Ex-Philly Mobster on East Coast LCN Enterprise Case; Hammonton Mafia History

We spoke with a longtime Philadelphia source about our previous story, on why the Fed's sought to limit the scope of the FBI's investigation into the so-called East Coast LCN Enterprise (see indictment, here).

Was it out of hubris or incompetence, we wrote.

Our source noted that the FBI's local office in Philadelphia continues its investigation of the Philadelphia mob no matter what happens in New York's Southern District's case.

He added: "Your report on the Philadelphia-New York Fed's is right on point," he said. (We like him, a lot.) "If they would have dealt with Philadelphia and Miami law enforcement instead of trying to make a big media splash, the indictments would be a lot stronger.

"But with the problems with (John J.R.) Rubeo now it might work out better for Philadelphia and Miami."

Rubeo wore a wire against many defendants in the case, including the two alleged highest-ranking ones, Pasquale (Patsy) Parrello and Joseph Merlino.

Rubeo was a Genovese crime family associate who became a cooperating witness. During the investigation, Rubeo worked in New York for Genovese skipper Parrello, who sent him to Florida to work with Merlino as part of an alleged health care fraud racket that had something to do with prescription compound pain relief creams. (They were actually making a ton of money as that stuff sells for about 100 times the manufacturing cost.)

That health-care fraud, plus other alleged crimes, led to Merlino, Parrello and 44 other alleged mobsters getting indicted last August.

Back then, the press depicted the East Coast LCN Enterprise as another Mafia Takedown Day, which is actually fitting, considering how that case also was overbilled.

Gang Land News started reporting about problems with this case from the beginning, noting previously that the Feds dropped the indictment's top charges and pushed for extra-sweetened plea deals.

Apparently, the five-year investigation into the case was conducted quietly by New York FBI and the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.

Only after the indictment was unsealed and arrests were made did investigators in Philadelphia get ahold of secretly recorded conversations made by Rubeo.

Edwin Jacobs, Merlino’s longtime attorney, addressed some of the indictment's weirdness not long after the busts. In an interview with PhillyMag, he said he was "puzzled" by the indictment.

“All I can tell you at this point is, I’ve seen a lot of racketeering indictments, and they’re usually fact- and date-specific. This one is not. It’s also very short on any allegations of violence, which most prosecutors claim is the foundation of organized crime. You read this indictment, and you don’t find so much as a single cinder block.”

Jacobs said that "the indictment was too broad and general to draw any conclusions about what it could ultimately mean for Merlino’s future. 

“Many times when you read these indictments, it’s sort of a script for the trial. This is not even an outline. It names a lot of people, and a lot of criminal statutes … but there’s not much meat on these bones.”

Speaking about the investigation in general, our source noted that New York's handling of the investigation may have additional ramifications.

"New York jumping the gun could've put informants in the investigations into the Miami and Philadelphia Cosa Nostras in danger," he said.

He's a former associate of the Philadelphia crime family, too, not law enforcement. He never flipped. But he did turn his back on the mob and works for a living today.

"It's a far cry from my life of crime in the early days, but I'm still here unlike others."

He reminded us that Hammonton, New Jersey, is putting on The 142nd Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Italian Festival.

"It's our version of New York's San Gennaro feast," he said.

It actually began on July 11, although July 16, this coming Sunday, will be the big day for the street celebration, which is expected to draw around 100,000 spectators.

Hammonton is one of 56 South Jersey municipalities that are included within the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, a protected natural area spread out on 1,100,000 acres.

Hammonton also is where a notorious former mobster in the Philadelphia/South Jersey Cosa Nostra once held court from the booth of a diner on the White Horse Pike, as The Press of Atlantic City reported.

"It's like the old saying, 'Be careful what you wish for,'" he said. "I wasn't smart enough to realize how much my life would change."

Ron (Big Ron) Previte is a former federal witness, as well as a former Philadelphia police officer and former member of the Philadelphia crime family. George Anastia used Big Ron's life story in The Last Gangster to chronicle the downfall of the larger more powerful earlier iteration of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra.

On the show 60 Minutes, he told correspondent Steve Kroft: "I used to see guys that were bookmaking, doing things, driving Cadillacs. Back then, they used to wear the Fedoras. I guess that's what I aspired to be, so to speak. I didn't want to be an astronaut … I wanted to be in that world. I wanted, it's a shame to say, I always wanted to do wrong."

"I was a crook in the police department. I robbed everything I could. But by the same token, I liked making arrests, too. I got accommodations.

"I had a good work record. Except I was a crook. But most of the people I worked with were crooks … I never learned about crime 'til I went in the police department. I always said that I really became an adept thief when I went in the Philadelphia police department.

"It was a nice life. It was good. And plus, I had the badge. I couldn't get any trouble."

Previte, far right.

Previte also said that Merlino and his associates weren't good at being Mafiosi.

"They weren't gangsters. They were crooks, thieves. I always figured I developed crime. I did this, or did that. And I worked it. They didn't work anything. They just wanted to rob everybody and their own people."

Previte was worried about his survival rate during the Merlino regime, which fueled his desire to flip, George Anastasia said.

"When he got into the top of the organization he looked around and he said, you know, 'I'm not gonna survive. They're gonna kill me. I'm gonna kill them. Or we're all gonna go to jail," Anastasia said on 60 Minutes.

"So being the intelligent individual that he was, and the mercenary that he was, he said, you know, 'I gotta have an insurance policy.'"

He was 60 at the time of the Press of AC interview and was quite bored with life as a citizen.

"I'm totally bored," he said. 

Standing 6-feet, Previte was lugging around a 300-pound frame at the time.

He'd made millions working as a bookie, loan shark and overall scam artist.

 "This is the biggest down I've ever had. I'm not a guy who can sit in a lounge chair. I can't relax relaxing."

His Mafia career ended in 1999 when law enforcement authorities arrested mob boss Joey Merlino and his associates for everything from fencing stolen property to murder. 

Previte was named the government's star witness in that case, plus another.

Merlino and his co-defendants were convicted primarily because of  the audiotapes Previte secretly recorded for the FBI from 1997 to 1999.

The government paid him more than $750,000 plus benefits for his efforts. 

As the Press reported:

"Some saw it as Previte's greatest hustle. Previte calls the record sum he collected from the government "hazardous-duty pay" and challenges critics to do what he did. He is not sure he would do it again himself."

"I don't regret doing the deal," Previte says. "I just regret my life as it once was no longer is."

"I simply don't know why people are interested in it," Previte said.

He's referring to the public's interest in the Mafia.

"I always considered myself a general practitioner of crime," Previte says. "I got up in early every day, 7 o'clock, and worked on developing crime."

Previte did the heavy lifting at Merlino's trial, law enforcement sources have said.

"The government's other star witness, former mob boss Ralph Natale, unraveled when defense attorneys questioned his legitimacy." Natale also has a book out: The Last Don Standing.


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