What's Going Rate for Mafia Membership? Ask Joey Merlino

Tired of being a mob associate and kicking up most of your earnings?

Tired of constantly lying to your superiors about how much you earn so you don't have to kick up as much? Face it -- you wanna be a made guy...

Well, friends, now that dream can be yours! You can become a full member of the Philadelphia mob for only a one-time payment of $10,000! (Cash, of course.)
Chances are, you won't read an ad like that in 5,000 years. But buying your way into the Mafia was a sellable concept that certain mobsters such as Joseph Skinny Joey Merlino sought to benefit, according to two government witnesses.

Joseph Skinny Joey Merlino Sold buttons
"No, I said $100,000...." Joseph Merlino, right.

Someone could join the Philly mob by making a cash payment to George Borgesi, who belonged to the administration of the family his uncle lorded over and brought back from extinction for Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, who also was selling mob memberships. (Merlino, however, was getting $100,000 per button -- and this was back in the 1990s.)

This is according to testimonies from two mob turnoats, including New York informant Anthony Aponick, who testified at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss "Uncle Joe" Ligambi last December.

Aponick said he was asked to pay the 10Gs to Borgesi while they were cellmates in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2003.

"He said I would become a member of his crew. He wanted $10,000."

With a name like "Aponick," I have no idea how this could even be possible.

Aponick was actually getting a bargain. As George Anastasia wrote on Big Trial, that price was a mere 10 percent of  what Boston mobster Bobby Luisi said he had to pay Merlino back in the late 1990s to become a made member.

"Whether that was a reflection of an economic downturn in the underworld or whether Aponick was getting a special discount could not be determined. Like Aponick, Luisi became a close associate of Borgesi's. And like Aponick, he eventually became an FBI informant."

What pinged our curiosity was the dollar figure of $10,000.

Ronald Turchi, a convicted arsonist and one-time Mafia consigliere busted to capo in the mid-1990s, had been in and out of prison and was troubled.

Uncle Joe, left, and Borgesi

He was also found in the trunk of his wife's car in South Philadelphia around noon on Passyunk Avenue, naked, shot twice in the back of the head. His hands and feet were tied with white rope.

"It was reminiscent of many mob hits of the 1980s," wrote Philly.com.

Turchi was considered an ally of one-time mob boss Ralph Natale, who, it was later learned, only was acting boss because Merlino and his crew, who went to war to end the abrupt, violent reign of the previous boss, John Stanfa, wanted a buffer for law enforcement.

Natale flipped shortly before the Turchi slaying. On the stand in February 2001, Natale said that Turchi was killed for trying to "buy" the job of Philadelphia mob boss by paying $10,000 to a high-ranking Gambino family member.

Ten-thousand dollars, the same amount.... We wonder if this was common practice. Is it still common practice? Exactly how many high-ranking mobsters were selling buttons, and how many mobsters are only mobsters because they paid the fee? And was $10,000 really the going rate?

George Anastasia didn't note in his article what happened to another Anastasia -- namely, Albert (who was called "Don Umberto" by his men, and "Lord High Executioner" by the press). He also was involved in a button-selling racket.

Anastasia was famously whacked in 1957 on the orders of Vito Genovese, who wanted Anastasia gone as part of a plan to take out Frank Costello and assume control of what would become the Genovese family.

Genovese used Anastasia's brutal behavior to help win support. It wasn't a difficult job, as Anastasia was known for being an unstable killer, who had once had a citizen killed because he didn't approve of citizens informing on criminals.

Genovese also highlighted the fact that Anastasia had been selling memberships to what would soon become the Gambino crime family for $50,000, not only a violation of Commission rules, but something that made a lot of members furious. And if that wasn't enough, according to Valachi, Anastasia had been losing large amounts of money at the racetrack, which fueled Anastasia's surliness and unpredictability.

Anastasia may have been selling buttons -- or he may not have been. We do know, however, that on June 17, 1957, Frank Scalice, Anastasia's underboss and the one directly responsible for selling Gambino memberships, was also assassinated. Anastasia approved the hit and the subsequent murder of Scalice's brother Joseph after Joe tried to apologize for earlier threats to avenge Frank.

Was Anastasia punishing his own underling or covering his tracks. I'd say I could not believe Scalice would even try such an audacious stunt without Anastasia's approval. A boss whacking his own underboss is pretty severe stuff.

What is really interesting about all this is the perceived value of mob membership.

Fifty-thousand dollars in 1957 has the same purchasing power as around $429,100  in 2014.

The value of a mob membership certainly hasn't kept pace with inflation.


  1. wasn't this made into a movie called "Blow" starring johnny dep,I could be wrong,any body out there know?

  2. These true crime tales are related. BLOW was the true story of George Jung, who also smuggled for Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel. George testified against Carlos Lehder and Jack Reed for immunity, but was set up and caught smuggling years later. George just completed his 2 decade prison sentence, read BUCCANEER, enjoyed it, and says he'll help promote Jack's story.

  3. Thanks maycay

  4. Becoming a made guy and getting shook down for 10 grand to be around someone are 2 different things. Every made guy is not a stone killer, they have earners and money guys along with shooters but for someone to buy their button and get the Ok from all the other families when his name is circulated is not something that happens much especially in New York

  5. Giving a percentage of my income to old men? No thanks, and I prefer not to pay the govt as well but we all have to lol.

  6. Uncle Joe ' Stevie' Johnny chang' Anthony Stain' Joey mousimino brought respect back to the philly mob u put a bet in u got paid. JOEY and BOY GEORGE BORGESI ran a book if they lost 2wks in a row they collected the losers clise shop and stiff the winners. They even guzzled books that were paying a street tax by firing in under another name hell Joey even beat Ralph natale for 220.000 dollars in one weekend
    havimg people call in for them. Best is he
    Was partners with Ralph it was the mobs book. Now u why people turned on these guys they were mo good. Best thing for the mob Joey is in Fla getting an envelope
    Just a matter of time before BOY GEORGE BORGESI meets his fate. All the guys he recruited turned he get money from them
    use them and when he was done fuckem out of there partnership money. Even if they stayed loyal he would ve killed them any way they werent part of the inner circle
    He.ll find another wanna be who will pay the price. His recruits were luisi from Boston Aponick and montecello to name a few should be a interesting next 2yrs for

  7. Thats what I wonder about. How widespread was this? A couple of isolated incidents in Philly (I've heard Turchi wouldn't have had 10Gs to pay, but who knows for sure.) Aponick isn't an Italian name -- how could he have even been made! Maybe it was a scam or a racket to scrape some extra dollars away from a guy waiting for a button anyway. I have a lot of questions about this myself...

  8. Thats correct none of these guys were ever made it was a typical SKINNY SKAM if they were bookies they payed that and a tax same for drug dealers.One dealer Roger vella another Georgie recruit and was Skinnys driver.
    As for turchi he was one broke Dick his mouth got him in trouble . Philly

  9. These kids arent old who run phila not like them antiques in NY lol.

  10. Hi Ed still nothing on Galati story? Philly

  11. If this story is true, then I would say it means the end of the Philly mob. If a guy only needs 10k to get in then what does that say about the quality of the organization? This is indeed a bad idea. If they are so cash strapped then perhaps those in Philly should find legitimate work.


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