Mafia Wiki
Mafia Wiki

The Philadelphia Crime Family, also known as the Bruno Crime Family, Scarfo Crime Family, Philadelphia Mafia, or Philly Mob, is an Italian-American organized crime syndicate based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is one of the most active American Mafia families outside of the Five Families of New York. The family has been known to hold territory or influence in other nearby areas outside Philadelphia, including Atlantic City, South Jersey, Trenton, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Baltimore, and Newark. The Philadelphia family is notorious for extreme violence, brutality and ruthlessness, they are also notorious for being a particularly dysfunctional family and for committing tens of thousands of murders, committing countless murders within a short period of time, and committing unspeakable acts of violence to spread a tremendous amount of fear, intimidation and terror. The Philadelphia Mafia is known as one of the most violent and murderous mafia families in America, mostly due to having a succession of extremely violent bosses and multiple bloody internal and external wars. During Nicodemo Scarfo's regime, the Philadelphia Mafia was the deadliest criminal organization in the world, killing absolutely anyone who stood in his way of threatening his reign or his multi-billion dollar criminal empire. Scarfo ordered countless murders, allegedly ordered thousands of murders, as many as 5,000 people were murdered on his orders during his regime, making him the deadliest and most violent mob boss in history, and one of the most murderous criminals of all time.

The Philadelphia crime family enjoyed it's most peaceful and prosperous time under long time mafia don Angelo Bruno. He was murdered in 1980, and his underboss, Philip Testa, took over until his own murder almost one year to the day later in 1981. Following the unsanctioned hits of both Bruno and Testa, the New York bosses installed Nicodemo Scarfo, Testa's consigliere, as the new boss. He involved the family in narcotics, which Bruno had refused to do. The 1980s through the 1990s was a bloody reign and nonstop internal warfare took place. Scarfo's tenure saw the murder of over 30 of his own men. Eventually, he and his supporters were put in prison and John Stanfa took over. After a three year reign plagued by an all out street war with a younger faction led by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, dubbed the 'Young Turks', Stanfa was given five life sentences and was ultimately replaced by Merlino. A young and flashy gangster, Merlino shared the personality type of John Gotti. Like Gotti, he attracted too much attention from the media and law enforcement. He was also put in prison in 2001 on a racketeering conviction, and close Merlino ally Joseph Ligambi was tasked with trying to stabilize the weakened family as acting boss ever since.

Other powerful members have included mobsters such as Philip Testa, Salvatore Merlino, Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, Nicholas Caramandi, Salvatore Testa, Antonio Caponigro, Phil Leonetti, and Harry Riccobene.


Salvatore Sabella

In the early 20th Century, several Italian-American Philadelphia street gangs joined to form what would eventually become the Philadelphia crime family. Salvatore Sabella was the first leader of the group that would later bear his name. They busied themselves with bootlegging, extortion, loansharking and illegal gambling, and it was during the Prohibition era that Sabella and his crew were recognized as members of the wider Sicilian crime syndicate of New York and Chicago. Sabella retired in 1927.

John Avena

After Sabella's retirement John "Big Nose" Avena was appointed new boss of the Philadelphia Family by the Commission in New York. He ruled for five years before being assassinated by members of the notorious Lanzetti Mob. He was succeeded by Joseph Bruno who avenged Avena's death by waging war on the Lanzettis. The most important hit in this bloody campaign of vengeance was the killing of the infamous Pius Lanzetti by Mafia soldiers Harry Riccobene and Peter Casella. The remaining Lanzettis fled to Detroit. Joseph Bruno then was faced with a bloody revolt from within the ranks of his own Family. From a hideout in Upper Darby, PA he directed his loyalists in the War of 1939 to finally wipe out all serious opposition to his rule. He was head of the Family until his death by natural causes in 1946 at a New York City hospital, and Joseph Ida was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia family and its rackets.

Influenced by Vito Genovese

Joseph Ida

Joseph Ida ran the family throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Ida and the Philadelphia organization were heavily influenced by the bosses of the Five Families, especially the Genovese crime family, which sought to control both families as Vito Genovese, Underboss of the Genovese crime family assumed control in 1956 after the shooting of former boss Frank Costello, who subsequently retired due to illness. As the Philadelphia crime family gained more power in Atlantic City and South Jersey, they were viewed as a large faction of the Genovese crime family. Joseph Ida and his Underboss Dominick Olivetto were present during the 1957 Apalachin Convention with roughly 100 other top mobsters. Around this time Philadelphia separated from the Genovese crime family, and were given a seat in the national Mafia body, The Commission. The meeting was raided by US law enforcement and over 60 mafioso were arrested and indicted for association with known organized crime members. Ida was named in the indictment and fled to Sicily not long after the meeting, leaving Antonio Pollina as Acting boss in Ida's absence.

