Recently there's been more intrigue about the fate of the U.S. Organized Crime Strike Force than about mob plots in Philadelphia.
Well, the strike force has dodged a bullet, sort of.
Officials of the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday that strike-force prosecutors would be devoted to organized crime - La Cosa Nostra and emerging ethnic groups from Russia, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere.
They will not be interchangeable with drug prosecutors, officials said.
The deal was worked out between the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department in recent days.
And it comes not a moment too soon, as dozens of mobsters are returning home from prison.
Last Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey underwent a proper moblike introduction to the cappi di tutti in Washington, D.C.
"This is Dave from Philly. He's a friend of ours," joked Fritchey, about his own introduction as the newly appointed chief of the strike force here.
The Boss of all Bosses, Matthew W. Friedrich, the acting assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department, blessed Fritchey as chief and preserved the nine-prosecutor unit as part of his special-strike-force duties.
Fritchey, a longtime mob prosecutor, takes over the prestigious strike force, which put scores of mobsters behind bars during the reigns of several mob bosses, from Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo in the '80s to Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in '01.
"I expect to do long-term projects and quick-hitting ones in real time," said Fritchey.
Robert Reed, deputy chief of the Criminal Division in the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that he hopes for "cross-pollination" between the drug unit and strike force, now located next to each other after a move over the weekend.
"I think highly of Fritchey as a prosecutor. He's a very independent guy," said Louis Pichini, retired strike-force attorney and former chief of the Criminal Division. "But how much independence will he have?"
If strike-force attorneys had to try a tsunami of drug prosecutions as earlier suggested, retired prosecutors and investigators said, they would not have time to attack the most complicated organized-crime cases.
Nor could they monitor nearly 30 mobsters released from prison since the early 1980s, or others who pose threats to society, they said.
Recently, an intelligence analyst who studied organized-crime activities to find links among them was transferred to the terrorism unit.
"I strongly disagree with the dilution of the program," said Joel M. Friedman, strike-force chief for 22 years, now working with retired FBI director Louis J. Freeh's consulting firm, Freeh Group International.
"This is one of the most violent LCN [La Cosa Nostra] families in America," Friedman said. "They swear an oath to protect the family. They are getting out [of prison] and will reconstitute the family."
James T. Maher, retired FBI supervisor of the organized-crime unit, is so concerned that he still keeps track of mobsters coming home.
Last March, Vincent "Big Vince" Filipelli, 54, a bodyguard and enforcer for mob boss John Stanfa in the 1990s, was sent back to prison to serve a 66-month sentence for extortion. The "made" member earlier served a 54-month sentence for racketeering extortion in the Stanfa era.
In 2001, mobster Martin Angelina, 45, was convicted of racketeering with Merlino and served a 54-month prison sentence. Last year, Angelina was caught associating with mobsters and returned to prison for four months.
And he may be in trouble again - he has a hearing tomorrow on a related matter.