Buon Natale!

This the season for holiday parties and even Philadelphia’s mafia is getting in the spirit. Next week, mafiosos and their ilk will gather at Malone’s bar at 18th and Ritner streets, the same place where more than 70 “made men” and associates toasted the health of alleged mob boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi last Christmas season.

Inside the bar, mobsters sipped whiskey or wine, exchanged holiday greetings with fellow wise guys and chatted up several defense attorneys. As the evening wore on, many of the mob associates and soldiers supposedly offered “gifts” of money to their capos, underboss and boss.

During the festivities, police investigators froze outside in their unmarked van, snapping photos as reputed gangsters showed up to pay their respects.

It is the largest of several mob parties that take place this time of year, but in restaurants, back rooms of social clubs, corner stores, row houses and swanky suburban split-levels, smaller groups of made men and their crew bosses gather to eat, drink and make merry.

“Everybody’s got their Christmas parties this time of year, and we got ours,” one wise guy explains. “It’s nice to have a little wine and see everybody. It’s tradition.”

Of course, not every wise guy gets to celebrate at local mob Christmas parties; previous Philly mob bosses who are spending their holiday season behind bars include Nicky Scarfo, John Stanfa and Joey Merlino. Stanfa and Scarfo will both die in jail — they’re currently being held at the United States penitentiaries in Allenwood, Pa., and Atlanta, Ga., respectively — but Merlino is expected to be released from a federal prison in McKreary, Ky., on Sept. 7, 2011. (Ralph Natale, the onetime-don-turned-rat is in a special custody wing for cooperating witnesses somewhere in the federal system; he’ll walk in less than seven years.)

Someone who once was considered an important Philly mob associate is also facing yet another Christmas Eve in the clink.

George Martorano, son of slain mob capo Raymond “Long John” Martorano, is serving one of the longest federal sentences for a nonviolent offense in America [Cover, “In the Name of His Father,” Brendan McGarvey, March 3, 2005]. His supporters say it’s because he refused to drop dime on his father, who was gunned down in Center City in 2002. The murder, reportedly a mob hit, remains unsolved.

Martorano will spend his 25th Christmas behind bars as he awaits word on whether President Bush will approve a Justice Department recommendation to reduce his sentence. Convicted of drug trafficking, Martorano has been the focus of a national letter-writing campaign urging authorities to re-examine his sentence.

While incarcerated, Martorano has earned a GED, become a teacher and counselor to troubled inmates, taught illiterate men to read and write and was certified by the Bureau of Prisons as a trained mentor for prisoners preparing to re-enter society.

“Christmas Eve and Christ-mas Day we have a Mass for the Catholic inmates,” Martorano said last week during a phone interview from a federal prison in South Florida. “We got 800 inmates registered Catholic but only about 30 show up. After Mass, we have cookies and talk a little.”

But not everyone is a fan.

A former FBI agent says the feds believe Martorano was one of two hit men in the May 1981 slaying of Greek-American mobster Chelsais “Steve” Bouras in a South Philadelphia restaurant. On that evening, Martorano’s father was sitting with Bouras and six others, including radio personality Jerry Blavat. There, one of two gunmen asked “Long John” Martorano, Blavat and the others to move before opening fire with a .22-caliber revolver. Bouras was hit four times in the head and died. His girlfriend, Jeanette Curro, was also shot and killed although investigators believe she was hit by accident.

“We always felt that Long John hired his own son to do the hit,” the G-man says. “How fucked up is that? Your own dad is there to watch you kill someone!”

Martorano was never charged in the case and denied he murdered anyone.

“I was never a made guy and I never killed anyone,” he told City Paper during a phone interview from prison in March. Until his arrest for drug trafficking, George pointed out, he had no police record, not even for a traffic ticket.

While in prison, he has lost his father, son and good friends including film actor Chris Penn, who talked about making a movie about his friend’s plight.

“It’s been rough sometimes,” he said last week, “but I’m still hoping to get out of here someday. … If somebody asked me what I learned, I’d tell them, ‘Love thy neighbor and love thy family.’ That’s what God wants. That’s what it’s all about.”

Martorano also noted that there’s some interest in a screenplay he wrote about an Italian-American inmate who saves the life of a female guard during a prison riot. “A production company wants to make it,” he said. “They’re talking to Vin Diesel about starring in it.”

    • Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and editor-in-chief of Philadelphia Weekly. His past work includes years as a journalist with Philadelphia Weekly, his PW column “The Uncomfortable Whole” winning multiple awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ First Place award for newspaper commentary in both 2014 and 2015. Josh has written for a variety of local and national publications, and his work often includes his perspective as someone with lived experience with HIV, homelessness, poverty, trauma, and addiction along with expert analysis from years of experience in journalism and public service following a five year stint in local government communications. He is a member of Philly’s local LGBTQ community, a parishioner at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a militant bicyclist, and resident of the Point Breeze section of the city with his cat, a senior tom named Mason.

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