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.
"I started with number slips when I was 12, 13 years old," Horsehead says. "I was carrying slips, then I went to football pools, taking sports bets, washing made guys' cars, picking up dry cleaning, all that fun stuff. They treated me good."
Back in the early '80s, he says, a local gambler named Johnny Cupcakes asked Horsehead to get his car washed. Cupcakes drove a brand-new blue Lincoln Town Car.
Horsehead cleaned the car out before he brought it to the carwash. Under the driver's seat, he says, he discovered three bundles of cash, each containing $10,000 wrapped in rubber bands.
Horsehead got the car washed, then drove over to see Cupcakes, who was playing gin at a local clubhouse. "John, can I talk to you for a second?" Horsehead says he asked.
"I took him in the back room, and asked, 'Did you leave something in your car?'" Cupcakes said he didn't think so. Horsehead lifted his shirt to show Cupcakes three bundles of cash totaling $30,000 that were tucked into his waistband.
"Oh my God. I can't believe I left that in the car," Cupcakes told Horsehead before telling him to hang around until after he was finished playing gin. Then, Horsehead says, the gambler gave him $500. Cupcakes drove him down the shore that night, Horsehead says, and gave him another $1,000, which he dropped at the casinos.
"That day on, [Cupcakes] always took care of me," Horsehead says. "He was a good guy."
(John "Johnny Cupcakes" Melilli, identified by the former Pennsylvania Crime Commission in a 1990 annual report as a lifelong gambler, loan shark and La Cosa Nostra associate, couldn't be reached for comment.)
From Horsehead's perspective, gangsters ruled South Philly. "The money, the cars, the girls always around, it was dynamite," he says.
His father didn't approve, telling Horsehead he should join the Marines because he needed some structure in his life. But Horsehead saw both Nicky Scarfo and his own brother beat a murder rap. To him, gangsters seemed invincible.
In high school, at St. John Neumann, Horsehead was so wrapped up in the gangster life he didn't bother going to class. As he tells it, it didn't hurt his grades.
"I bribed all my teachers," he says. "I went and gave the teachers $30 or $40 bottles of wine and champagne so they'd look the other way."
He claims he passed every subject with a grade of 70. How did he get away with it?
"They knew who my brother was. They knew who my family was," Horsehead says. "We were treated better than Hollywood movie stars. Priests, they wouldn't even look our way. The kids in school, they knew who we were. Nobody bothered us. If we wanted somebody to do our homework, they'd do it."
A former teacher at Neumann doesn't believe Horse-head's tale. "All this is a figment of his imagination," says Walter Belovitz, director of alumni for the Millay Club, Neumann's alumni association.
Belovitz, band director at the school that has since merged with Goretti, has taught at Neumann since 1975, though he doesn't specifically recall Horsehead, class of '83. "At Neumann you always had to earn your grades," Belovitz says. "There was no way you bought a grade."
But Horsehead says the only time he got tripped up at Neumann was when one of his regular teachers was sick and a substitute nailed him for cutting three classes. Horsehead says he had to go to the school with his father for a 6 a.m. conference, where he was given detention and warned that the next time he skipped he'd be suspended.
His father was fuming.
"Why you gotta be so stupid," Horsehead remembers his father telling him. "You better go in the military and get some structure in your life."
But Horsehead decided he didn't need structure. The gangster life had better perks. On senior prom night, when he was 17, Horsehead says he drove down the shore in a blue Fiat Spider convertible. "Johnny Cupcakes had tickets for me for Frank Sinatra at Resorts International," Horsehead says. He had $300 in his pocket, and he'd won another $500 at the blackjack table. His dates were two New York girls in their early 20s.
The 50 greatest Philly pop songs