There's a little restaurant in South Philly that some consider a mafia hangout, but nobody in law enforcement is quite sure what mob the guys there belong to. Some patrons are Italian immigrants who regularly travel between South Philly and southern Italy. They speak English with thick Italian accents and a few dress more like European bankers than street-corner toughs.
The owner of the restaurant — which, for the time being, will go unidentified — is from somewhere in Italy. While a source claims the owner is from Naples, most of the owner's friends are Sicilian, and they treat the owner with "boss" deference. Says one eyewitness, there is "a lot of kissing on the cheeks and clasping of hands."
During the day, Italian immigrants from the neighborhood and men from as far away as Toronto and Naples visit the owner and his men. In several rooms above the restaurant, there are meetings, card games and parties almost every night. One law enforcement source tells City Paper the owner runs a loan-shark operation and construction company.
"The owner is back and forth between Philly and Sicily a lot," says one neighbor of the business located not too far from the stadiums. "He is involved in some shady international stuff."
But whatever the restaurant owner and his Sicilian boys are up to, they don't seem to have much interaction with the local Italian-American Mafia, allegedly run by Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi. At least one state law enforcement investigator thinks they're part of some other secret criminal organization from Italy.
"Could be Camorra or 'Ndrangheta," the source offers.
The Camorra — which means "gang" in Italian — originated in Naples as a prison crew some 200 years ago and is said to have 6,000 members. During the 1970s, the Camorra battled the 20,000-member Sicilian Mafia for control of the Italian underworld.
The 'Ndrangheta — which means "courage" in Italian — is based in Calabria and is said to have 5,000 members who generate more than $21 billion from illegal activities. Just last month, 'Ndragheta gunmen murdered six Italians in a pizzeria in Duisberg, Germany; the killings are part of a bloody feud between rival crime clans from Calabria vying to control Europe's cocaine trade.
For the most part, the Sicilian Mafia, Camorra and 'Ndrangheta put aside their differences 30 years ago to work together to run international drug-smuggling networks. That had a local and immediate effect. In July 1989, FBI agents arrested members of the Sicilian Mafia and the 'Ndrangheta with three pounds of heroin at a rest stop on I-95 in Delaware. At the same time, federal agents began documenting business meetings between leaders of a Sicilian Mafia group and an 'Ndrangheta gang operating out of Queens, NY. (The Sicilian Mafia had been meeting and working with various American crime families for generations.)
"We know these guys have been operating in the United States for more than 20 years now," an organized crime expert says. "The Mafia. The Camorra. The 'Ndrangheta. They're very dangerous. I just hope they haven't gotten a foothold here in South Philadelphia."
Welcome Home, Stevie
Steven "Stevie" Mazzone is out of jail after serving almost six years of a nine-year sentence for racketeering, conspiracy, extortion and bookmaking. In the bad old days — the late '90s —Mazzone was the level-headed consigliere for hotheaded Joey Merlino when Skinny Joey ran the show.
Now, Mazzone is on parole, living in a halfway house and working at a health club. He tried to keep his arrival low key last week, but a Fox 29 news crew was there to document Mazzone's first day out and about.
Word is the Mafia is going to throw Mazzone a welcome back to the Big Scrapple party at Malone's in South Philly sometime soon. But if Mazzone were to attend the mob reunion, it would be a parole violation since he's not supposed to be hanging out with wiseguys. Both the mob and the police know that the feds won't bother to throw Stevie back in the slammer for a one-time get together, though. They'd rather wait to see if Mazzone takes to visiting known felons on a regular basis.
Underworld sources claim that one place Mazzone will be checking out soon is a certain trendy hair salon in Old City. Mazzone allegedly backed the business, run by a pretty female friend, before he went off to jail. The posh place is said to be doing quite well, so sources expect to see the former consigliere stopping by to get a haircut and a manicure while checking up on his investment.