Philadelphia mob takes blow

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philly mob is down but not out.

Government officials were pleased this month when former Mafia boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino got 14 years behind bars for racketeering and his top lieutenants received long prison terms as well.

But federal law enforcement officials caution that the mob, though crippled, is still operating -- and they expect another round of prosecutions.

"This clearly is a critical blow to the La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia. However, it's not the end of the LCN," said Thomas Harrington, who heads the FBI organized crime unit in Philadelphia.

Now that Merlino is out of the picture, mob observers predict a bloody struggle for control.

More than 30 people have been killed in gangland violence since the 1980 assassination of crime boss Angelo Bruno, the "Docile Don," who was killed by a shotgun blast outside his South Philadelphia home. Bruno's successor, Phil "Chicken Man" Testa, was killed in 1981. Every boss since -- Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, John Stanfa, Ralph Natale and now Merlino -- is in prison.

"There's always somebody out there who wants to be the boss, who thinks that if they get the position they can survive," said Fred Martens, former executive director of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission. "Everybody thinks it won't be them."

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