Philly's own 'Mob Wives'

Alicia DiMichele Garofalo (left) and Natalie Guercio of ?Mob Wives New Blood? at the Palms in Las Vegas.
Alicia DiMichele Garofalo (left) and Natalie Guercio of ?Mob Wives New Blood? at the Palms in Las Vegas.
Posted: January 16, 2014

PHILLY's no stranger to reality-TV stardom.

First came "Survivor" guy Gervase Peterson. Next was "American Idol" runner-up Justin Guarini. We've won "Project Runway" twice. We've got an "Iron Chef" and at least one "Top Chef."

Jon and Kate Gosselin had millions of viewers - and their eight kids sure were cute.

Today, there's a couple of new reality-TV stars in town. They're candid. They're stylish. They're beyond hot. They might be Philly's biggest, yet.

Although their hair is always impeccably blown out, they definitely let their local roots show through.

South Philly-based babes Natalie Guercio and Alicia DiMichele are the latest additions to the cast of VH1's " Mob Wives: New Blood." The controversial "docu-soap," now in its fourth season, airs Thursdays at 10 p.m.

The show follows the female family members of fellas associated with the mob. Last week, 1.5 million viewers tuned in.

First wives

The original "Wives" include hotheaded Renee Graziano - daughter of jailed Bonanno crime-family leader Anthony Graziano and ex-wife of Hector "Junior" Pagan, a convicted drug dealer - who, in Season 2, ratted out her dad. Her sister Jennifer "Jenn" Graziano created and co-produces the series with Bob and Harvey Weinstein, among others.

There's pugnacious Drita D'Avanzo, a mom and makeup-studio owner whose husband, Lee, a rumored associate of the Colombo and Bonanno families, recently served four years for bank robbery.

Last, but in no way least, is breakout sensation Angela "Big Ang" Raiola, a no-nonsense, unforgettably enhanced bar owner and grandmother who's the niece of late Genovese clan captain Salvatore "Sally Dogs" Lombardi.

Like Bravo's "Real Housewives of fill-in-the-city," the "Wives" are not all married. But, for three smash seasons, they were all from Staten Island.

New wives

That changed this December, when a pair of black SUVs brought the drama down I-95. Their first stop: Haddonfield, N.J., restaurant Giumarello's, for a party hosted by DiMichele.

Next, the camera crew captured 2212 S. Broad St., where newbie Guercio runs Carto Funeral Home with her grandfather Nunzio Carto Jr.

Later, lenses lingered at locations along East Passyunk Avenue.

The start of each episode describes Guercio as "Cousin: Philly crime family (allegedly)," and DiMichele as "Husband: Eddie 'Tall Guy' Garofalo: in federal custody."

But there's more to these women than their taglines.

Guercio, 31, is a single mom and hairstylist who attended South Philly's St. Monica's, Pennsauken's Bishop Eustace and Empire Beauty School, before getting a job at Old City's Strands salon (which recently relocated to South Philly).

These days, she does bookings, bookkeeping, and corpse hair and makeup for her granddad's business. Every Jan. 1, her family throws a Mummers-watching party at the funeral home. Her brother-in-law's in the Jesters.

Like "Real Housewife of Atlanta" Phaedra Parks, she's been going to mortuary school, off and on, to learn embalming and such.

Guercio, who sometimes goes by "Vegas," dates a fire-safety inspector from New York. She told the Daily News that the show was a good fit for her because: "I'm a very outspoken person, very down-to-earth, very loyal. I say these one-liners that are crazy, and that's just me being me. People from South Philly, we say what's on our minds, all the time. I don't have a filter. Never did."

Example? A few episodes ago, the future mortician made major "Mob Wives" waves by telling Renee Graziano's date he smelled "delicious." The comment caused a knock-down-drag-out that spanned New York to Las Vegas - and looks to be heading back East again.

Jenn Graziano called Guercio "a spitfire."

New Jersey wives

Soft-spoken, statuesque, freckle-cheeked DiMichele, 40, is the mother of three boys and owner of trendy Addiction boutiques in Cherry Hill and on East Passyunk. Her family's originally from South Philly, but she grew up in Jersey and attended Cherry Hill West.

