Philadelphia mob captain Santo (Chester Sam) Idone had his tenure as a mafia administrator derailed by a dispute with New York’s Gambino Crime Family over video poker machines, snippets of which were caught on tape by the FBI for posterity. Idone, who led a Philly mafia crew out of Delaware County, Pennsylvania for two decades, was indicted 30 years ago on federal racketeering charges and sent away to prison, effectively bringing an end to his career as a power in the underworld.
“Chester Sam” ran his crew out of Chester, Pennsylvania, the oldest city in the history-steeped state. He was tapped as a capo by Philly mob don Angelo Bruno in the early 1970s. Upon Bruno’s assassination in 1980, Idone remained in the post under Bruno’s direct successors, Phil (The Chicken Man) Testa and Nicodemo (Little Nicky) Scarfo.
The beef with the Gambinos occurred in 1986 when a vending machine business in Chester placed a pair of video poker machines in a mob-controlled lounge and club called The Gold Room. The machines came from Action and Automatic Vending — companies owned by the Sanbe family, father, Alphonse, son Ronnie and grandfather Nick — and replaced machines owned by Danny Eufrasio, the son of Idone’s right hand man Mario (Murph) Eufrasio.
The Sanbes believed their actions were protected by Freddy Lupi, a Gambino associate about to be released from prison. Lupi was a silent partner in their business. By the start of 1986, with the knowledge that Lupi was on his way home, the Sanbes had made the owner of The Gold Room a better deal on the machines than the younger Eufrasio had been giving him.
In March 1986, Idone stepped into the situation and threw his weight around. He instructed Danny Eufrasio to move the Sanbes machines out of The Gold Room and reinstall the Idone-crew backed ones. Nick Sanbe filed a police report for theft, drawing the ire of the Idone crew. The day after filing the report, he was contacted via phoned by Murph Eufrasio and told in no uncertain terms to drop the complaint immediately.
The auto body shop the Idone crew hung out at and talked business every day was wired for sound throughout all of 1986.
“You’re fooling around with the wrong people, this ain’t worth getting hurt over,” Eufrasio was recorded admonishing Sanbe. “Look, if you don’t drop this thing, somebody’s going to get hurt and it’s probably going to be you or someone close to you. So just leave it alone, alright?”
The threat didn’t deter Nick Sanbe though. That fall, he sent his grandson Ronnie into The Gold Room and other Idone crew-controlled bars and taverns and had him vandalize several video poker machines.
Idone called for a sit down with Lupi and at the meeting held inside a Chester townhouse the mob chief told Lupi to tell the Sanbes to stand down and that somebody in that family had to catch a beating for the poker machine vandalizations. Lupi responded by demanding his machines be returned to The Gold Room and Idone threatened to kill him if he didn’t back off. Idone informed then Philly mob boss Little Nicky Scarfo of the situation and Scarfo had a sit down with Gambino Don John Gotti about the matter. Scarfo got a ruling in Idone’s favor — the two had been involved in the 1962 gangland hit of wiseguy Vincent (Reds) Caruso together and Idone was one of Scarfo’s strongest supporters in his bid for the throne in 1981 in the aftermath of Testa’s assassination.
“If they want to start a fight, we’ll crack their skulls…..smash their poker machines,” Idone was caught telling Murph Eufrasio in an intercepted conversion from December 1986. “It’s possible we’ll work things out. But if we don’t, we will just have to use other methods, that’s all. Then, we’ll beat the guys up, take it to the streets.”
Gotti’s intervention on behalf of Scarfo and Idone worked. The Sanbes moved their machines out of Chester in January 1987 and no violence resulted from the feud.
Scarfo was arrested two months later in March 1987 and charged with multiple murder and racketeering counts he would go on to be convicted of. Idone and Eufrasio were indicted on bookmaking and extortion stemming from The Gold Room dispute, in 1989.
Idone was found guilty at a 1990 trial and served eight years in federal prison, forced to relinquish his capo spot and Delaware County territory. The well-liked veteran wiseguy lived out his final years in retirement down in Florida, dying in 2005 at 85 of prostate cancer.