Mafia Prince: 10 Lessons Learned From Philly’s Mafia

mafia prince cover picture

Mafia Prince (2014) is “Crazy Phil” first-person account of how the mafia came to conquer -and then lose- its stranglehold on Philadelphia, passing through one of the most brutal eras in Mafia history: the reign of “Little Nicky” Scarfo.
The book presents many lessons learned on Machiavellianism, power, and effective leadership.

SUMMARY

About the Author: Philip Leonetti is a former mobster and underboss of the Philadelphia crime family under his mentor, uncle and former boss, Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo. He turned government informant in 1989 and reformed his life.

1. There is Power in Unity And Collaboration

The mafia rose as one of the most successful organizations ever, coming to dominate the underworld almost everywhere it went.

Its secret?
Structure, unity, and collaboration among different factions:

A move toward consolidation slowly began to take form as the bosses began to recognize that true power and strength could only be accomplished by establishing a nationwide crime syndicate.

This American organized crime syndicate would come to be known as La Cosa Nostra, which in Italian means “this thing of ours.”

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2. Before You Double-Cross, Think You Might Be Triple-Crossed

Caponigro wanted to kill the boss Ange to become himself the boss.

So he speaks with New York, to see if he can get the OK from the commission.
He speaks with Tieri, and Tieri leads him to believe he can go ahead.

Caponigro goes ahead and kills Ange.
When he is called in New York, he believes it’s to attend his crowning. Instead, he marched to his death:

While the ambitious Caponigro double-crossed Bruno, the ruthless old-school Brooklyn-bred gangster Tieri triple-crossed Caponigro.
Bobby Manna told me and my uncle what happened next: So Caponigro is called in and he sits down in a chair and faces Fat Tony, Tieri, Bobby Manna, and the Chin, who are seated across from him behind a table.


So the Chin says, “We’re here to find out who gave you permission to whack out your boss, Angelo Bruno. Can you tell us?” So Caponigro looks at Tieri, and Tieri looks back at him stone-faced. So Caponigro says, “Funzi (Tieri) told me I had the okay, that the Commission approved the hit.” So the Chin says, “Frank, what’s he talking about?” And Tieri looks at Caponigro and says, “I told you to straighten it out, not to kill him.”

Sensing he had been double-crossed, Caponigro began pleading for his life with the men, but was already being beaten by Genovese enforcers, who had suddenly appeared in the room.

That’s when Caponigro realizes that he has killed his boss, without the OK from the commission.
A little later, he is being beaten and killed.

What happened is that Tieri, who was with the Genovese, lead Caponigro to believe he could kill Ange, that he had the OK from the commission.

In truth, the mafia commission hadn’t approved the hit, and would have never approved it because Paul Castellano would have blocked that resolution.
Ange was close to the Gambino, so the commission would have never approved since Castellano would have defended ange, his ally.

Quoting again from “Mafia Prince”:

So when Caponigro is talking to Funzi Tieri about killing Ange, he thinks he’s talking to the boss, because everyone thought that Tieri was the boss, but he wasn’t. The Chin was.

So Tieri strokes Caponigro along and all the while, Tieri, the Chin, and Bobby Manna are manipulating the whole thing. They want Ange dead so that my uncle gets the union, which benefits them. They also want Ange dead so that Philadelphia’s Commission vote now goes with the Genovese and not the Gambinos, which benefits them, and on top of it, they want Caponigro dead so they can take his gambling and loan sharking operation, which is worth several million, which also benefits them.

If Caponigro had been more calculative he could have seen the power dynamics behind the scene, and he could have waited for a more official OK.
Plus, he had had a previous beef with Tieri, which could have given him another hint about a possible set up.

3. New Leaders’ Tip: Asking More From Older -and Powerful- Players Is Risky

When he became boss (…) Little Nicky made it known to Riccobene, a onetime underworld ally, that he expected a nonnegotiable set percentage of his monthly cash intake as (…) Scarfo’s aggressive underworld street tax.

Despite the killings of John Calabrese and Stevie Bouras, and the violent beating of Frank “Frankie Flowers” D’Alfonso—all of whom had balked at paying Scarfo’s street tax—Riccobene, the seasoned old-school mob vet, scoffed at Scarfo’s demand.

Over the years, Riccobene had built up a strong power base (…) a loyal and well-stocked crew of thugs, thieves, and fellow racketeers who answered to him and to him only. He, in essence, oversaw a family within a family. This fact made him believe he could challenge Scarfo in a street war. And that’s exactly what he did.

The new boss took a risk in asking for a bigger share of the pie than Riccobene used to pay to the old boss. It was obviously going to be a risk that Riccobene saw it as an affront, and that he demanded the same treatment he had with the previous boss.
Since Riccobebe had power, it was a risk that he was going to use his power base to resist. And that’s exactly what happened.

