“Eighty percent of witnesses got the wrong person, eighty percent…. So, without any corroborating evidence, you know what I mean, you can beat that, you know. The things that you can’t beat are the tapes, with you saying it. That’s what you did, you know.”
Servidio, a convicted drug dealer and member of the North Jersey branch of the Philadelphia mob, has been around. The 58-year-old wiseguy, who claimed he “made his bones” when he was just 19, was speaking from experience.
Problem was, he was also speaking to an FBI informant who was wearing a body wire and recording the conversation.
For more than a year, beginning in June 2016, Servidio, his drug dealing partners, along with members and associates of the Philadelphia mob, were picked up in a series of conversations recorded by the informant and by an undercover FBI agent posing as a criminal friend of the cooperator.
Servidio and three others, including Philadelphia wiseguy Salvatore “Sammy” Piccolo, have been arrested on drug dealing charges built around those tapes, FBI surveillance and drug buys carried out by the undercover agent and the informant.
The drug ring dealt in heroin, cocaine, meth and marijuana. The drug deals included the sale of little blue pills, manufactured by one of Joey Electric’s partners, that were designed to look like oxycodone tablets. In fact, they consisted of heroin and fentanyl.
Joey Electric said as much.
Witnesses don’t always get it right. And mob informants who take the stand can be challenged. Their motives and credibility are always in question. They can be beat up on cross-examination.
But you can’t cross-examine a tape. That’s the problem defense attorneys will have with the Servidio conversations.
And there could be more. The bare bones of the investigation are outlined in a 65-page affidavit filed by FBI Agent Mark Hindle after Servidio and the others were arrested earlier this year. The document includes snippets of conversations that were recorded; details dozens of meetings in which drug deals were discussed and carried out, and references to other unnamed mobsters, including a young South Philadelphia mob capo who approved the drug dealing operation.
Neither that capo nor the cooperating witness was identified at the time of the arrests. But underworld sources say the cooperator is Anthony Persiano, a longtime mover and shaker in South Philadelphia mob circles with a reputation as a con man and hustler. The capo in question, those same sources say, is Domenic Grande, a young up-and-comer in the Philadelphia crime family.
The drug investigation appears to be a piece of a bigger probe in which other members and associates of the organization, including Grande, may be charged.
Persiano and his undercover FBI cohort met with and recorded conversations with many of the players in the Philadelphia mob. It’s the same old story for the struggling crime family—a wiseguy wearing a wire. And as this case plays out, the questions many local mobsters are asking themselves are “What did I say to him?” and “Was he wearing a wire when I said it?”
There are, on the tapes, discussions about how the mob operates, about how guys making money on the street have to “kick up” to higher ranking members of the organization and about how no one can get involved in a criminal enterprise without the approval of his capo.
On July 4, 2016, at a meeting in Atlantic City, according to the affidavit, Persiano (identified as confidential source number one in the document) discusses his drug dealing plans with Grande (identified only as Individual 2).
“I won’t make a move without checking with you,” the confidential source is quoted as saying.
“Yeah, do what you gotta do,” replies the capo.
On another tape that focuses on mob protocol, the same capo tells Persiano that Servidio has to clear his actions with his capo. Servidio, according to several sources, is part of a crew headed by Joseph “Scoops” Licata, a Newark-based mob leader and veteran of the Philadelphia crime family.
Servidio, who grew up in North Jersey, relocated to Marmora, just outside of Ocean City, where he worked as an electrical contractor. But authorities say he still reports to Licata. Whether Scoops was aware of what Servidio was up to is one question that the investigation has yet to answer. But indications from the tapes and from other sources are that Servidio, who has a prior drug conviction for which he served time, may have gone rogue so that he didn’t have to “kick up” any of his drug income.
In the underworld, money is always the primary object. And making sure it flows up is the primary concern of mob leaders.
“Believe me, whatever I do, it goes up,” the capo, believed to be Grande, said in another conversation recorded by Persiano. “And all this is, is structure. What you do, I do the same. I do it on a weekly basis.”
The Persiano tapes, starring Servidio, are the latest chapter in an electronic history of a crime family under siege. Most of the major cases against the Philadelphia mob over the past 30 years have been built around cooperating witnesses and tapes.
Whether it was mobster George Fresolone recording for the New Jersey State Police (and taping his own mob initiation ceremony) or Big Ron Previte strapping on a wire for the FBI, law enforcement has always had an ear inside the organization. Electronic surveillance also included tapes made for over two years from bugs planted in the Camden law office of the late mob attorney Salvatore Avena and listening devices and wiretaps used to track the conversations of mob boss Ralph Natale (who later became a cooperator).
Servidio’s conversations—and we’ve only gotten to see some of them—figure to enhance that archival history while contributing to yet another round of indictments and possible convictions.
“I’m a criminal,” he said in one conversation recorded on July 26, 2017, according to the FBI affidavit. “Everything I do is criminal…. I need like $250,000-a-year…to break even.”
And dealing drugs, he frankly admitted on another tape, is how he generates that income.
In a sad and tragic conversation recorded in April 2017, Servidio talked about a friend’s son who had died of a drug overdose.
“His wife, when I talked to her, she said, `You’re the only person that ever sold drugs that I love. I despise people because my son OD’d…Joe, please stop what you’re doing. You hurt people. People like you hurt people.’”
According to the tape, Persiano then asked Servidio, “You think she’s right?”
“Yes.” Servidio said.
“What’s wrong with us?” Persiano asked.
“It’s the most money I can make,” Servidio replied. “I like to spend money.”
If this case every goes to trial, that’s just one of more than a dozen taped conversations a jury will hear.
It’ll be a case built around Joey Electric in his own words.