Prosecutor Who Helped Convict Little Nicky Scarfo Is Running for Congress

One of the prosecutors who put Little Nicky Scarfo away for life is running for Congress and highlighting his role in locking up the notorious Cosa Nostra boss as a key part of his electioneering platform.

Nicodemo Domenic (Little Nicky) Scarfo
Little Nicky Scarfo in 1982.

Nicodemo Domenic (Little Nicky) Scarfo (March 8, 1929 – January 13, 2017) became the boss of the Philadelphia crime family after the murders of Angelo Bruno, then Phil Testa.

Scarfo was often described as psychotic, cruel, vicious, and most certainly homicidal, wanting murdered anyone who exhibited even the slightest sign of disrespect toward him. Looking him in the eyes could've been a death sentence.

Joe Peters is among three Republicans running to be Congressman for Pennsylvania's Eighth Congressional District, which will have a new representative in 2019 because of the new congressional map ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The seat will be open because its current representative, Tom Marino, is running in a neighboring district.

Peters' website lists one of his accomplishments as, “the convictions of Philadelphia mob boss ‘Little Nicky’ Scarfo, his underboss, and 16 mob soldiers in a three-month trial before an anonymous and sequestered jury.”

Joe Peters
Joe Peters

The trial Peters was part of marked Scarfo's end on the street. The trial commenced on September 28, 1988 and concluded on November 17, 1988, taking the jury mere days to reach its verdict.

Deadly Don
Scarfo, described in his NYTimes obit as the "Mob Boss Who Plundered Atlantic City in the ’80s," died at age 87 in January 2017 at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C. He'd served nearly three decades in prison.

Scarfo "had a volatile temper and a penchant for wanton violence and vengeance as he rose to become head of what was known as the Bruno-Scarfo crime family."

The Mafia boss reputedly ordered more than two dozen murders of fellow wiseguys during his 1980s reign in Philadelphia and South Jersey.

A Brooklyn-born former boxer and bookmaker nicknamed Little Nicky, Scarfo stood 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 135 pounds.

Scarfo reputedly idolized Al Capone, a fellow transplanted Brooklynite, "but hardly resembled him," as the Times noted. "Where Capone had wit and panache, Mr. Scarfo had neither. Capone supposedly said, “You can go a long way with a smile; you can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun.” Mr. Scarfo preferred just the gun."

Convicted of first-degree murder in the death of another mobster, Mr. Scarfo was depicted in 1989 as the first Mafia boss to be sentenced to death. (The sentence was overturned, and in a second trial, he was actually acquitted of the murder charge.)

At his death, he was serving 55 years for racketeering and participating in a criminal enterprise that sold drugs, murdered nine people, tried to kill four others and engaged in loan-sharking, extortion and gambling.

The sentence amounted to life imprisonment, since he was not scheduled for release before 2033. Sixteen of his associates were also convicted in the racketeering case.

Even imprisoned, Scarfo was an unrelenting, unrepentant criminal. As recently as 2011, he was named in a companion indictment to the extortion of a financial group based in Texas that led to his son Nicky Jr.’s conviction in 2015.

Peters started his career in law enforcement as a rookie Scranton cop who worked in the same city where his father, Gene Peters, served as a popular two-term mayor, according to an article in Happenings magazine.

Later, while at Dickinson Law School,
Peters leveraged his police background into a part-time clerkship with the Attorney General’s office in Harrisburg and was assigned to support the state’s drug task force.

After graduation "he rolled that experience into a federal prosecutor position and built a notable profile on the team that convicted notorious mobster “Little Nicky” Scarfo on multiple murders, extortion, drug and racketeering charges."

That job eventually led to a position as Deputy Drug Czar in the Clinton White House, and in the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush White House where he worked under the nation’s first ever Homeland Security Chief — former PA Governor Tom Ridge.

When he left the federal government he ran unsuccessfully for PA Attorney General and the campaign drew the attention of FOX TV, where he became an on-air expert on terrorism. 

When Nicky Scarfo was the boss, he was based in Atlantic City, where he milked labor unions, bribed the mayor, and killed people , among other things.

Chucky Merlino, Skinny Joey’s father, quickly became the top mobster in Philadelphia proper.

Still, before Scarfo went to jail, "Scarfo had a falling-out with the Merlinos and threatened to have every member of the family killed. It was the first time, but not the last, that a sitting mob boss targeted Joey Merlino," George Anastasia wrote in The Last Gangster: From Cop to Wiseguy to FBI Informant: Big Ron Previte and the Fall of the American Mob.

"Nick Caramandi, after he started cooperating with authorities, provided investigators with all the details of the interfamily squabbling. “I remember we told Joey—he used to hang out at the clubhouse at Camac and Moore—we said, ‘Don’t come around here no more, kid. There’s nuthin’ we could do for ya.’ Whenever Scarfo got something in his head, you couldn’t get it out. He wanted them dead.” 

Before any of that could happen, however, Scarfo and the others were arrested, indicted, and eventually convicted. Skinny Joey had dodged his first bullet. 

In 1989 Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino allegedly sought to end the Scarfo reign in as public a way as possible, by whacking Nicky Scarfo's son, Nicky Jr.

The reason was to make it clear to everyone that Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo Sr., the imprisoned mob boss, no longer had any authority over the street.

“We’re gonna kill Nicky’s son,” Merlino told Tommy Scafidi, Scafidi alleged.

“We want you to help us.”

Then Mike Ciancaglini, never a big fan of Scafidi’s, chimed in. 

“If you go tell your fuckin’ brother [jailed Scarfo soldier Salvatore Scafidi], I’m gonna kill you, your family, and your brother will get killed in jail. . . . And if you go back and warn that faggot Nicky, Australia’s not far enough for you to go.”

At one time Scafidi had been close friends with Nicky Scarfo Jr., though by the fall of 1989 they weren’t that tight. Still, he tried to tell Merlino and Ciancaglini that he couldn’t set up the young Scarfo.