This has been an exciting week for the FBI, as they have arrested a number of key Philadelphia mob figures. Among the arrested was Philadelphia Crime Family head, Joe “Uncle Joe” Ligambi. Until this past week, I would have thought that the mob was extinct, reserved only for resurrection through “Goodfellas” and “The God Father,” but boy was I wrong... and naïve.
After digging deeper, I was surprised to discover Philadelphia’s long history with various mob groups but primarily the Italian “Las Costa Nostra” mob. Looking back to early 20th century the Philadelphia Crime Family first formed with the joining of several Italian-American street gangs. Mostly activities were limited to bootlegging, extortion, loansharking, and illegal gambling. Throughout the 20th century, the longest length of leadership was held by Angelo Bruno “Gentle Don” from 1959-1980. The second longest stent of leadership has been underneath of “Uncle Joe” from 2001 to present.
These two long standing family leadership had a great deal in common. Consider “Gentle Don.” He was known as “Gentle” because of his commitment to avoiding intense media and law enforcement scrutiny as well as outbursts of violence. Through the years, the Crime Family had become involved in narcotics dealing and drug trafficking, but “Gentle Don” forbid the family to engage in these activities. Commentary on his legacy always states that “Gentle Don” was in it for the money, not for the rampant violence (as portrayed in the media). In fact, avoiding narcotics and drug trafficking seemed to be a tactic to escape police scrutiny and “unnecessary violence.” If we look even today at “Uncle Joe,” he is noted to closely follow “Gentle Don’s” rule book. I can only attribute my naivety about the mob to “Uncle Joe’s” success in keeping out of the media headlines. What is with "Gentle Don" and "Uncle Joe" having standards? Has it really make a difference?
Contrast these two figure's leadership to that of John Stanfa and Joe “Skinny Joey” Merlino. After Nicky Scarfo’s leadership in the 1980s , Stanfa was elevated to acting boss, and soon after this, a faction within the Crime Family known as the “Young Turks” developed, which was lead by “Skinny Joey.” All this is to say that in the early-1990s, an all out war erupted between these two factions, which lasted for two years. Stanfa's end to leadership occurred in 1985 when he was sentenced to five consecutive life-time sentences for several murders. Obviously, the leadership during this time did not take heed of “Gentle Don’s” legacy of secrecy and discretion. Looking at the result (many deaths and assassinations) of this “Philadelphia Mob War,” I think it is obvious whether the standards of mob leadership matter.
Back to the current. On Monday, “Uncle Joe” was arrested with a 50-count indictment built around gambling and loan-sharking operations. He has not been indicted on any alleged acts of violence, and George Anastasia (local Inquirer Reporter/mob knowledge guru) has even said that “Uncle Joe” is only associated (never charged) with 3 murders, during his 10 years of leadership. The FBI has attempted to control the mob by removing the mob boss, but if you look at the mob succession of leadership, the mob is resilient enough to raise up new leadership quickly. With its highly organized nature, I am not sure that the FBI's tactic is truly effective. Instead, I find myself questioning, who will be the next boss? Will it be another “Skinny Joey” or “Uncle Joe?” Part of me wonders if it would be better to let the leadership “as is,” and focus upon bringing down the mob through other means. It seems the FBI's actions could potentially end in a reign of terror. The real question at hand is: What is the most effective way to bring down organized crime? While I do not have answers, I hope that some day the FBI will.