4. Leader’s Tip: Put People First, Avoid Being Too “WIIFM

… And avoid looking overly-calculative as well.

As a matter of fact, it’s better if you’re not overly calculative in general, as true characters tend to shine through eventually.

One of the reasons that Scarfo started losing allies, including his nephew, was that he started becoming more and more focused on “what’s in it for me”, without any thoughts on wha the was giving, both financially, and emotionally.

I quote:

During this time, Bobby Lumio was in a real bad shape. He was on his deathbed. One of the last things he said was, “Tell my friend I will miss him.” He was talking about my uncle. This was on his deathbed.

So after Bobby dies, my uncle hears what he had said and my uncle said, “I don’t give a fuck about him; nobody’s gonna miss him.” This was a guy who was with us, a made guy, who while he was dying was looking out for us by tipping us off about the thing with Joe Salerno and Frank Gerace. But now that Bobby was dead, he couldn’t do anything for my uncle. That’s how he thought. That’s how evil of a guy he was.

This is a case of losing sight of what a leader is all about: taking care of the people around.

When leaders stop taking care of the people, eventually, the people start taking care of the leader.

5. Leader’s Tip: Support Your Crew, Don’t Compete With Them

Sometimes it’s fair to worry about a plot.

However, as a general mindset, poor leaders fear their crews, while great leaders see their people’s success as their own success.

Nicky Scarfo had a poor leader’s mindset:

If you made a big score and made him a lot of money, the second he was done counting the money he would say to me, “This guy thinks he’s a big shot now; all the sudden he’s J. D. Rockefeller,” or “We gotta watch him so he doesn’t get too big for his britches.”

The guy just hands you a bag with $200,000 in it and ten minutes later you’re burying the guy. It didn’t make sense, but that’s how he was.

If he ordered you to kill someone and you did it perfectly and you got the guy just like he asked, he’d say to me, “Now this guy thinks he’s Al Capone because he killed a guy.” As quickly as he would build somebody up, he’d already be bringing them down.

Nicky Scarfo was afraid of people plotting against him, which is fair in that life, but he was also afraid of people being successful, of outshining him.
He wanted to be and feel the only big rooster. The problem with that mindset is that when you’re big rooster and everyone else sucks, your team sucks… And, by reflection, so do you as the leader.

6. Leverage Money to Acquire Power

The Mexican Mafia was very big down there, and there were a lot of fights in that jail, a lot of stabbings. My uncle kept to himself while he was in there, but he had two Mexican guys who were with him the whole time he was there. He called them his pistoleros, and they served as his bodyguards. He’d have me send money to put on their books or do things for their families. These guys were dirt poor but they were loyal, and like my uncle, they were stone killers.

7. Newbies’ Tip: Protect Your Boss’ Power

Read this exceprt:

I knew my uncle wanted to kill Pat since the day he made him. After he got made, Pat came up to my uncle and said, “You know, Nick, you should think about making Patty Specs a captain,” and my uncle just stared at him, like he couldn’t believe this guy who just got made was telling him how to run the family.

When he walked away, my uncle said, “Do you believe the balls on this fuckin’ guy?”

What was the issue there?
It’s pure power dynamics: influence is about power, and for bosses with a very big ego, even suggesting things to them can come across as an insult.

That’s why learning to communicate in power-protective way is crucial in organizations.

By the way, Pa, that guy with a suggestion, got killed for just giving a suggestion to the boss.
And that’s one of the reasons why mafia resources are a great way to learn power dynamics: things are more extreme there, making power dynamics more obvious.

8. Protect Your Enemy To Hide Your Plots

Chin Gigante, the Genovese boss, disliked John Gotti.

So, why did he publicly defended John Gotti, saying that he had the OK from the commission to kill his former boss Paul Castellano?

This is why:

My uncle and I had been told by Bobby Manna that John Gotti did in fact get the Commission’s permission to kill Paul Castellano, but I didn’t believe it and it never made any sense to me. I think Bobby told us that because the Chin never wanted to be connected to the killing of Frankie DeCicco and the attempted killing of John Gotti. By telling us that Gotti had gotten the okay, it took suspicion away from the Chin being involved in the bombing. They used the bomb to make it look like the siggys did it because they were close to Castellano. The use of explosive devices was against the rules of La Cosa Nostra. I remember thinking to myself: this fuckin’ Chin ain’t so crazy; he’s the shrewdest of them all, and the most deadly.

By defending Gotti, Gigante staved off any suspicion against him. That way, he might have also made another attempt in the future without raising suspicions.

