PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia mob has limped along on life support for the past decade, its former leaders, Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, out of the picture after high-profile federal prosecutions.
But reports of La Cosa Nostra's demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Monday by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain. In fact, the mafia was adding new soldiers to its ranks as recently as 2015, prosecutors say, in ceremonies overseen by veterans of those former regimes.
Fifteen mobsters have been indicted on racketeering, extortion, gambling and drug trafficking charges, according to the indictment. Chief among them is Steven Mazzone, 56, the reputed underboss of the organization who once served under Ligambi.
The 14 other defendants read like a who's-who list of made men, many of whom were previously indicted on organized-crime charges in Philadelphia in the last two decades: Domenic Grande, 41; Joseph Servidio, 60; Salvatore Mazzone, 55; Joseph Malone, 70; Louis Barretta, 56; Victor DeLuca, 56; Kenneth Arabia, 67; Daniel Castelli, 67; Carl Chianese, 81; Anthony Gifoli, 73; John Romeo, 58; Daniel Malatesta, 75; Daniel Bucceroni, 66; and John Michael Payne, 34.
McSwain, in unsealing the court documents Monday, said the defendants wielded the reputation and influence of the mafia to command criminal activity in the city and beyond, stretching their influence to the Jersey Shore.
Prosecutors say the group ran illegal sports gambling, extorted victims through predatory loan-sharking and pushed heroin, cocaine and prescription opioid painkillers. In one instance, during a botched attempt to buy two pounds of methamphetamine from a Philly drug dealer, members of the group conspired to kidnap and kill the man to uphold the organization's reputation, the indictment said.
Federal investigators started building their case in October 2015, when Steven Mazzone, Salvatore Mazzone and Grande presided over a "making" ceremony in South Philadelphia, during which a group of new soldiers were inducted into the mafia, according to the indictment.
In the following months, Grande allegedly put these new soldiers to work. The group was ordered to help Arabia and Castelli spread the mob's influence into Atlantic City by extorting local bookies and loan sharks.
From their favored meeting places, like the now-defunct Broadway Theatrical Club in South Philadelphia, the group carried out those orders over the next three years, amid threats of violence, according to the indictment. In one instance, Malone commanded one of the soldiers to "go over there with a baseball bat and hit" an unidentified victim.
During that same span, the defendants expanded their illegal activities to include distribution of cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl, selling the narcotics to undercover federal agents on several occasions the indictment said.
At one point, Servidio, DeLuca, and Chianese sought to buy two pounds of methamphetamine from a drug dealer in Philadelphia, but the drugs he sold them were fake. The group then plotted to kidnap and kill him, but their plans were never carried out, the indictment said.
"Thanks to the dedicated and courageous efforts of federal law enforcement over the past several decades, the Philadelphia mob isn't what it used to be, and thank God for that," McSwain said in announcing the criminal charges. "But it is still a problem and is still allegedly committing serious federal crimes, which is why we at the Department of Justice are focused on stamping it out. We will not rest until the mob is nothing but a bad memory."(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC