforcement testify, it is likely that these numbers will grow quickly. Adding to the already bleak future for this group is the fact that the average age of those members not presently in jail is 68. Most of these are men whose current criminal activity is minimal and who might be reluctant to risk increasing involvement.
Individuals presently holding upper echelon positions have also had legal problems. The family's acting boss is Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo, who was elevated by Scarfo when it became apparent that he would never be a free man again. This appointment by Scarfo is apparently little more than a continuation of his reign, as Piccolo is Scarfo's first cousin. Moreover, the fact that Scarfo was able to designate his successor without challenge is an indication that he still runs the family.
Piccolo, however, is hampered in leading the family in an open and aggressive fashion because he is on probation for a 1987 mail fraud conviction for commercial bribery and he must meet covertly with his subordinates. The remainder of the organization's hierarchy has also been weakened. The positions of both underboss and consigliere are believed to be vacant. Three of the family's four caporegimes are Joseph A. Ciancaglini and Francis Iannarella Jr., both of South Philadelphia, and Santo Idone of Delaware County, Pennsylvania and St. Petersburg, Florida. Pasquale Martirano of Westfield, New Jersey, who had been a fugitive from a state grand jury indictment, died of natural causes in August, 1990. He was the caporegime leading the northern New Jersey faction. All three surviving capos have legal problems. Ciancaglini and Iannarella are incarcerated and may never see freedom. Santo Idone was recently convicted in federal court.
As for the rest of the membership, there are signs of friction between Scarfo's son, Nicodemo Jr., and Joseph S. Merlino, the son of former under-boss Salvatore Merlino. Both fathers were at odds prior to their incarceration, the ill will stemming from the elder Scarfo's demotion of Merlino from underboss to soldier. Scarfo later discussed plans to have Merlino murdered but that killing never occurred. The feud between young Scarfo and Joseph Merlino is thought to be a continuation of their fathers' falling out. On Halloween night, 1989, a masked gunman made an attempt on young Scarfo's life while he dined in a South Philadelphia restaurant. Although he was wounded several times, Scarfo was released from the hospital just one week after the incident. Joseph Merlino is considered a suspect in this assault.
Members of the Bruno/Scarfo organization have always maintained friendly relationships with other LCN groups from New York and Pennsylvania. In addition, some of the younger members have followed the example of their elders, adapting to changing local criminal markets by forming liaisons with non-LCN criminal groups. For example, Joseph Merlino and his associates have been observed meeting with members of the Philadelphia-based Junior Black Mafia, commonly known as the JBM, which is comprised of young, violent African-American males who specialize in the distribution of cocaine.
Other members and associates who are in- volved in illicit gambling have long maintained a business relationship with African-American gambling operatives in Philadelphia. Indications are that this business relationship is mutually beneficial to both groups and that African-American gambling enterprises, contrary to popular belief, generally are not subservient to La Cosa Nostra in the Philadelphia-New Jersey area. This relationship involves primarily the "layoff' of heavily played bets between high level gambling operatives of the Bruno/ Scarfo Organization and African-American groups, and the groups simply co-exist on the street level. Additionally, information gleaned as a result of a 1988 gambling arrest of Trenton-based member Joseph J. Costello and his brother Charles suggests that a mutually beneficial business relationship exists between the Costellos and some African-American gambling operatives in Trenton.
The criminal activities that have sustained the Bruno/Scarfo organization throughout its history include labor racketeering, political corruption, illicit gambling, extortion, loansharking, manufacture and distribution of drugs, money laundering, assault, homicide, bribery, mail fraud, prostitution, theft, hijacking and liquor law violations (fronts). According to capo-turned-informant Thomas DelGiorno, the primary activity for the group has been and continues to be illegal gambling although a considerable amount of income is also derived from offenses such as loansharking, extortion and narcotics.
The organization has also gained some notoriety for its involvement in labor racketeering and political corruption. Perhaps the most notable illustration of its involvement with organized labor is its relationship with Local 54 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union in Atlantic City. Nicodemo Scarfo had long been an associate of Frank Gerace, once the president of the local, and of Frank Lentino, the union's former business agent. These connections gave Scarfo the avenue for the corruption of Atlantic City mayor Michael Matthews. It was through Gerace and Lentino that the Scarfo family funnelled bribes and engaged in other corrupt deals with the mayor. Matthews and Lentino were indicted, Matthews ultimately pleaded guilty to accepting a $10,000 bribe and was sentenced in 1984 to 15 years in federal prison. He has since been paroled. Gerace was removed from office at Local 54 in 1984 by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Lentino is in prison for his conviction in the Matthews corruption case.
Angelo Bruno had long-time interests in Roofer's Union Local 30-30B in Philadelphia through his friendship with union leader John McCullough. After Bruno was murdered, his successor, Philip Testa, had a falling out with McCullough. Testa ordered Albert Daidone, vice president of Local 54 of the bartenders union, and Raymond Martorano to kill McCullough. Although not the trigger men, Daidone and Martorano were eventually convicted for their part in the murder.
Scarfo, as Testa's successor, was able to gain substantial influence over Local 30 through its new leader, Stephen Traitz Jr. Traitz used members of the union to collect debts owed to Scarfo and other LCN members. As a result of these activities, Traitz, his two sons, his son-in-law and other members of Local 30 were indicted on federal racketeering, bribery and extortion charges. All were convicted in November, 1987, and January, 1988. Traitz was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Top Bruno family members have been con- victed recently for offenses involving sports betting, lottery and video poker. Those convicted during the last two years include Scarfo, Leonetti, Salvatore Merlino, Francis lannarella Jr., Joseph Ligambi, Salvatore Scafidi, the late Pasquale Martirano, Anthony Attanasio, capo Santo Idone and his associates Gary lacona, Mario Eufrasio and Frank Peticca. Cases against group members and associates still pending include member Salvatore Sparacio, his associate Thomas Luria and several others; and member Joseph Costello, his brother Charles and their associate Thomas Johnson.
