What Ever Happened to the South Philly Mob?

It’s been at least six years since anyone has been killed by the Philadelphia Mafia. Is it the passing of a way of life, or an eerie calm before an ­approaching storm? Our writer takes to the streets of South Philly — and sips wine with the current Godfather — to find out

That Something wicked this way comes vibe just hasn’t attached itself to Ligambi, who didn’t undergo a formal induction ceremony into the mob until he was 45 years old. (Before that, he was a low-level mob associate who tended bar down the Shore.) He ultimately gained the top spot without any internal war, after years of mob-related homicides and arrests left him the last candidate standing. Since his unlikely ascent, he has been credited by the feds who are chasing him with bringing “stability” to an organization worn down to the nub.

Prevalent opinion holds that Joe Ligambi’s crew is all about the things Joey Merlino never demonstrated: Restraint. Stealth. Discretion. Merlino allegedly did it all — theft, cocaine, murder — then hit the nightclubs on Delaware Avenue on weekends, where he partied the night away and extorted money from the owners. As one undercover mob cop put it to me: “These guys aren’t like Joey’s old crew. They’re homebodies. I drive out to someone’s house to see what they’re up to, and there’s their car, sitting in front of the house. I sit there, for hours, and nothing happens.”

Merlino blazed through the streets in designer clothing. Ligambi is low-key, holding walk-and-talk meetings so he’s less likely to face a wiretap, and dressing in dungarees, sweatshirts and Phillies caps, because that’s how he’s comfortable. Ligambi’s mob also focuses on the rumpled clothing of mob crimes — the not-so-scary practices of loan-sharking and gambling. One undercover narcotics cop I spoke to said Ligambi’s mob will occasionally finance some budding drug dealer’s entry into the business. But after they get a kickback, the association ends. “It isn’t like they have guys out dealing for them,” says the cop.

Ligambi is no stranger to murder charges. He was convicted in 1989 of the killing of mob associate Frankie “Flowers” D’Alfonso. But that conviction was overturned, and a 1997 retrial ended in acquittal. Three mob-related killings took place in the early days of his reign. But it was unclear at the time if the mob had sanctioned all of these murders. Now it’s been six years since any body dropped at all. And the hits just keep on not coming. During a long interview with city police in the organized crime intelligence unit, neither Captain Dennis Cullen nor an undercover cop could cite an instance, in the past five years, in which a civilian was a victim of extortion or got smacked around at the hands of a Philly wiseguy. This fits with one of the narratives that have taken hold in the city’s streets — that this new mob doesn’t beat up those who owe them gambling debts; instead, it just stops taking their bets.

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  • Matt

    Came across this article today. I live very near the "social club" on 13th street, and always had my theories on just what type of place it is. Now I know. Good read. And for the record, most of the clients there are good people, just the younger crowd making a ruckus at 3am that's a problem.

  • Jill

    I moved from Center City to 11th and Wolf a couple of years ago. I walk my dog past the club on 13th Street all the time. Like the previous commenter, I always had my suspicions, but the guys outside have always been courteous, even complimenting my dog. Oh, and the food at Bomb Bomb is really, really good. I'm really enjoying the neighborhood, which seems easier to do without Merlino-type antics happening.

  • Suite jimmy

    The Philadelphia{MOB} has always been an entiny unto itself,however, reporters will never get the true story straight it remains hidden for over a hundred years…EMERTA is alive and well!!!

    • Philly

      Omerta you mean. Code of honor / code of silence… Very powerful and the way to live. My grandpop always said keep your mouth shut no matter what!!

  • Pasquale

    Plain and simple…Uncle Joe has brought respect and stability back to this city's La Cosa Nostra. He's a proud man who have survived several regimes and is quite frankly "The Last Man Standing." He's smart in that he's learned from the mistakes the other have made. Good job Uncle Joe! We love ya!

  • Brian

    Anyone have any idea where the Grays Ferry steak and veal spot is? I can't think of anywhere on the street that Mr. Ligambi could have been talking about.

  • meat

    The only thing I can think of would be Gaupp Meat at 33rd and Dickinson,though it's wholesale. Of course, I am sure Mr. Ligambi could make that work.

  • BUCK

    I MYSELF COMMING AND GROWING UP IN ALL ITALIAN NIEGBORHOOD LIKE S.PHILLY; WALKED INTO THE BOMB BOMB BY CHANCE, LOOKED LIKE A PLACE I WAS USED TO AND WAS RIGHT, AT FIRST THERE WERE SOME SUSPISIONS PUT SOON SUBSIDED, THEY ASKED IF I WAS FROM S.PHILLY I SAID NO BUT A PLACE SIMALAR TO THIS, I DROPPED BY AFTER A DOCTORS APP. AT HUP. I TRULY THINK YOU HAVE TO BE, ITALIAIN TO UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE, AND HOW PEOPLE ARE I LOVE THE PLACE AND GO OFTEN AND NOT LOOKIN FOR A THRILL OF SEEING "MOBSTERS"

  • DINO

    ITALIANS ARE ALL OVER AND NOW WERE EVERYWERE PEOPLE ITALIANS ARE GREAT IN EVERTHING NOT JUST FROM BEING FROM SOUTHPHILA MY FATHER FROM SOUTH PHILA HIS FATHER FROM THE MOTHER LAND MY MOTHER FROM NORTHEAST HER PARENTS FROM ITALY THE MOTHER LAND YES IAM ALL ITALY SO WHAT IAM SOUTHPHILA ITALIAN WERE MY FATHER GREW UP OR JUST ITALIAN ITS CRAZY LOVE ALL ITALIANS GOD BLESS US ALL

  • Anonymous

    MY NAME IS NICKY AND I RELIZE THAT PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO GET RID OF ARE KIND BUT TO BE HONEST THAT AN’T STOPING ME FROM WHAT I DO AND AN’T STOPING THEM FOR WHAT THEY DO JUST GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE AND MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS AND GO BACK TO WHATEVER YOU FUCKING CAME FROM.

    • Danny Philly

      BADA BING. BADA BOOM. STFU.

  • erik “stick man”

    I lived in the 300 block of Wolf St. in the mid to late 80′s and early 90′s. i miss those days! I hope to soon come back with my wife and children to show them my old stomping grounds!

  • Robert Rura

    I need to know where i can find the italian mob. I’m 50% italian and i have no where else to go, i got a dui and my parents are kicking me out of the house. I grew up @ 12th and Moore and use to know people in the mob but have lost contact with them over the years. Please help me regain access to them. 215-301-7815 is my number

    • Danny Philly

      dude. stfu.