Current Philadelphia mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino began angling to take control of the Bruno-Scarfo crime family around the same time recently-deceased don Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo found himself locked up and convicted of racketeering and murder in the late 1980s. Scarfo died of natural causes late last week at 88. Merlino (photo credit: FoxPhilly29) would take the Family by force in the mid-1990s with the help of Ralph Natale, a former labor-union lieutenant of the ‘Docile Don’ Angelo Bruno’s who used his connections in New York’s Five Families to maneuver him and Merlino into the driver’s seat at the forefront of Philly’s Italian mafia.

The spirited, sixty-something Natale was the young handsome, thirtysomething Merlino’s front boss until going to prison in 1998 and eventually entering the Federal Witness Protection Program. The war Merlino and Natale fought against Scarfo’s immediate successor John Stanfa, a Sicilian-born Godfather who was part of the conspiracy to assassinate syndicate patriarch Bruno in March 1980, accounted for almost have the gangland slayings on the today 54-year old Skinny Joey’s proverbial watch as a mob administrator.

The Skinny Joey Era hit list

May 24, 1990 – Philly mobster Louis (Louie Irish) DeLuca is shot to death getting into his car outside his after-hours club. DeLuca reportedly refused to get on board with Merlino’s plan to take over the city. Merlino’s No. 1 lieutenant Michael (Mikey Chang) Ciancaglini allegedly arranged the hit as Merlino served time in prison for an armored car heist.

January 29, 1992 – Philly mob soldier and John Stanfa loyalist Felix (Little Felix) Bocchino is shot death getting out of his car outside his home. Bocchino was reportedly in line to be named Stanfa’s underboss and had been acting as his top emissary in the early portion of his reign. “Little Felix,” like Stanfa, was part of the conspiracy to assassinate Angelo Bruno in 1980. According to FBI informants, Mikey Ciancaglini and reputed current underboss Steven (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone carried out the Bocchino hit, with Mazzone, Louie Irish DeLuca’s former driver, acting as the triggerman as a means of “making his bones.”

May 20, 1992 –Philly mob associate James (Jimmy Brooms) DiAddorio is shot to death inside a phone booth at his health club after refusing to pay a street tax on his bookmaking and drug operations and openly bad-mouthing Merlino and his inner circle.

November 29, 1992 – Philly mob associate and Stanfa loyalist Francesco DiGiacomo is killed, shot to death behind the wheel of his car in New Jersey.

January 7, 1993 – Philly mob associate and Stanfa loyalist Rod Colombo is killed, shot to death behind the wheel of his car in New Jersey.

January 28, 1993 – Philly mobster and federal informant Mario (Sonny) Riccobene, older half brother of incarcerated Bruno-Scarfo crime family crew leader Harry (The Hunchback) Riccobene, is shot to death behind the wheel of his car idling in the parking lot of Brooklawn Diner after leaving the witness protection program and attempting a return to the South Philly underworld.

August 5, 1993 – Philly mob soldier and Skinny Joey’s best friend and co faction leader Michael (Mikey Chang) Ciancaglini is gunned down while leaving a clubhouse mob hangout with Merlino.

September 17, 1993 – Philly mobster and Skinny Joey loyalist Frank (Frankie Bronze) Baldino is shot to death exiting the Melrose Diner.

May 8, 1994 – New Jersey wiseguy William (Crazy Willie) Ganz, the highly-feared driver and bodyguard for Bruno-Scarfo crime family North Jersey captain Joseph (Joe the Nodder) Sodano, is killed for his rogue behavior.

December 6, 1994 – Philly mob associate Michael (Mikey Ice) Brennan is shot to death, wrapped in a floor carpet and dumped in the woods after an alleged falling out with the Merlino camp.

February 24, 1995 – Philly mob associate and drug dealer Ralphie Mazzuca is shot to death and then set on fire following his robbing of fellow mob associate Roger Vella’s parents’ house. Vella often acted as Skinny Joey’s driver and has since joined the witness protection program.

April 4, 1996 – Philly mobster and notorious ladies man Michael (Dutchie) Avicoli is killed for allegedly having an affair with the wife of Stevie Mazzone. Avicoli’s remains have never been found but FBI informants say Mazzone, Merlino and others killed him and disposed of his body on farm property in New Jersey.

October 4, 1996 – Philly mob associate Billy Veasey, the brother of mafia turncoat John (John-John) Veasey, is shot to death the morning “John John” is scheduled to testify at Stanfa’s trial. In a twisted tale of coldblooded mafia vengeance, FBI informants say reputed current Philly mob capo John (Johnny Chang) Ciancaglini was the triggerman in the Billy Veasey hit in an eerie “brother-for-a-brother” exchange – John John Veasey was the man who killed Johnny Chang’s baby brother Mikey Chang three years earlier.

1997 – North Jersey crew associates and drug dealers Billy Shear & Bobby Matonis are killed by North Jersey crew hit man Philip (Philly Fay) Casale.

December 7, 1996 – Philly mob captain and North Jersey crew chief, Joseph (Joe the Nodder) Sodano, is shot to death behind the wheel of his car in the parking lot of a local retirement home. Sodano was killed by Philly Fay Casale and Peter (Pete the Crumb) Caprio, Sodano’s second-in-charge and replacement as capo of the North Jersey crew.

March 18, 1998 – Independent South Philly racketeer Anthony Turra is killed for his sanctioning of an assassination of Skinny Joey Merlino after Merlino feuded with Turra’s son and protégé Rocco. The elder Turra was shot death outside of his home en route to his racketeering trial in federal court.

April 10, 1999 – South Philly drug dealer Gino Marconi is gunned down leaving his apartment by a high-powered rifle after allegedly refusing to pay street tax. Merlino’s now-defunct Boston crew were suspects in the slaying.

October 26, 1999 – One-time Bruno-Scarfo crime family consigliere Ronnie Turchi is found in the trunk of his wife’s car, hogtied and shot in the back of the head. Turchi had been close to Ralph Natale, who had just become a witness for the government weeks earlier.

January 17, 2002 – Old-school Philly mafia soldier Raymond (Long John) Martarano is shot to death as he drove to an early-morning doctor’s appointment, less than a year after his release from a lengthy term behind bars. He would languish on life support for two weeks before finally succumbing to his injuries.

November 22, 2003 –Philly mobster and notorious renegade John (Johnny Gongs) Cassasanto is shot to death inside his house after a series of infractions starting with his allegiance to John Stanfa during the war a decade prior and ending with his rumored romantic affair with Joey Merlino’s wife while “The Skinny One” served a 12-year prison sentence. Cassasanto was considered a suspect in the Long John Martarano hit.

June 10, 2010 – Independent South Philly loan shark and bookie Rocco Maniscalco is killed after allegedly rebuking mob shakedown efforts.

December 12, 2012 – Philly mob associate and alleged informant Gino DiPietro is gunned down getting into his truck outside his condo. Merlino’s protégé and former bodyguard Anthony Nicodemo pled guilty to conspiracy in the hit and is doing 25 years in prison – authorities believe he drove the getaway car, which was seen fleeing from the scene and where the murder weapon was uncovered within minutes. Alleged up-and-coming Philly button man Dominic (Baby Dom) Grande, 37, has been identified as a suspect in the case as well. DiPietro reportedly got into a heated argument with Nicodemo that fall over an unpaid debt from a backdoor poker game Nicodemo ran. Nicodemo, 46, is a suspect in the Johnny Gongs Cassasanto slaying.


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