Since loansharking is considered an ancil- lary service to gambling, the Bruno/Scarfo group naturally has provided such a service to its clientele. During the past two years, three key members including Scarfo have been convicted for loan-sharking as part of a racketeering prosecution, and another three are awaiting trial on such charges.
Another significant source of income for the organization has been tribute extorted from some gambling operatives, loansharks, drug traffickers and other illegal entrepreneurs who operate primarily in south and northeast Philadelphia. This tribute is commonly called a "street tax," and is collected by "made" members of the family in return for the right to do business in Bruno/Scarfo territory. Only a few of the family's closest associates have been exempt from the tax, but members are cautious in their selection of victims. As a rule, they do not try to collect from anyone perceived as a threat, such as the more violent, non-LCN gangs of African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics.
Collection of the street tax began decades ago in the early days of this family but was aban- doned in the early 1940's. It was reinstated by Scarfo when he became boss. However, revenue from it has dwindled in recent years. For example, soldier-turned-informant Nicholas Caramandi testified that between 1982 and 1984, he and his partner, LCN member Charles Iannece,.collected a total of $6,000 to $8,000 a week from 60 to 80 bookmakers. But he said that the amount declined to about $4,000 a week by 1986 because many bookies said they couldn't afford the tax and went out of business.
Such a tax can create much hostility. Associates who were not accustomed to paying tribute ultimately turned against Scarfo and testified against him and his allies during the 1988 federal racketeering trial and in a separate extortion trial in 1989. As a result of these cases, 11 members and three associates were convicted on extortion charges.
Even after the conviction of most of the members and associates who participated in the collection of the street tax, the extortion scheme contin- ued but was scaled down, primarily because of Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. His involvement in the collection of the tax came to light after he was shot in October, 1989. During the investigation, he was found to be in possession of a portable computer containing a listing of the identities of street tax victims.
Another source of revenue for the Bruno/Scarfo group is trafficking in illegal drugs. Although Angelo Bruno had forbidden this activity by his subordinates, several of his key members were clandestinely engaged in the prohibited crime. Even Philip Testa, Bruno's underboss, was involved in drug trafficking in the early 1970's, as was consigliere Antonio Caponigro in the late '70's. Raymond Martorano, a close associate of Bruno's but not then a member, was extensively involved in the production of methamphetamine and the importation of its precursor, P2P, in the mid- to late-70's. Martorano expanded his involvement in this activity after being inducted as a member in 1981.
The involvement of members in drug trafficking was extensive in the two years prior to the avalanche of arrests, indictments and prosecutions against the family that began in late 1986. What started out in 1982 as the collection of street tax by members from drug dealers, ended in the latter half of 1986 with the same members directly overseeing a major portion of the southeastern Pennsylvania/southern New Jersey methamphetamine market. At the height of the family's direct involvement in drug trafficking, members were overseeing the importation of P2P from Europe. All this was done with Nicodemo Scarfo's blessing. Among the members who participated in this conspiracy were Scarfo, Philip Leonetti, Francis Iannarella Jr., Salvatore Merlino, Charles lannece, Thomas DelGiorno and Nicholas Caramandi. The organization's dominance in this field ended in 1986 with the incarceration or cooperation of those mentioned above.
Other key individuals involved in the methamphetamine market on behalf of the group included member Albert Pontani and Scarfo associate Saul Kane, both of whom lived in New Jersey. Pontani, who was involved in distributing cocaine and importing P2P between 1983 and 1988, is currently incarcerated for charges stemming from these activities. Likewise, Saul Kane was convicted in 1987 on charges that he, along with associate Gary Levitz, operated a multi-million dollar international drug importation enterprise. Kane headed a network of individuals responsible for smuggling 15 separate shipments of P2P from Europe to the Dominican Republic and then to the United States between June, 1984, and September, 1986. During the investigation of this network, it was learned that Kane paid Scarfo directly from his profits. Kane was subsequently convicted in May, 1987, for leading this criminal enterprise and was sentenced to 95 years in prison and fined $675,000.
In July, 1990, the major elements of the North Jersey faction of the Bruno/Scarfo family were arrested by state officials on charges of gambling, drug distribution, murder and unemployment insurance fraud. Ralph Napoli of Belleville, Joseph Sodano, formerly of Roseland, Gerardo Fusella of Nutley, and Giuseppe Bellina of Newark were among the Bruno/Scarfo family members charged. In addition to 18 Bruno associates, also arrested was Michael Perna of Belleville, a member of the Lucchese family and a long-time associate of the northern faction of the Bruno family. Perna was charged specifically with racketeering, promoting gambling and conspiracy. The murder charges were related to the 1075 kidnap and murder of Bruno/Scarfo associate Albert Meglia of Montclair. Specifically charged in the homocide were Bruno/Scarfo family members Fusella and Bellina, along with family associate William "Billie Blonde" Layton of Brick Township in Ocean County. It is believed that Bruno consigliere Antonio Caponigro actually shot Meglia. Caponigro himself was shot to death in April, 1980.
While the federal racketeering statute was enacted in 1970, it was used sparingly against the LCN until the mid- 80's. However, the successful prosecution of Bruno members and associates under this law, combined with Scarfo's gross mismanagement, has left this family in a shambles with little hope for rejuvenation in the near future. That decline even led to discussions between the Genovese and Gambino families of New York about carving up the family's operations.