8 Alleged Mob Figures Plead Not Guilty

Posted: April 29, 1987

ATLANTIC CITY — Eight reputed mob figures, including alleged mob underboss Philip Leonetti and former underboss Salvatore Merlino, pleaded not guilty yesterday to conspiracy and racketeering-related charges contained in a sweeping New Jersey state grand jury indictment announced earlier this month.

The not-guilty pleas were entered before Judge Paul R. Porreca by attorneys for the eight defendants, all of whom have been charged with being members of the Philadelphia-South Jersey organized-crime family headed by Nicodemo ''Little Nicky" Scarfo.

Scarfo, 58, also was named in the April 9 indictment but was unable to attend yesterday's arraignment because he is being tried in federal court in Philadelphia on extortion charges.

Leonetti, 34, of Margate, N.J., is Scarfo's nephew. Merlino, 47, formerly of South Philadelphia, is serving a state prison term on an unrelated bribery charge. Also arraigned yesterday were Merlino's brother, Lawrence, 39, of Brigantine, N.J., and five Philadelphia residents: Frank Iannarella, 39; Salvatore Grande, 34; Frank Narducci Jr., 33; his brother, Philip Narducci, 25, and Joseph Pungitore, 31.

Leonetti, Grande, Iannarella and Pungitore did not attend yesterday's hearing. They are being held without bail in Philadelphia after being arrested earlier this month in connection with the September 1984 murder of mob figure Salvatore Testa.

The Testa murder is one of nine gangland killings listed in the New Jersey indictment to demonstrate what law enforcement officials contend is a pattern of racketeering engaged in by the defendants in the case. The indictment, however, contains only one specific murder charge. It alleges that Scarfo and Nicholas "Nick the Blade" Virgilio, 59, murdered an Atlantic County municipal judge, Edwin Helfant, in February 1978. Virgilio was arraigned last week in Atlantic County.

The April 9 indictment, which state Attorney General W. Cary Edwards has described as part of a multi-pronged law enforcement investigation aimed at crippling the Scarfo organization, superseded a November state grand jury indictment in which many of the same defendants were charged.

In a related matter yesterday, New Jersey authorities agreed to drop conspiracy and racketeering-related charges against five other reputed Scarfo organization members or associates named in the November indictment. The five men, all Philadelphia residents, were not named in the indictment handed down earlier this month. They are Joseph Ligambi, John Ciancaglini, Ralph Staino, Gary Iaconelli and Gary Tavella.

Still to be arraigned on conspiracy and racketeering-related charges are Charles Iannece, 52, and Joseph Grande, 27, both of Philadephia. Iannece has been a fugitive since his indictment in January on federal extortion charges. Grande, the brother of Salvatore Grande, is being held without bail in Philadelphia in connection with the Testa murder. His attorney was not present for yesterday's hearing.

Salvatore Merlino also has been charged in the Testa killing and faces extradition to Pennsylvania once he is released from New Jersey state prison. In all, 10 reputed mob figures, including Scarfo, have been charged in the Testa case.

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