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October 29, 2015

With 'Cowboy George' free, Martorano trickery may have changed course of Philly mob

Prison whisperings in 1980s may have been orchestrated, source says

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102915_Martorano Contributed Art /

George Martorano, 68, spent 32 years in prison on drug dealing charges, becoming the longest-serving non-violent offender in U.S. history.

After spending 32 years in federal prison, former Philadelphia mobster turned prison mentor George Martorano was set free in Florida on October 5 as part of a compassionate release program.

Known as "Cowboy George," the son of mafia figure Raymond "Long John" Martorano pleaded guilty in 1984 to running a multimillion dollar narcotics ring. In the heat of America's War on Drugs, Martorano rolled the dice on his lawyer's plea advice and, instead of getting an expected 10-year-max, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Martorano became the longest-serving nonviolent first offender in the history of the United States, and a new theory suggests that fate may have been part of the larger workings of the Philadelphia mob.

In an article for Big Trial, mafia reporter George Anastasia writes that the advice Martorano took to plead guilty may have been given by his lawyer with knowledge that the judge, John B. Hannum, would come down hard on him.

Why Hannum chose to go in that direction is part of a bigger, more complicated story that literally changed the face of the Philadelphia mob. At least that's the position of aging mob informant Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi whose testimony in the late 1980s decimated the crime family he and Long John Martorano had once served.

Caramandi, also nicknamed the "Little Guy," became a government witness in 1986 following his arrest in an extortion case involving the development of Penn's Landing. As awaited trial, he was concerned that Philly mob boss Nicodemo Scarfo – involved in the Penn's Landing shakedown – would order a hit on him.

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At the time, Martorano's father George was at the same Philadelphia Detention Center. Caramandi approached him to put out feelers on whether Scarfo planned to kill him. Martorano's message, from friends, was: "You're dead."

From that moment forward, Caramandi, now 80, worked for the FBI in protective custody and provided testimony that helped dismantle the Scarfo organization.

All these years later, Caramandi says his flip to the FBI may have been spurred by a deception. According to his theory, Raymond "Long John" Martorano wanted revenge against Scarfo and his lawyer, Bobby Simone, for "selling his kid down the river" with the bad plea advice. To get back at them, he nudged Caramandi to the FBI by telling him Scarfo planned to have him killed.

Today, Scarfo is still serving a 55-year racketeering sentence. His son, Nicky Jr., was sentenced in July to 30 years in prison for a separate racketeering conspiracy.

Martorano, now free in Flordia, has written more than a dozen plays and novels. We can probably expect to hear the full story at some point in the not too distant future.