The Reporter

He had become a legendary figure in the annals of Philadelphia journalism …

Last month Sylvan Scolnick was talking about just how close Harry Karafin was. Serving a five-year sentence for his part in the frauds, Scolnick is being kept at the detention center of Philadelphia General Hospital while being treated for his obesity. Almost daily, however, he is being taken to the United States Courthouse Building and questioned extensively by Federal officials. The U.S. Attorney General has even sent from Washington one of the Justice Department’s specialists on organized crime to take part in the interrogations. Scolnick’s connections went high into the upper echelons of organized racketeering. He has admitted an acquaintance with the reputed head of the local Cosa Nostra, South Philadelphia’s Angelo Bruno. And his testimony has already convicted burglar-arsonist Sidney Brooks in the $100,000 robbery of his own Federally-impounded safe deposit box. That caper, involving stolen money from previous jobs, was masterminded by Scolnick.

Sylvan Scolnick says he was a very close friend of Harry Karafin. He says they would even vacation together at the President in Atlantic City. In fact, he says he was sort of an associate of his. He recalls the days when Karafin would frequently drop by M. Stein & Co. on Bustleton A venue near the Boulevard. That was one of Scolnick’s first bankruptcy frauds. He used his own father-in-law, a gray-haired former upholsterer named Morris Stein, as a front man. The business was opened in March of 1959. By December Morris Stein said he was bankrupt. He owed his creditors $624,000. His assets were nil. The tons of merchandise he had ordered, from television sets to cough drops, had been sold at a fraction of their retail value to discount houses and hot-goods outlets. Stein said he lost the money to loansharks and bookies. Actually it went into the coffers of his son-in-law and his racket cronies.

There were many more fraudulent bankruptcies after that. So many, in fact, that a sort of headquarters had to be set up as a clearing house and control point for the millions of dollars worth of merchandise being funneled through the intricate network of the ring’s operations. A small respectable-looking office with a white Colonial facade and bay window at 412 Fairmount Avenue became such a headquarters. It was called Twin State Distributing Co. and it was, ostensibly, a home remodeling and heating firm.

At one point, Philadelphia Police kept a photographic surveillance of Twin State. Observed frequenting the place, besides Scolnick and the front men of his various running bankruptcies, were a variety of racket-connected loan sharks, gamblers, dope pushers, bookies, strong-arm men and even a paroled murderer. Two other regular visitors to Twin State were Samuel ("Cappie") Hoffman and William ("Willie") Weisberg. Both are top racket figures — in fact, the U.S. Justice Department recently named Weisberg, Angelo Bruno and numbers boss Frank Jaskiewicz as the three men who control all of Philaphia’s organized crime. Both Hoffman and Weisberg were on the payroll of Twin State.

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