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Mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo controlled Philadelphia's organized crime for many years, even from prison.
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Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, Nicodemo Scarfo was the child of mob-connected parents. He joined the Bruno crime family in the 1950s, and eventually made a name for himself in Atlantic City. His activities included murder, extortion and racketeering. Scarfo ruled Philadelphia's organized crime until his final jail sentence took him off the street for good.
Born on March 8, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York, Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Domenico Scarfo first tried to become a boxer, but had little success. He had a few other jobs before joining the family business. His uncle, Nicholas "Nicky Buck" Piccolo, an influential mobster, helped him get started as a bookmaker in the 1950s with the Bruno crime family in Philadelphia. According to several reports, Scarfo got himself in trouble with one of the organization's leaders when he refused to marry the leader's daughter.
Scarfo had his first major run-in with the law in 1963. During a fight at a Philadelphia restaurant, he reportedly stabbed a man to death. He and his associates fled the scene, but Scarfo later pled guilty to manslaughter. The following year, Scarfo was released after serving less than a year in prison.
After his release, Scarfo was sent to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to handle some criminal enterprises there for the Bruno crime family. He struggled financially, running a small-time bookmaking and loansharking operation. Married twice, Scarfo had one son, Chris, with his first wife and two sons, Nicodemo Jr. and Mark, with his second wife.
In 1971, Scarfo was subpoenaed to testify before the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation. He appeared before the commission, but refused to answer any questions. This led to Scarfo year jail sentence for contempt. He went to the Yardville Correctional Center, where he served his time with the likes of Angelo Bruno, the head of the Bruno crime family.
New Jersey's decision to legalize casino gambling in 1976 brought a chance in Scarfo's fortunes. He later brought his nephew, Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, into the business, setting him up in a cement contracting company named Scarf, Inc. Not one to take insults lightly, Scarfo had another contractor, Vincent Falcone, killed after he made disparaging remarks about Scarfo, Leonetti, and the company.
On December 16, 1979, Scarfo, Leonetti and Larry Merlino met with Falcone. Joseph Salerno Jr. was also there. During this get-together, Leonetti shot Falcone in the back of the head. Salerno later went to the authorities about the murder and Scarfo, Leonetti and Merlino were arrested. Despite Salerno's eyewitness testimony, the three mob associates were found not guilty the following year.
A gun, however, was found in Scarfo's home during the Falcone murder investigation. He was later convicted on a weapons charge and served a two-year prison sentence in Texas. In the meantime, the Philadelphia mob went through a power struggle. Angelo Bruno, sometimes known as the "Docile Don," was shot to death in 1980. His underboss, Philip "Chicken Man" Testa, was tapped to lead the organization, but he only lasted a year.
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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