If Uncle Joe Retires What Happens in Philadelphia?

Joe Ligambi, who recently got out of prison following two mistrials for what primarily amounted to gambling-related charges, says that he is done, finito, with Cosa Nostra.

Ligambi wants to relax, to summer in Longport and winter in Florida.

In 1980, violence on the streets of Philadelphia rose sharply following
Angelo Bruno's murder.

Anyone in Ligambi's position would say the same thing, but the question is, does he really meant it?

And if he does, who will step in and take over? Too many wiseguys, if history is taken into consideration.

The volatility for which the Philadelphia crime family was once well-known can return as swiftly as the time it takes to pull a trigger. Two generations historically at odds with each other have been working together (the old Scarfo gang and the Merlino young turks). The ability to rivet these two enclaves together is among the skills "Uncle Joe" is credited for having. But with or without him, shifts in power are inevitable as the family's composition changes (with some members returning to the street, and others heading off to prison).

As acclaimed crime reporter George Anastasia has written: "History indicates that the job of Philly mob boss leads to a jail cell or a coffin. Of the six mob bosses who preceded Ligambi, two were brutally murdered and the other four ended up doing long prison terms."

Ligambi, 72, is known as the peaceful Don who cooled down flaring tempers and stabilized a crime family riven by decades of strife and rampant violence that began with the spectacular shotgun murder of Angelo Bruno in 1980 and continued on through the regimes of Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, John Stanfa, and Ralph Natale, then Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, who, along with the family's young guns, had fought an open war against boss Stanfa for control. (Natale has been described as a front boss for Merlino when Merlino went off to prison.)

Ligambi, who was part of the Scarfo gang but also showed he was able to adapt under Merlino and when the time came, had the chops to be boss and keep the family together.

Nicky Scarfo

Ligambi gets kudos (ironically from both law enforcement and the Five Families) for stabilizing the troubled Philadelphia-South Jersey branch of the American Cosa Nostra, thereby ending the violence.

He also revived the crime family, which was close to extinction.

But he's a wealthy man (most likely) and has served a lot of time in prison. By remaining boss, it's quite likely he will return to prison eventually. So it's a matter of, what's most important to him now. Continuing to build a crime family, a difficult task these days, may no longer top his list, especially with the shifting alliances on the street as old Scarfo loyalists return from prison.

As George Anastasia wrote: "... is it any wonder that Ligambi, who has spent more than 12 years of his adult life behind bars, has had enough? He did 10 years for the murder of Frank “Frankie Flowers” D’Alfonso before the conviction was overturned in 1997. After his indictment in May 2011 on racketeering conspiracy, gambling, and loan-sharking charges, Ligambi was held without bail for more than two years while awaiting trial.

"...Ligambi had a relatively peaceful and, one would assume, lucrative run. He may be smart enough now to just walk away. In the past year, he has beaten the feds twice in a case that has landed 10 of his associates in jail. That case finally came to an end last month with prosecutors announcing they did not intend to try him a third time. It was a victory for the mob leader and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi, who was acquitted of a conspiracy charge."


That could very well mean the Feds have dropped a case they considered a loser in order to focus on another one.

They certainly have major crimes on the book, the kind that doesn't go away based on statutes of limitations.

In Ligambi's case, peace should not be mistaken for weakness.

Three major murders remain unsolved -- all of which occurred during Ligambi’s reign. These are the hits on Ronnie Turchi in 1999, Raymond “Long John” Martorano in 2002, and John “Johnny Gongs” Casasanto in 2003.

"Authorities have names connected to those shootings and bits and pieces of information upon which to build cases," Anastasia wrote.

No indictments appear to be forthcoming, but Ligambi, a long-time mobster, knows the past -- especially what's happened to many others who have had his job.

Angelo Bruno was a Sicilian-American mobster with close ties to Carlo Gambino. Bruno ran the family for two decades until his murder in 1980.

Bruno arrested at Logan.

Bruno -- born Angelo Annaloro -- was, like Ligambi, a peaceful man, called "The Gentle Don." He ran the Philly mob from 1959 until his death in 1980. His reign is viewed as the Philly family's golden age. It's difficult to believe Ligambi, or anyone, could revive the family's fortunes to that extent, which can be said for American Cosa Nostra in general. The golden days are over.

Bruno preferred deal-making and bribery to murder. He hated flashy thugs like the diminutive Scarfo who Bruno once said was as worthless as a paperclip. Eventually, Bruno got rid of Scarfo, not by whacking him, but rather by "banishing" the violent-prone gangster  to the then-backwater of Atlantic City.

