Nicky Scarfo Declined First Offer To Be Boss

The following, based on information gathered by New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation, is part of an ongoing series about Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo, former Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss notorious for his violence. Scarfo died last Friday.
Phil Testa, left, Angelo Bruno

After the Philadelphia crime family's longtime boss, Angelo Bruno, was killed on March 21, 1980, in a grisly gangland hit, the Commission wanted answers.

A boss had been killed "illegally." Whoever was behind it was going to die.

Examples needed to be made to send a loud and clear message about what happened when members defied the Commission.

But before anything, the Commission needed to learn the identities of the assassins.

The Genovese crime family was given the job of conducting the investigation. Specifically, three high-ranking members were tasked with the assignment: Vincent “The Chin” Gigante, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Bobby Manna.

Fat Tony Salenro 

Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo traveled to New York on numerous occasions to discuss Bruno's murder with the Commission's tribunal.

"Scarfo was assisting them in trying to find out who murdered Bruno and used to tell (Philip) Leonetti what occurred at the meetings," the SCI report says.

Read Philly, Bloody, Philly: From Docile Don to Little Nicky

Anthony (Tony Bananas) Caponigro, then the crime family's consigliere, was "the main suspect."

(Whether anyone knew about the role Funzi Tieri allegedly played behind the scenes, as per Vincent "Fish" Cafaro's later testimony, is not known.)

Around one month after Bruno's death, Scarfo was attending a meeting in New York with the Genovese triumvirate when Bobby Manna told him that the Commission had made its move.

Orders were given to take out Caponigro and his brotherin-law, Alfred “Freddie” Salerno, a soldier with the Philadelphia borgata.

Read Former Philadelphia Mob Boss Nicky Scarfo Is Dead

"Manna also said that $20 bills had been stuffed up Caponigro’s rectum to indicate that he had been killed because of his greed."

Caponigro’s and Salerno’s bodies were found in the Bronx around April of 1980. 

But there was more: the Commission had determined that John (Johnny Keys) Simone was involved, and also had to go. Simone was a member of the Philadelphia crime family from Trenton, N.J.

Read Nicky Scarfo: The Early Years

The interesting thing about the Simone hit is the man chosen to carry it out: a Gambino crime family member named Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano.

Sammy Gravano took out one of the men incriminated in
the Angelo Bruno murder.

He wrote a detailed account of the murder in his book: Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia. It doesn't exactly align with the State Commission of Investigation's information, provided by Leonetti (based on what Scarfo told).

"Johnny Keys," Gravano noted, was a "real man's man."

(I have been contacted over the years about certain information related to this hit; I hope this addresses whatever interest had been previously expressed.)

According to Gravano, Scarfo told Gravano and his team that Simone was slated for death because the Commission was concerned that Keys may have been plotting against him, Scarfo, who (Gravano alleged) was already chosen to run the Philadelphia crime family.

As for the actual murder, it was a standout in the Bull's memory.

"I felt terrible that a man with such (balls) had to be hit. But this was Cosa Nostra. The boss of my family had ordered it. The entire Commission had ordered it. There was nothing I could do.''

Sammy and his crew grabbed Simone while he was at the Sky View Country Club at the Washington Township airport. He was then driven to Staten Island in September of 1980
En route, Simone, 69, suddenly suffered a heart seizure and insisted on taking one of his heart pills. 
He wanted to die by the gun, he'd told Gravano.
They arrived at an area of Staten Island woods and Simone removed his shoes. 
"I'll walk out (of the van) on my own. Let me die like a man.''
Simone "took a couple of steps away from the van. Without a word, he lowered his head, quiet and dignified. The shot immediately leveled him to the ground. He died instantly. He died without pain. He died Cosa Nostra.''

At another meeting, Manna did indeed tell Scarfo that the Commission decided it was Little Nicky's time to grab the helm, take over the crime family.

Scarfo turned down the offer, however, telling  Manna: "Philip Testa deserved it more."

Scarfo: the prison years.

In May of 1980, Testa (aka the Chicken Man) and Scarfo were called to New York to meet with the Commission's panel of Genovese members, Gigante, Salerno and Manna.

Read Little Nicky Scarfo, 87, Will Walk Out of Prison...

The Commission had approved Testa as Cosa Nostra boss, they told the two. But  Testa was told to make Scarfo either underboss or consigliere. Testa agreed and would name Peter Casella his underboss and Scarfo, his consigliere.

Testa felt uncomfortable attending meetings in New York, Leonetti said, because wasn't well acquainted with any of the city's wiseguys.

For this reason, Testa designated Scarfo, his consiglieri, as his representative to the Five Families.

Scarfo continued attending meetings with the New York families as there remained certain concerns over Bruno’s murder.

Read Excerpt from Mafia Prince by Scott Burnstein and Christopher Graziano

Scarfo was told to continue to investigate the murder of Angelo Bruno.