January 16-22, 2003
The holidays were a festive time for mobsters of all stripes.
First the world's largest motorcycle posse, the Hell's Angels, allegedly bragged that they were coming down to take Philadelphia away from the Pagans, the Delaware Valley's largest outlaw biker gang.
Then some of the local Pagans took a look at the odds and switched sides. A group of panicky Pagans signed on with the Hell's Angels and recently started sporting the scary Hell's Angel patch on their denim jackets -- when bikers from one club join another club it's called "patching over" in the biker world.
Now comes word from law enforcement sources who investigate outlaw motorcycle gangs that one-time mob associate and former Pagan club President Steven "Gorilla" Mondevergine may join the Hell's Angels when he gets out of jail.
"We hear he's already switched sides," one cop said earlier this week. "When Gorilla comes out he's gonna be a Hell's Angel."
The Gorilla is a former Philly cop and all-around tough guy who was once shot nine times and survived. Gorilla is currently behind bars, serving time for trying to shoot the reputed leader of a South Philadelphia drug crew called the 10th and O gang in November 2000.
The police claimed that Mondevergine, a friend of jailed mob boss Joey Merlino, ran an extortion racket for the Mafia, but Mondevergine denied he had any involvement with the mob, despite several public sightings of Merlino and Mondevergine hanging out at area bars and clubs.
Mondevergine's lawyer, George H. Newman, did not return calls to City Paper.
According to Underworld sources, another other local biker gang, the Warlocks, are pissed off at the Pagans. That's because the Pagans, looking for reinforcements, supposedly gave permission to the Wheels of Soul to wear the Pagan patch on their jackets.
Ironically, the Warlocks once planned to invite the Wheels of Soul to wear Warlock "colors." The Wheels of Soul are an African-American club headquartered under the El on Market Street in West Philadelphia. But the Pagans, being a much larger gang with more power, vetoed the Warlock plan. Police sources say there are more than a few diehard white supremacists among the Pagans, and those guys were less than thrilled with the prospect of sharing power with African-American bikers.
Billy Rinick's federal drug case got started last week, but before the jury was selected, attorneys for Rinick had a request for Judge Eduardo Robreno.
It seems that the feds wanted to ask potential jurors if they had ever heard of Joseph and Deborah Merlino. They wanted to know if the jurors had heard news reports that Billy Rinick had been found hiding under a bed in Deborah Merlino's house during a police raid two years ago. (Mob boss Joey Merlino had already been convicted and carted off to jail, leaving behind Deborah, their two kids and a pretty young Ukrainian nanny in the posh South Philadelphia townhouse.)
The feds wanted to ask potential jurors if knowing these facts would affect their ability to fairly judge Rinick.
But Rinick's attorneys, Robert Levant and Alan Tauber, told the judge they would not admit that Rinick was found "hiding under the bed."
The prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Gross, insisted that Rinick was found under the bed of one of Deborah Merlino's daughters. But when it looked like the defense attorneys were going to the mattresses over the question of whether or not Rinick was under the bed, Gross agreed to simplify the question and just ask whether jurors knew or had heard of Joseph and Deborah Merlino.
On the first day of the trial, the feds played a videotape showing Rinick being driven by Deborah Merlino. The feds claim that Rinick was on his way to a meeting to collect a drug debt.
Reputed mobsters were in the holiday spirit the weekend before Christmas when members of the Philadelphia Police Organized Crime squad staked out a corner store at Ninth and Moore with cameras and note pads. The cops counted more than 40 men crowded into the corner store run by Joe "Crutch" Curro.
Police sources claim that Curro is now the consigliere, or number-three man in the Philadelphia mob, despite his recent medical problems.
Curro refused to return calls to City Paper about the big party, but Underworld sources confirmed the police account that it was a gathering of mobsters, mob associates and mob-connected bookmakers.
Among the reputed gangsters making an appearance at Joe Crutch's Christmas soiree: alleged mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, reputed underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and two men police sources claim are capos, or captains in the Philadelphia crime family.
One law enforcement source said, "There were guys from Jersey, South Philly, Southwest Philly and Manayunk. Some looked like they were carrying envelopes of money and some had very expensive bottles of whiskey. It was a real mob holiday party."
Vulgar Boot Man
Big Lenny said "nyet" in federal court last week to a plea bargain that would have obligated the reputed Russian crime boss to rat out fellow members of his "KGB" gang.
Leonid "Big Lenny" Chernyak allegedly ran a local Russian mob called the KGB gang, which operated in Northeast Philly and Bucks County. Chernyak had agreed to plead guilty to federal racketeering and naturalization fraud charges. But when the feds also asked Chernyak to name his partners in crime, Big Lenny said no deal. An Underworld source told City Paper that "Big Lenny had no problems copping a plea and avoiding a trial, but no way was he going to involve anyone else in his guilty plea. He'd rather take his chances at trial." (email@example.com)