He "sold" everything from Krugerrands and gold wire (fake) to hair spray and $1,000 bills (nonexistent), and made frequent use of taverns with back doors through which to escape while some sucker waited out front for his goods. He took every opportunity to steal that came his way; it sounds like it was hard, anxious work. When he began dating a well-off woman and learned that she had gotten her money by poisoning both her parents, he didn’t run away screaming — he concocted a story about FBI agents being on her trail, and conned her out of $100,000 to squash the investigation. Having accomplished that nervy scam, he didn’t bolt; instead, he figured out a way to take her for another $25,000. (Then he bolted.) His of living required every cent he could steal — he was the kind of guy who would drop $50,000 he didn’t have over a weekend of playing cards.
Between his criminal activity and his gambling, he came to know lots of bad fellas, and before long he was moving on the fringes of what was then the Angelo Bruno crime family. In exchange for help and protection from various mob mentors, he shared with them his ever-increasing scores. He became one of the small army of healthy, employment-age men who spend their days impersonating loiterers throughout South Philadelphia, at bars or at storefronts with no sign outside or in places of business that seem not to actually make or sell anything. (As a teenager I unwittingly entered such a luncheonette, asked for a cheesesteak, and was told by one of the four adult males who made their livings there that they had no rolls.)
By the spring of 1980, Caramandi’s chief mentor was a man he had met while in prison — Antonio "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, Angelo Bruno’s main adviser. (Can anybody write the word "consigliere" without thinking only of actor Robert Duvall?) Two events suddenly jeopardized The Crow’s position: the murder of Bruno, and the subsequent discovery that Caponigro was behind the killing, which led to the murder of Caponigro. But The Crow was sufficiently far from the seat of power that he was never suspected of any involvement. (He had none.) And he continued to be a good money-maker for the organization, whoever ran it.
As students of recent Philadelphia crime-politics know well, the boss who took over after Bruno, Philip Testa, ruled for less than a year before he too was killed. Lots of gangsters got killed — almost two dozen significant rubouts over the past 11 years, if you’re still counting. Cararnandi’s number two mentor was among them, but still The Crow continued his slow, steady climb. In fact, it was after nearly every experienced mob executive was whacked and Nicky Scarfo took over that Caramandi hit the heights.
His rise from lowly con artist to middle-management schemer meant he now had to help with the official brutality, of which there was lots. Among his closest associates was a man named Pat "The Cat" Spirito, a Trenton native who also prospered under Scarfo. But when Spirito became unreliable and insubordinate, The Crow was ordered to plan and take part in his murder. Not long before the hit, Spirito had clearly gotten wind: