When John Gotti Maneuvered Against The Genovese Family To Absorb Nicky Scarfo's Garden State Rackets

The year 1987 was slightly more than a week old when FBI agents nabbed Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo as he emerged from a plane at the Atlantic City airport. 

John Gotti
None of Chin's plots touched Gambino boss John Gotti.

The violent, mercurial Philadelphia boss—he was John Gotti's more murderous precursor—and his girlfriend were returning from Fort Lauderdale, where they had spent the New Year’s holiday.

Scarfo, sporting a deep winter tan and perfectly coiffed hair and dressed to the nines in an impeccable suit, looked like a million bucks, almost like an old-school Hollywood star showing up at the Oscars. He smiled and nodded as the agents handcuffed him and walked him to the vehicle that would drive him to his well-deserved fate.

The Feds had indicted Scarfo and three others earlier that day on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion in the shakedown of Penn’s Landing, an area along the Delaware River that had been targeted for redevelopment. Penn's Landing was named after the Quaker writer/thinker William Penn, who supposedly landed there when he came to Philadelphia to found a colony for the Brits.

The 1987 arrest of Little Nicky was the end of an era for the Philadelphia Mafia entity. 

It also was like the blam! of a starter pistol. Between 1987 and 1989, every ranking member of the Philadelphia Mafia plus dozens of associates were convicted and sent to prison in a series of trials that ripped away the shiny veneer to reveal a once mighty Cosa Nostra family had actually been dominated by a bunch of greedy, small-minded, violent crooks. The organization under Scarfo barely resembled the entity into which Nicola (Zu Cola) Gentile was initiated in 1906. (See Celeste A. Morello's Before Bruno: Book 1 - 1880-1931: The History of the Philadelphia Mafia.)

Scarfo was tried five times and convicted thrice, and the judges handed him prison years like they were doling out candy: 14 years for extortion conspiracy, 55 years for a Federal RICO conviction (which included nine murders and four attempted murders), and life for first degree murder, the 1985 rubout of Frank (Frankie Flowers) D’Alfonso. (Though in 1992, a Superior Court panel overturned Scarfo's murder conviction, ruling that Little Nicky and his seven codefendants had been denied a fair trial because of misconduct by the prosecution. One of those codefendants was Joseph [Uncle Joe] Ligambi, for whom the ruling meant freedom. Ligambi, years later, rose to acting boss and played a significant role in the history of the Philadelphia Mafia.)

One of the most violent leaders in American Cosa Nostra history, Scarfo died (reportedly of cancer) at the Federal Medical Center in North Carolina in January 2017. He was 87.

Not long after Scarfo's January 8, 1987 arrest, Gambino boss John Gotti started maneuvering to absorb the North New Jersey rackets that had been part of Scarfo's Garden State empire, putting the Gambino crime family head to head with the Genovese family, This is according to law enforcement sources, including the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (SCI), which highlights the Gambino family's efforts in its 1989 report

As per the SCI report, the Genovese family had been far more influential in New Jersey, with more high-ranking members based there. The Genovese family in fact "was the first of the five New York-based families to expand its rackets to New Jersey decades ago." The Genovese family controlled gambling, labor racketeering, loansharking and narcotics distribution throughout New Jersey. The family also had longtime control of several labor unions, particularly various trucking and garbage hauling locals on the New Jersey waterfront.

Additionally, the Genovese family's number three man, reputed consiglieri Louis (Bobby) Manna, was based in New Jersey. Manna, who used Casella's Restaurant in Hoboken as his base of operations, also had a strong alliance with Little Nicky Scarfo for years and had the most to lose in the rivalry with the Gambinos. (Manna met Scarfo back in 1971 when Scarfo was serving his highly consequential year-long bid for an SCI contempt citation at the Yardville Correctional Center. Also there at the time: Philadelphia don Angelo Bruno, Genovese underboss Gerardo (Jerry) Catena, Bonanno capo Joseph (Joe Bayonne) Zicarelli, and Genovese family powerhouse Anthony (Little Pussy) Russo, who was a member of Ruggiero (Richie the Boot) Boiardo's crew.)

Manna was the Genovese family leader who sought to stop the Gambino boss and was recorded plotting to kill both John Gotti and his older brother Gene, among others.

Unbeknownst to John Gotti, he had earned the deep animosity of Genovese and Luchese family leaders when he killed his predecessor. On top of that,the new Gambino boss  made no bones about wanting every piece of Scarfo's gambling, loan sharking, and labor racketeering enterprises in Hudson, Essex and Passaic Counties. And whatever the Gambinos could grab along with it from Bobby Manna.

Gotti was actually successful very early in the game. 

The SCI report noted, "The Gambino family's new-found strength in New Jersey has begun to surface, with its associates taking positions of authority on the waterfront once held by Genovese associates."

''We saw John Gotti try to move in very quickly,'' said Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Col. Clinton L. Pagano. ''The Genovese family has been long established in northern New Jersey, and they felt the (Scarfo) business should have gone to them.''

(New Jersey is a large state. The northern region is part of the New York metropolitan area and historically has been under the purview of New York's Five Families, while South New Jersey is in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and historically was controlled by the Philadelphia crime family.)

Gotti, a murderous usurper who shot his way to power in December 1985, was an aggressive expansionist on every front imaginable. He even fomented civil war in the Colombo family as part of a larger effort to take control of the Commission and install himself as "boss of bosses," an early, but defunct, role that had once been the most powerful position in the hierarchy of the American Mafia. (See Salvatore Maranzano.)

Gotti's expansionist policies in New Jersey in the late 1980s ultimately helped put reputed Genovese consiglieri Bobby Manna in prison. 

While Manna--who had four capos under him, even though he was consigliere for the entire family--was the primary player in the plotting against Gotti, investigators had little doubt that reclusive Genovese family boss Vincent (Chin) Gigante, who had existing animosity toward Gotti because of how he came to power (by killing Chin's partner, Gambino boss Paul Castellano, who had been Gotti's predecessor), was directly behind Manna and had authorized the hit on Gotti.

''(Chin) would have to know,'' Superintendent Pagano has said. ''It could not go without his approval.''

That means Chin didn't put all his eggs in one basket when it came to the Dapper Don. Gigante also allegedly allied with Luchese family leaders to behead the Gambino family. The pact with Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso and Vic Amuso led to the violent murder of Gotti underboss Frank DeCicco in April 1986, when his car was bombed outside the Veterans and Friends Club, a Gambino storefront social club on 86th Street near 14th Avenue in Bensonhurst. DeCicco had been visiting Castellano loyalist James Failla. The bombing was meant for Gotti, who had also planned to visit Failla that day, but canceled. The bomb was only detonated after Luchese soldier Frank (Frankie Heart) Bellino, a DeCicco pal, was mistaken for Gotti. (The Machiavellian Gaspipe had chosen to use a bomb as part of a ruse to confuse potential Gambino investigators into believing that Sicilian Mafiosi, who generally used explosives to kill their enemies, were responsible.)

The once strong alliance between the Genovese and Gambino families soured after Gotti ordered the hit on Castellano and became Gambino boss. Law enforcement reportedly believed an all-out war was poised to commence.

Noted the 1989 NJ Commission Report, "For years, a smooth working relationship existed between the two families, groups that in the past shared territories and even personnel. Additionally, there was the long-standing mob tradition that inter-family disputes be settled by established mediation procedures of the "Commission," the LCN's ruling body that is composed of the heads of the nation's most powerful families. However, this disciplinary structure has been disrupted in recent years by aggressive law enforcement activities that led to the prosecution and imprisonment of many of the top LCN bosses in the east and a rapid turnover in leadership."

Ronald Goldstock, director of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force, and other law-enforcement officials said that whatever the relationships between the two families in New Jersey once were, those relationships 'are not working or are not stable."

Seizing Scarfo's rackets  was only part of Gotti's focus on expanding into New Jersey. Gotti had close relationships with numerous other wiseguys in the Garden State's only homegrown Mafia family, the DeCavalcante family, including with boss Giovanni (John The Eagle) Riggi, even when many New York Mafiosi had pure contempt for the "sixth family" to the south.  The Mafia Commission had ruled that the DeCavalcante family was a total fraud, according to onetime acting boss turned turncoat Vincent (Vinny Ocean) Palermo. What irked the Commission bosses was that the family's namesake boss Simone (Sam The Plumber) DeCavalcante, who assumed control in 1962, had changed critical aspects of Cosa Nostra's long-standing initiation rite, such as not having an actual gun on the table when straightening members out. 

