Read an Excerpt
Mafia PrinceInside America's Most Violent Mafia Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra
By Phil Leonetti
Running PressCopyright © 2012 Phil Leonetti
All right reserved.
CHAPTER TK: Bullets and Badges
Crazy Phil Makes His Bones
Upon Little Nicky Scarfo’s release from Yardville, Philip’s life forever changed.
He was now a player. At barely 21 years old Philip Leonetti was considered a fast riser, both on the street and within law enforcement. Firmly ensconced in his uncle’s inner circle and unquestionably trusted by the Philadelphia mob brass for his dutiful performance as a go-between for Scarfo and Godfather Angelo Bruno when they were behind bars, Philip gained almost immediate respect.
It wasn’t like he didn’t earn it.
From very early in his life as a wiseguy, Philip proved he could kill on command, or "put in work” as they say on the street. Combined with his sharp mind for business and his family connections, his status as a future superstar in the mafia was undeniable.
Sticking to Scarfo like glue from the second he returned from prison, he was schooled on the ways of the mob and the often distorted and treacherous landscape that surrounds it by a master underworld politician and bonafide sociopath in his uncle.
Murder would be their bond, power their ultimate goal.
Philip was the perfect student and Scarfo relished the role of mentor and father-figure. Little Nicky saw himself in his nephew and viewed Philip as a way to cement his legacy in the mafia for years long after he passed.
Scarfo was the present and Philip the future. They were the perfect match.
* * * * *
Little Nicky was fed up.
Vince Falcone had become a thorn in his side.
He had a big mouth and was blatantly subversive.
Although Scarfo had once liked Falcone early in their relationship, he had grown to loath him. When word got back to Philip and his uncle that Falcone was talking badly about them around town, openly undermining their authority, it was the final straw.
During a trip to Italy in the fall months of 1979, Scarfo issued a contract on his head.
Always one to like to get his hands dirty, Little Nicky didn’t just want Vince Falcone killed, he wanted to be there when it took place. That’s the kind of bloodthirsty lunatic he was. While most mob leaders seek to do everything in their power to insulate themselves as much as possible from the murders they order, Scarfo wanted to bask in them, personally savior the experience in any way he could.
The Falcone contract also provided him the opportunity to commit a murder alongside his nephew, to literally bind Philip and himself in blood. To his uncle, the entire world revolved around the mob, murder and family, specifically in that order. Killing Vince Falcone in the manner he foresaw, gave him the chance to combine all three of these at the same time in one giant orgy of death, lineage and La Cosa Nostra.
* * * * *
The trap was set.
Little Nicky and Phillip had the whole thing planned out.
Falcone was weary, knowing that Scarfo was upset with him, but far from convinced that he was marked for execution. In the weeks following Thanksgiving, Scarfo and Philip lulled him into a sense of comfort.
He never saw it coming.
Phillip told Falcone that his uncle wished to host a little pre-Christmas get-together for him, Yogi Merlino and Joe Salerno, a local plumbing contractor that had recently started to hang around Scarfo’s Atlantic City crew.
Not picking up the play, he fell for it hook, line and sinker.
On the early evening of December 16, 1979, Philip picked Falcone, Merlino and Salerno up from their respective houses and drove them to a Margate condo where Scarfo was there waiting for them. Sitting on the couch, pretending to peruse a newspaper and watch a football game on television, Little Nicky welcomed his men with a smile. The mood was jovial and festive as Philip, Falcone, Merlino and Salerno entered through a back door leading into the kitchen. The men laughed and kidded each other as they took off their coats and began to get comfortable.
Philip casually mentioned that they should have a toast for the upcoming holiday and instructed Falcone to go to the cabinet and collect some glasses. As soon as he turned his back to head for the kitchen cabinet, Philip pulled a pistol from his waist band and pumped two shots into his skull.
Falcone fell to the floor.
Yogi Merlino was standing so close to Philip when he fired the shots, the still-sparking shell-casings from the two bullets flew into his face and set his eyebrows on fire.
