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Philadelphia Mob Criminal Organization Research Paper

Philadelphia Mob is a criminal organization operating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After its establishment in the early twentieth century, it has undergone several major shifts in operations. The following research paper explores the approaches of several of its bosses in order to determine the influence of their leadership style on the criminal activities of the group.


The origins of the Italian Mob are difficult to trace due to the scarcity of documented information. In the early twentieth century, which can be considered the most probable time of the group’s emergence, the group’s characteristics were not consistent with the definition of organized crime used by the U.S. Department of Justice at the time (Anderson, 2014). It is also unlikely that the members of the Mob resorted to violence or frequent illegal activities at a scale that would attract the attention of law enforcement. In the rare instances where the actions of the group were based on apparent illegal actions, the U.S. officials were more likely to ignore them, since in the early 1900s the police was mostly unconcerned with crimes involving ethnic minorities (Anderson, 2014).

The documentation on the matter that is available today contains a significant amount of error, which further complicates the inquiry. Finally, some experts suggest that political factors, as well as pressure from criminal leaders, at least partially influenced the relatively lax approach to tracking of the Philadelphia Mob’s activities (Anderson, 2014). As a result, there is no information available regarding the early leaders of the organization or prominent trends in the group’s development and behavior.

Salvatore Sabella

The earliest reliable documentation on the Philadelphia Mob’s bosses deals with Salvatore Sabella. Sabella was born in 1891 and got involved in criminal activities relatively early in life, after being sent to prison for murder at the age of fourteen. Approximately at that time, he became involved with the Sicilian Mafia. In 1912, Sabella immigrated to New York and, eventually, to Philadelphia. Starting from 1919, he was running several façade businesses and trained several criminals that would later form the core of the Mob, including Angelo Bruno. By this time, he became a major authority in the family and initiated several illegal activities that remained major sources of revenue for the family in the oncoming years, such as bootlegging, loan sharking, and racketeering (Anderson, 2014). His role as a boss was interrupted by two notable events. In 1925 and 1927, he became a suspect in two cases of murder of fellow organization members, which resulted in his identification as an illegal immigrant and eventual deportation to Sicily. He returned to New York two years later to offer his support In Castellammarese War, after which he returned to Philadelphia to briefly resume his leadership of the family. It can be said that Salvatore Sabella was responsible for the formation of the group and an initial establishment of its activities.

Angelo Annaloro

The leadership of Angelo Annaloro, better known as Angelo Bruno, can be considered the next major milestone in the development of the Mob. Annaloro became a boss of the family in 1959, mainly due to support from his close relationship with Carlo Gambino, who was at that time a boss of New York Mafia family (Cimino, 2014). By that time, the Family was largely maintaining a direction set by Sabella and used extortion, paid protection, and loan sharking as its main sources of revenue. The first notable input by Bruno was the expansion of the Mob’s operations to Atlantic City, which greatly increased the reputation of the group. Importantly, this shift has coincided with the 1976 legalization of gambling in the location. This opportunity was promptly utilized by Bruno, who facilitated the construction of casinos in the area, thus greatly enhancing both the influence and the image of the Philadelphian Mafia.

Another aspect of Annaloro’s leadership deserves close attention. According to the majority of historical accounts anecdotal data, he was known for his tendency for resolving the issues in a professional manner and without resorting to excessive violence. Such an approach eventually garnered him a nickname “The Gentle Don.” In fact, it is possible to trace this aspect in the manner in which the Mob handled operations at the time. As was said above, the main bulk of activities established by Sabella was maintained throughout the sixties. However, Annaloro preferred crimes that did not pose a significant risk to the business and avoided high-profile areas such as drug trafficking (Cimino, 2014). This allowed him to effectively distribute the responsibilities among his subordinates and offer them a significant degree of independence.

Annaloro’s influence deteriorated in the late seventies, starting with the death of Carlo Gambino. By that time, a number of individuals within the organization strongly opposed his stance against drugs, which was viewed as a highly profitable business segment. As a result, Annaloro was assassinated in 1980 by a subordinate of his main rival, Antonio Caponigro. As can be seen, Annaloro’s leadership marked a significant expansion of the Mob’s influence as well as an end of a traditional era of activities.

Nicodemo Scarfo

After a brief and violent struggle for power, the leading position was taken by Nicodemo Domenico Scarfo. The beginning of his career as a boss of the Philadelphia Mob was marked by an important deal with the New York families, who were persistently challenging the status of Atlantic City as a territory of Philadelphia mafia. Scarfo was able to negotiate the conditions under which the New York gangsters could operate in the area, which remained under his control (Leonetti, 2014). This solution allowed him to preserve the integrity of the Mob while retaining a status quo in the relationships with other criminal groups.

