Childhood & Early Life
Born in Brooklyn, New York on March 8, 1929, Nicodemo Domenico Scarfo was the son of Italian immigrants. He moved to South Philadelphia at the age of 10, and started working as a young laborer.
Records show him graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1947.
His father and three uncles, Nicholas, Joseph and Michael Piccolo, worked for the Genovese Crime Family, as made men (protected or untouchable members of the mafia). The Piccolos were under the protection of the Bruno Crime Family, headed by Angelo Bruno (called the 'Gentle Don' for his friendly demeanor).
Nicodemo Scarfo became an amateur boxer, fighting in many Philadelphia clubs. He soon earned a reputation for his volatile temper.
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Upon not getting any success as a boxer, Nicodemo Scarfo was then introduced to the mob by his uncles, the Piccolos. He began working with the Philadelphia crime family as a bookmaker in 1954, earning the nickname of ‘Little Nicky’ because of his height, which was short at only 5 feet 5 inches.
Nicodemo Scarfo's uncles, the Piccolos, rose up the ranks under mob boss Angelo Bruno. However, the same could not be said for Nicodemo Scarfo. His temper attracted the wrong kind of attention, especially after he stabbed a longshoreman, William Dugan, over a fight for a seat at the diner booth, in 1963. He served six months in jail after pleading guilty. This incident prompted Angelo Bruno to banish him from the city in 1964, to oversee operations in Atlantic City.
Nicodemo Scarfo moved to live with his mother Catherine, in Atlantic City in 1964. He lived there, in a boarding home operated by his mother, with his second wife and his three sons. He struggled financially during this period.
Along with mob boss Angelo Bruno, Nicodemo Scarfo, and a dozen other mob figures, were found in contempt of court for refusing to testify for the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (SCI). Nicodemo Scarfo was jailed for almost two years, from 1971 to 1973.
Gambling was legalised in Atlantic City in 1976, giving Scarfo a lucrative business opportunity. That and his cement contracting company (he forced businesses, including Donald Trump's, to buy from him), saw profits flow in to his operation.
In 1978, Scarfo, along with associate Nicholas "Nick the Blade" Virgilio, publicly shot and killed judge Edwin J. Helfant for refusing to lighten Virgilio's murder sentence. The nature of this killing was supposed to serve as a warning to anyone not willing to give Scarfo what he wanted.
Nicodemo Scarfo ordered the killing of criminal associate and contractor, Vincent Falcone, in 1979, as he was heard making negative remarks about the company, and about Scarfo.
Angelo Bruno, head of the Bruno crime family, was gunned down in 1980, leading to Philip Testa (he was called ‘Chicken Man’, probably because of his links to the poultry business) being named the new boss. Testa got his friend, Nicodemo Scarfo appointed to the post of family consigliere.
Philip Testa was killed via a nail bomb, on March 15, 1981, after which Scarfo was named top boss. His decade-long reign was brutal and filled with violence.
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He was arrested and jailed for gun possession, in Texas, from August 1982 and January 1984. 1984 was also when Scarfo ordered the execution of his own top hitman, Salvatore Testa (the son of Scarfo's friend and old boss, Philip Testa). The reasoning behind this hit was Testa's growing popularity and power, which could have posed a threat to Scarfo's own power.
In November 1986, Nicholas Caramandi (nicknamed Nicky Crow) and Thomas DelGiorno (nicknamed Tommy Del), offered to turn on their boss, Nicodemo Scarfo, in exchange for protection from federal agents. 24 homicides were solved thanks to the information given by these two men.
He was arrested by FBI in January 1987 at the ‘Atlantic City’ airport in Pomona, New Jersey. Convicted thrice, with related sentencings, he was sent to federal penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, in 1989.
Another nail to his coffin was the testimony given by his nephew and mob family underboss, Philip (known as Crazy Phil) Leonetti, who flipped on Scarfo after being arrested himself.
Nicodemo Scarfo tried to run his operations from inside the prison, with the help of his middle son, Nicodemo, but his plans were foiled when his son was attacked in October 1989. While Scarfo lost his hold on the underworld after that, his criminal activities continued well into his 80s, with him being indicted in an extortion, that would eventually lead to his son Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. being arrested and convicted.
Family & Personal Life
Nicodemo Scarfo was married twice. His second wife was named Domenica. He had three sons, one of them from his first marriage.
At the time of Scarfo's trial in 1988, when public and media scrutiny was most intense, his youngest son, Mark, tried to hang himself. He was 17 at the time. He was found by his mother and rushed to the hospital, but he never regained consciousness, and eventually died in 2014.
In 1989, his oldest son, Christopher Scarfo, who was working as an Atlantic City real estate broker, legally changed his name to take on his wife's last name.
Only Scarfo's middle son, Nicodemo, followed in his father's footsteps, acting as his messenger and enforcer during Nicodemo Sr.'s early years in prison. Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. was sentenced to 30 years in prison for racketeering, conspiracy, and related offenses in July 2015.
Nicodemo Scarfo (Sr.) died in prison on January 13, 2017, reportedly of cancer. He was 87 years old at the time.