Why Notorious Mob Informant R
 Natale Is Suing the United States Government

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Aug. 22, 2012

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Coming to light: Former mob boss Ralph Natale, 77, alleges that the feds let him go blind while he was in prison.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy

After Ralph Natale was released from prison last year, he and his wife Lucy settled into new digs at an undisclosed location. It looks like the typical home of any other great-grandparents: A figurine of a cat in a Santa hat sits on the table alongside a mug with “Wish. Let your heart be light” emblazoned inside it. A flower portrait painted by one of the kids hangs on the walls. A dusty copy of Moonstruck sits atop the VCR next to a jumbo book of crossword puzzles.

Nothing about the place suggests Natale’s dubious distinction of being the first American mob boss to turn government witness.

“I love it here,” he’ll tell me later. “I’ve been here a few times to collect money in, uh, my former life.”

At 77, Natale has spent nearly half his life in prison. He went to prison for the first time in 1980, serving 15 years for firebombing a furniture store in an insurance scam. After he got out in 1995, he was Philly’s mob boss until 1999, when he was indicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine—after already having been picked up on a parole violation for associating with known criminals the year before. He was facing life when he cut a deal with the feds.

Now, he’s a free man for the first time in 13 years—and, for the first time ever, not in the mob or behind bars. 

Emerging from the bedroom, he flashes a big smile and spreads his arms as if to say, So what do you think? 

Trim and tan, Ralph Natale looks remarkably young for his age. He’s a handsome man with a tidy gray goatee, dark eyebrows and deep-set bright brown eyes lined with thick, jagged black lashes. Today, he’s sporting a knit sweater, light blue seersucker pants and brown leather loafers without socks. His shoes exactly match the color of his skin. 

“The shirt is brand new. Well, it’s 15 years old,” he says with a laugh. “[My wife] bought clothes before the last time I went away, but she still had them in boxes.”

Natale sparkles with charisma and is quick with a joke, but being imprisoned for 28 years changes a man. He speaks with a slight lisp after ripping his bottom teeth out when, he says, prison authorities didn’t get him to a dentist to treat an infection fast enough. He’s partially deaf in one ear, but that’s from an incident on the outside when a shotgun went off in a car he was in. 

He still enjoys a daily run at a nearby park, but he can’t sleep in bed with Lucy, his 80-year-old wife whom he met at a dance in South Philly when he was 14 and then married two years later. (“He’s quite nice now,” says Lucy over the phone. “He’s calmed down a lot.”) Instead, Natale sleeps on the couch every night because, he says, it feels more like a jailhouse cot. 

“When we were younger, you know, we slept together!” he says. “But she understands ... she understands why.”

With the time for introductory niceties coming to a close, Natale sinks into the couch next to me. He lifts up his hand and traces a circle into the air a few inches in front of my nose with his fingertips. “You’re close to me,” he says. “But this part of your face, I can’t see.” He tilts his head. “If I look to the side, I can see peripheral.” 

He faces me directly. “When I’m looking at you this way, it’s just black.”

Ralph Natale is going blind. 

“I’m still beside myself,” Lucy says. “I’ve never dealt with someone who is blind or who is handicapped … I know he’s still getting searing pains across his eyes and around the side of his head, but he doesn’t tell you. He keeps it to himself.”

Natale says he’s been losing his sight steadily for years, and alleges that, while in prison, the federal authorities purposely deprived him of proper treatment. His testimony in four splashy trials helped the DOJ bring the most hidden parts of mafia life in Philly and New Jersey to light—and to send many criminals to prison. In return, he alleges, the feds willfully let him sink into darkness.

In May, Natale’s lawyer Conor Corcoran filed paperwork to initiate a lawsuit against the federal government. They’re charging that the U.S. Department of Justice deprived Natale of his civil rights. They allege that by denying Natale the proper care that might have stopped the progression of his blindness, they violated his Eighth Amendment rights by enacting cruel and unusual punishment. 

