Pole-Vaulting

Another group of Eastern-European gunsels makes its mark.

Russian gangsters in the Philadelphia area are pissed off about their new competition. Lately, a small group of tough Polish and Polish-American gangsters from the Port Richmond area have been cutting into the Russian mob’s territory — buying Ecstasy from Israeli mobsters and European wholesalers and reselling it to patrons of area nightclubs and after-hours dance clubs.

And the Polish mobsters, who are sometimes referred to as “the Kielbasa Posse,” after the smoked Polish sausage of the same name, are also moving into a little loansharking and sports bookmaking, according to both law enforcement and Underworld sources.

The Polish mob is a rather small group but they seem unafraid of the bigger, more violent Russian crime families in the Delaware Valley. (The local Russian underworld is fluid; there are six to eight Russian mafias in our area, some more organized than others and sometimes cooperating and sometimes acting independently of one another.)

The Kielbasa Posse is made up of a few Polish immigrants from Port Richmond, Northeast Philly, Bucks County and South Jersey, as well as several second-generation Polish-Americans. The Poles have recently banded together to share in the illegal profits that the Russians have traditionally earned.

While their numbers are relatively small, people familiar with Polish mobsters say they are smart, tough and brutal when they have to be. They also have language on their side. Because Poland was under Soviet domination for so long, many of them are fluent in Russian, and sometimes their customers, connections and victims actually mistake the Kielbasa Posse for a Russian gang.

Other languages spoken by some of the Polish mob include Czech, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian.

While the Kielbasa Posse is unafraid of Russian crime groups, there is one ethnic mob the Polish gangsters refuse to deal with, according to an Underworld source who knows some of the Polish gang members. She asked us to call her “Marja” and she told City Paper last week that the Poles will deal with “just about anybody. Dominicans. Blacks. Italians. Asian street gangs. Russians. But they won’t go near the Albanian mob. The Albanians are too violent and too unpredictable.”

The Polish mob has told its associates that the Albanians are like the early Sicilian Mafia — clannish, secretive, hypersensitive to any kind of insult and too quick to use violence for the sake of vengeance.

Several times a week, the Kielbasa mob meets in Port Richmond, sometimes hanging out at a Polish bar frequented by a new generation of Polish emigres in their 20s and 30s.

There, the gangsters sip Warsaw beers and chain-smoke cigarettes to relax.

“All of them are very polite and well-dressed,” Marja said. “They wear expensive black or brown leather jackets. They never bother anyone in the bar and act like perfect gentlemen.”

Marja explained that not everyone knows who they are and the older Polish residents of the neighborhood choose to ignore the existence of the gang.

“Most Poles here are hard-working,” Marja said. “There are so few criminals in our community that it’s hard for the older generation to accept that there are Poles who are not law-abiding or hard-working or in legitimate pursuit of the American dream.”

Ironically, one of the former leaders of the Northeast Philadelphia mob, also known as the K&A; gang, moved to Port Richmond several years ago to run his sports-booking business and lay low because, he said, it was such a quiet, safe place that nobody would ever think of looking for him there. Now his new neighbors represent the toughest and most recent immigrant crime family.

The rise of the Kielbasa Posse in Philadelphia is not the first time that Polish-Americans have flexed their muscle in the underworld.

Eighty years ago, a poor Polish-American boy from Grays Ferry was on his way to becoming Philadelphia’s Public Enemy No. 1. Born Michael Joseph Cusick, the young hoodlum used the Irish-sounding alias, Mickey Duffy, to better fit in with the local gangsters.

Duffy was arrested in May 1919 for assault and battery with intent to kill and served almost three years in prison. When he got out, Prohibition was the law of the land and crime syndicates everywhere were in business smuggling, making and selling illegal alcohol to a thirsty nation.

Duffy opened an illegal beer brewery in Camden, N.J., and it wasn’t long before he became known as the Beer Baron of South Jersey.

With thousands of dollars in profits pouring in, Mickey Duffy opened the fashionable Club Cadix at 23rd and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia. He ran his bootlegging and numbers businesses from the old Ritz-Carlton hotel — everybody knew Mickey.

But it was a violent business, and Duffy was shot three times leaving the Club Cadix late one night. He survived and continued to run his crime empire for several more years.

He had so much money from the beer and numbers businesses that he built a palatial home on City Line near Haverford Avenue in Overbrook.

Sometimes Duffy would head down to Atlantic City. He often stayed at the luxurious Ambassador Hotel and spent his time strolling the boardwalk or sitting on the beach.

But the Beer Baron had enemies, and on the night of Aug. 29, 1931, as he lay sleeping in his suite at the Ambassador, someone shot him dead.

Police suspected that Duffy was slain by his own men, who wanted to take over his rackets. But no one was ever charged with his murder.

Duffy’s funeral was a big deal. Thousands of people flocked to the cemetery to see him off but a police line kept them back from the entrance gate — friends and family of Duffy needed a special pass to get in.

After Duffy’s funeral, souvenir hunters took flowers from the hundreds of floral tributes at the gravesite — the better to remember the poor Polish kid from Grays Ferry who had gone on to become, briefly, Philly’s Public Enemy No. 1.

    • 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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