MARRIED TO THE MOB: MAFIA WIVES AND MISTRESSES
Behind Closed Doors
The inevitable bane of every mob wifes life is her husbands goomatta. Whether pronounced goomah, goomar or goomatta, the word is the Americanized corruption of the Italian word comare, which means mistress or girlfriend. According to the glossary in The Sopranos: A Family History, No self-respecting wiseguy is without one.
This, at least from the mans point of view, is the ideal. The reality, however, is sometimes quite different. Goomattas are not always pliable play things, and they arent always centerfold material. And it often seems that the higher in rank the mobster is, the more trouble his goomatta becomes.
Ralph Natale, former boss of Philadelphias Bruno-Scarfo Family, was a little too public with his goomatta, and as a result earned the resentment of many of his underlings. Natale came to power in the confusion that followed the governments successful prosecution of his predecessor, the hard-nosed, Sicilian-born boss John Stanfa.
While serving a 16-year sentence for arson and drug convictions, Natale and his cellmate, Joseph Skinny Joey Merlino, had carefully planned how they would take over the disorganized Philly mob. They agreed that Natale, the older of the two, would become the new boss. Natale, who was in his early 60s, was not a made member of the Mafia at the time, although Merlino, then 32, was. Natales induction ceremony took place in a hotel room near Philadelphias Veteran Stadium after he was paroled in 1994.
With the old boss Stanfa in prison and out of the picture, Natale and Merlino were free to realize their mob dreams. During Merlinos 2001 trial in which the government took on the whole Philly mob for an unprecedented third time, witnesses claimed that Skinny Joey tolerated Natale because he felt that the older wiseguys wouldnt obey him if he ever tried to take over as boss. Natale had been close to Angelo Bruno, the legendary Docile Don who had ruled the Philly mob for decades; Merlino needed an elder statesman to provide a figurehead while he, as underboss, ran things his way. In fact, the city of Philadelphia became Merlinos territory because the conditions of Natales parole stipulated that he could not enter the city without prior approval from his parole officer. Natale was forced to run things from his home in Pennsauken, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philly.
Natales daughter Vanessa had a good friend who spent a lot of time at the Natales New Jersey home. Her name was Ruthann Seccio, a slender blonde who had seen some tough times on the streets of South Philadelphia. A former drug addict and gang member, Ruthann had turned her life around and was supporting herself as a waitress. Natale found the outspoken young woman irresistible despite the fact that she was 34 years younger and three inches taller than him.
Natale romanced Seccio shamelessly and set her up in a condominium in Voorhees, New Jersey, 10 miles from the home he shared with his wife Lucy. When Ruthann fell for him, she asked why he wouldnt leave his wife. Natale told her that Lucy was very ill with both Parkinsons and Alzheimers diseases, that her hearing was terrible, and that she had to wear a heart monitor all the time. After 42 years of marriage, he couldnt just dump his wife, Natale told Ruthann. Ruthann later found out that Lucy Natale suffered from none of these afflictions.
Despite his decision to stay married, love bloomed with Ruthann. He gave her extravagant giftsincluding a Cadillac and a long-haired Himalayan cat named Dustyand took her to the best restaurants. Ruthann was so smitten she had a red rose tattooed on her left hip with the word Ralphs engraved in blue underneath. But their bliss was cut short in 1998 when Natales parole officer caught him meeting with other mobsters at restaurants were he claimed to be selling fish, which supposedly was his legitimate job. Natale was sent back to prison for violating his parole, and he called Ruthann every day, often several times a day. He asked Joey Merlino to take care of Ruthann as well as his wife Lucy while he was away.
But what should have been a short stretch in prison turned far more serious when federal agents threatened to charge Natale with financing a methamphetamine ring. If convicted on another drug charge, Natale would spend the rest of his days behind bars. The feds made the boss an offer he apparently couldnt refuse: testify against Merlino and the rest of the Philly mob and theyd put him in the Witness Protection Program where at least hed have his freedom. With just five years under his belt as a man of honor, Natale decided to take their offer and rat on the mob. The government was delighted. Natale, they crowed, was the first sitting boss to turn states witness.
Ruthann, who in her heart would always be a street tough, was stunned when she read the headline of the Philadelphia Daily News on August 20, 2000. Her boyfriend was being called King Rat.
Id rather die than rat, she told Daily News staff writer Kitty Caparella. I believed in death before dishonor long before I met Ralph. Ruthann said she took repeated showers because she felt dirty and violated. Though unable to sleep, she said she sandwiched herself between mattresses to try to keep the world out.
Unlike Ralphs wife, Ruthann didnt suffer in silence, and she agreed to do interviews with several local reporters. Even though she had never been popular in Philly mob circles, she took the mobs side against her old lover once it was revealed that he would be testifying against Merlino and four of his mob cohorts.
In April 2001, Natale took the stand for two straight weeks. He looked fit and well-rested as he recounted his criminal experiences with Merlino and the other defendants. Natale succeeded in keeping his composure for the most part, but at one point he angrily gave Merlino the finger while testifying that the younger Mafioso had reneged on a promise he had made to Natale. Merlino had discontinued the agreed-upon monthly payments to Natales wife Lucy ($3,500) and Ruthann ($1,000). This broken promise had apparently played a big part in Natales decision to turn states witness. Merlino and his co-defendants were ultimately convicted but not on the most serious charges brought against them.
Ruthann was offered a place in the Witness Protection Program, but she adamantly refused, and her decision was not applauded by the mobsters she had so staunchly defended. To them she was still Natales goomatta, and since Natale was King Rat, she was no more than the rats girlfriend.
Ruthann Seccio remains bitter. I guess they dont have a Mafia Women Support Group, she told the Philadelphia Daily News. Thats what Ill start in the future for us misfits.