During his time in power, Bruno shunned the spotlights of both the media and law enforcement, much as Gambino himself had done. All of this, of course, was before the FBI's "full court press" application of the RICO act. Bruno focused on traditional organized crime businesses, such as gambling and loansharking. He also was personally involved in the lucrative vending machine business. Apparently, despite his moniker, he was quite willing to threaten store owners who didn't want to work with him.

Then, from about 1970 to 1977, Bruno vanished. In 1970 he was off to prison for refusing to appear before a Grand Jury. He was sentenced to three years but was let out early based on a medical condition (a bleeding ulcer). He then flew to Italy to revive himself. When he returned the criminal landscape had evolved a bit.

Gambino had died, and Bruno now appeared to be a weak boss in the eyes of his own consiglieri, Anthony "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, who'd been scheming for years and finally launched his coup on March 21, 1980, when the 69-year-old Bruno had his head blasted apart with a shotgun while seated in his car in front of his home at the intersection of 10th Street and Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia.

Nicky Scarfo is widely considered to be
responsible for creating deeply rooted
turmoil in Philly that remains today.
Caponigro had made a fatal mistake and the Commission took action. A few weeks later, Caponigro's body was found stuffed in a body bag in the trunk of a car in New York City. About $300 in bills were jammed in his mouth and ass (signs of greed). He'd been tortured and killed; associates implicated in the attempted coup were later whacked one by one.

The Commission had ordered Caponigro's murder because he assassinated Bruno without their sanction. It's been said that Caponigro had been a victim of the machinations of the Genovese family, who had attempted to stir up unrest within the Philly family, possible for reasons having to do with Atlantic City.

The Commission officially crowned Bruno's underboss, Philip Testa, who quickly moved to build up the family, inducting new members and, in an effort to unify the family, promoting certain others.

John Stanfa,  Bruno's driver, was believed to be in on the hit.

In an amazing development, Testa's reign ended abruptly, in about a year, when a nail bomb blew him to pieces in front of his house. Peter Casella, who Testa had made his underboss, and Frank "Chickie" Narducci, a capo, were behind the plot.

The Commission, once again defied, determined what had happened. Scarfo, who'd earlier been promoted to consiglieri, was promoted to boss. Casella fled to Florida, where he later died of natural causes, and
Narducci was gunned down in the streets.

Scarfo ran a particularly ruthless regime and ordered over a dozen murders during his tenure. The big Scarfo trials of the 1980s, and then those of Stanfa and Merlino in the 1990s decimated the mob in Philadelphia, as did the murders ordered by Scarfo and the ones resulting from she shooting war between Stanfa and Merlino, who survived several botched hit attempts.

So if Ligambi steps down, considering that the Philly mob is composed of two distinct generations, old timers from the Scarfo era and the young Merlino turks, who would take over?

As Anastasia noted, George Borgesi, 50 is back on the street and "remains a wild card for those watching where the mob may be headed."

Some are wondering if "Skinny Joey" will return. He's been in Florida since his release from prison three years ago and insists he has no desire to return to South Philadelphia.

Two top Merlino associates, Steven Mazzone and John Ciancaglini, are also back on the street; some allege Ciancaglini controls rackets that once belonged to Borgesi, who could make a move to retake them.

Another key figure to watch is Phil Narducci, 52, a mob soldier who spent more than 20 years in jail. He belonged to the Scarfo organization in 1988 when convicted. Narducci said he had no intention of going back to that life. But law enforcement sources say otherwise. Philip Leonetti, the Scarfo underboss who became a key government witness, said Narducci is the one to watch. “He’s a real gangster,” Leonetti told Anastasia; he said the Scarfo guys who are home--Narducci, his brother Frank, the Pungitore brothers, Joe Grande and others--still view Merlino, and even Borges, as “punks” who used the Scarfo rep to prosper in the underworld.

Meanwhile, Scarfo son Nicodemo S. and mob wannabe Salvatore Pelullo are on trial in federal court for secretly taking control of  a Texas-based mortgage company in 2007 from which Scarfo, 48, and Pelullo, 45, allegedly pocketed $12 million (and played the theme to "The Godfather" film at a celebratory dinner with the board).

While Ligambi's trial was about $5,000 gambling debts and $25,000 extortionate loans — federal prosecutors in Camden were detailing purchases of Bentleys ($217,000), yachts ($850,000) and lavish homes ($715,000) with money allegedly taken from FirstPlus Financial, the mortgage company.