Salerno, much more regular guy than wiseguy, was startled.
"Nick, I didn’t do nothing wrong,” he blurted out. "I swear I didn’t anything wrong.”
Scarfo jumped up from his seat in the living room with glee and made his way into the kitchen where Falcone’s body lay.
"It’s okay, it’s okay.” said Philip trying to calm his nerves. "Take it easy, Joe. Vince was a no good motherfucker. He deserved to die.”
"We ain’t got no beef with you, Joe, you’re going to be alright,” Scarfo told him with a half a grin across his face. "You didn’t do nothing wrong.”
Standing over the body, Little Nicky bent down to listen for any remaining signs of life.
"I think he’s still alive, give’ em another one,” he said.
With no hesitation, Philip instantly unloaded another shot into Falcone’s chest.
His uncle was in heaven. He could barely contain himself.
"The big shot’s dead, the big shot’s finally dead,” Scarfo declared with a half-slur, the alcohol he had been consuming in wait for his soldiers of doom, starting to take effect.
Phillip felt a similar ecstatic charge from the homicide. He reveled in the treachery.
"I wish I could bring’ em back and kill’ em again,” he declared.
Uncle and nephew were becoming one.
Atlantic City was founded in 1854. Its name was a testament to its location which was buttressed by the picturesque seascape of the Atlantic Ocean’s waterfront. The new unchartered territory quickly became a real estate developer’s dream, ripe with commercial opportunity and promise.
From the moment that Atlantic City was incorporated, it was designed to appeal to tourists from all over the world. AC, as it simply became to be known over the years, was marketed as a premiere resort locale and vacation destination with sandy beaches, fine dining, world class entertainment and some of the nation’s most luxurious and lavish hotels.
The city’s crown jewel, the Boardwalk, would be constructed in 1870 and was a seven-mile stretch of oceanfront property that featured a diverse array of opulence and commerce.
In 1878, the PhiladelphiaAtlantic City railroad was constructed as a means of bringing tourists straight from Pennsylvania to the seaside resort and within five years, Atlantic City was one of the top tourist attractions in the world.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century the area experienced a massive real estate boom, finding itself on the cutting edge of both hotel architecture and high-society culture. Extravagant hotels and posh restaurants and nightclubs dotted every inch of the Boardwalk and its surrounding area and the city became a playground for the country’s rich and famous.
During Prohibition, Enoch "Nucky” Johnson, the colorful treasurer of Atlantic County, simultaneously became the unofficial Mayor of Atlantic City and faux Godfather of New Jersey, ushering in an era of more corruption and decadence than the notoriously crooked coastal enclave had ever seen. Controlling the state’s Republican political machine with an iron fist, Johnson oversaw a wide range of illegal rackets while authorizing, encouraging and often taking a piece of nationwide underworld business being conducted within his wide-reaching domain.
The city by the Atlantic was now the 'World’s Playground’, with booze and broads by the boatload. It was the nation’s first true the mecca of vice, in essence, the original Sin City long before modern Las Vegas was even contemplated.
Johnson’s rein atop Atlantic City crumbled in 1941 when he was convicted on charges of tax evasion for hiding proceeds from several policy lottery operations he was running throughout the city. His time in power and notorious reputation have recently come back into the public eye with the hit television show, 'Boardwalk Empire,’ chronicling gangland activity in Atlantic City in the 1920s from the perspective of a local corrupt county Treasurer named Enoch "Nucky” Thompson, a character played by actor Steve Buscemi and based on Johnson’s political regime
As World War II came to an end, so did Atlantic City’s tenure as 'The World’s Playground’. By the 1950s, Atlantic City lost its luster. Year-round tropical destinations like Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas became cheaper and more popular alternatives for vacations with everyday Americans. The rich and famous picked up and headed west for Las Vegas, the up and coming desert oasis that had by now eclipsed Atlantic City as the new lush getaway to the stars.