Still, John Gotti turned to them when some of his top shooters couldn't complete a special mission. This was the Sept. 11, 1989, execution of Staten Island businessman Fred Weiss, which DeCavalcante wiseguys successfully handled as a favor to Gotti in the hopes of earning their redemption from the Gambino boss.

Prior, Gotti had sidled up to DeCavalcante acting boss John D’Amato, who often visited Gotti at the Ravenite, the Gambino boss's Little Italy headquarters. D'Amato was even overheard on an FBI bug plotting to kill a DeCavalcante wiseguy after Gotti expressed his view that the soldier was a potential informer. In early 1992, the DeCavalcante family killed D'Amato for the "crime" of being a homosexual after top DeCavalcante mobsters learned from his girlfriend that D'Amato had engaged in homosexual activity with other men.

The plot to kill Gotti first came to light on September 21, 1987, when Manna, Martin (Motts) Casella, and Richard (Bocci) DeSciscio were recorded discussing a plan to get to Gotti near a social club on Woodhaven Boulevard and 101st Avenue in Ozone Park, Queens.

The Philadelphia Mafia under Scarfo was nothing like the one joined by Nicola Gentile in 1906.

Transcripts of Manna and others, which were distributed at Manna's 1988 trial, were based on 12 conversations at Casella's Restaurant that occurred between Aug. 5, 1987, and January. 14, 1988. The talks were intercepted by eavesdropping devices hidden in the restaurant.

The FBI subsequently notified Gotti of the plot, and the Genovese family learned of the warning.

The Genovese family at the time was beset with internal turmoil. Vincent (Fish) Cafaro had flipped and key Genovese powers had been sent to prison.

"All of these problems drove Manna to plot the murders of John and Gene Gotti in an attempt to restore lost areas of control and to prevent more losses," the Commission Report noted.

Despite his long-simmering hatred of Gotti for killing Big Paul, Gigante supposedly was slow to take on the Gambinos as they moved in on Genovese family turf in the Garden State. As per the NJ Commission report, Gigante almost seemed to allow the Gambinos to become firmly entrenched in bars, construction projects, restaurants, gambling and other Genovese enterprises in New Jersey. Chin's indifference deeply angered Manna.

John Gotti would have had a freer hand after Manna was arrested in June 1988. Manna was later convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. At Manna’s sentencing, US District Judge Maryanne Trump Barry (yep, the sister of the former President) noted that the jury foreman at Manna's trial—the first anonymous jury in New Jersey history—was so nervous "after hearing evidence of cold-blooded murder and conspiracies to murder" that two of his fellow jurors held his hands to support him as he delivered the verdict.

In November 2021, US District Judge Peter G. Sheridan denied Manna's latest compassionate release filing. Manna, 92, resides at Rochester FMC with a release date that looks like it has a typo: November 7, 2054.

Whatever power and spoils John Gotti accrued from his New Jersey moves,  by December 1990, when the FBI nailed him and his administration at his Little Italy Ravenite headquarters, it---along with much of everything else---was mooted. Gotti most definitely would have had much different priorities. 

Gotti and his consiglieri Frank Locascio were tried and convicted in 1992 and given life sentences (the Ravenite tapes and the former underboss's testimony did the duo in). In 2002, Gotti died of head and neck cancer at the Federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, at age 61.

As for Genovese family operations in the Garden State post-Manna, we can consider longtime Genovese associate-turned-turncoat Peter (Petey Cap) Caporino, who had been in Manna’s crew. After Manna went away, Petey Cap paid tribute to Manna's wife for the next 10 years, then started kicking up to Joseph (Big Joe) Scarbrough, an up-and-coming Genovese associate who oversaw a Hoboken crew. Big Joe reported directly to Lawrence (Little Larry) Dentico, aka Larry Fab, who had been one of Manna's top aides. Dentico and Frank (Punchy) Illiano together were overseeing the Genovese family. Gigante was behind bars. 

The wily-as-a-fox mob boss died in December 2005 at 77 from heart problems at a Federal prison medical center in Springfield, Mo.