Angelo Bruno: The Gentle Don

Angelo Bruno

After Joseph Ida retired in 1959, and Pollina was demoted, Angelo Bruno, nicknamed "The Gentle Don", was appointed by the Commission to run the Philadelphia crime family. Bruno, the first boss of Philadelphia with a seat at the Commission, gained much respect in the underworld and was soon to be seen as the most powerful Mafia boss outside the New York and Chicago area, as he expanded the family's profit and operations in lucrative Atlantic City, which had now became known as the Philadelphia family's turf. Bruno himself avoided the intense media and law enforcement scrutiny and outbursts of violence that plagued other crime families, as well as avoiding lengthy prison terms despite several arrests; his longest term was two years for refusing to testify to a Grand Jury. In addition, Bruno did not allow his family to deal in narcotics, or to be in any part of the drug trafficking that led to Vito Genovese's 15 year prison-sentence in 1959. Apparently, Bruno preferred more traditional operations like labor racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking and loansharking. During the early 1960s, the Philadelphia family was officially recognized as the Bruno family.

Philadelphia Mafia War

Angelo Bruno and Philip Testa murders

Philip Testa

Angelo Bruno held complete power over his family for two decades, but the offroad navigation of the narcotics operations, that many factions below him thought they should have a piece of, eroded his support. Additionally, he allowed the Five Families to work in Atlantic City after it turned into a gambling mecca. Atlantic City had long been recognized as part of the Philadelphia family's domain, but the New York families thought that Atlantic City, like Las Vegas, was too lucrative for one family to get all of the action. However, under the rules of the Mafia, a family couldn't set up shop in another family's territory without permission. While Bruno was initially unwilling to invite them, he realized he couldn't hope to challenge all Five Families and eventually let them in.

On March 21, 1980, the sixty-nine-year-old Angelo Bruno was killed by a shotgun blast to the back of the head as he sat in his car. It is believed that Bruno's Consigliere, Antonio Caponigro, ordered his murder. Caponigro was apparently ready to step up, but he was killed by Vincent Gigante's crew and stuffed in a body bag in New York. About $300 in bills were jammed in his mouth and anus. It was alleged that the Commission ordered his murder because Caponigro had assassinated a family boss, and a member of the Commission, without their sanction. After Caponigro's murder, various short-lived leaders were to run the family. Philip Testa led the family for about one year, but was killed by a nail bomb at his home on March 15, 1981. The roofing nails in the bomb were to make it appear that it was retaliation by the K&A Gang for the killing of union president John McCullough. After taking over as Boss, Nicodemo Scarfo had the real conspirators, Frank Narducci and Rocco Marinucci, murdered for the unsanctioned hit. Testa's death resulted from an attempt by Peter Casella, Testa's reputed Underboss, to become the Boss of the Philadelphia family.

In the aftermath of Bruno's murder, many crime families across the country, including the Five Families, the Chicago Outfit, and the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family, mediated between the rival factions and took advantage of the situation. This included, among other things, the rackets in Atlantic City, of which the Genovese crime family eventually took large parts. The relations between the Philadelphia and the New York families eventually declined, and their seat at the powerful Commission was eventually taken from them in the 1980s.

Testa's killing spawned a string of intra-family wars that lasted until 1995. Testa's son, Salvatore Testa, became a rising star in the Philadelphia crime family. A few months after Testa's death, Nicodemo Scarfo, his successor, made Salvatore a caporegime.

