Did Midlevel Wiseguy Flip on Philadelphia Mafia Family?

A "midlevel" member of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra with a long memory may be talking to the Feds.

Recent photo of John Stanfa from Mob Talk Sitdown 

That is what's "stirring the pot" in the Philadelphia streets based on this week's Mob Talk Sitdown with George Anastasia and Dave Schratwieser (see below), who recall that it was 22 years ago around Thanksgiving time that former Philadelphia boss John Stanfa was convicted and sentenced to five consecutive life sentences for racketeering, extortion, loansharking, murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

New York, specifically the Gambino crime family, charged Stanfa with putting the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra family back together in the post-Nicky Scarfo era. But Joseph Merlino didn't accept him as legitimate, preferring to "report" to "boss" Ralph Natale (who may not have even been made). Stanfa's reign ended in dismal failure.

Anastasia recalled how the Stanfa trial kicked off, with prosecutors playing tape recordings from a wiretap in the Camden, New Jersey, law office of Sal Avena. A bug was also planted in Stanfa's Philadelphia doctor's office. Stanfa held many meetings in both offices in the misguided belief that law enforcement would not seek to break the sacred bond of doctor-patient and lawyer-client confidentiality. The FBI got the green light, however, because that privilege is reserved for patients and clients who don't talk about killing and robbing people.

While the doc was not indicted with Stanfa, the lawyer Avena was, specifically for obstruction of justice and two counts of racketeering, including participating in a conspiracy to murder a rival faction member. And because Avena was related to a Colombo capo through marriage (Avena's daughter was married to the son of the capo, Salvatore Profaci) the Feds got a lot of mileage out of the tapes in trials related to the New York crime families.

As for Stanfa, he and associate Sergio Battaglia also were recorded planning the murders of Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino and two of his associates, noting the pros and cons of different shooting angles and whether it was preferable to bury bodies in concrete. 

At one point, according to court papers, Stanfa referred to a member of Merlino's group and said: "You know what I'll do. I'll get a knife. I'll cut out his tongue, and we'll send it to the wife.… That’s all. We put it in an envelope. Put a stamp on it.”

"You had all manner of murder and mayhem being discussed," Anastasia said.

The Avena Tapes
During a trial related to the third Colombo war, part of the tape  recording from Avena's office was played from December 5, 1991, during which Colombo capo Salvatore Profaci, whose son was married to Avena's daughter, told Stanfa: "Victor Orena is a gentleman, beautiful person, very, very capable, very, very qualified, level-headed. Carmine Persico's losing his mind." Then-acting boss Orena was seeking to dethrone the family's official boss, Persico.

The more recent waste management case with "Papa Smurf," aka Carmine Franco of the Genovese crime family, also included a replay of the Avena tapes, specifically, conversations about a legal dispute between Franco and Avena, who were partners in a Philadelphia-based trash company. In 1992, Avena sued Franco in federal court in Philadelphia, alleging that Franco was defrauding the company. Franco countersued. Profaci told Avena certain facts of life about Franco, who was a "goodfella" He warned Avena that he should seriously reconsider his lawsuit. "We're all gonna get hurt," Profaci said. The Genovese family was "too powerful to cross," as George Anastasia wrote in a 2011 story. "Goodfellas don't sue goodfellas," Profaci told the lawyer. "Goodfellas kill goodfellas." Avena and Franco eventually agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

The Stanfa trial, Anastasia noted on Mob Talk, is "the epitome of how it's done." Recordings and other evidence that supported the three mob turncoats combined to create an "avalanche of evidence," as Schratwieser recalled.

Two key turncoats in the Stanfa trial were John (John-John) Veasey and Phil Colletti, who were important because both had firsthand information about murders involving Stanfa. That was because both men had been shooters before flipping. They were giving direct testimony supported by tape recordings and other evidence.

Anastasia noted that neither Veasey nor Colletti would've been made during the reign of Angelo Bruno, who built a solid criminal organization in Philadelphia with close ties to New York via his relationship with Carlo Gambino. Making the wrong guys helped bring Stanfa down, as Anastasia said.

Stanfa, by the way, was  Bruno's driver the night Bruno was assassinated.

The Philadelphia guys now are wondering if there's any truth to rumors of a midlevel wiseguy talking.

