May 21, 2020 — In the weeks before a federal murder and racketeering indictment dropped in the City of Brotherly Love back in 2000, prominent criminal defense attorney Joe Santaguida arrived at the Bucks County Prison with a message for Philadelphia mobster Gaetano (Tommy Horsehead) Scafidi: his childhood pals weren’t planning to kill him when he reached the free world in the coming months.

Scafidi wasn’t buying what Santaguida was selling though. Already in conversations with the feds about cooperating, Scafidi, who hails from a deeply-rooted mob lineage, joined Team America and entered the Witness Protection Program.

Santaguida, 81, died of Parkinson’s Disease last week. He was legal counsel for Philly mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino at the time of the visit to Scafidi behind bars. Tommy Horsehead has been in hiding for the last 20 years.

Merlino, 58, and Scafidi, 56, were good friends in their younger days, but their relationship began to fray in the early 1990s as Merlino’s star rose in the mob. Scafidi suspected Merlino and their group of childhood friends that made up their gangland inner-circle of plotting to bump him off amidst a raging mob war.

In 1992, Merlino declared war on Sicilian-born Philadelphia don John Stanfa, who had been installed in the position by New York mob powers he had ties to despite him not having the full support of the soldiers on the street. Scafidi fought on the frontlines of that war, however, sensed animosity growing in his direction within the Merlino camp as the battle intensified and decided to switch sides, going to work for Stanfa.

According to court records, Stanfa talked of killing Joe Santaguida as a message to Merlino. Tommy Horsehead was arrested for extortion in the same 1994 bust that brought down the Stanfa regime and propelled Skinny Joey and his backer, old-school Bruno era goon, Ralph Natale, to victory in the mob feud.

Natale was pushed out of the way by the Merlino crew when he was jailed in June 1998 for a parole violation. A little over a year later, in the fall of 1999, Natale, facing a drug case and shunning from Merlino, flipped and agreed to testify against Merlino and his pals in court.

Then, on October 26, 1999, Natale’s consigliere, Ronnie Turchi, was found dead in the trunk of his wife’s car in South Philly. October 26 is Tommy Horsehead’s birthday. He interpreted it as a threat from Merlino and company and soon sought a meeting with the FBI.

Agreeing to take the stand for a grand jury investigating the Merlino organization, Scafidi was transferred from the Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institute to the Bucks County Prison, a Pennsylvania state corrections facility in the northern Philadelphia suburbs. Scafidi’s transfer out of the fed joint caused a stir, with Philly mob associates calling back home to voice their concerns that Tommy Horsehead might be “going bad.”

Joe Santaguiuda was tapped by the Merlino crew to solve the problem.

Santaguida traveled to Bucks County Prison in Doylestown, Pennsylvania on February 24, 2000 to visit with Tommy Scafidi. Although he called the US Attorneys Office to inquire about Scafidi’s move from one facility to the other and whether he was in fact cooperating – inquiries he received no clarification on or confirmation of –, he didn’t notify Scafidi’s attorney, Chris Furlong, of his intent to meet with him, a clear breach of legal ethics.   

At his face-to-face meeting with Scafidi in an attorneys conference room at Bucks County Prison, Santaguida told Tommy Horsehead that his boyhood pals, specifically, Skinny Joey and Skinny Joey’s consigliere at that time, George (Georgie Boy) Borgesi, were not intending on murdering him and that it was safe for him to return home to Philadelphia upon his parole. Furthermore, he explained that the notoriously anxiety-ridden Borgesi was a “nervous wreck,” and at his law office every day asking for updates on Scafidi’s mindset. He made sure to mention that Borgesi was going to write him a letter and was letting everyone on the street know that in his opinion Scafidi was “100 percent solid and not cooperating.”

Georgie Boy was wrong. Tommy Horsehead knew the ways of the mob way too well, usually it’s your friends that kill you, not your enemies. Instead of allaying his concerns about his personal safety, the jailhouse meeting with Santaguida confirmed Scafidi’s suspicions and cemented his decision to cooperate. He went in front of the grand jury three days later.

Scafidi and Borgesi were particularly close growing up and, according to NY Times Best-Selling author George Anastasia’s book The Last Gangster, had an emotional conversation about what went wrong and why Scafidi left the Merlino camp at a train station in early 1994 in the months after he jumped ship to the Stanfa side of the war and in the weeks before he was indicted and taken into custody. The 56-year old Borgesi is reputed to be Skinny Joey Merlino’s current acting boss.

On March 30, 2000, almost five weeks to the day after the meeting Santaguida had with Scafidi behind bars in Bucks County, the hammer dropped on Merlino and his whole administration as the feds indicted them on a bevy of racketeering and murder charges tied to the shooting war against Stanfa. Even with the testimony of Tommy Horsehead and Merlino’s mentor, Ralph Natale, at their four-month trial the following spring, Merlino and Borgesi avoided being convicted on any of the murder counts and were only bit from the racketeering part of the case.

Before the trial began in 2001, Merlino dumped Santaguida as his attorney and retained Eddie Jacobs to represent him in front of the jury. Skinny Joey, the longest-tenured mafia don in America, did 12 years in prison on the racketeering beef and was released in 2011, relocating to South Florida and deciding to operate his crime family from afar through front bosses. Borgesi came out of prison in 2014, reclaimed a capo’s post two years later and then last summer got appointed Merlino’s acting boss, per sources on both sides of the law.

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