The fierce regime of Nicky Scarfo

Nicodemo Scarfo

Nicodemo Scarfo, a powerful leader of the Atlantic City faction, had risen to become the full Boss of the Bruno crime family, which became known as the Scarfo crime family, and promoted his cousin Anthony Piccolo to Consigliere and later his nephew Phil Leonetti to family Underboss. Scarfo, a mobster quite different from Angelo Bruno, cut a deal with the Five Families of New York that allowed them a piece of the action in Atlantic City while keeping a significant slice for himself aiming to keep the partnership between Philadelphia and New York working. However, Scarfo was also known for being ruthless and organized the murders of at least 30 members in his own family, either because they were suspected rivals or even potential informants. During his bloody regime of the 1980s, reputed captain John Gotti of the Gambino crime family organized the shooting of his Boss Paul Castellano and his driver in 1985, leaving John Gotti as the new Boss of the powerful Gambino crime family of New York. Scarfo was a close ally of Gotti during the time, and hoped Gotti would bring them back into the Commission in New York. However, Gotti had murdered his Boss without the approval of the other families and rival Genovese crime family Boss Vincent Gigante conspired with Lucchese crime family leaders Vittorio Amuso and Anthony Casso to murder Gotti. A 1986 attempt on Gotti's life instead killed his Underboss Frank DeCicco. As Gotti's enemies conspired in the late 1980s, Scarfo's relations with New York lapsed. Scarfo and Gotti would soon become enemies.

US authorities had been investigating the Philadelphia crime family since the late 1970s, and many members of the family, including Nicodemo Scarfo, were charged with racketeering, illegal gambling, loansharking, extortion, drug trafficking, and murder. At the end of 1989, twenty members of Scarfo's organization were serving lengthy prison sentences, and another ten were on trial. To make matters worse, five members of the family had turned state's evidence against Scarfo: soldiers Nicholas Caramandi and Eugene Milano, reputed capos Andrew DelGiorno and Lawrence Merlino, and worst of all, Underboss and nephew Phil Leonetti. On April 5, 1989, Scarfo was convicted in court of first degree murder in the 1985 death of rival mobster Frank D'Alfonso, along with six of his lieutenants. Scarfo, who had already been sentenced to 15 years in prison on extortion and conspiracy charges, was sentenced to life imprisonment the following day.

Later that same year, Scarfo's son Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. was shot and wounded in a South Philadelphia Italian restaurant. Some reports suspect Joseph Merlino of being Nicodemo Scarfo Jr.'s assailant. Fearing his rivals had sanctioned his son's murder, Scarfo had him inducted into the Lucchese crime family in 1990 to provide his son protection. Scarfo's cousin Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo became the acting boss of the family from the time Scarfo was arrested until the early 1990s.

Giovanni "John" Stanfa

In 1991 mobster Giovanni Stanfa was promoted to official boss, but his reign ended in 1995 after a two year war with Joseph Merlino in an attempt to gain control of the family. Several murder charges resulted in Stanfa being sentenced to five consecutive life sentences in 1995. Ralph Natale, a former Bruno associate and ally of Merlino, took over as boss upon Stanfa's conviction. In a move that remains controversial today, Natale was inducted into Cosa Nostra by Joseph Merlino, who was at the time just a soldier in the Philadelphia crime family. Ralph Natale immediately took over the title of boss on the same day as his induction.

Ralph Natale eventually became a government witness after he was arrested for running the Philadelphia and South Jersey rackets. After years of being plagued with internal power struggles, informants and federal indictments Joseph Merlino took over as boss of the family in the late 1990s with Steve Mazzone holding the title of underboss and George Borgesi as consigliere. However, the entire administration was imprisoned soon after, with Merlino passing leadership to acting boss Joseph Ligambi, who is Borgesi's uncle.

Joseph Merlino

The rise of Joseph Ligambi

Joseph Ligambi, who became the acting boss after Merlino's imprisonment in 1999, has stabilized the family, increased membership, and more importantly restored relations with the New York families. He has had to contend with the damage Joseph Merlino had done to the family's relationship with illegal bookmakers, who refused to do business with the Philadelphia crime family because Merlino would make huge bets, then never paid when he lost. The family currently consists of approximately 50 soldiers, half of whom are incarcerated, in addition to almost 100 associates. Around a dozen made men will be released from prison in the following years, filling the ranks. Many of these men were young players who fell victim to the unstable Scarfo and Merlino eras, and are now middle-aged. Much of the Philadelphia family's earnings come from illegal poker machines. In contrast to Merlino, Ligambi maintained a low profile, and is more interested in making money, not headlines. With Joseph Massimino serving a prison sentence, Ligambi tapped his closest confidant, Anthony Staino, as the de facto underboss on the street.

Joseph Ligambi has created a tight-knit group around the family's new leadership, rarely conducting business without going through intermediaries, thereby insulating himself from law enforcement scrutiny. His inner circle includes longtime Philadelphia mobsters such as Joseph Massimino, Gaeton Lucibello, and Michael "Mikey Lance" Lancelotti. Recently released Merlino faction leaders Martin Angelina, John Ciancaglini, and Steve Mazzone have also appeared to have fallen in line behind Ligambi. Joseph Merlino was released from prison on March 15, 2011, and was ordered to serve six months in a halfway house in Florida. After his release from prison, Merlino publicly moved to Boca Raton, Florida, to avoid the limelight and heavy scrutiny that was bound to come his way from law enforcement while serving three years of federally supervised release.