With the Boardwalk decaying and poverty engulfing the city’s economy, most of the grand hotels of yeseteryear, like the Breakers, the Shelbourne, The Traymore, The Mayflower, and the Marlborough, were all demolished. Drugs and crime replaced fun in the sun as the region’s most prominent features. Press coverage of the city’s plight stemming from the conditions encountered by the national media when they descended on Atlantic City for the 1964 Democratic Convention sent tourists scurrying.
As the late 1960s became the early 1970s, the once bustling resort town had gone bust.
It was practically a ghost town.
It wouldn’t be for long.
And the follow-up Boardwalk Empire that Little Nicky and his nephew would soon build to meteoric heights, would make Nucky Johnson wet his tweed trousers in awe.
* * * * *
Looking for a way to jumpstart its languishing economy and regenerate its one-time lifeblood, the tourist industry, community leaders turned to the glitz and glamour of the hotel and casino industry. The idea of Atlantic City becoming the East Coast’s very own Las Vegas was a very appealing option to many area residents starving for employment and a glimmer better times on the horizon
After a failed referendum in 1974, casino gambling was legalized in Atlantic City in 1976. The prospect of a rebirth in the once flourishing coastal enclave gave inspiration to a community engulfed by plight and urban decay.
On Thursday morning, June 2, 1977, there was something in the air, something that not had been present in AC for more than three decades.
Hope that the big announcement, scheduled for noon at Kennedy Plaza, the ceremonious pavilion in front of the mammoth Convention Hall on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City would restore the city to prominence.
Hope that the Governor’s press conference officially announcing the gambling legalization would breathe life into a city rapidly falling apart at the seams under an increasing influx of crime, poverty and neglect.
Hope that the second coming of Atlantic City was imminent and that 'The World’s Playground’ was about to be resurrected.
It was hope that was also mixed with skepticism, a palpable aura of distrust towards certain factions of the city’s underworld that might try to parlay the new legislation in their favor as well.
As the crowd swelled, nearing 1,000, the dignitaries begin to take their seats behind the podium on the make shift stage. Francis "Hap” Farley, the once powerful State Senator who succeeded Nucky Johnson as the boss of the Republican political machine that controlled Atlantic City was already seated. At one considered the most feared politician in the state, Farley was now a shell of his former self and on this day, merely a spectator.
Seated near Farley was the man who had dethroned him, Atlantic City’s new State Senator Dr. Joseph McGahn, the co-sponsor of the gambling bill that was about to change Atlantic City forever and was once lauded by the New York Times as the "principal architect” that made that change possible.
Nearby were Atlantic City Mayor Joseph Lazarow and State Assemblyman Steven Perskie. William "Bill” Gormley, was moving about with the energy and confidence that spoke to his youthful ambition, and at 31 was Atlantic City’s fastest rising political star. In a few short years Gormley would be elected State Senator and would take control of the powerful Republican machine once headed by Hap Farley and Nucky Johnson before him.
But the star of the show on this day, the man that everyone came to see was New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne.
Byrne was here to announce that legalized casino gambling was coming to the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
But Byrne’s message of a renaissance for Atlantic City came with a warning; a warning for men like Angelo Bruno, Phil Testa, Nicky Scarfo and Philip Leonetti:
"I have made this pledge before to all law enforcement agencies and I will repeat it again. We will keep the limelight of public opinion focused upon organized crime. I’ve said it before and I will repeat again to organized crime; keep your filthy hands off of Atlantic City, keep the hell out of our state.”
At that very moment less than four blocks away in a small ground floor office located at 28 North Avenue, Philip and his uncle, precisely two of the men that Byrne was speaking of and to, were watching the pomp and circumstance on live television.
"What’s this guy talkin’ about,” said Scarfo to his nephew. "Doesn’t he know, we’re already here.”
They both laughed at the nieve politicians’ braggadocio and casually flipped the channel.
Nucky Johnson didn’t have anything on Little Nicky and Crazy Phil.
Excerpted from Mafia Prince by Phil Leonetti Copyright © 2012 by Phil Leonetti. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.