Why he turned to the feds Mobster says he knew both sides wanted him dead

Posted: April 26, 2001

Despite three assassination attempts and repeated warnings he'd be killed, jailed mobster Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi hoped he could come back to his mob life in Philadelphia.

"I wanted to do my time as a man, go home and resume my life in the mob," said Scafidi, now a government witness in his second day of spellbinding testimony at the federal mob racketeering trial yesterday.

"At worst," he figured his former mob pals "would put me on the shelf, and maybe, I'd get a legitimate job."

In September 1999, Scafidi reached out for Joey Merlino's attorney, Joseph Santaguida, to talk about coming home after serving six years on a racketeering conviction. Instead, an emissary visited him in federal prison to tell him, "Don't worry about it."

"I was showing Joey Merlino I wasn't even thinking of cooperating," Scafidi told assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey, who was quizzing him.

But he knew he was a dead man. No matter who he checked with to find out if he could return, the answer was the same: "You're going to be killed. . .You won't last 24 hours."

On his 35th birthday on Oct. 26, 1999, Scafidi testified, he believed the Merlino faction sent him a message.

One-time mob underboss Ronald Turchi was found dead in a car with two bullets in his head, covered in a plastic bag. "He had been stripped down to see if he was wearing a wire," to secretly tape conversations, he said.

"I kept my mouth shut all them years. It didn't mean nothing," he said.

Scafidi had been marked for death since 1993 after complaining too much about mob leader Merlino stealing the shakedown and gambling money and ordering "stupid" murders of innocent people.

Mob boss "John Stanfa wanted to kill me because he thought I was with Joey Merlino. Joey Merlino wanted to kill me because I wasn't coming around no more," testified Scafidi. "I hid in my basement."

The first plot to kill Scafidi was foiled in 1993. A pal tipped off Scafidi that he had been asked by rival mobsters Merlino and Michael Ciancaglini to set him up to be killed.

Afterward, Scafidi turned to Stanfa, who "took me under his wing," he said. Scafidi wasn't the only one to defect. The balance of power shifted from Merlino to Stanfa at the height of the 1993 mob war.

The second murder attempt came on Dec. 5, 1993, exactly four months after Ciancaglini was killed in the mob war. Scafidi said he was coming out of his house and getting into his car.

"I saw two men in ski masks coming at me with guns," he said. "I floored it. Whoever shot at me hit the [car] door and the window shattered."

His "protection" with the Stanfa mob evaporated four months later. A March 17, 1994, federal indictment took down most of the Stanfa mob on racketeering charges. Scafidi knew he'd be arrested soon.

The third assassination attempt came in 1994 as he was driving home from the shore on the Atlantic City Expressway. A car sped up to Scafidi's Jeep. Scafidi said he saw three masked gunmen open fire.

"They sprayed the car with bullets. It started smoking," as he steered off the highway, he said. "The whole car was in flames. The Jeep exploded."

When a state trooper showed up and asked him what happened, Scafidi replied: "It just overheated."

"In my life, I didn't tell the cops anything," said Scafidi, unhurt in the attack.

Scafidi was arrested that November, the day Merlino was released from jail after serving time for parole violations.

The Merlino faction won the mob war "by default," he said.

On New Year's Eve in 1999, his attorney, Christopher Furlong, asked him if he would cooperate with authorities, but Scafidi kept saying "no, no, no."

"I had nobody I could trust. I couldn't get help from New York mobsters," Scafidi testified. "I was trying to protect these defendants. . .people from the organization I loved all my life."

His mob life "was over. It was done. The only people I could get help from was the feds," he said. "I cried like a baby."

After six years of silence, his one-time pal, George Borgesi, now mob consigliere, Borgesi's attorney, Mike Pinsky, and Santaguida made last ditch efforts to prevent his cooperation, he said.

Scafidi, who faces up to 25 years in prison as part of his cooperating agreement, said "I know what it means to rat on people."

As Scafidi read a letter sent to a federal judge who had convicted him in 1994, he choked up. "I love my wife, Nella." Tears rolled down his eyes. He stopped, composing himself. "We had a healthy beautiful baby boy named Salvatore."

Scafidi told the jury, "I want to try to raise my son, live a normal life, and hope I don't have to look over my shoulder." *

Send e-mail to caparek@phillynews.com

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