The story of John Veasey and his time with the Philadelphia Mafia.

John Veasey was born to Walter Veasey and Sophia Maria Cuticchia, a Sicilian native, in South Philadelphia in 1967. He was the youngest of five children.

Veasey’s beginnings in this world were not handed the greatest of starts when his father Walter was found dead in a hotel room in 1970. Just a mere thirteen years later, while John was a sixteen year old boy, he would also lose his mother. Growing up on the streets of Philadelphia was tough for anyone, not least a child with no parents. John’s older brother Billy would act almost as a father figure to him in the coming years.

John would grow up a street fighter, a tough kid with a reputation for violence. But around this time, he found himself becoming ever more reliant on the use of drugs. He had turned into a junkie at a young age, and around the time of his mother’s death was believed to have had a cocaine addiction running up costs of around $600 day. He would often find himself in violent altercations around his neighbourhood. He would also find himself often in conflict with his brother Billy, the eldest of the Veasey children, who would beat his younger sibling whenever he found him to be high.

It was in his teen years that John Veasey would find his niche in crime. Robbing the drug dealers and mobsters of Philadelphia. Often in trouble with the law, Veasey had been arrested around sixty times before he was out of his twenties, he would find himself serving an eleven month sentence after he beat a man almost to his death.

After serving his time, upon his release from prison, John Veasey found himself  a job. A straight job working for a construction company. Ironically it would be this exact occupation that would eventually lead to him becoming a made guy in the Philadelphia Mafia. His new boss at the construction company? The brother-in-law of then Philly mob kingpin John Stanfa.

Stanfa had taken control of the Philadelphia mob following the deaths in quick succession of former bosses Angelo Bruno – the “Gentle Don” who ran the Philly crime organisation for twenty years before his murder, and Phillip “Chicken Man” Testa who was blown up on the doorstep of his home thanks to a nail bomb that had been planted there. The incarceration of Nicky Scarfo, the boss of the organisation after the two deaths, put John Stanfa directly in the frame to become the next boss.

In the time succeeding Stanfa becoming boss, all out war would engulf the streets of Philadelphia. On the one hand you had the Stanfa faction, and on the other, a group of younger, up and coming mobsters nicknamed by the press as the “Young Turks”, led by the flash Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.

By 1993 Joey Merlino and his crew had seen enough of the John Stanfa reign as they cared to. Merlino had visions of taking the family from Stanfa. A dream he had harboured from a young age – to be the boss of the Philadelphia Mafia. A dream which would cost lives, and friendships, over time and plunge the Philadelphia streets into the vice grip of a bloody mob war.

There was always friction between the two factions around this time, but the incident that truly ignited the war in Philadelphia was the murder of Stanfa capo Felix “Little Felix” Bocchino, thought to have been arranged by Joey Merlino. Merlino and his crew had been shaking down bookmakers and loan sharks for extortion money in an area designated, by Stanfa, to Bocchino. After Bocchino expressed his discontent at the situation to his boss, Stanfa sent his Consigliere, and brother of Merlino crew member Mikey Ciancagalini, to warn the “Young Turks” over their conduct.

Merlino and his crew had no intentions of heeding this warning and on January 29th 1992, at the behest of Merlino, Felix Bocchino was murdered as he sat in his car on his driveway.

After friction and conflict had sent the Philadelphia Crime Family into disarray, John Stanfa decided it was time to rid the underworld of Joey Merlino. After being informed of this young tough working for his brother-in-law’s construction firm, John Stanfa recruits John Veasey for his first mafia job. The instruction was simple. Joey Merlino had to go.

Veasey had known Merlino since childhood. The older Veasey, Billy, had been great friends with Merlino and had grown up together, he was always around. This was not enough to stop Veasey from accepting the job offer. Talking in a documentary for the Discover Channel, John Veasey discusses just how easy a decision it was to accept the hit on a man he’d known since he was a child. On being asked whether or not he could kill a man he’d known his whole life Veasey answered: “You got a gun? Give me a gun and some money and I’m in…. it was that quick.” In the same documentary Veasey would later state he’d sold his soul for the money by accepting the hit on Merlino.

On the day of the planned assassination of Merlino, John Veasey was picked up by another Stanfa hitman who was tasked with the murder of Merlino’s right hand man, Mikey Ciancagalini. Veasey notes that he suggests rolling up on Merlino and Ciangalini while they were hanging out at their usual spot on the end of a street nearby and just opening fire on the two. But as the car carrying the two Stanfa hitmen approaches the sidewalk where Merlino and Ciangalini are in fact stood, Veasey notices that the two targets are in conversation with a third man, Veasey’s older brother Billy.

