Ex-Philadelphia Underboss Crazy Phil Leonetti Talks Cosa Nostra In New Podcast

Valuetainment, which spoke with former Gambino underboss Salvatore (Sammy The Bull) Gravano last October, has now posted a new interview with another former Mafia underboss: Crazy Phil Leonetti, formerly of the Philadelphia Crime Family. (See full interview below in this story.)

Crazy Phil and uncle Little Nicky Scarfo
Crazy Phil and uncle Little Nicky Scarfo.

Crazy Phil was a highly effective government witness who testified at several trials up and down the East Coast, having his 45-year prison sentence reduced to five years, five months, and five days as a result of his cooperation in helping crush the Philadelphia Mafia family, including his uncle Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo, one of most vicious Cosa Nostra bosses ever.

Crazy Phil rose to underboss under Scarfo before becoming a government informant in 1989. At that time, he was the highest-ranking member of the American Mafia to break his blood oath.

Leonetti once said, "I never did nothing ruthless besides, well, I would kill people. But that's our life. That's what we do."

Appearing on an evening news show once, Leonetti -- his face filmed in shadow -- said, "I liked the respect that I received from everybody in our family because I had quite a reputation, you know, from being taught by my uncle the rules of the mob. He taught me how to kill people."

He hated the Crazy Phil nickname, while his uncle loved it.

"I said I wanted to do something about (the name)," Leonetti recalled. "(Little Nicky) says, 'Are you crazy?' He said, 'People would pay money to have a nickname like that.'"

When asked when he knew and understood what the mafia was, Leonetti said he thinks he always knew, but added, "I really understood it when I was about 10 or 11 years old. They killed a guy. And he had this truck that was stolen that he had to get rid of. So he took me with him from Atlantic City to bring it back to Philly to get chopped up. And he was telling me the story as he was driving me why he was bringing me."

By the age of 23, Leonetti pulled the trigger on his first mob hit. He said, "I remember the feeling I had; I felt cold and I didn't feel any remorse."

"I ran behind him," he recalled. "And I stuck the gun to his -- behind his head. And I fired. And I thought he was running away because the force of the gun moved him forward, you know? And then he fell down. And I emptied my gun into him."

Leonetti said he doesn't think about the people he killed. "To me they were all bad people," he said. "I mean, they could have killed me, too; I could have got killed. So I'm not -- I -- I can't worry about the past."

Once Leonetti had participated in mob hits, he was qualified to become a "made man." He was sworn into the ranks of La Cosa Nostra in a secret ceremony in a room full of fellow mobsters.

"They pricked my finger, my uncle did," Leonetti said. "And they put a picture of a saint, blood. They put the blood from my finger on the picture of the saint. And you lit the saint on fire in my hands. And I cupped my hands. And he told me, 'Don't make that saint fall out of your hands. Just keep juggling it until it burns out,' which I did. And as I'm doing that, he tells me, 'You gotta say, 'May I burn like this saint if I betray my friends.'"

When his uncle "Little Nicky" took over as boss, Leonetti was made underboss and things began to change. "He always told me, he says, 'You gotta kill people. And you gotta keep on killing 'em,'" Leonetti said. " That's how this thing works, La Cosa Nostra. That's how he looked at a problem. They would have to kill him not to be killed. But there was no more brotherhood. I mean, my uncle took over. And the way he was acting, it wasn't the same. It was -- he was -- breaking all the rules that he taught me to obey. And I just -- I was disgusted. I couldn't take it anymore."

He added, "Once you are in this life, there's only two ways out: jail or death. There was no retiring or quitting. I felt stuck."

So after 10 murders, as he faced a 45-year prison sentence, Leonetti decided to turn, and became a government witness.

Leonetti said he anticipated the half-million-dollar price on his head named by his uncle. "It's expected," he said. "I mean, what I'm doing is going against all the rules of La Cosa Nostra. You know, I put myself and my family in a bad situation. That's why we're -- we're careful. We gotta be careful."

Leonetti was sentenced to 55 years in prison, and served five years of a 45-year sentence for killing 10 people.

A journalist once said to Leonetti, "Some would argue that's not justice. How do you see it?"

He replied, "It's justice for me. I'm happy I'm out of jail. I think I did a good job with my family that I'm raising. I'm not looking to be in the mob. I never got in trouble after I got out of prison. So I think I'm doing pretty good. I think I'm a success story."

The following is based on information Leonetti gave the New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation.

Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo was formally inducted into the New Jersey Cosa Nostra crime family during the reign of Angelo Bruno's predecessor, Joseph Ida.

The event took place in the mid-1950s. Several men were "made" during the same ceremony, which occurred in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Sans Souci restaurant and cocktail lounge.

Bruno was crafty when he killed....

Inducted with Little Nicky were Scarfo’s cousin, Anthony (Tony Buck) Piccolo, and two uncles, Michael (Mike Buck) Piccolo and Joseph (Joe Buck) Piccolo.

Another uncle, Nicholas (Nicky Buck) Piccolo, was inducted some five years earlier.

Nicholas, Joseph and Michael Piccolo are brothers. The Piccolo brothers are Leonetti’s great uncles; Anthony Piccolo and Leonetti are second cousins.

Felix (Skinny Razor) DiTullio was Scarfo's first capo; he was the man the young soldier directly reported to. DiTullio took Scarfo "all over when he traveled around and introduced him to a lot of people involved in La Cosa Nostra," Leonetti recalled. DiTullio owned the Friendly Tavern, a South Philadelphia bar located near 8th and Washington Streets.

It was a known location for gangland hits, Scarfo told Leonetti. "The Friendly Tavern was used to murder people when DiTullio was still alive."

DiTullio played a crucial role in the lives of many young Philadelphia wiseguys.

