A Crow Turns Stool Pigeon

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Q. You were righthand man to Philadelphia's Nicodemo ("Little Nicky") Scarfo. He has been described as the most vicious Mob boss of his generation. What was he like to work for?

A. Well, you know, if you were in good graces with him, he loves you and you love him. You understand? But you never knew from one day to the next. He'd turn on anybody, and he drew no lines when it came to killing. Most Mob bosses were not like him. The Mob is basically run the same in every city, but our "family" was unusual in that it was a very paranoid family because we all feared each other and feared Scarfo the most. He held grudges. If you didn't say hello to him 20 years ago, he never forgot. He used to say, "I'm like the turtle. I get there." You know, we were the best of friends. He believed in me, and I believed in him. But he was very, very paranoid. He betrayed himself. His own nephew turned.

Q. You turned state's witness after pleading guilty in 1987 to murder, racketeering and conspiring with a Philadelphia councilman to extort $1 million from a real estate developer. Since then you've testified in 11 trials that have brought 52 convictions. Why did you squeal?

A. It wasn't my will to be a rat. I was arrested after the FBI had wired my construction partner, this guy John Pastorella, for 18 months. I was in jail trying to make bail, and I believed I was going to be killed there, probably with the blacks carrying out the order. I got the word. And the next morning I called the FBI and told them to get me the hell out. I was scared to death. I was shakin'. I blame Scarfo. He's the guy who wanted to kill me. I'm 55 years old, and all my life I was a stand-up guy. I was loyal; I killed for the guy; I brought him millions of dollars. There's no way I was ever gonna turn. It never even entered my mind. What big sin did I commit? I got arrested. I was always prepared to go to jail. I figured I was facing 20; if I pled guilty, I could have gotten 10. I would have been a king in jail. We might have even won the trial. You know, you don't realize how precious a life is until you're in that position where you're gonna get killed, and you'll do anything to survive. And look what I did to survive. I went on that stand 30 times, and it killed me. I loved some of them guys. And I had to -- boom, boom, boom, boom -- point the finger and bury them.

Q. For all the Philadelphia family's paranoia and violence, you guys were sometimes known as "the gang that couldn't shoot straight."

A. You know, sometimes it takes a year to kill a guy. Sometimes it takes a week. That's because Scarfo was a cowboy. He didn't want a guy taken in a house and shot easily in the back of the head. He wanted it outside, in broad daylight, with a million people around. Restaurants, funeral homes, anywhere. Then it gets written up in the papers, and it puts fear in people. He loved that cowboy stuff. He had a big fan club. He used to get letters from black guys who wanted to join the Mob. We had a filing cabinet full of letters. There was so much killing. Things got so bad that they wanted us to go into % houses and shoot the whole family, the mother, the wife.

Q. You helped kill Salvatore Testa, the youngest Mafia capo in America and one of your best friends. How could you do such a thing?

A. Well, it's the name of the game. If you're a gangster, you gotta be a gangster. You never know who you're gonna be told to kill in this business. But I used to get nightmares over Salvie and would wake up in cold sweats screaming his name. This went on twice a week for three months. It was just awful. We killed him in a candy store, and I helped to drag his body out, threw him on a road in Jersey and left him in a ditch with a blanket wrapped around him. I seen his face when I turned the car around.

Q. I see some water in your eyes. Do you feel remorse?

A. Yeah, I really liked him. There was no reason for it. I wanted to tell this guy so bad to take off. But what was I gonna do? It was kill or be killed. There is no "no." You love him, you gotta do it. "This thing" comes first. It comes before your mother, your father, your sister.

