August 5-11, 2004
Uncle Joe Wants You
The local mob's membership numbers are way down. Is it time for a draft?
The Philadelphia-South Jersey Mafia is looking for a few good fellas. Of the 50 men who've taken their blood oath, about 25 are in prison. And of those left on the streets, more than half are considered either too old or ill to have active membership. If that's not bad enough for La Cosa Nostra, associate membership is way down too. A decade ago, there were nearly 300 aspiring mobsters; now, there are about 100.
When it comes to those in the mix, alleged boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi has laid down the law, even as he's spent the summer downashore while his South Philly home gets remodeled.
Both cops and bad guys say Ligambi wants everyone to fly "below the radar." No drug dealing. No hanging out in big gossipy groups in social clubs. And get this: everybody better have a legitimate job to keep the IRS at bay.
"Uncle Joe is very smart," says one associate. "He doesn't need people to know who he is or who we are. The people that need us know how to find us. But nobody is supposed to be makin' any headlines or giving interviews on the news, present company excluded."
Last month, Joseph Henry Black, a 46-year-old contractor from Belfast, Northern Ireland, tried to change planes in Philadelphia en route to a wedding in Pittsburgh. As soon as he set foot in the terminal, the feds arrested him and charged him with lying about his membership in the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
The problem, friends say, is that Black hasn't been a member of anything other than the Roman Catholic Church since 1980, when he was released from prison for knee-capping a Belfast thug. Still, the feds charged that he lied on his visa by not disclosing that he'd been convicted of a crime involving "espionage, sabotage or terrorist activities."
Funny thing was Black's wife filled out the form and figured that a political crime more than 28 years ago had nothing to do with America's understandable obsession with Muslim terrorists in the post-9/11 world.
Black has since pleaded guilty. He's expected to be sentenced in U.S. District Court to probation and to be put on a plane back to Belfast by month's end. In the meantime, he'll remain in the Federal Detention Center at Seventh and Arch.
Ironically, the last man reputed to have ties to the IRA to visit Philadelphia was Northern Irish leader Gerry Adams. Rather than getting tossed in the klink, Adams was the honored guest at a posh Penn's Landing fundraiser.
Talk about initiative. Police sources from both sides of the Delaware are telling City Paper that a 20-something member of Camden's Bloods set has formed a breakaway drug-dealing faction called the "Wall Street Boys." Apparently, he doesn't think the crew's done enough by way of taking on other gangs to get a bigger piece of the drug-dealing pie. And get this: he's been cruising over the Ben Franklin trying to recruit a number of young African-American criminals from all over Philadelphia into his heavily armed drug-trafficking gang.
He plans to rename his expanding posse the Piru Bloods after the Compton, Calif., neighborhood where the first Bloods gang was formed in 1972. That should really piss off the Jersey Bloods, according to police sources, because biting the name will be seen as the ultimate sign of disrespect.
According to the 2004 report from New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation, street gangs such as the Bloods are the state's "dominant retail-level distributors of South American heroin."
The Wall Street Boys have their street-war work cut out for them. The report states that there are almost 10,000 street-gang members in Jersey, belonging to half a dozen "super" gangs. Even if the Wall Street Boys survive the first street battles against their fellow Bloods, they will have to deal with other large, nationally backed Camden crews such as the Latin Kings and Neta.
Some local Mafiosi are feeling a little down about last week's murder and racketeering conviction of Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, the head New York City's Bonanno crime family. The Philly and Bonanno crime families have enjoyed a close friendship since the mid-1990s, when Massino sent alleged capo Anthony Graziano to convey the family's respect to Joey Merlino at his daughter's christening party at the Ben Franklin Hotel in 1996.
"It's a crime what happened to Big Joey," says one Philly mob insider of Massino, a one-time 400-pounder who ran a crime empire from his Queens restaurant, Casablanca. "He's a good guy, but his own brother-in-law testified against him that rat. They were all rats who lied for the government."