On May 23, 2011, Joseph Ligambi and 13 other top members of the crime family were indicted by the FBI on racketeering charges related to illegal gambling operations and loan sharking. However, no murder or violent crimes were alleged; thus, Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, described the indictment as "racketeering light" and that the Philadelphia mob was a shell of its former self. Merlino contines to run the family from South Florida, and after the indictment of Ligambi, he installed his closest friend, Steve Mazzone, as the acting/street boss to run the day to day affairs of the family back in South Philadelphia. Another top Merlino ally, John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini, serves as the acting underboss, while his father. recently released former capo Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, is the official underboss. The elder Ciancaglini's position is only titular in nature, as a reward for his ability to keep quiet while serving nearly 30 years in prison after being convicted in the early 1980s as part of the Nicodemo Scarfo regime.

Current leaders and membership

In September 2009, it was reported by George Anastasia that Joseph Ligambi was boss, Marty Angelina was serving as acting underboss, Anthony Staino was a capo running South Jersey, and Michael Lancelotti was a capo running Philadelphia. In May 2012, recorded conversations reveal that Joseph Merlino has been the boss even while serving jail time dating back to 2001 and that Joseph Ligambi was merely Acting Boss during this time.

Boss - Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino - Took over the crime family following a bloody three year street war with former boss John Stanfa. After Stanfa was sentenced to five life sentences in 1995, the family was essentially without a leader. Merlino inducted one of his allies from prison, Ralph Natale, also an associate of long time don Angelo Bruno in the 1970s, into the family and immediately elevated him to boss. This move has been in question for quite some time; at the time of Natale's induction, Merlino was himself only a soldier. Natale believed he ruled the family until his arrest, however, Merlino was really the power of the family all along. His faction merely used Natale as a figurehead and "lightning rod" to distract the FBI and take the attention of law enforcement off of themselves. Following his release from federal prison in 2011, Merlino relocated to Boca Raton, Florida and denounced the life of crime. In an interview with famed journalist and mob reporter George Anastasia, Merlino said he was retired from the mob and that he wanted no part of it, claiming there were "too many rats" around Philadelphia and the entire cosa nostra in general. Before his parole restrictions could expire in September 2014, Merlino was ordered back to federal prison for four months due to a parole violation. The violation came to light during surveillance that was being conducted by law enforcement in Florida, as Merlino was captured meeting with John Ciancaglini at a restaurant and cigar bar, a violation of the terms of his parole that he not meet or associate with convicted criminals or known mob associates. Despite being set to be released in May 2015, a ruling panel was installed to avoid potential conflicts and run the day to day street affairs of the family back in Philadelphia. According to reports, a three man panel of "street bosses" was established, which includes reputed acting boss Steve Mazzone, acting underboss John Ciancaglini, and former Scarfo era soldier Phil Narducci.

Underboss/Street Boss - Steven "Handstome Stevie" Mazzone - Former underboss/consigliere for Merlino. Named acting boss after Joseph Ligambi was arrested for racketeering in 2011. Continues to run the day to day street operations of the family while Merlino remains in Florida.

Acting Underboss - John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini - Former South Philadelphia captain and loyal associate of the Merlino faction. His father, Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini, a former capo during the Scarfo era, was recently released from federal prison after serving 30+ years. In return for his years of silence and loyalty, Chickie was promoted to underboss shortly after returning home from prison. However, it is believed that the elder Ciancaglini holds the position in title only, and his son Johnny Chang actually handles the day to day duties of the position on the street. Two brothers, Michael "Mikey Chang" Ciancaglini, and Joseph "Joey Chang" Ciancaglini, were both shot while in opposing factions during the Stanfa-Merlino street war in the early 1990s. Mikey Chang was killed in a drive-by shooting while with Merlino, who escaped with a minor gunshot wound to the rear end. Joey Chang, at the time in the rival faction as Stanfa's underboss, was partially paralyzed in a shooting ordered by Merlino.

