Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Scarfo will plead for bail before federal judge

Nicodemo S. Scarfo, son of imprisoned mob boss "Little Nicky" Scarfo, will go before a federal judge in Camden on Monday to argue that he has been unfairly denied bail in a pending multimillion-dollar fraud case.

Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 46, has been jailed since Nov. 1.
Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 46, has been jailed since Nov. 1.Read more

Nicodemo S. Scarfo, son of imprisoned mob boss "Little Nicky" Scarfo, will go before a federal judge in Camden on Monday to argue that he has been unfairly denied bail in a pending multimillion-dollar fraud case.

The younger Scarfo, jailed since his arrest Nov. 1, has been held not because of what he is accused of doing, but because of who authorities wrongly believe he is, his lawyer argued in a motion filed last week.

He is not a "ruthless mob boss," Michael E. Riley wrote in asking U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler to reconsider the bail request.

Nor is Scarfo an "uncontrollable maniac" who requires solitary confinement, Riley argued in a motion that cites the Bible and includes a reference to Napoleon.

Most important, Riley wrote, Scarfo, 46, is not a danger to the community, the issue cited by the judge who originally denied him bail.

Prosecutors have opposed the motion, arguing that Scarfo is exactly what Riley says he is not.

Prosecutors have used the specter of organized crime and the reputation of Scarfo's father to create an impression of him that is inconsistent with the evidence, according to Riley, Scarfo's court-appointed lawyer.

"The government is continuing to visit the sins of the father upon the son," he said, citing an oft-quoted line from the Book of Exodus.

Its arguments are "an audacious attempt to create a fabricated aura of dangerousness . . . [and] evidence of Mafia influence where none exists," he said.

Riley took exception to the prosecution's interpretation of a partial transcript, cited in the indictment, in which Scarfo referred to "an iron fist in a velvet glove."

"This phrase has a rich history in business, politics and public administration," Riley wrote, noting that Napoleon used it to describe effective authoritarian rule.

Prosecutors contend Scarfo was signaling his intention to use violence to further his scheme.

But "it is not outside the realm of possibility that the phrase was used between two businessmen discussing business strategies," Riley wrote.

Whether the Bible or French history will sway Kugler is an open question.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, a veteran of several organized-crime prosecutions in Philadelphia, has presented a far different picture of the younger Scarfo, whom he described as a member of the Lucchese organized-crime family.

The prosecution contends Scarfo and codefendant Salvatore Pelullo, 45, used the mob's reputation for violence to advance a scheme to control FirstPlus Financial Group, a Texas mortgage lending company, in summer 2007.

A 25-count indictment charges Scarfo and Pelullo with racketeering conspiracy, fraud, and extortion, alleging that between June 2007 and May 2008, they exercised behind-the-scenes control of FirstPlus while siphoning $12 million from the company.

The money was transferred through questionable business deals, bogus consulting contracts, and the purchase of overvalued companies Pelullo and Scarfo had set up in Philadelphia and South Jersey, the indictment alleges.

Pelullo, described as an organized-crime associate, was denied bail at a similar hearing Wednesday.

Eleven others charged in the case, including four lawyers, an accountant, and Scarfo's wife, Lisa Murray-Scarfo, are free on bail.

His client's confinement in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia makes it nearly impossible for him to prepare for trial, Riley argued.

Scarfo is being held in a special housing unit - in effect, solitary confinement - because authorities fear he could be targeted by inmates.

Last week, at Pelullo's hearing, D'Aguanno said his office asked for special confinement for Scarfo and Pelullo because members of the Philadelphia mob are being held at the facility at Seventh and Arch Streets, awaiting trial on racketeering charges.

Prosecutors said they would lift the special request for Pelullo after he told Kugler he did not fear for his life and wanted to be in the general prison population.

Scarfo could make the same request if he were denied bail, but his circumstances are much different: He has been targeted by the Philadelphia mob in the past.

Scarfo was nearly killed in 1989 by members of that organization, D'Aguanno said. His shooting at Dante & Luigi's restaurant on Halloween was believed to be part of a dispute in which members of the organization tried to break from the leadership of "Little Nicky" Scarfo, who had begun serving a 55-year sentence for racketeering.

The younger Scarfo, authorities believe, was targeted as as a proxy for his father. He soon left the area for North Jersey and began to operate with the Lucchese crime family there.

The Lucchese connection, law enforcement sources have said, was arranged by the elder Scarfo from prison, where a fellow inmate was Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, head of the Lucchese organization.

Amuso and the elder Scarfo have been named unindicted coconspirators in the FirstPlus case.

Riley argued that the government had tried to portray his client as "a ruthless mob boss," a phrase often used to describe "Little Nicky" Scarfo in an attempt to deny him bail.

He has asked Judge Kugler to permit monitored home confinement so Scarfo can review the 7,500 secretly recorded conversations and estimated one million pages of documents that are part of the evidence in the case.

Acknowledging that his client has two convictions - for gambling and gambling-related racketeering offenses - Riley said Nicodemo Scarfo was "not an uncontrollable maniac who needs to be locked down in solitary confinement - something that is sure to be an impediment to . . . aiding in his defense."