John "The Dour Don" Stanfa

Giovanni "John" Stanfa (born December 7, 1940) is the former boss of the Philadelphia crime family from 1991-1995. Convicted of multiple charges in 1995, Stanfa is currently serving five consecutive life sentences.


Born in the Sicilian city of Caccamo, Giovanni Stanfa was the youngest of four children, two of whom are said to be involved in the mafia as well. After the Ciaculli massacre, the married Stanfa emigrated to the United States.

Stanfa settled his family in Philadelphia, Pa., and became involved with criminal activities in the area, mostly due to his friendship with Gambino crime family Boss Carlo Gambino of New York, who had very close ties to the boss of the Philadelphia crime family, Angelo Bruno, who had just gotten a seat in the National Commission. Stanfa was assigned as Bruno's personal driver after becoming a made man in the Philadelphia family during the late 1960s.

Bruno became and remained the most powerful Mafia boss over the area for over two decades, and gained the crime family the powerful reputation it has today. Stanfa's status in the family was influenced by Bruno's success. On March 21, 1980, Bruno was shot and killed by a shotgun blast in the back of the head as he sat in his car. It is speculated that Bruno was killed for not allowing members of his crime family to engage in narcotics and drug trafficking. According to US law enforcement, Stanfa as Bruno's driver and was seated in the drivers seat when Bruno was killed but managed to flee the scene unharmed.

It has not been proven if Stanfa was involved in the conspiracy hatched by Consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, who was found three weeks later stuffed in a trunk of a car in New York, reportedly on the orders of the Commission in retaliation for Bruno's unsanctioned murder. After refusing to testify before a grand jury about his involvement in the murder, Stanfa was indicted on perjury charges. He fled the area and went into hiding. On April 21, 1981, Stanfa was apprehended and sentenced to eight years in prison after nearly a year on the run from US law enforcement.

Involvement in the Philly war

John Stanfa

With the death of Angelo Bruno and Stanfa in hiding and later imprisoned, a power vacuum was left with the Philadelphia crime family. The self-claimed boss, Philip Testa was murdered as well by a nail bomb in front of his home in 1981, and in the end, powerful Atlantic City capo Nicodemo Scarfo was recognized as the new boss of Philadelphia. Scarfo was a violent mob boss and allegedly ordered the murders of more than 30 people throughout his reign in the 1980s. He tried to gain more influence in New York with the Five Families through then Gambino crime family boss John Gotti but failed. Scarfo was soon indicted on massive charges and sent to prison for the rest of his life in 1989, as his nephew and Underboss, Phil Leonetti testified against him. It was around this time that Stanfa got out of prison.

Boss of the Philadelphia crime family

Around 1991, Stanfa was elevated to boss of the Philadelphia crime family. He had the backing of the Gambino crime family of New York. Stanfa had Anthony Piccolo as Consigliere. Both Piccolo and Stanfa reportedly ran the family for the imprisoned Scarfo prior to Stanfa being made boss. As a boss Stanfa always talked about the flaws of Scarfo yet in a lot of ways he did the same thing. Stanfa put in place the street tax again, every criminal had to pay a tax on his activities, this created tension and threats of violence on the streets of Philadelphia, right away Stanfa put in place an atmosphere that wouldn't be good for business. Stanfa sent out Felix Bocchino to collect the street tax, things were running OK for Stanfa, the street tax was easy money. Then Felix Bocchino was murdered and the media went crazy, they called it the first mob hit in 7 years. At first both Stanfa and the FBI had no clue as to who was behind the murder but pretty soon things became clear.

In South Philadelphia there were a group of young thugs led by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, a young flashy good looking thug who threw huge Christmas parties. Merlino was the son of former Scarfo Underboss Salvatore Merlino. Other youngsters in Merlino's group were: Steve Mazzone, Marty Angelina, George Borgesi (whose father was an imprisoned Scarfo hitman), Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi and Vince Iannece (son of Scarfo Soldier Charles Iannece). Merlino and his friends were already running things and were doing pretty good, they already had the street tax in place and so when Bocchino came around collecting what they felt was their money, he had to go. The Bocchino hit would be the first casualty in the war between Merlino and Stanfa. Pretty soon Stanfa found out about the young turks, as they would later be called by the media, and took action.

Stanfa operated by the saying: "Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer" and so he and Merlino would be seen together on social occasions and mob meetings. In September Stanfa held a secret ceremony in which Merlino, Michael Ciancaglini and Biaggio Adornetto were inducted into the Philadelphia family as made members. People around Stanfa warned him that these youngsters were no good and that they would bring the whole thing down but Stanfa said he knew and would take care of it, he even made the 33 year old Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini, jr. (brother of Merlino's second in command Michael Ciancaglini) Underboss in the interest of promoting peace.

In the meantime Stanfa decided he could use some new blood and got himself some Sicilian soldiers. Two young guys named Biaggio Adornetto and Rosario Bellochi. Stanfa, in an unusual tactic, also recruited for his side several men who were not of Italian heritage, including the Veasey brothers and Frank Martines. According to the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, Frederick T. Martens, "Stanfa brought in people, like the Veasey brothers, who had no background in the mob but who were willing to break legs and pull a trigger". One of the Veasey brothers named John Veasey was made and became a hitman and Capo in the Stanfa faction.

In 1993, an all-out war broke out between Stanfa and Joseph Merlino, who was eager to take control of the Philadelphia crime family on his own. The 2nd Philly mob war has been known as one of the most violent Mob wars of modern time.

Involvement in the Second Philly war

John Stanfa

On August 5, 1993, Joseph Merlino was shot and wounded in a drive-by shooting assassination-attempt organized by Stanfa. Merlino survived, but his associate, Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini, was killed. In retaliation, Stanfa’s son was shot in the face on August 31 of that same year. The shooting took place on an expressway and was driven by Vietnam vet, Freddy Aldrich, who is credited with saving all three of their lives that day by pushing the hitmen's van to the side of the road and forcing it off an exit.

Merlino was sent to prison that same year on violation of his parole. In prison, Merlino was backed by reputed Philadelphia mobster Ralph Natale, who had close connections to New York and the Genovese crime family.

The Genovese family decided to back Natale in the Second Philly War. Stanfa still held control of the family, but he was indicted on multiple charges along with 23 of his associates.

Trial and Life Sentence

Stanfa was indicted on labor racketeering, extortion, loansharking, murder and conspiracy to commit murder on March 17, 1994. In November 1995, Stanfa was convicted of all charges and sentenced to five consecutive life sentences. When it became clear that he would not continue to run the Philadelphia family, Stanfa's power declined and the Gambino crime family cut off connections.

As of March 2009, Stanfa is serving his five consecutive life sentences at the United States Penitentiary (USP), located in Allenwood, Pennsylvania.


"You know what I’ll do. I’ll get a knife...I’ll cut out his tongue and we’ll send it to the wife. That’s all... We put it in an envelope. Put a stamp on it... Honest to God."

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