Some years ago, when I was a producer and on-air host of “Inside Government,” a public affairs radio program that aired on Sunday mornings on WPEN AM and WMGK FM, I interviewed the then-chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Organized Crime Task Force.
I noted on the air that I thought “Goodfellas” was the best crime film ever made as well as the most realistic cinematic portrayal of organized crime.
The prosecutor did not agree. He believed the film glamored the mob. He said that audiences liked Joe Pesci in the film because he was funny and charming, but they failed to realize that his character and the other criminals in the film were vicious murderers. I replied that director Martin Scorsese vividly presented the violent side of Cosa Nostra criminals, as well as their human qualities.
As I’m half-Italian and grew up and live in South Philly, I can attest that the local goodfellas make up a small percentage of the community, but they do tend to stand out. I knew these types of guys from an early age, and I’ve covered them as a writer. Some were funny and likeable, and some could turn violent quickly, just as Pesci and Robert DeNiro portrayed them in “Goodfellas.”
In my last column here, George Anastasia and Dave Schratwieser discussed “Mob Talk Sitdown,” their paid subscription website that offers videos, podcasts, and news reports on Philadelphia organized crime. I asked them about the status of the Philadelphia mob.
There are still several unsolved mob murders – Raymond Martorano, Ronnie Turchi, Johnny Casasanto to name three – that the feds would like to pin on the local wiseguys, but they have not been able to get there.– George Anastasia
Schratwieser said that this past November, 15 mob members and associates were charged in a seven-count racketeering indictment that included gambling, loan sharking and drug dealing.
“The current indictment is the result of a five- or six-year investigation by the FBI,” Anastasia said.
“The question is whether it’s the tip of the iceberg. Are more charges against other defendants coming? Or is this case all that the feds were able to develop during that time?
“There are still several unsolved mob murders – Raymond Martorano, Ronnie Turchi, Johnny Casasanto to name three – that the feds would like to pin on the local wiseguys, but they have not been able to get there. The statute of limitations never expires on homicides, but again, the question is, will the feds ever get there?”
Schratwieser explained that there are currently upward of 30 “made” guys in Philadelphia.
“The Philly mob is now – ‘numbers wise’ – stronger than even in the late ‘80s under Nicky Scarfo Sr.,” Schratwieser said.
So who is now the boss of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family?
“The consensus in law enforcement is that Joey, from Florida, is the boss,” Anastasia said.
“The latest indictment identified the rest of the Merlino hierarchy, which is still in place.”
Schratwieser agreed that the FBI believes Merlino still spearheads the Philly mob.
“Philly’s ‘Dapper Don,’ Joey Merlino, is now out of prison and enjoying himself in Boca Raton, Florida,” Schratwieser said.
“Joey has denied being involved anymore, and he tells anyone who will listen that he’s given that criminal lifestyle up,” Schratwieser said.
The reporters also cover other organized crime groups at “Mob Talk Sitdown.”
“The drug underworld is not as highly organized as the mob, but I think during my last two years at the Inquirer I spent more time writing about black drug gangs – Kaboni Savage, Alton ‘Ace Capone’ Coles – than I did writing about wiseguys,” Anastasia said.
“Drug gangs don’t get the kind of attention the Mafia does, but I would argue that in terms of negative impact on the city – deterioration of neighborhoods and outright violence – they are more dangerous that the traditional mob.”
Schratwieser said that the Pagans biker gang remains strong in Philadelphia. He said that in 2019, they held a summertime picnic in Philly that drew more than 300 Pagan members from up and down the east coast.
“They are expanding nationwide,” Schratwieser said.
The reporters discussed the investigation into members of another biker gang, the Warlocks, who are suspected of stashing bodies of murder victims in a cemetery. Schratwieser noted that the FBI has joined the search.
The Philly mob is now – ‘numbers wise’ – stronger than even in the late ‘80s under Nicky Scarfo Sr.– Dave Schratwieser
“That could mean there’s more to come on that investigation,” Schratwieser said.
He said that the leading suspect, an alleged Warlock member, has been extradited from Wyoming, where he was arrested on gun charges, to Philadelphia, where he now faces murder charges.
“Bodies buried in the cemetery. You can’t make this stuff up,” Anastasia said.
“It looks like drugs, money and murder are the talking points.”
He said most of the local media reported on the case, but the coverage lacked perspective.
“We try to fill that gap,” Anastasia said.
You can learn more about mobsters, outlaw bikers and drug traffickers at mobtalksitdown.com.
Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. You can contact him via pauldavisoncrime.com.