Consigliere - Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi - The former acting boss of the Philadelphia mob while Joseph Merlino was serving a 14 year federal prison sentence following his 2001 racketeering conviction. Ligambi served as acting boss from around the time of Merlino's arrest in June 1999 until his own arrest in May 2011 following a sweeping racketeering indictment that nearly decimated the family. Ligambi rose up through the ranks of the Philadelphia underworld as friends of capo Lawrence "Yogi" Merlino and his brother, underboss Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino. Ligambi was eventually inducted into the family in 1987 by Nicodemo Scarfo.


North Jersey - Joseph Licata (Joe Scoops) - Elder statesman and long time loyalist to the Philadelphia family. Considered to be a "high ranking" and trusted member of the hierarchy by those in law enforcement. Leads a small faction of the family that is mainly involved in bookmaking and loansharking.

South Jersey - Anthony Staino (Ant) - Also held the unofficial position of de facto underboss of the crime family while Joseph Massimino was in prison in 2010. Staino is considered one of the biggest earners in the family, and is involved in the lucrative video poker racket with Ligambi and Massimino. He is also considered the closest confidant and ally of Ligambi. After being convicted and sentenced to federal prison until 2020, it is unknown how long Staino will remain an official captain of his crew. It has been speculated that he may "retire" once released from prison.

South Philadelphia - Michael Lancellotti (Mikey Lance) - Current captain of the South Philadelphia faction, considered the most powerful crew in the family. While law enforcement believes Lancelotti to be one of the major players in the South Philadelphia mob, he has managed to avoid attention while ducking indictments and never being sentenced to long prison terms.

South Philadelphia/Delaware County - Martin Angelina (Marty) - Reputed captain and long time friend and loyal supporter to Merlino. Angelina was recently released from federal prison along with the crews other former captain, Gaeton Lucibello. Not known for his brains or big time ability to earn money, Angelina once sold a special edition $110,000 1988 Lamborghini 500S to a federal agent for a measly $5,300. Before going to prison on the racketeering conviction, Angelina was appointed to serve as the acting underboss under Ligambi while Joseph "Mousie" Massimino was in prison. It is not clear if Angelina if the official captain of the crew, as some believe that former capo Gaeton Lucibello may have reclaimed his former position.

Scarfo Faction - Phillip "Phil" Narducci - Fresh off of a 20+ year stint in federal prison, Phil Narducci and his brother Frank "Windows" Narducci are considered to be heavy hitters and feared members of the Philadelphia LCN family. Their father, Frank Narducci Sr. was part of the plot that rubbed out former boss Philip Testa in 1981. As a result, Narducci was subsequently murdered himself on orders of Nicodemo Scarfo. Scarfo told the sons they would not be held accountable for the sins of their father, and both fell in line as loyal soldiers. Many outsiders, including those in law enforcement and former underboss Phil Leonetti, believe Narducci to be one to watch in the family and consider him the only "true gangster" in the city of Philadelphia. Since his release from prison, Narducci has been building influence and a heavy following in the city, commanding a faction that includes his brother Frank, several young associates of the 10th and Oregon gang, and other holdovers from the Scarfo reign, including Nicholas Milano and Salvatore Scafidi. It is believed that two other former Scarfo soldiers, Joseph "Joey Pung" Pungitore and his brother Anthony "Tony Pung" Pungitore, are back in the game in Philadelphia but are currently operating independently from Narducci and any other crew in the family. In early 2015, reports surfaced that a three man ruling panel had been established to run the family while Joseph Merlino serves a four month federal prison sentence for a parole violation. In order to appease Narducci and avoid conflict, he was installed as a street boss in the new ruling panel along with current acting boss Steven Mazzone and acting underboss John "Johnny Chang" Ciancaglini.

Historical leadership

Bosses (official and acting)

Underbosses (official and acting)

Consiglieres (official and acting)


  1. "The Departed", October 8, 2015. Retrieved on November 3, 2015. 
  2. Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit. Arcadia Publishing (2006). ISBN .
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Mob-pagan Pact Joey's Bid For Philly Crime Boss Fueled By Link With Biker Gang", March 11, 1999. Retrieved on November 7, 2015. 
  4. The Mafia in New Jersey - La Cosa Nostra - State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation 1989 Report - The Bruno/Scarfo Family. Retrieved on 2016-01-22.
  5. "Sources: Mob Buys Coke From The Jbm", August 30, 1989. Retrieved on November 7, 2015. 
  6. How the Pagans Bested the Mob | Cover Story | News and Opinion. Philadelphia Weekly. Archived from the original on September 9, 2012. Retrieved on 2012-07-15.

External links