Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi turned state's evidence against his fellow South Philly mob associates in 2001. Though he's had enough of the witness protection program, he can't go home again.
"Tommy Horsehead" is a long way from home. The turncoat South Philly gangster has spent the last five years hiding out in nine different states under a half-dozen aliases since testifying against his former mobster pals in the last big Philadelphia mob trial of 2001. For the past two years of his exile, tired of all the government regulations controlling his life, he says he voluntarily dropped out of the federal witness protection program. (The feds decline comment.)
Now, Gaetano "Tommy Horsehead" Scafidi Jr. is trying to be his own man, free of the mob and the government, as he steps out of a taxi on his way to be interviewed by a PW writer and a Fox 29 reporter.
Horsehead has $5 in his pocket and six beers in his stomach. He can't use his real name in the red-state neighborhood where he lives, but he still has a story he hopes to sell, a story of betrayal by the mob, and what he says was abandonment by the feds.
The man who served nearly nine years in jail for conspiring to commit extortion and five gangland murders has plenty to say about his old mobster pals and the mob hits he was in on. He also wants to talk about plots to kill other gangsters, as well as a crazy plan back in the '90s to whack Fox TV's own Geraldo Rivera.
But first Horsehead wants to set the ground rules for the interview.
Horsehead, 41, is 5-foot-11, tan and trim, with close-cropped hair that sets off the big head and long face that earned him his colorful nickname. He's dressed in shorts, loafers, no socks and a long-sleeved striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Horsehead has some friendly hugs for his inquisitors, and like the four-footed animal he's named after, he's also got a sweet tooth.
"Where's my Tastykakes?" he wants to know.
The last time he got together with his two media pals, Horsehead, a former mob shakedown artist, scored $40 worth of Tastykakes.
Horsehead loves Tastykakes-especially blueberry and lemon pies, and the crumb cakes too. But we've let him down this time. They no longer sell Tastykakes at the Philadelphia International Airport.
The negotiations switch to dinner. Dave Schratwieser, Fox 29's ace mob reporter, lobbies for dinner at the best steakhouse in town. Horsehead, however, still smarting from the Tastykakes letdown, holds out for the Cheesecake Factory, a chain restaurant known for desserts like banana cream, fresh strawberry and blueberry cheesecake, all Horsehead favorites. The former mobster gets his way, but he's still squeezing Schratwieser.
"Listen," he says. "I got to take some desserts home for Angela. You don't give a fuck, right?"
The party heads upstairs to a hotel suite where a cameraman is rigging the lights. The plan is to backlight Horsehead on the interview couch, to shoot him in silhouette so the light behind him will obliterate his distinctive features.
Schratwieser has also brought along a pair of sunglasses and a couple of baseball caps, but Horsehead doesn't want disguises. He also doesn't want the sound distorted. "Don't fuck up my voice," he says. He wants the guys in the taverns and clubhouses of South Philly to hear it straight from the Horsehead's mouth.
"I want to set the record straight," Horsehead says when the camera starts rolling. "I want people to know why I became a government witness. You can call me a rat, a stool pigeon, whatever."
But Horsehead wants people to know he once was a standup guy. "I kept my mouth shut for six and a half years in jail," he says. "I didn't rat on anybody. I was ready to walk out the door in 2000 when people in my family came and told me I was gonna get killed."
Horsehead says he got the word from his family a day after Christmas 1999. "My family grabbed me on the side and said, 'Listen-you can't come back to the city,'" Horsehead says. "'[Mobsters] Stevie Mazzone and Georgie Borgesi got it all over the street that you're not gonna make 24 hours out of a halfway house.'"
Horsehead kept his mouth shut in jail, even though in '93 he was ambushed by two guys in ski masks who put a bullet through the window of his car and shattered a mirror. And then in '94, while he was driving on the Atlantic City Expressway in his Jeep, somebody opened fire on him with a machine gun. Horsehead escaped, but the Jeep exploded.
At the 2001 mob trial Horsehead testified against mobsters Mazzone and Borgesi, as well as former mob boss Joey Merlino, all of whom were once close boyhood pals. Horsehead was, by most accounts, the star of the trial, especially when he broke down in tears on the witness stand.
"He was one of the best witnesses I've seen because he was genuine," says George Anastasia, who has covered the mob full-time for The Philadelphia Inquirer since 1990. "He really was conflicted, and that came across."
PW's Holiday Guide 2014
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4