Profile: Philadelphia Mafia boss Angelo Bruno

By: David Amoruso
Profile reviewed on July 31, 2006

Angelo "The Gentle Don" Bruno was the last of the old school Philadelphia Mafia Bosses. He was given the nickname "The Gentle Don" because he was like that, he thought everything over and didn't overreact, he handled his business in a quiet way that was good for the Philadelphia Family. Angelo Bruno was by far the most succesful boss that the Philadelphia Crime Family ever had. Under his leadership the Family flourished, when he was killed the Family self-destruct.

Angelo Bruno was born on Sicily in 1911 and came to the U.S. in the late 1920s and settled in Philadelphia. Pretty soon Bruno started doing crime. In those days the Philadelphia Mafia boss was Salvatore Sabella. Sabella started the family in 1911. With the surge of Italian immigrants in that area, he had no trouble getting men to do his biding. Bruno had set up a gambling operation and ran some bootlegging operations for Sabella. In 1927 Sabella was deported and John Avenna became the new Boss. Under Avenno Bruno became a made man in the Philadelphia Crime Family this would happen in the early 1930s. In 1934 he formed an important partnership with Carlo Gambino in a lucrative land transaction. In 1959 the boss of the Philadelphia Family Joseph Ida retired and made Antonio Pollina the new boss. Pollina was one of two choices for Ida, the other candidate for the top position was Bruno. Eventhough Pollina was made boss and had Bruno's total support Pollina didn't feel at ease with a potential rival to his power and so he ordered that Bruno should be whacked. When Bruno heard of this order he went to see his dear old friend Carlo Gambino, who by this time was one of the most powerfull bosses in the U.S. Bruno told Gambino of the hit order and Gambino made it clear that his friend would not be whacked. Instead he would be made the new Boss of the Philadelphia Crime Family. Gambino also asked Bruno what he wanted to do with Pollina, Bruno decided to keep him around so the Family could get used to their new leader and not angry them by murdering their old leader. The plan worked and soon Bruno was the undisputed Boss of the Philadelphia Crime Family.

Bruno ruled his Family with a low key style directed mostly to the traditional rackets. He held it tight and strict and always handled business extremely professional. Like the time Bruno had to deal with a guy who was robbing bookmakers connected to the Family. The guy had been warned but wouldn't stop and so Bruno ordered the hit. The contract was given to then soldier Nicky Scarfo (he would become boss in the early 1980s.) The victim was lured to a bar where he was strangled and stabbed to death. Bruno then ordered Scarfo to take the body to a spot in the woods nearby where another Bruno crew had already dug a grave. But Scarfo and his crew were told not to bury the body, they were instructed to leave the body next to the grave. They were told another crew would bury the body. When Scarfo and his crew had left, Bruno sent two of his most trusted men to pick up the body. First they filled the grave with dirt, then they took the body and buried him at another location. That way if any members of the Scarfo crew or the crew originally assigned to dig the grave decided to flip and become informants they'd have nothing to deliver. The grave they went to would be empty. This was what made Bruno the most succesful boss in Philadelphia Family history it also gave him the nicknames "The Docile Don" and "The Gentle Don" because he never lost his cool and always handled his business in a professional manner.

Right from the start of his reign as Boss Bruno opposed the Family's involvement in drug trafficking. Bruno didn't want to attract any attention from the D.E.A. or even more attention from the F.B.I. By this time Bruno had been arrested 13 times in his long career. He had been subpoenaed and indicted by grand juries regularly, his only jail term lasted two and a half years for refusing to testify in an investigation of official corruption in Atlantic City. The ban on getting involved with drugs angered several Philadelphia mobsters who saw the money that could be made with drugs. They were even angrier to see that Bruno, although he had decreed a ban on dealing drugs, associated, and took money from several drugdealers, among them the Cherry Hill Gambinos.

In 1977 the gambling act in New Jersey was altered and Philly mobsters had dollar signs in their eyes just thinking of all the money they could make. However Bruno declared Atlantic City open territory, this meant other Mafia Families could come in and operate criminal businesses there. Bruno felt that if he didn't declare Atlantic City open territory he could get his Family into a war with the bigger and more powerful New York Families, declaring open territory made sure that there would be no war. He also told his Family there would be enough for everyone. His Family however felt he was selling out to the New York Families. This along with the ban on drug trafficking would be the reason of Bruno's demise.

Angelo Bruno whacked in his carPretty soon a faction within the Family started to plan the hit on Bruno. The faction was headed by Bruno's consigliere Anthony "Tony Bananas" Caponigro. On March 21, 1980, Bruno, at age 69, was sitting in his car when a man fired a shotgun at him, and in the process wounding John Stanfa, 39, Bruno's bodyguard. Afterwards it is generally believed that Tony Caponigro carried out the hit himself. Angelo Bruno would be the most succesful Boss in the history of the Philadelphia Crime Family. With the death of "The Gentle Don" or "The Docile Don" there came an end to the peace that surrounded the Philadelphia Family during his 21 year reign as Boss. His succesors would bring the Philadelphia Family down to it's knees and give it the name "The most dysfunctional Mafia Family in the United States".

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