Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Real Life Sopranos

Uncle Junior Soprano

When Nicky Scarfo, Jr. moved to New Jersey for protection, the Philadelphia familys top man in North Jersey was Joey Sodano, who along with several others became responsible for Scarfo Jr.s safety. Ironically Sodano was not a big fan of Scarfos father and had by this time reduced his $4,000 monthly tribute to Little Nicky to $1,200. Sodano didnt do it out of arrogance, and he wasnt trying to usurp the bosss position. Just the opposite. He was a mob traditionalist who didnt approve of the way things had deteriorated under Scarfo Sr.s leadership, and this was his comment on the poor state of affairs within the family.

Angelo Bruno, the
Angelo Bruno, the
"Gentle Don."
Robert J. Carroll, former head of New Jerseys Organized Crime Task Force, characterized Sodano as an old-style gentleman mobster. Sodano liked the way things used to be when the Philly mob was headed by boss Angelo Bruno, who was known as the Gentle Don. Bruno was even-handed and judicious, and he held the reins for 20 years. The rackets in Philadelphia ran peacefully during his rule. He enforced the ban on drug dealing in the family, and his people gave the police little reason to bother them. Then in 1980 an assassin pumped a shotgun blast through the back of his head. The peaceful reign of the Gentle Don was over, and Joey Sodano didnt care for the violence and treachery that came next. For him it just wasnt the same mob anymore.

Joey Sodano, surveillance photo
Joey Sodano,
surveillance photo
Joey Sodanos sentiments echo those of Uncle Junior Soprano on the show. Uncle June, as hes called by his nephew Tony, is disappointed with how his life has turned out. He feels that he doesnt get the respect he deserves for all his years in the Mafia, and he resents the young up-and-comers, like Christopher Moltisanti, who think of respect as an Aretha Franklin song. Uncle Junior, whos played by actor Dominic Chianese, gains some degree of satisfaction when Tony orchestrates his uncles ascent to boss of the Soprano family (while quietly retaining the real power for himself).

Like Uncle Junior, Joey Sodano tried to keep an even keel within a turbulent crime family, and just as Junior looks back longingly to the good old days, Sodano longed for the consistency of Angelo Brunos leadership. Of course, of all the crews in the Bruno-Scarfo family, the North Jersey branch had always been fraught with troubles. The Jersey crew was simply too far from Philly to be managed effectively and too close to New York to avoid temptations.

The plot against Angelo Bruno had been hatched in Newark by the then-capo of the North Jersey faction, Anthony Tony Bananas Caponigro. The reasons for the Gentle Dons execution were the usual ones. From Caponigros point of view, old man Bruno was getting in the way of new businessspecifically drug business. Caponigro and others within the family saw large profits slipping away from them because of the ban on narcotics sales. Finally, he decided hed had enough. Spearheading the conspiracy, Caponigro assembled a group of supporters within the Philadelphia family. Like John Gotti after him, Caponigro planned to kill the boss and take the throne for himself, but before he made his move, he asked for approval from the Commission. He was eventually assured by a capo from New Yorks Genovese family that the commission had approved the Bruno murder. The hit was carried out efficiently; the single shotgun blast killed Bruno instantly. But with that blast, Caponigro sealed his fate.

The commission had never actually approved the hit. The supposed sanction was a double-cross from mobsters in the Genovese family who wanted to settle an old score with Caponigro over who controlled gambling operations in Hudson County, New Jersey. Less than a month after Brunos murder, Caponigros body was found in the trunk of a car in the South Bronx. Caponigros naked body was a bloody, bruised mess; hed been beaten severely, stabbed, and shot. Twenty dollar bills had been stuffed into his mouth and anus, the Mafias symbolic comment on the greed that had brought on Caponigros demise.

John Stanfa
John Stanfa
After a period of disarray, Nicodemo Little Nicky Scarfo took over as boss, and Joey Sodano watched as things went from bad to worse. With his vicious, paranoid temper and insatiable greed, Scarfo touched off the familys steady decline. When Scarfo was finally sent away to prison for life in 1989 and replaced by Angelo Brunos former driver John Stanfa, Sodano was likely relieved. Stanfa, a poker-faced Sicilian immigrant, was a traditionalist, and Sodano got along well with him. But various government prosecutions made Stanfas reign a short one.

Ralph Natale
Ralph Natale
What followed was the hair-triggered and hare-brained leadership of Ralph Natale and his young Iago-like underboss, Joey Merlino. By the mid-nineties Stanfa supporters were dropping like flies, and Sodano didnt want to be the next one to go belly up, so he disappeared for a while.

Joey Merlino
Joey Merlino
Sodano probably figured that if he waited while the new bosses satisfied their blood lust, he could safely return once the dust settled. But he miscalculated. Sodano was still considered a problem because he had once dared to reduce his monthly tribute to Nicky Scarfo. In the minds of the new bosses he would always be a Stanfa loyalist. On December 7, 1996, Sodano was found dead in a Newark parking lot, sitting in his van with two bullet holes in his head.

Preserving the old traditions isnt easy, even in a tradition-bound organization like the Mafia. Joey Sodano tried to do what he thought was right, but ultimately it cost him his life. Uncle Junior may have his problems with wiseguys who dont value tradition the way he does, but at least hes still breathing.

 

 

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