The new Philadelphia FBI squad seems eager to put a case together. The Philly wiseguys want to celebrate Christmas -- the last thing they need is someone knocking on their door to give them something for Christmas such as a nice, fat indictment to bury them alongside whatever is left of Stanfa.

The short answer based on this episode of Mob Talk Sitdown, anyway, is that even if someone is talking, the Fed's  PROBABLY DO NOT have any imminent Philly mob cases to drop on anyone.

The FBI has unsolved murders going back 15 years to keep them busy, Anastasia noted. But to make cases, they need some of the guys who did the killing to get on the witness stand, as happened with Stanfa. The shooters connect the mob hierarchy to the bullet-riddled bodies found on the street, the electronic surveillance and secondary witnesses back up any allegations.

A midlevel wiseguy, Anastasia noted, would not seem to fit the bill. If he has a long memory, then what do the Feds have to bolster his testimony? Not much, it seems.

As Anastasia noted, the Feds don't really have a lot of secondary witnesses who could back such a turncoat up on the witness stand.

Remember Roger Vella?
Mob Talk Sitdown raised the name Roger Vella as someone who could possibly back up this alleged midlevel wiseguy who is talking. Vella, a former driver for Joey Merlino, pled guilty to third-degree murder for the 1995 death of reputed drug dealer Ralph Mazzuca. He agreed to cooperate with the government. He testified against Junior Black Mafia associate Trent Pickard -- and helped put him away for 30 years.

But Vella never, not once, testified in open court against any ranking organized crime members.

Vella could conceivably back up a witness with firsthand knowledge of murders. But Vella is problematic. He's got a credibility problem, for one thing. Vella claimed to be made -- and later said he'd been "joking" -- an example of how he has "told so many different stories."

Roger Vella.

He might know things, Anatasia said, "but what (do the Feds have) to back him up?"

Also, Anastasia noted, how will he hold up when he is facing the guys in a courtroom?  He testified against Pickard, but he didn't idolize Pickard like he did Merlino and George (Georgie Boy) Borgesi.

Also, Vella has new baggage these days.

Back in 2013, he told a new girlfriend that he had been a mob informer who spent 12 years in prison for murder and racketeering --  he also threatened to smash her face in with a hammer.

In May 2013, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell revoked his probation and sentenced him to eight months in prison, to be followed by 38 months of supervised release.

He and his accuser fell in love the previous November, according to a report filed with the court by a federal probation officer. By the end of 2012, Vella took his new girl to meet family in New York and New Jersey without first getting permission from his probation officer. "It was during that trip that the defendant threatened to smash the complainant's head with a hammer," the report said.

Still, the couple stayed together until April, when Vella was compelled to tell her about his mob background and prison record, the report said.

On April 8, she decided to cut him loose -- and his response was to call and text her cell phone for the next three days, for a total of 48 calls and 108 text messages.

Vella also was charged with stalking by local police where he lived at the time, wherever that was/is.

His problem with his girlfriend may be the only thing stopping the Feds from dragging him back to Philadelphia.

Also the Fed's -- considering what happened the last time they went after Joseph (Uncle Joe) Ligambi and others for what basically were trumped up gambling charges -- won't want anymore egg on their face. They'd need an especially strong case in order to move against the Philly guys again, as Anastasia said.

FBI'S Expanded Philadelphia Squad
This blog reported last year that the FBI tripled the size of its squad in Philadelphia and had brought in a well-seasoned supervisory agent from New York to oversee what appears to be the formation of a new Organized Crime Strike Force.

Among the operation's key goals is nailing Philadelphia Cosa Nostra boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his top associates for murder, and there's at least three unsolved gangland hits waiting to be prosecuted. Those particular murders were committed while Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, reputed official boss, and former consiglieri/Ligambi nephew George Borgesi were in prison.

Th Fed's were known to be aggressively investigating a mobster considered Ligambi's chief shooter, reputed Philadelphia captain Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti, 52, who reportedly was running the crime family's daily operations after recovering from cancer. A shooter under Merlino as well, Lancelotti "never came up in any of the major RICO trials that put lots of guys away, " a source told Cosa Nostra News.

Merlino inducted Mikey Lance in the 1990s, bolstering Merlino and Stevie Mazzone's efforts to win a street war against Sicilian-born boss Stanfa, who the Gambinos were supporting at the time.