When "New Blood" began, her husband, a reputed enforcer for the New York-based Colombo family, started a seven-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering. He's doing his time at the Metropolitan Detention Center, in Brooklyn.

DiMichele recently confirmed that she and Garofalo are separated. She vehemently denied rumors of a romance with Center City's LaScala's restaurant owner Robert LaScala, whom she called "a longtime family friend."

She and Garofalo might be on the outs, but when describing her family's visits to MDC Brooklyn, she tearfully, loyally referred to him as "the love of my life."

"It's really, really difficult," she told the Daily News. "Visits are only once a week for an hour. I maybe see him twice a month, and can't always take the boys." When the kids go, "I get them dressed. We drive up. We go through a metal detector. The [people] are not nice there.

"The hour goes by so fast. You leave. You get in the car to go home, and the boys are crying, because their dad's not coming home."

She called the situation "grueling." But that's just the start of it. According to the feds, DiMichele is more than married to the mob. The government contends she's a wisegal, too.

She's awaiting sentencing on embezzlement charges, from a time when she worked for her husband's former trucking company. Her punishment could include a fine of $96,000, $20,000 restitution and up to six months in prison. She said she expects the judge to make the call in March, after the show wraps.

"Alicia has a real story behind her," Jenn Graziano said.

Bringin' it home

Fans might be disappointed that they won't know the loveable Jersey gal's fate by season's end. But it's not like they've lacked for drama - or local shout-outs.

So far, "New Blood" has followed both women home - the DiMichele Garofalos' spacious spot in a Jersey burb, and the stoop outside Guercio's classic South Philly row. It's shown Guercio consuming house salad - and a cocktail or two - al fresco at Stogie Joe's Passyunk Tavern, and DiMichele chatting up castmate and fledgling fashion mogul Renee Graziano at her shop nearby.

The boutique's counter displays chocolate-chip cookies from close-by bakeshop Ms. Goody Cupcake. Bakery owner Gigi Andrew said she's proud of getting her wares on "Mob Wives." But she had to admit: She hadn't paid attention to the show till this season.

Andrew's husband, Frank, owner of Pennsport's City Pizza, got her hooked. "It kinda sucked me in," she said. Now, "I watch to see the South Philly girls and the New York girls to see who's gonna win. As of last week, it looks like South Philly had one up on them."

DiMichele and Guercio's refusal to stand down to the New York contingent has won them fans at home.

Amanda Weissinzer is a server at Chiarella's (which had its own reality TV moment on Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares," in 2012). She said her "boyfriend's friend's cousins with" Guercio.

"Natalie brought her own conflict in it," she said. "She put herself against Renee, who thinks she's the top dog in the whole crew. But Natalie proved herself. She's representing South Philly, that we don't take nothing from nobody."

Plus, said Weissinzer, "the South Philly girls dress better than the Staten Island girls."

Passyunk Avenue business owners Kristian Leuzzi, of Stogie Joe's, and Tom Longo, of Metro Men's, aren't fans. They report no change in business since "New Blood" has been airing. For Leuzzi, "the mob thing went out 20 years ago."

Longo has "thought of wanting to see an episode, but I haven't."

An insider's outlook

But Natalie Merlino, owner of Passyunk's posh new primpery, the Blow Dry Boutique, is a DiMichele fan. "I know Alicia for over 20 years. She's very, very classy. She doesn't act like [the other women on the show], thank God."

She's not, however, so fond of Guercio. "I don't associate with Natalie," she said, adding, "I know who she is. She's a nobody. She directs a funeral home. I can't understand what the purpose is of her on the show. Renee and Drita and the others, they've been through rough patches in their life, a lot that went on that changed their lives dramatically."

"Natalie? She's allegedly not anything."

She would know. Merlino's got an older brother named Joey. That Joey.

The salon owner tuned in to the series' first season and stopped watching when it "didn't click." She said that a couple of years ago, producers asked her to join the cast. She declined. "I'm just not that kind of person. There's no need for me to be in the spotlight."

Still, once the Philly ladies arrived on the scene, she, like so many locals, started watching again.

"Everybody's talking about it. What's not to talk about?"

Twitter: @LaMcCutch

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