Last Don Standing Pisses Off Philadelphia Cosa Nostra

Even an outlawed, unnamed secret society must observe certain formalities.

It must perpetuate itself, and its members must know one another in order to create an infrastructure to assist them as they embark on their life of crime.

"Jack Falcone" aka Joaquin Garcia (Big Jack to his friends.)

Mobsters don't operate in a vacuum, and the Mafia, in addition to being a criminal brotherhood, also provides a milieu where members can share one another's company.

If you can't break bread with another man who understands the world you live in, you will probably go insane. Mob guys tend to want to operate and prosper.

Over the years, the FBI and DEA have raided social clubs and other meetings as per their larger effort to destroy one of the Mafia's most solemn rituals aside from committing murder. The "making" ceremony that produces full Mafia members out of associates...

Joaquín "Jack Falcone" García, in a previous interview, told us that, for a street guy, getting made is like an average American citizen winning the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Garcia wrote a book that is essential reading for all who are interested in Cosa Nostra. He was an FBI agent for over 20 years when he infiltrated the Westchester-based crew of Gambino family capo Gregory DePalma.

As he told us in Mafia Pomp and Circumstance Has Its Uses,  DePalma, who was as old school as they come, believed that the Mafia needed to use the ceremony to make a strong impression on the budding Mafiosi. The complete ritual with celebratory feast afterward should be mandatory. That is the view of many in the mob, according to Garcia. It was certainly DePalma's view.

"The ceremony was the whole thing," Garcia said. The symbolism is embedded into the ceremony for a reason: to dazzle new inductees with the mystique.

"If I was gonna get made, I wanna have a nice feast! I want the boss kissing me on the cheek, I want the homage! You think I'm gonna do 20 years on a RICO if I had TP burned in my hand?"

Ralph Natale, left.

What is so surprising about Ralph Natale's recently released memoir is that he seems to not have the slightest inkling that his story about being "secretly made" is utterly preposterous.

What's the point of being made if no one knows about it?

Think about this...

And Ralph not only claims he was secretly made but that he was made by two -- not one, two -- mob bosses, Carlo Gambino, the "boss of bosses," and Angelo Bruno, the Sicilian boss who created a Mafia empire in Philadelphia.

READ How Carlo Gambino Became "Boss of Bosses"

Natale cooperated with the feds in August 1999 after he was indicted on drug-trafficking charges.

With two earlier convictions under his belt, one for drug dealing and one for arson, he faced a potential life sentence.

He is the first sitting American Mafia boss ever to agree to cooperate.

He testified at Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino's big RICO trial. 

Merlino and six co-defendants were in court for months, the case burning through the spring and summer of 2001. That was the RICO case that should've sent Merlino away for life. But it didn't. And the reason?

Natale testified for 14 days...eight of those in cross-examination.

During that time period, Natale admitted involvement in eight gangland killings and four attempts.

Natale testified that he was made by Merlino at a ceremony in the former Hilton Hotel near Veterans Stadium. The ceremony took place not long after his 1994 release from prison. (He should've stayed with this story.)

"They had rented a suite of rooms in the hotel," Natale added.

READ What's Going Rate for Mafia Membership?

A gun and a knife were placed on the table before him, Natale said, and he swore to use that gun and knife for "the family."

"We come first, La Cosa Nostra," he said. "Before your mother and father, your wife and children. You keep 'omerta.' You mustn't become a witness like I am here." 
"It's a funny thing," he said. "They burn a holy card in your hand and you say, 'May I burn in hell if I betray the family.' But we kill all these people and nobody thinks about burning in hell. I didn't realize it for 40 years."

Natale repeatedly said that he had embraced La Cosa Nostra's codes and lifestyle for decades before his formal initiation. He believed in it, he said, "heart and... soul."

Natale's testimony was bolstered to the extent possible with surveillance photos and videotapes of meetings and audiotape of conversations.

The photos and tapes were the fruit of a seven-year FBI investigation that included bugs planted on Natale's phone at his Pennsauken, N.J., home, and at the Garden State Race Track, where he frequently met associates.

Earlier this month, George Anastasia wrote of the Last Don Standing memoir: "Some of the guys in South Philadelphia are calling it "fake news." Others are using a more graphic description – “bullshit.”

These days the book is a major topic of discussion in the Philadelphia underworld, with both mobsters and lawmen panning it, Anastaisa noted.

"Players from both sides are said to be less than pleased and more than a little taken aback by the version of events presented by the one-time don turned star government witness."

As Anastasia noted, "The story is vintage Natale, a combination of bravado and self-deprecation, a mix of fact and fiction. And in that sense it’s not unlike his two appearances on the witness stand after he began cooperating with the government in 1999."

"Ralph spins a good story and he clearly enjoys being center stage. But while he likes to portray himself as Don Corleone, the reality is he was more like Uncle Junior," Anastasia noted.

"He was played by Merlino and the guys around Skinny Joey. They let Ralph parade around as the boss and often fed him bogus information about what they were doing, about the scams, the flimflams and, more important, about the hits and misses that left a half dozen wiseguys dead or wounded."

Merlino and co-defendants beat every murder and attempted murder charge that stemmed from Natale's testimony.

Merlino went away for 14 years. He's been released and was indicted in yet another seemingly major case last year that tied him to the New York crime families. Since then, that case collapsed.

And these days, "The consensus from those who were on the streets with Natale in the late 1990s is that he always talked a better game than he played."

Ralph likes to embellish
"He demonstrated that in the 2001 trial when he described himself as a hitman and enforcer for Don Bruno. That might have been true. But Ralph couldn’t stop there. He called himself Bruno’s attack dog and said the boss would unleash him to take care of business."

Remember Sammy the Bull Gravano's quip about "John barked and I bit?" Apparently, Natale liked that so he borrowed it.

In 2001 trial testimony, "Natale claimed that he made himself after aligning with Merlino in a war against then mob boss John Stanfa in 1994.

"Is that possible, he was asked? 
"If you have the cojones," he replied."

Two stories about how he got his button. Whether one, or both, is true, we can never know. But with his howler about a "secret ceremony," Natale didn't do himself any favors. There's already controversy about whether certain guys in Philadelphia were ever legitimately made.

With apologies to Larry McShane, a fine writer. I emailed Larry about this part of Ralph's story -- if he replies, I will post it here.

Now back to work on part two of Sal Romano's story -- he and Mikie Scars built a massive brokerage house, recruiting guys from Brooklyn. They'd get their license and go to work -- and all these guys who previously waited tables and valet-parked cars were suddenly purchasing their very own Porsches....