Nicodemo D. “Little Nicky” Scarfo, who ran the Philadelphia mob from his base in Atlantic City during the 1980s, died Friday in a federal prison medical facility at age 87.
His death was confirmed Sunday by Atlantic City criminal defense attorney James Leonard Jr., who formerly represented one of Scarfo’s sons and maintains contact with some family members.
Scarfo was convicted in 1988 on racketeering and murder charges and was serving a 55-year sentence.
American Mafia expert and author George Anastasia said he had confirmed the death in a federal prison medical facility in Butner, North Carolina, with different people close to the family.
No one from the Butner facility could be reached Sunday.(tncms-asset)145d55a4-dc20-11e6-b876-00163ec2aa77(/tncms-asset)
But according to the inmate locator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Scarfo is “not in BOP custody.” And someone had changed Scarfo’s Wikipedia entry to show his death date of Jan. 13, 2017.
Anastasia, who announced Scarfo’s death on the blog site BigTrial.net, covered organized crime for The Philadelphia Inquirer for years. He wrote “The Last Gangster” about the demise of the Philadelphia mob.
Scarfo had ruled Atlantic City for the Philadelphia mob since the 1960s, and was in place to benefit when casino gaming arrived in 1978.
Through “subtle extortion,” Scarfo’s company, Scarf Inc., poured cement for the foundations of several casinos as operators rushed to cash in on gambling, Anastasia said in an earlier interview.
The mob’s heyday in Atlantic City followed legalized gambling, and Scarfo took over the Philadelphia mob after his mentor, mob boss Philip “Chicken Man” Testa, was killed by a bomb in 1981.
Testa was boss only a short time, having taken over when longtime boss Angelo Bruno was shot to death in his car in 1980.
Anastasia has said Scarfo was avenging Testa’s death, and it was the start of a bloody, violent time.
Serial violence was part of his tenure.
On Feb. 15, 1978, mob associate Nicholas Virgilio executed Municipal Court Judge Edwin Helfant inside the cocktail lounge of the Flamingo Motel in Atlantic City, shooting him five times.
On Aug. 10, 1982, Joseph Salerno Sr. was shot in the neck in the lobby of his Wildwood Crest motel, El Reno, and survived. Salerno’s son was a protected government witness who had testified at trial in the 1979 murder of Margate cement contractor Vincent Falcone.
Anastasia said Scarfo died in Butner, but he could not reach prison officials this weekend to confirm the report.
“I think it’s because he died on a Friday, and this is a holiday weekend,” Anastasia said of the silence on the matter from federal officials.
Anastasia said his sources told him Scarfo had been an inmate at the medical facility for more than a year, and had many medical problems.
Scarfo’s three sons grew up in Atlantic City and attended Holy Spirit High School. The eldest, Chris, has changed his name to distance himself from the family. Middle son Nicodemo is serving 30 years in prison for mob-related gambling and fraud. And youngest son Mark died two years ago after a failed suicide attempt in 1988 left him in a coma for almost 25 years.
The elder Scarfo’s nephew, Philip “Crazy Phil” Leonetti, who also grew up in Atlantic City, testified against him and is now in the federal Witness Protection Program.
Leonetti wrote a book about Scarfo and the family, “Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family and the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra.”
Anastasia said the Philadelphia mob was largely broken by Scarfo’s leadership.
“His management style decimated the organization. It never recovered from the violence of the 1980s period,” Anastasia said. “Anybody who crossed him got shot.”
He had not interviewed Scarfo, but has talked to many people who knew him well and said he has heard conflicting reports on whether Scarfo had changed in prison.
“It depends on who you talk to. A guy this morning said in the last two years he mellowed,” Anastasia said. “But he was kind of a psychopath.”
During his son Nicodemo’s trial a couple of years ago, letters from Scarfo to his son were read into evidence, and they showed no sign of change in the old man, Anastasia said.
“They were paranoid and violent,” he said.
The younger Nicodemo Scarfo survived an assassination attempt at a South Philadelphia Italian restaurant on Halloween in 1989, at age 24.
He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2016 for participating in a racketeering conspiracy and related offenses at Irving, Texas-based mortgage company FirstPlus Financial Group.
Before his sentencing, he had lived in Galloway Township.