John Veasey has reservations about shooting the young mobsters when his brother, an innocent enough party in all of this, could become collateral damage. At around the time the car drives by, the elder Veasey’s conversation with Merlino and Ciancagalini ends, and Billy Veasey walks away, out of the picture and the firing line. John Veasey instructs the driver of the car to circle around and approach the Merlino hangout again. Climbing into the back seat of the vehicle, sitting behind the driver as the car pulls up to the side of the road, the windows roll down and the shots ring out.

Joey Merlino is struck multiple times, as is Mikey Ciancagalini. Merlino is wounded in the buttocks and lying on the street covered in his own blood while Ciancagalini has been hit in the chest. Mikey Ciancagalini would later die from his gunshot wounds but the Merlino problem would roll on after he would survive the attempt on his life.

Upon his recovery Joey Merlino would send for childhood friend Billy Veasey to come and see him. He would explain to Billy that the assassin sent to kill him and Ciancagalini had been none other than Billy’s own brother, John Veasey. A furious Billy would confront is younger brother with John vehemently denying the accusations being thrown around that was the man sent to kill Merlino, and for now, Billy believes him.

After the murder of Ciancagalini and the attempted murder of Joey Merlino, John Veasey’s stock in the Philadelphia organisation would continue to rise under the control of John Stanfa. His propensity for violence and murder helping elevate his standing within the family such that he would eventually become a made guy in the family.

He would not only become Stanfa’s trusted killer, but also be sent to collect extortion money for the family. His reputation for violence could be enough to secure the money but on occasion more was required.

When a mob associate by the name of Joe Fudge was heard to be going around announcing to anyone who was willing to listen that he was going to kill Veasey, it would not be long before the words reached the ears of John himself.

Veasey would torture Fudge using power tools, a drill. “He’s out to kill me, telling everybody on the street he’s going to kill me.” John Veasey tells Fox News in 2010. “I put the drill in his hair and it pulled out big clumps. And then I started drilling his knees. I did his elbows first. Then I did his hips. Then I did his knees and the drill bit broke. I was really mad about that.” It is also suggested that Veasey gave Joe Fudge a loaded gun and instructed Fudge to fulfil his promise on killing him. But Fudge was in no state, and Veasey threw the bloodied mob associate out onto the street.

In retaliation for the hit on himself and Mikey Ciancagalini, Merlino sends his hitters in on the boss of the family, John Stanfa. Firing a barrage of shots into a vehicle carrying Stanfa and his son Joseph, the boss of the Philly mob would survive but his son would suffer a gunshot wound to the jaw. He would eventually survive the hit.

The shooting of his son was the last straw for Stanfa. This time Joey Merlino, and anybody thought to be affiliated with Merlino, had to be dealt with. Next on the hit list was a man called Frank Baldino Sr. who Stanfa had figured for involvement in the shooting of his son. Tasked with the hit on Baldino would once again be Stanfa’s trusted killer John Veasey.

Frank Baldino Sr. was a long time friend of Veasey’s family. A situation which would lead Veasey into having certain reservations about carrying out the hit. But as John sat in a car parked across the street from Philadelphia’s famous Melrose Diner where Baldino was enjoying a meal, such reservations would eventually dissipate.

Once Baldino has finished eating he exited the building and got into his car – a white Cadillac Seville. At this moment Veasey exited his own vehicle and ran across the parking lot to Baldino’s car. On approaching the vehicle Veasey called out Frank’s name.

As Baldino turns to see who was calling his name, John Veasey had already stuck his gun through the window of the car. As Baldino leans back in the driver’s seat in an attempt to escape the shooting, the bullets ring out. According to Veasey he shot Baldino “three times in his head. Then I put it on his chest and shot some more. There was nothing left of him.” Veasey would later admit he held regret over the killing of Frank Baldino Sr. who he described as a “legitimately good guy.”

Following the murder of Baldino a change in Veasey’s personality would set the wheels in motion on the track to his own downfall. He could be heard bragging about hits he had carried out and jobs he had done for the mob. He had gotten himself a tattoo of a gun, and was shaking down members of his own organisation – unthinkable in the rules of Cosa Nostra if not unfamiliar Veasey was brining too much unwanted attention upon the Philly mob.