Q. Why was Testa killed?

A. You see, Salvie figured by marrying the daughter of the underboss, ((Salvatore)) "Chuckie" Merlino, he'd be right near the top. But she was a spoiled brat, and a few months before the wedding he backed out. Everything was all set up: the gowns, the tablecloths, the invitations to the Bellevue- Stratford, the announcement in the newspaper. It was gonna have approximately 1,000 guests and cost well over $100,000. They were gonna try and get Michael Jackson to sing. When Salvie backed out, he signed his own death warrant. It was a blow to the underboss. This was the ultimate insult. We were actually gonna kill him right in a crowded funeral parlor, but there was too much law outside. That night, it's time to leave, and Chuckie grabs Salvie by the neck and kisses him on the lips. Smaaack! I said, "Aw, if he doesn't know now, he'll never know." That was the kiss of death.

Q. Could you really have got Michael Jackson to perform at the wedding?

A. Through people, we could get to anybody. We've got judges, lawyers, Senators, entertainment people. God knows how high it goes. When I was pinched, we were gonna take over Philadelphia's waterfront development. Some $200 million in construction was gonna come my way. We had big plans for Atlantic City. I was all set to go into Caesars and start organizing the dealers and move into the union's health and welfare plans. We were gonna set up satellite doctors and give them a monthly fee to take care of union patients, with 65% going to us. There's nothing that can't be done. The FBI has been cracking down in many cities, but "this thing" never dies.

Q. You also helped kill your own mentor, Pasquale ("Pat the Cat") Spirito.

A. We tried for months to kill him, and for a while that's all we used to talk about. We used to get sick when we'd see him. We'd want to throw up. Pat had bad vibes and knew what was coming. This guy tried to work my head for hours the day before. He had me in a booth in a luncheonette drinking coffee for four hours, making me tell him how much I love him, and it's already set up to kill him the next night. I said, "Pat, what are you talking like this for? I'd do anything for you. Hey! I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. Buddy, my life is yours. Jesus Christ, I love you." He was relieved.

Q. What happened the following night?

A. We killed him in a car. Bango! Shot twice in the back of the head. Then we went a few blocks to throw the guns away and clean up. I went around the corner to a bar and waited till it came on the TV news at 11. I said, "Christ, they killed my best friend." I was pretending like I was crying, and guys are coming over to me. Everybody hated this guy. But this was my alibi. See, people in the bar said I'd been there all night. Fifty people would have sworn that I was there since 8 o'clock.

Q. You want to pass along any tricks of the trade?

A. As far as advice goes, you can't show greed. It's the fastest thing that gets you killed. Also, when you're around the boss, don't drink. See, when a guy drinks, his feelings come out. What Scarfo would do, and he was famous for this, was take everyone to dinner and order double margaritas. Then he'd start talking about people, and he wants to see who chimes in, wants to see what they got to say. He'd make a guy drink and drink and talk and talk until there was no more talk left in him. I never talked because I knew this was a trap. When you drink, you say things. Maybe you don't shake someone's hand. Maybe you make a remark. You don't know. Animosity comes out.

Q. Could I have come to you and said, "Hey, I'm not sure how the Mob works, but I'd like someone's legs broken"?

A. Well, if you were somebody's friend and somebody was bothering you, yes, we'd do you a favor. There's no favors that we can't do.

Q. What would it cost me?

A. We don't kill or hurt people for money. That's greed. Maybe you'll want to buy me a gift or send me a case of champagne. You'd find out what I like. Maybe I'll want to borrow money from you sometime. See, "this thing" is like the second government. If politicians, doctors, lawyers, surgeons come to us for favors, there's got to be a reason. There's no justice in court for certain people, so they come to us. Maybe somebody is bothering a guy's wife or daughter, or he wants to borrow money to go into business. I don't know how this country would survive without the Mob.

Q. Was it so great being a mobster?

A. It's the greatest thing that a human could experience. The flavor is so good. The high is so natural. When you sneeze, 15 handkerchiefs come out. I mean, everywhere you go, people just can't do enough for you. At Christmas people are bangin' on your door, dropping off gifts. If it rains, 25 umbrellas open up. If you walk into a restaurant, they'll chase the person out of the best table and put you there. There's just so much glamour and respect and money. The nightclubs, the broads. Broads just die over you. It's unbelievable. In the Mob, you've got friends; you belong to an army, something that is so powerful. You're with the elite. Your word is law, you're like the judge and jury. Anything you say is final. You feel that you're so superior and that you're chosen. I had 100 to 150 guys with me: bookmakers, loan sharks, drug dealers, union guys, politicians, doctors. There was nothing we couldn't penetrate. We had the sports-betting business, the numbers, loan- sharking, the shakedown business, union kickbacks. But, you know, it really wasn't me. It was the wall around me that was so powerful.