The described example can be considered characteristic of Scarfo’s initial approach to running the operations. It can be argued that his overarching goal was the establishment of a finely tuned criminal system that would include as many stakeholders as possible. The most significant step in this direction was the establishment of a “street tax,” which applied to various criminals operating on the Mob’s territory but not affiliated with the Family. The rule was strictly enforced by the mafia and non-compliance was usually dealt with by murdering the criminals. Another major change was the shift of operations towards money extortion from the labor unions, an activity that initially was on a relatively modest scale. Finally, the group became heavily involved in drug trafficking. This shift began with the money extortion from the local dealers and eventually transformed into participation through supplying crucial drug components (Leonetti, 2014).

As can be seen, all of the described aspects deviated significantly from the family’s traditional approach both in scope, amount of risk, and profitability. In addition, the operations relied heavily on violence. In fact, Scarfo’s leadership is often considered the most violent and aggressive period in the history of Philadelphia crime family (Leonetti, 2014). However, the magnitude and scope of the described shift eventually resulted in a backlash after Scarfo’s conviction in 1988. An investigation of the charges has resulted in a successful shutdown of the majority of the most profitable illegal activities, including money extortion from labor unions (Leonetti, 2014). In other words, the leadership of Scarfo was associated with the most dramatic fluctuations in the criminal life of the Family.

John Stanfa

The trial and imprisonment of Stanfa created a significant vacuum of authority, which prompted John Stanfa to assume control of the criminal activities in his absence. Stanfa had an established presence in the mafia, including close connections to Annaloro and Gambino, and was sufficiently familiar with the operations. However, many members of the family considered him an unfavorable candidate. These attitudes could be observed both among the older and younger criminals. The former considered his professional skills insufficient and his introduction to the Mob non-canonical. The latter, on the other hand, were inclined to maintain the approach established by Scarfo and viewed Stanfa as a threat to the preferred direction. Under such conditions, he was pressed to introduce new members of the family who would be sufficiently loyal to strengthen his position.

However, the combination of unfavorable factors has led to a situation where the majority of the newly introduced members was neither reputable nor experienced and, in many cases, undermined the integrity of the Family’s operations (McShane & Pearson, 2017). The strongest opposition came from the Salvatore Merlino, who allied with Ralph Natale in an attempt to take control over the Mob. Stanfa tried to deescalate the tensions in a non-confrontational manner by assigning Merlino’s distant associate, Joseph Ciancaglini, his underboss, hoping that such move will decrease the confrontation (McShane & Pearson, 2017). However, the decision had an opposite effect and, in fact, resulted in a major conflict involving several criminal organizations. Eventually, the law enforcement authorities were able to trace the activities to Stanfa, who was sentenced to life in prison (McShane & Pearson, 2017). Stanfa’s leadership is considered to have a negative impact on the Philadelphia Mob.

Salvatore Merlino

Following the Stanfa’s imprisonment, Merlino and Natale assumed control over the operations. As per the arrangement, Natale took the leading position, whereas Merlino controlled the street activities (McShane & Pearson, 2017). Unlike his predecessors, he maintained a high profile and eventually garnered attention both from the media and law enforcement. Such approach raised concerns among the members of the Mob, many of which were reluctant to work under his control. Nevertheless, he is believed to remain in control of the family and run the operations by proxy through several associates, including Joseph Ligambi. It is important to note that the information on his activities and contribution to the integrity of the Family is scarce. Nevertheless, according to the testimonies, his influence is believed to be mostly beneficial (Associated Press, 2016). Thus, while Merlino’s position is unclear, the downward trend in the Mob’s criminal activities seems to be reverted.


The information above provides an overview of the influence of the bosses of Philadelphia Mob on the approach to its operations. As can be concluded from the analysis, its criminal activity can be broken down into three distinct periods. The first period is characterized by the low-profile, low-risk approach associated with traditional values. This approach was pioneered by Salvatore Sabella and enhanced by Angelo Annaloro both in scope and quality. The second period marked a shift towards more high-risk and violent approaches by Nicodemo Scarfo. Finally, the third period was characterized by the deterioration of the Mob’s influence triggered by John Stanfa and mitigated by Salvatore Merlino.


Anderson, A. M. (2014). Philadelphia organized crime in the 1920s and 1930s. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Associated Press. (2016). . Web.

Cimino, A. (2014). Mafia files: Case studies of the world’s most evil mobsters. London, England: Arcturus Publishing.

Leonetti, P. (2014). Mafia prince: Inside America’s most violent crime family and the bloody fall of La Cosa Nostra. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers.

McShane, L., & Pearson, D. (2017). Last don standing: The secret life of mob boss Ralph Natale. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

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