It is John’s brother Billy who is the first to inform John of the latest word on the street. The word on the hard streets of South Philadelphia is that the boss of the city’s organised crime family has signed off on a contract to kill John Veasey. Looking out for his brothers best interests and his life, Billy instructs his brother to do the one thing he is certain will save his life. Turn government witness against the family. Become and informant, a rat, against the Philly Mob.

On December 30th 1993, John Veasey would commit his most heinous crime to date in the eyes of the Philadelphia Mafia. He sat down to talk with the FBI.

The FBI had for years been trying to bring down the mob in Philly but not much was sticking. Now, in their hands, they had a real life member of La Cosa Nostra and the Philly Mob’s hired gun, willing to give them every detail he knew of the mob in order to save his own life.

Striking a deal with the FBI, Veasey had agreed to plead guilty to his own involvement in murder and in racketeering cases and face jail time oh his own. Also, his testimony alone was not enough, he would have to gather intelligence by wearing a wire around the family, and Stanfa.

On the same day Veasey spoke with the FBI and agreed to wear a wire to help them bring down John Stanfa, word is already spreading through the underworld that the Philly Mob’s trusted killer has turned informant.

On his way home from a meeting with the FBI one evening Veasey receives a call. Two of Stanfa’s guys – Frank Martines and Vincent “Al Pyjamas” Pagano, a nickname accrued through his ability to “put people to sleep”, tell of a new business opportunity that is sure to smooth things over within the family. Veasey, in his own admitted stupidity, agrees to meet the two men alone and unarmed. As he enters a room with the two men he hears one shout the words “Bye Bye John” and shots are fired. Three shots hit Veasey in the head. One bullet came out of his neck, another out of his forehead, and a third lodged in the back of Veasey’s skull. Miraculously Veasey is on his feet, the two hitmen momentarily in shock.

One of the hitmen grabs Veasey from behind and orders the other to shoot him again. This time Veasey is hit in the chest. Still standing, a struggle breaks out and somehow Veasey manages to down the shooter with a few punches. Out of nowhere, one of the hitmen produces a knife, but in the struggle, his grip on the weapon fails. The knife is free on the floor. Veasey grabs the knife, reaches up and slashes one of the would-be killers in the eye and across his face towards the ear. Veasey escapes the building but ends up in hospital, his life intact.

The assassination attempt on John Veasey was a direct warning to anybody contemplating informing on the mob. “If you talk to the police, we will kill you.” But the attempted hit did not alter Veasey’s mindset, only strengthened his willingness to testify.

On October 5th 1995 John Veasey is about to testify in court against the Philadelphia Mob but that very morning John’s brother Billy is gunned down on his way to work. As he drove down the street and came to a halt at a stop sign, two unknown gunmen approached the vehicle from either side and opened fire. Nine bullets ripped through vehicle, six ripping into Billy Veasey. At the age of only 35 years old, Billy Veasey was dead.

The news hit Veasey like a sledgehammer. The older brother he’d always idolised, the father figure after the passing of his father in 1970, was gone. Veasey himself said of the matter: “I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt any pain even close to that.”

The trial of John Stanfa would be delayed after the murder of Billy Veasey but in September 1995, John Veasey would finally take the stand as a witness against the Philly Mob. The trial would last two months. Veasey’s damning testimony running for three days.

Assistant U.S. Attorney at the time, Barry Gross, says of Veasey’s testimony: “My experience in that courtroom watching John Veasey testify was clearly the most riveting testimony I have ever seen in a courtroom.” George Anastasia of The Philadelphia Inquirer called Veasey “one of the most effective witnesses I’ve ever seen in court.”

John Veasey would give evidence of John Stanfa’s role in the murders of Ciancagalini and Frank Baldino Sr. along with his involvement in the illegal gambling and extortion rackets that had brought the family millions of dollars over the years.

Following the testimony of John Veasey, John Stanfa would receive five life sentences for his role as the head of the Philadelphia Mafia. Twenty of his high-ranking members would also be put behind bars due to Veasey’s testimony.

John Veasey himself, as agreed with the FBI, was also handed jail time for his role in the two murders he had committed on behalf of the mob. Upon his release in 2000, Veasey was handed a new identity and placed in an unknown location in the Witness Protection Programme. He now lives with his wife and children and owns five car dealerships and is successful in his own right.

True to Veasey’s attitude all his life, he sums up his current situation after turning informant on the Philadelphia Mob:

“However it ends, it’s gonna end. I ain’t gonna worry about it, I don’t think about it, I don’t go pray on it.”

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