Q. Besides getting arrested and having to disguise your whole life, what's the downside?

A. The killing. And the treachery. Everybody's jealous of something in "this thing." There's no security, and you're never safe. You learn how to read eyes. You gotta be a good manipulator. You gotta meet somebody; you don't even know if you're gonna come back. You get in a car; you don't known if you're gonna get a bullet in your head. The capos were always trying to trap me, thinking maybe I got more money that I wasn't kicking in. But I used to keep records and slips of paper, weeklies, monthlies, stacks of them for three, four, five years. I turned in every dime. Then I became the boss's righthand man, and everybody was scared to death of me. Now I got the boss's ear, and nobody knows what I'm saying. Everybody trembles now.

Q. What do you think of people who lead straight lives?

A. The average guy who works and pays taxes is a sucker. They're trapped, with kids and a mortgage and car payments, and they can't live. They're just existing. They work from 9 to 5, and they don't even know what day it is. All you gotta do is throw the dirt over them. I didn't want to take that road.

Q. George Anastasia, the Mob chronicler, is coming out with a book, Blood and Honor, about your 30 years as a gangster. This is the stuff that makes for great movies. Are any of the recent Mafia films accurate in their portrayal of what the life is like?

A. I saw Godfather III. It stunk. I didn't think much of the plot, and I didn't see any good reviews of it either. Godfather I was pretty close ((to the real thing)), and Godfather II was good, but this one was farfetched. I remember sitting there and thinking, If these suckers in the theater only knew they were sitting with the real McCoy.

Q. Do you trust anyone?

A. I trust Dave Gentile. He's an FBI agent from Philadelphia who helped me a lot mentally when I was falling apart. There were times I wanted to take pills and just forget about it. He spent a lot of time with me and encouraged me. I thought the other law-enforcement guys were conning me, but he believed in me. He's given me the confidence to do things that I'm afraid of. To me, he's my best friend in the world. I owe my life to him.

Q. Do you believe in God?

A. Yeah, I believe in God. I go to church once a month, but I can't bring myself to go to confession right now. I don't have the balls yet to do that. I don't know if my sins are going to be forgiven, you know. I broke all the commandments. That's something that I wrestle with, and I know I got to deal with it in time, and I want to deal with it. That's the only peace I think I'll have, if I could get to God. But I don't want to use God as an excuse now, because I know in my heart that I would do it all again. I'm talking from the heart. So how could I say I'm sorry? If I say I'm sorry, who am I kidding? I did it, and I loved it.

Q. You helped destroy the Scarfo family, the first Mafia family to be wiped off the map. Not since Joe Valachi has anyone done this much damage to the Cosa Nostra. But here you are with a completely new identity under the Federal Witness Protection Program, somewhere a long way from Philadelphia. What's life like for you now?

A. This is a dog's life compared to the life I had. I try to cover my tracks, but I'm constantly looking over my shoulder. I can't make any friends. You never know where or when they're going to come. I did a lot of damage when I was on that stand. A lot of families are really bitter. My wife disowned me. Nobody likes what I did. Nobody likes what I am. They would mutilate me in such a way, and they would want the whole world to see it to put fear in people. I took a whole family down, you know. But I'm trying to adjust to a legitimate life. I could go out and steal and set somebody up just like that ((snaps fingers)), but I can't take the chance. I wouldn't last too long in jail. So I'm working. And I'd like to get a house, fix it up, sell it and, you know, things like that.

Q. You mean be a sucker like the rest of us?

A. Yeah. Be a sucker.