In another federal courthouse in Philadelphia, defense attorneys are negotiating a global plea deal for Joe Vito Mastronardo and a dozen co-defendants in a multimillion-dollar bookmaking case.

Mastronardo, according to the indictment, had clients betting from $20,000 to $50,000 per game. Wire transfers of hundreds of thousands of dollars to offshore bank accounts were discovered. More than $1 million in cash was found buried in Mastronardo's backyard.

"... the Scarfo and Mastronardo cases are examples of where the money is and where the mob, at least the few mobsters who have the smarts to pull it off, will go," Anastasia wrote.


  1. Best thing that could happen for this outfit is if Ligambi stays but puts Phil Narducci as street boss and let him steer the ship. Pardon my english but he's the realest gangster in the city.

  2. Phil Leonetti said the same of Narducci -- he's the one to watch. Ligambi should get out while the going is good.

    1. It's hard for regular people to understand why a guy like Ligambi wouldn't 'get out while the going is good' but it's no so easy for a zebra to change it's stripes. He's a gangster and will never be anything else, he doesn't know how to be anything else. Same thing with Nicky Corozzo......he was on the lamb...the guy got away he knew if he came back and got arrested he was done. What did he do...he came in...why...not because he couldn't have stayed on the lamb for the next 15 years but because he'd rather be a gangster in jail then a nobody on the outside, that's how these guys think.

    2. Why would Ligambi have to lam it if he retired? He could also claim to retire and appoint a front boss....you're comparing apples to oranges (or roast beef to lambchops). Retiring is different from lamming it, guy! In any event, he has to humble himself now.... Gotti rubbed it in their faces and look what happened...

  3. Lol you jerkoff,. ...lamb.What are you writing from Iowa

  4. If Ligambi wants to retire and Joey Merlino is the real boss like Ligambi said on the Nicky Skins tape.......it's Joeys decision who replaces him and in that case I'd bet it all on Stevie Mazzone.


  6. He should count his blessings....mistrails/aqquitals happen so rarely in Fed system. In or out, he's set for life. He could have flipped easily like joey, but he's standup through and through.

  7. Is there really that much money and rackets to fight over in Philly? I had a plumber come to my house from South Philly, an old-time guy, older than myself. He said the last time he was in South Philly was in '92 or '93 and he never went back again. He said it broke his heart. Everybody's talking about watching this guy or that guy and Merlino in Florida, and I would agree if it was years ago when they had the unions in A.C. and held a lot more sway in Philly. And I aint' knocking the city either. It's a shame that new generations keep giving away beautiful neighborhoods. The Narduccis went to the can millionaires, and if it was back in the day maybe they would re-organize and whatnot, but what are they fighting over? Maybe the title of BOSS? These guys are sick. It's possible. But the prison system has changed over the years, and wiseguys, depending where, are second class citizens in the joint. So, I think it will be a slow process, but then again it's Philly. The shooting might break out tomorrow.

  8. While we will never know 100% for certain,evidence and insider information has indicated that Joe Ligambi has always been the Acting Boss for Joey Merlino.If this is the case,he would simply be returning to his previous status,now that Merlino is out of prison and either surreptitously leading from afar or doing it through surrogates such as Mazzone and Ciancaglini.While never able to outright "retire",it's not uncommon for guys his age to "take it easy"----relatively speaking.Considering what Ligambi has been through in the past few years,it would be a wise move on his part to step as far back as possible.If you add the still unresolved Anthony Nicodemo debacle and the problems it sounds like his nephew George "The Mannequin" Borgesi has the potential to cause,it's down right imperative that he does everything in his power to distance himself from the whole mess !!! BTW,Angelo Bruno actually died in the passenger seat of Johnny "Bumper Guards" Stanfa's car.

  9. So Angelo Bruno's real name is Angelo Annaloro huh? Annaloro is a major Mafia name in Sicily. They just seized over a billion dollars in assets from Mafia boss Francesco Annaloro. I wonder if they're related.

  10. Yeah I agree Stevie is the fucking boss right now with Johnny as his underboss all working under skinny Joey the real boss of the family

  11. Phil is the realest gangster in the city but joe ligambi ain't even close joes nothing more than a glorified fuckin bookie who pulled a trigger for scarfo and got made he never had power till Joey make him acting boss



  14. well if phil.s smart he.ll stay away from these guys because it.s not if but just a matter of when this whole crew go.s to jail for life.


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