CAMDEN — A reputed mob associate from Galloway Township accused of living a lavish lifestyle in a financial takeover scheme is too dangerous for bail, a U.S. District judge ruled Friday.
Nicodemo S. Scarfo, 46, and a dozen others are scheduled for trial Jan. 9 on charges they forced out board members of Texas-based FirstPlus Financial Group in order to take over the company, which they used to make at least $12 million that helped purchase homes, a plane and a yacht dubbed “Priceless.”
Now, Scarfo claims he has just $125 to his name, and on Friday was granted a court-appointed attorney. His wife — Lisa Murray-Scarfo, who faces two charges in the 25-count indictment — also will not pay for her counsel, the judge ruled.
Financial forms filled out by the pair were seen only by U.S. District Judge Ann Marie Donio, before she sealed the documents so they cannot be used in the case against the pair.
In arguing for bail, defense attorney Mike Riley said Scarfo is a victim of his name, referring to the defendant’s father — former Philadelphia mob boss “Little Nicky” Scarfo, who is serving a life sentence.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D’Aguanno pointed out that Scarfo Jr. “has been under the supervision of the criminal justice system almost 24 years continuously,” including either being indicted, charged, on trial or serving a sentence.
The 108-page indictment against Scarfo in the latest case paints a “Goodfellas” type story of mobsters who used threats and lies to force out FirstPlus board members, then set up an executive board that acted as a “rubberstamp” for the real leaders: Scarfo and close friend Salvatore Pelullo, 44, of Philadelphia.
Pelullo met with one FirstPlus board member who is not named in the indictment and threatened a lawsuit alleging financial misconduct if the person didn’t talk other board members into turning over control. New members chosen by Scarfo and Pelullo were appointed to the board, and an executive board was formed that was meant to do the pair’s bidding, the indictment claims.
Pelullo allegedly told another unnamed person, “Don’t (expletive) with me,” and warned one of the new board members: “If you ever rat, your wives will be (expletive) … and your kids will be sold off as prostitutes.”
Although those words were all spoken by Pelullo, D’Aguanno told the judge Friday that taped phone calls with Scarfo will show everything was at his direction.
“The defendant’s own words will be what comes back to haunt him in this case,” D’Aguanno said. “He approved the criminal conduct and he was responsible for it.”
That included getting paid $33,000 a month in “consulting fees” for the company, including three months that he was on house arrest, the indictment claims.
Scarfo and Pelullo also allegedly bought a yacht for $850,000 in October 2007, and vacationed on it in the Bahamas. Pelullo and another defendant then took a plane the group had purchased for $625,000 — which was supposed to be used for board members — and flew to Atlanta to visit Scarfo Sr. in prison, the indictment states. They then flew to Atlantic City for a FirstPlus Christmas party.
Pelullo also is being held, D’Aguanno said after the hearing.
To cover their alleged misdeeds, Scarfo and others are accused of making false statements, trying to destroy video that showed Pelullo at an October 2007 shareholder meeting, and having coded conversations while avoiding talking on the phone.
But there are several taped phone conversations, the indictment says.
In one recorded around Dec. 5, 2007, Pelullo laughs to Scarfo about a former executive’s death saying he was “crushed (that) the rat is dead” and that the unnamed man was “the only connection, the only tie to anything.”
“That’s one I know you can’t take credit for,” Scarfo then tells Pelullo of the man who died of natural causes.
D’Aguanno said a conservative estimate puts Scarfo’s potential prison time at 360 months — 30 years — to life. Scarfo is next due in court Nov. 18 for a status conference.
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