January 15, 2017
Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, the notorious South Philadelphia mobster who once ruled the city's underworld with an iron fist, died Friday in a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina while serving out a 55-year sentence on murder and racketeering charges, according to multiple reports that emerged on Sunday.
Scarfo, 87, was a force to reckon with in the 1980's, rising to power in the bloody aftermath of the deaths of former Philadelphia Family mob bosses Angelo Bruno and Philip "Chicken Man" Testa. He died Friday while receiving treatment for multiple medical conditions including kidney failure, reports local mob historian George Anastasia over at BigTrial.net. He had been at the Butner, North Carolina facility for more than a year.
During his reign atop Philadelphia's crime ring, Scarfo operated out of Atlantic City, where he had been based since his banishment in 1963. His tumultuous time as kingpin marked an abrupt end to what for many years had been a relatively peaceful era in the Philadelphia mob under the more judicious Bruno, who was killed in front of his South Philadelphia home in 1980.
According to Anastasia, murder was Scarfo's "calling card," resulting in the deaths of nearly 25 mob members and associates in the time leading up to his 1988 trial. His leadership also unfolded during a major law enforcement crackdown on Philadelphia's organized crime scene as investigators increasingly found willing informants and a schism among major players who began to fend for themselves and those most loyal to them.
Scarfo and 16 co-defendants were convicted in 1988 on charges that included murder, attempted murder and extortion. His three sons each led rocky lives in his shadow, most notably middle son Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., who was survived six bullet wounds in a 1989 hit attempt outside Dante and Luigi's on Halloween night. Scarfo Jr. was sentenced to 30 years in prison in July 2015 on racketeering conspiracy charges surrounding the shake down of a Texas-based financial firm.
Anastasia said one of his sources told him Sunday morning that Scarfo was regarded as "kind of a psychopath" even in his later years, according to The Press of Atlantic City. The attempted hit on his son, long thought by police to be the work of Joey Merlino, was ordered in part to prevent him from controlling the local mob as a proxy for his imprisoned father.