Nicodemo Scarfo Biography

Organized Crime (1929–)
Mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo controlled Philadelphia's organized crime for many years, even from prison.


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.

Criminal Dealings

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.

Murders and Investigation

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. He was killed by a bomb planted under the front porch of his Philadelphia home in March 1981. After Testa's death, Scarfo took control of the Philadelphia mob. He started serving his two-year prison sentence in 1982, but he did not let being incarcerated slow him down. Scarfo continued to run the organization from his cell. He ordered several members of the Riccobene family to be taken out.

Mob Boss

Released in 1984, Nicodemo Scarfo continued his violent management style. He was believed to have called for the murder of former friend and mob associate Salvatore Testa, whom he saw as a rival. The son of Philip "Chicken Man" Testa, Salvatore was shot to death that September.

An admirer of infamous gangster Al Capone and Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, Scarfo enjoyed the fame and notoriety as head of criminal enterprise. His organization brought in an estimated $5 million to $7 million between 1982 and 1986, according to George Anastasia's Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob: the Mafia's Most Violent Family (2004). He made his money through loan-sharking, shakedowns, bookmaking and other scams.

Arrest and Imprisonment

Scarfo's empire began to unravel in 1987. He was arrested on January 8, 1987, on extortion and conspiracy charges for the attempted $1 million shakedown of a Philadelphia waterfront developer. A longtime mob associate Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramundi became an FBI informant after learning his life was in danger. Caramundi testified against the Philadelphia mob in several high-profile cases, including several involving Scarfo.

Scarfo was later convicted in the extortion case and sentenced to 14 years in prison. According to The New York Times, U.S. prosecutor Edward Dennis Jr. described Scarfo as "a shrewd, clever and dangerous man who rules his dangerous army with an iron fist." Tried two more times that year, he was acquitted in the Salvatore Testa murder trial and in a federal drug conspiracy case.

In 1988, however, Scarfo faced even bigger legal challenges. He and sixteen associates were tried on federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges. The jury concluded that he was guilty on 32 counts, including eight murders, four attempted murders, 15 extortion-related charges and one illegal sports bookmaking charge. During the trial, he experienced a personal tragedy when his youngest son Mark attempted suicide. The 17-year-old hung himself in the offices of Scarf, Inc.

Already in prison on his earlier extortion conviction, Scarfo received another 55 years prison sentence for the RICO convictions in 1989. His stiffest punishment, however, came from the trial for the murder of fellow mobster Frank "Frankie Flowers" D'Alfonso that same year. Scarfo and seven other defendants were convicted of first-degree murder in April of 1989 and given life sentences. These sentences were later appealed and a new trial was granted. Scarfo and the rest of the defendants were acquitted at their 1997 re-trial.

At present, Scarfo is serving his prison sentences at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site lists January 5th, 2033, as a possible release date, which is a veritable life sentence for the elderly mobster.

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