Federal Judge Noel Hillman gave Filipelli a stiffer sentence than he might have otherwise gotten — almost six years in prison for extortion — because he considers Big Vince to be a "money maker for an organization that has a history of violence."
But mob insiders say Filipelli isn't a made member of the Philadelphia Mafia, and has nothing to do with the current local regime. "He might have had to pay off the mob to keep his gambling operation going," one local law enforcement investigator tells Underworld. "But from what we hear, he's independent."
Filipelli was caught on tape bragging that he was "made" to an undercover New Jersey state policeman who owed Filipelli's gambling operation $13,000. Big Vince threatened to put the man he thought was a deadbeat gambler "in the hospital" if he didn't pay up.
A mob associate who agreed to talk to Underworld with the understanding that his identity would be protected tapped his chest with two fingers while discussing Filipelli — a sign indicating that someone is a "made member" of the Philly crime family — and said, "That goofball never got this. People who got it don't talk about it. Never."
The gangster is sitting in a charming café inside a Mount Airy train station. He examines the face of every customer who enters the coffee bar. "This is a nice spot," he says. "Nobody from South Philly would ever find this place." Although he's lived off and on in Philly for decades, he's never been to Mount Airy before.
A local organized-crime investigator also says that Vince Filipelli is not a member of the crime family allegedly run by Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi. "The feds got the wrong information about this guy," the source, sitting in a Fairmount restaurant, tells Underworld. "He is not part of the club just because some FBI informant says so." In the early 1990s, Filipelli served as a bodyguard and enforcer for John Stanfa, an old-fashioned Sicilian mafioso who was fighting for control of the local mob against a crew of young, upstart Italian-Americans from South Philly led by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. The killings stopped when the feds jailed Stanfa and crew, and Merlino's guys took over. During the Stanfa racketeering trial, Filipelli made headlines as the gym workout buddy of a Channel 29 weatherman who gave Big Vince some news videotapes of a rival mobster's funeral. Filipelli passed the video on to his boss, Stanfa, who used the tapes to identify and target for murder members of the Merlino crew who had attended. Some former Stanfa loyalists were eventually welcomed back into the mob when it was taken over by Ralph Natale and Merlino — they were good earners, and the mob likes money makers. Filipelli, however, was not accepted back after serving a sentence on a racketeerig extortion charge. Before his recent sentencing, Filipelli said in court that his interaction with the undercover officer was "not an organized crime case." The judge apparently didn't believe him. Big Vince, it seems, talked his way into a longer jail sentence because he claimed membership in a criminal organization that wouldn't have him. "He talked his way back into jail," the mob associate says. "You know what they say: 'A fish that doesn't open his mouth never gets caught.'"
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