Natale is suing the government for $10 

“He has nothing,” says Lucy. “It would be nice if he had a few dollars because he can’t see, so I can afford to [travel] back and forth [to see my children], or so he can get a car and someone could drive him around.”

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. Mamabear1210 said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 02:23PM

“Excellent journalism.”

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2. Eric said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 03:31PM

“As far as mob journalism goes this is a boring article. Couldn't you have gotten a better writer? It should have just been a Q&A since there's not much writing. I guess this is what you get from a free rag like Philly Weakly.”

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3. ter and jon said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 06:09PM

“Several of us read the article and found it informative and interesting
Mr Eric must want more shoot `um up, drag out, sorted details and the inside dope (excuse the pun). Ralphie boy has to hold back some secrets. That`s why R N is writing a book. He might even hold out for movie rights . So, Mr E --pay up when the book comes out and get the inside info you want on hoods, mob, bad guys who lived, played and
did the deeds back in the day.
Meanwhile-----to the author....'Thanks for a good read ' and some sound observations.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 06:49PM

“great story, great writing it really makes you kinda feel for the man, respect him, maybe not like his past actions but, understand who he is today”

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5. Gwen said... on Aug 22, 2012 at 08:27PM

“Fascinating piece, I wish we had more in depth stories like this shared!”

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6. Anonymous said... on Aug 23, 2012 at 05:12PM

“Maybe if this case goes to trial it will bring to light other neglect of the prison authorities toward prisoners. Truthfully, there is no sympathy for this man when the reality is of all terrible actions and results of those terrible actions to other families that he is responsible for .”

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7. Anonymous said... on Aug 24, 2012 at 04:59PM

“Thank god? Dont you mean God? Goos story though even if he was a puppet id still like to see his book get published, wouldnt have to worry about money at all then”

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8. Anonymous said... on Aug 24, 2012 at 05:01PM

“He is the only guy i know of that went to jail not even made and came out as the boss. Why that is not included i dont know.....”

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9. Anonymous said... on Aug 26, 2012 at 09:11AM

“Enjoyed the article. Natale should be appreciative to his wife, sounds like an amazing woman. Raise five successful children while her loser husband is doing life on the installment plan....good for her. He never should have gotten the sweet deal he got, he should have died behind bars. Only a corrupted, warped justice department gives a deal to the likes of Ralph Natale.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2012 at 12:49PM

“Doubt he has a case. Natale and his wife claim the Feds "did nothing" about his condition, then go on to list a number of times he visited doctors while imprisoned. As for being denied a visit to Wills Eye, consider the circumstances. To allow a family member to arrange an appointment for an imprisoned former mob boss to visit a doctor in the city that Natale was once running... come on. Who in their right mind would approve that? Too many possibilities for shenanigans there.
Now, he's been on the outside for a year, and still doesn't have a diagnosis. Good luck with proving neglect on the part of the Feds, Ralph. It ain't gonna happen. You're an old man and you're falling apart. Happens to everyone. He should be thanking his lucky stars that he made it this far, and didn't spend the last years of his life in a cell, as he should have.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Aug 27, 2012 at 01:43PM

“This was a fantastic piece. Really interesting to see Natale's life put into this perspective. Great job”

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12. PhilCane said... on Aug 28, 2012 at 05:25PM

“Good Story. However, there is one thing I'd like to bring to your attention. Joey Merlino didn't secede Ralph Natale, he succeeded him. The South attempted to secede from the Union. Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush as president of the United States.”

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13. Neal A. said... on Sep 8, 2012 at 12:32AM

“Silly girl, shotguns don't have bullets. No editors, or fact checkers?”

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14. Anonymous said... on Sep 13, 2012 at 03:53PM

“Interesting. By th way, where's he living now?”

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15. Anonymous said... on Oct 25, 2012 at 09:21PM

“Great story I'm happy he's out living life on the outside he's got his wife with him too you lucky son of gun God Bless you both!

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16. Sam said... on Jan 16, 2014 at 04:45PM

“I really liked this story! I hope to hear a follow up on it soon. Keep us posted please! http://www.albemarleeye.com/precision-optical/”


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