At least 25 people have been killed in JBM-related murders in the past two years, according to authorities.
For decades, most black dealers obtained drugs, principally heroin and later methamphetamine ("speed") and P2P, a key chemical needed to make methamphetamine, from La Cosa Nostra.
The tradition continued relatively undisturbed during most of the 21-year reign of mob boss Angelo Bruno, but began coming apart after Bruno's 1980 murder triggered several years of bloody battling between rival mob factions.
The death blow came in 1987 when Scarfo, one of Bruno's successors, was arrested and named a defendant in a series of trials that were to result in his life imprisonment.
Authorities say that some business and personal relationships between younger survivors of the South Philadelphia mob wars and JBM members date back to the early 1980s. Now, they say, the links are becoming stronger.
According to the 1989 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report, "JBM members and young LCN associates such as Joseph Merlino . . . continue to associate and work together in the distribution of cocaine."
Merlino, 27, nicknamed "Thin Joey," is the son of former mob underboss Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino.
Tracy Mason, 26, and Benjamin "Bennie" Goff, 31, among the reputed founders of the JBM, are key intermediaries between the JBM and the Italian mob, according to law enforcement sources close to an ongoing investigation of the JBM.
For decades, the Italian mob controlled the heroin supply to the black community and would take the "edge" off bets from black numbers banks - help cover heavy betting on a particular number or sporting event by bankrolling these smaller banks.
One of the reasons that Black Inc., the front organization for the Black Mafia, was founded in 1970 was to try to take over control of illegal rackets
from LCN in black neighborhoods. It was only partially successful.
Black Mafia founder Sam Christian and his associates did not want to deal with Bruno and his traditional crime family, and "began shaking down (LCN) operatives in the black neighborhoods," said a law enforcement official.
During the last years of his reign, Bruno allowed blacks to take over some
criminal activities long dominated by the Italian mob, including some numbers writing and other forms of gambling, and agreed to supply P2P to black dealers. These blacks still had to pay LCN a "street tax" to engage in the illegal activities.
The Black Mafia has been defunct since the mid-1970s. Many members were killed or sent to prison for long terms.
Then in 1987, Scarfo and many of his associates were arrested, and the old ways of doing business ended. Authorities said there was no one to collect the street tax, and the city became wide open for virtually any criminal enterprise.
The Junior Black Mafia, formed in late 1985 or early 1986, stepped into the breach, but its alliance with the Italian mob did not become obvious to law enforcement until Mason and several other JBM members began showing up at the federal racketeering trial of Scarfo, "Thin Joey" Merlino's father, and 15 mob associates last November.
Joey Merlino also attended the trial, in which all 17 defendants received lengthy prison terms.
Investigators learned that young Merlino became friendly with Mason and Goff through a friend of Merlino's who worked with Mason and Goff at two Atlantic City casinos in the mid-'80s. The three were card dealers at Harrah's and later at Resorts International casinos.
Mason visited the Italian mob's clubhouse in South Philadelphia last summer and warmly embraced Merlino like a longtime friend, according to law enforcement sources.
One law enforcement source, commenting on the JBM's supplying cocaine to the Italian mob, was skeptical of young Merlino's ability to traffic in drugs on his own.
"Thin Joey Merlino doesn't have the brains or the wherewithal to import cocaine from a Colombian cartel," the source said.
Merlino, of Hartranft Street near 19th, has been unavailable for comment. His mother and sister refused to allow a Daily News reporter to talk to him last night.
He was released last week on $200,000 bail in connection with federal charges in the theft of $350,000 from an armored car on Sept. 23, 1987, and has served a 1 1/2-year prison term for the 1982 beating and stabbing of two people in Atlantic City.
Mason, of Annin Street near 16th, could not be reached for comment.
He was arrested last Dec. 1 with five other JBM members in a drug raid in which police confiscated $90,000, more than two pounds of cocaine, a .357 Magnum and two cars. Mason also has been convicted of resisting arrest following a Feb. 23, 1988, incident and fined $35 and placed on three months' probation.
A lawyer for Goff, of Hortter Street near Boyer, said his client knows some JBM members but denies any involvement with the JBM. A telephone number through which Goff was reached last week has been disconnected.