DiTullio's lounge was a veritable mob college, the place where Wiseguy 101 was taught by the consummate professional. An awful lot of gangland hits allegedly occurred there, too.

Skinny Razor also was one of the Mafia's foremost assassins. A character in the Martin Scorsese film The Irishman is based on Skinny Razor. (Bobby Cannavale plays Skinny Razor.)

Bobby Cannavale plays Skinny Razor. in The Irishman.

A narcotics conviction caused Joseph Ida to disappear in 1959 when he fled to Sicily. This marked the rise of the boss who fashioned a Cosa Nostra entity in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a force to be reckoned with. Angelo Bruno was the son of an earlier Philadelphia boss, Joseph Bruno, who ran the crime family from 1927 through 1946 when he died.

Joseph Bruno succeeded the region's first boss, Salvatore Sabella, whom the Sicilian Mafia sent to the city to organize its rackets. Sabella was boss from 1911 until his 1927 death when Joseph Bruno assumed power.

In or around 1962, Dominick (Reds) Caruso disrespected Bruno's consiglieri, Joseph Rugnetta.

Bruno deemed the act of disrespect a death penalty offense. He put together a hit team that included made members as well as associates. The hit team consisted of Scarfo, Santo Idone, Santo Romeo, Anthony Casella and Salvatore Merlino. Others also were involved but Leonetti did not know all the names.

When the hit was carried out, Scarfo, Romeo, Casella and Merlino all lived in South Philadelphia. Idone lived in the Chester, Pennsylvania, area.

The chosen location for the grisly murder was the 9M Bar located in the Vineland, N.J., area. A member of the Bruno crime family named Anthony (King Kong) Perella had owned it, or a Perella relative.

Leonetti learned about the murder from assorted conversations over the years with Scarfo and others, including Salvatore Merlino and Idone. (Apparently, the Reds story was good fodder for conversation.)

In the summer of 1986, Scarfo, Leonetti and Idone, then a capo in the family, met on the Atlantic City boardwalk, somewhere between the Enclave condominiums and the Golden Nugget casino.

The talk turned to Reds.

As the story went that time (apparently some facts changed with each retelling), Reds Caruso had had the gall to attempt to shake down Rugnetta for money. Reds also slapped Bruno's consiglieri in the face.

Scarfo had been on very friendly terms with Caruso, so once his murder was ordered, he worked their relationship in order to “romance” the target, as per basic mob strategy of setting someone up.

On the day the murder was carried out, Salvatore Merlino visited Caruso’s South Philadelphia house.

"Nicky Scarfo is waiting for you outside in a car," Merlino told Reds.

Reds went up to the car to see Scarfo.

"I need you to come with me to a bar in Vineland," Scarfo said.

"No problem," was Caruso's basic reply.

The bar actually was closed for business that day.

Members of the hit team got the keys from the bar owner.

The plan went like this: Scarfo was to bring Reds to the bar. Then, Anthony Casella and Santo Romeo would hold him while Santo Idone choked the man to death.

Bruno had expressly ordered that Caruso be strangled.

But as the saying goes: Men make plans and God laughs.

Idone arrived too late to play his designated role.

Scarfo had simply shot Caruso five times with a handgun concealed in his coat pocket (where it had been wrapped in a scarf).

Scarfo, thinking the job was done, suddenly heard Reds tell him, "You got me, Nick."

So Scarfo grabbed an ice pick and stabbed the man repeatedly in his back. In fact, during the stabbing frenzy, the ice pick broke apart.

A loud knock at the door gave the guys a fright (the ones still breathing, anyway). The planned time of the hit happened to coincide with the time that a local cop was known to stop at the bar for his daily beer.

The killers thought that it was the cop knocking.

But no, it was Santo Idone. The men got back to work placing a rope around Reds neck to make it appear that he'd been strangled to death, as Bruno had ordered.

Caruso’s body was then wrapped in blankets -- or plastic -- and placed in the rear of a pick-up truck, which drove it to a pre-dug grave somewhere out in Vineland.

As per the boss's instructions, Reds' body was to be placed beside the grave, but not buried.

Another team had dug the grave; the burial team was going to return to bury the body after the first team had driven off in the pick-up truck. Bruno had purposely set it up this way so that the two teams would never know each other.

Scarfo later found out that Bruno had added an additional twist: the men who dug the grave had simply refilled it without depositing the body inside. Instead, they drove off with Reds' bode and buried it in another grave.

Bruno had decreed the murder and burial be carried out this way in case a member of the hit team ever cooperated with law enforcement. If the informant ever brought law enforcement to the "grave" and no body were found, then the informant would look like he'd been caught deceiving law enforcement.

After Caruso’s body was dropped off at the "fake" grave, Scarfo drove the pick-up truck to his parents’ apartment building in Atlantic City where a 9-year-old Leonetti lived.

Scarfo picked up Leonetti and took him for a ride to Philadelphia. Scarfo was driving a vehicle used to transport a murdered man; he figured police would be less likely to stop him with his young nephew along for the ride.

Scarfo told Leonetti the story that “a very bad man” had been killed -- and that the very truck they were driving in had been used to bring the man's body to the grave.

Scarfo was bringing his nephew to a place in Philadelphia where the truck could be destroyed.

For years after the murder, well into the 1980s, Scarfo and Leonetti went to the 9M Bar to meet with Salvatore Merlino.

Reds' brother was often there drinking.

Scarfo had known the brother for as long as he'd known Reds, and each time the trio ran into him, Nicky Scarfo went up to the brother to say hello to him.

Leonetti couldn't recall the name of Reds' brother.

On January 30, 1962, Caruso's wife reported her husband missing.

Caruso’s body was never found.