9. Don’t Get Into Screaming Matches: It Telegraphs Your Intentions

Leonetti, talking about the moment he realized he was going to turn on his uncle:

At that moment, sitting in that cell listening to him blame me for Mark, I don’t know if I have ever felt such a combination of raw emotion and such rage, both at the same time. I’m not the kind of guy who’s gonna get into a screaming match with anyone, let alone in front of 15 other guys, and let my opponent or adversary know what I was thinking. And at that very moment, he was no longer my uncle, he was no longer my boss. He was my adversary, my enemy.

10. Leaders Make The Difference on People’s and Organizations’ Future

Both Leonetti and Gravano turned theri back on La Cosa Nostra, in large part, because of bad leaders:

Sammy was very loyal to La Cosa Nostra, like I was, but just like me, he lost faith in his boss. He told me that one of his biggest regrets was not killing John Gotti so that Frankie DeCicco could be the boss instead. “We fucked up on that one, Bo,” is what he would say.

MORE WISDOM

  • To get respect from people, you must have status in their own world and/or system of values

It’s sad to say, but my uncle looked down on his own father because he was a hardworking guy and not a gangster. He was never outwardly disrespectful to his father, but they weren’t very close. My uncle’s only ambition in life was to be a gangster, even from the time he was young.

I suspect that Nicky Scarfo didn’t respect his father because his father wasn’t as “tough”, or as driven.

  • For some mobsters, it’s more about respect, status, and reputation, than money

He wasn’t making a lot of money, but to him at that time, the money wasn’t important. He would always say, “The money will come, but this thing is about respect and honor, it’s not about money.” He was making a name for himself within the Bruno organization and that’s what mattered the most to him—his reputation.

However, that does change for some mosbsters once they start making money.
That’s something you might want to keep in mind, and watch out for: greedy bosses are more likely to be overthrown.

  • There can be some honor and values among mobsters

The Blade had a girlfriend whose stepfather was abusing her and she’d always cry to him about it. So one night when he was drunk, he sees the stepfather on the street and he shoots him, right in front of the cops. That was the Blade—he didn’t give a fuck that the cops were right there. He’d shrug it off and say, “That fuckin’ guy had it comin’, I don’t care who was watchin’.”

  • On the power of status and reputation to gain people’s support and approval

One prison official said, “The young black kids treat him like he’s a god—it’s ‘Yes, Mr. Scarfo,’ ‘No, Mr. Scarfo.’”

  • Keep a body hidden by involving different hit squads

But what they did was they got a fourth group to dig up the body and move it somewhere else, so that way the guys who did the killing and the guys who moved the body and the group that buried the body the first time had no idea where the body was, in case someone flipped and ratted them out.

QUOTES

On Lionetti’s grandmother:

My grandmother was the typical old-school Italian matriarch. All of her grandchildren called her Mom-Mom. She went to church every morning, not just Sundays, and her cooking, my God, nobody cooked like her.

On paying to kill:

My uncle used to say he was a “backstabbing cocksucker” but my uncle couldn’t get the okay to kill him because, at the time, Alvin Feldman owed $60,000 to Pappy Ippolito, who was one of Ange’s top guys. Ange told my uncle that once Pappy got his money back, my uncle could have him killed. I remember my uncle saying to me, “I wish I had the $60,000. I’d pay the Jew’s debt to Pappy myself, that’s how bad I want to whack this motherfucker.”

On Nicky’s priorities and his love for the mafia:

To Little Nicky, the entire universe seemed to revolve around three things: the mob, murder, and family, specifically in that order.

The killing of Vincent Falcone in the manner he foresaw, gave him the chance to combine all three of these at the same time in one giant orgy of death, lineage, and La Cosa Nostra.

On mobsters superstitions and being afraid of black cats:

So me and the Blade leave Caesars and we are walking back to Georgia Avenue, which is a few blocks away. Now, as we are walking home, a black cat runs in front of us and the Blade goes nuts—he’s very superstitious. He tells me, “First, Ange gets killed, and now this,” meaning the cat. He says, “Come on, Philip, we gotta walk a different way to undo the bad luck from the cat.” There was no arguing with him—he was dead serious. Here’s this guy who is a stone-cold killer and he’s spooked by this stupid black cat.

On Frankie DeCicco:

Sammy told me that he was there when Frankie DeCicco got blown up, and that when he went to grab Frankie’s body, there was nothing there. Sammy said his hand went through him. Sammy used to talk about Frankie DeCicco all the time. He said he was a man’s man, a real gangster.

On the difference between being a gangster for life, and falling into the life:

We caught up on old times and had some laughs and we always worked out together. We walked that track every day. But Sammy still wanted to be Sammy the Bull, and I didn’t want to be Crazy Phil anymore—to be honest I never did. It’s what my uncle wanted, not me.

REVIEW

“Mafia Prince” is a captivating read, and a very instructive one, if you know how to read between the lines.
If you do, you will find many principles of power dynamics, leadership, Machiavellianism, and life strategies.

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Or get the book on Amazon.

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