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"It's over. You'd have to be Ray Charles not to see it." —former New Jersey capo Ron Previte, on the mob today As a cop, Ron Previte was corrupt. As a mobster he was brutal. And in his final role, as a confidential informant to the FBI, Previte was deadly. The Last Gangster is his story—the story of the last days of the Philadelphia Mob, and of the clash of generations that brought it down once and for all. For 35 years Ron Previte roamed the underworld. A six–foot, 300–pound capo in the Philadelphia–South Jersey crime family, he ran every mob
"It's over. You'd have to be Ray Charles not to see it." —former New Jersey capo Ron Previte, on the mob today As a cop, Ron Previte was corrupt. As a mobster he was brutal. And in his final role, as a confidential informant to the FBI, Previte was deadly. The Last Gangster is his story—the story of the last days of the Philadelphia Mob, and of the clash of generations that brought it down once and for all. For 35 years Ron Previte roamed the underworld. A six–foot, 300–pound capo in the Philadelphia–South Jersey crime family, he ran every mob scam and gambit from drug trafficking and prostitution to the extortion of millions from Atlantic City. In his own words, "Every day was a different felony." By the 1990s, Previte, an old–school workhorse, found himself answering to younger mob bosses like "Skinny Joe" Merlino, who seemed increasingly spoiled, cocky, and careless. Convinced that the honor of the "business" was gone, he became the FBI's secret weapon in an intense and highly personalized war on the Philadelphia mob. Operating with the same guile, wit, and stone–cold bravado that had made him a force in the underworld—and armed with only a wiretap secured to his crotch—Previte recorded it all; the murder, the mayhem, and even the story of mob boss Ralph Natale's affair with his youngest daughter's best friend. Previte and his FBI cronies eventually prevailed, securing the convictions of his nemeses, "Skinny Joey" Merlino and Ralph Natale.
On the day he was shot, Joe Ciancaglini arrived for work at 5:54:46 A.M.
We know this down to the second because the FBI surveillance camera that was mounted on the telephone pole across the street from Ciancaglini's business establishment -- a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop called the Warfield Breakfast & Luncheon Express -- was taping that morning.
Dark-haired and handsome, the thirty-four-year-old Ciancaglini had been in the FBI's sights for several months, ever since he was named underboss of the Philadelphia mob. It was a move that John Stanfa, the city's mob boss, hoped would bridge a growing gap between the established organization and a younger faction that had been balking at Stanfa's rule.
Ciancaglini had the background, and the bloodlines, for the job. His father, Joseph "Chickie" Ciancaglini Sr., was doing heavy time on a racketeering conviction. His older brother, John, was serving seven years in an extortion case. His younger brother, Michael, was one of the leaders of the faction that was giving Stanfa trouble.
The prosecutions, convictions, and factionalization that had split the Ciancaglini family reflected the broader turmoil that was roiling throughout the Philadelphia underworld at the time. On this particular morning, March 2, 1993, what was about to happen to Joey Chang would add substantially to the chaos.
It was still dark when he arrived for work.
The luncheonette was located on Warfield Street, just off the corner of Wharton, in a mixed residential and industrial neighborhood in the Grays Ferry section of South Philadelphia. During the day, the area is heavily trafficked. But before dawn it is desolate.
The surveillance camera picks up the story.
Two people get out of the car: Ciancaglini and Susan Lucibello, a waitress who usually rode to work each morning with her boss.
At 5:56:15 they approach the front entrance on foot. They are little more than shadows on the FBI monitoring screen that is picking up the feed from the pole camera. But the routine is similar to what happens each morning. Ciancaglini reaches down and unlocks the security grate that covers the front of the squat, narrow cinderblock building. Then he opens the front door and flicks on a light that will provide an eerie backdrop for what is to follow. He and Lucibello walk into the restaurant and begin the business of preparing for the breakfast customers -- construction workers and warehouse attendants, gas station operators and office workers -- who will soon be arriving for coffee, toast, muffins, and, occasionally, a platter of eggs, scrambled or over easy. Most of the trade is take-out, but there are those who grab something to eat at the counter before heading off to work.
At 5:58:18 a station wagon drives past the restaurant, traveling from right to left on the television screen. In the dim predawn light, it is impossible to determine the make or the color of the vehicle. Inside it are the men who are coming that morning to kill Joe Ciancaglini. A sedan, with a lone driver, follows the station wagon. Both disappear to the left, off the screen.
At 5:58:40, three or four shadowy figures -- it's difficult to tell -- come running from the direction of the station wagon and burst through the front door. The FBI bug that has been planted in the restaurant picks up the next five seconds.
Now there is audio to accompany the video. Susan Lucibello screams; there is the sound of rapid footfalls; then at least two of the shadowy figures disappear into the back storage room where Joey Chang is getting ready for what he had assumed would be just another workday. There is the staccato sound of gunfire, six or seven shots. More screams from Lucibello. The rapid shuffling of feet as the shadowy figures head out the door. A man's voice yelling "Move, move!" as the gunmen exit and disappear offscreen to the left, toward the station wagon.
The tape is stunning. It may be the only time in the FBI's long and storied history of battling organized crime that it was able to record a mob hit in progress. That it happened in Philadelphia makes it even better. Because anyone interested in understanding what has happened to the American Mafia over the past twenty years, anyone who tries to discern how and why this once highly secretive and criminally efficient organization has come undone, must look hard at the City of Brotherly Love.
The demise of the American mob starts here.
The attempted assassination of Joseph Ciancaglini Jr. -- miraculously, he survived the hit -- comes in the middle of the story, but it is the perfect jumping-off point.
Jack Newfield, the highly regarded New York writer and investigative reporter, had a piece in Parade magazine not long ago that asked, in bold headlines, "Who Whacked the Mob?" With all due respect to the federal prosecutors and FBI agents who have developed tremendous cases against La Cosa Nostra, the real answer is simple: the death of the American Mafia is the result of self-inflicted wounds. Call it suicide by arrogance, incompetence, greed, and stupidity.
And don't underestimate the impact of assimilation.
There are many Italian-American groups in the country today who get their noses out of joint because of the popularity of HBO's contemporary mob series The Sopranos. The highly acclaimed show, they contend, "marginalizes" Italian-Americans and reinforces the stereotype that they're all gangsters.
The fact of the matter is, the best and the brightest in the Italian-American community are doctors and lawyers, professors and artists, actors and athletes. From Giuliani to Giambi, from Scalia to Scorcese, Italian-Americans are found at the top of almost any field of endeavor.
The mob is another matter. A couple of generations ago, the guys who ran the rackets had smarts. Take Carlo Gambino in New York or Angelo Bruno in Philadelphia: given the opportunity, they could have run a Fortune 500 company. Not so with the guys who came after them. And the guys running the families today? Fuhgeddaboudit.The Last Gangster. Copyright © by George Anastasia. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted April 2, 2004
I have always had a like for any books on the mob and The Last Gangster:From Cop to Wiseguy to FBI Informanant:Big Previte and the Fall of the American Mob gave me everything I read books like this for! Intresting and well-researched!
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Posted February 3, 2014
Anastasia hit another home run loved it ..if you read Blood and Honor this book will pick up where you left off in the lives of the philly mobsters as the changing of the guard happens not once but twice and introduces the world to the up and coming rise of Skinny Joey Merlino son of former jailed under boss Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino..Anastasia just knows Philly Mafia in and out fugetaboutit !Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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