The American mafia emerged in impoverished Italian immigrant neighborhoods in cities all across the U.S., from Chicago to New York City. The mob engaged in criminal activities from bootlegging in the 1920s, murder for hire, illegal gambling, and prostitution to stock fraud and money laundering in the 2000s. In the world of organized crime, it is not uncommon for fathers to introduce their sons to the business. And while some sons gain “success” in the world of crime and even overshadow their fathers, some don’t have a natural aptitude for life in the family business. We look at some examples in this list.
Related: 10 American Mobsters Who Were Not Italian Americans
10 Gerrard Pappa and John Pappa
Gerrard Pappa started out in the Rampers Gang, a notorious street gang that also produced some notable names, such as future Gambino family underboss Sammy Gravano. Local mafioso saw his potential, and he became an initiated member—a made member—in the Genovese family, where he was known for his efficiency as a contract killer. His greed for money led him to start selling drugs and conducting off-the-record killings. In July 1980, he was shot to death with a sawed-off shotgun in a restaurant in Brooklyn for killing a Colombo soldier without permission.
Following in his footsteps was his son, John Pappa, who was affiliated with the Colombo family. It is true that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as John got involved in racketeering, drug dealing, and contract killings. He was arrested in a church in 1997 while attending a wedding rehearsal for the brother of one of his victims. He was sentenced to life in prison at the tender age of 22.
9 Carmine Persico and Alphonse Persico
Carmine Persico started out his life of crime by extorting lunch money from his classmates. When he was 17, he was charged with murder. He then rose to become the boss of the Colombos. At a trial in which he decided to represent himself, the judge remarked on his intelligence. In 1987, he was sentenced to 100 years in prison, yet he continued to run the family from behind bars. By 2017, Persico was in a medium-security prison where he had become friends with convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff. He died in 2019.
Carmine’s son, Alphonse, was a student at college before he dropped out. Alphonse was involved in the Third Colombo war, which pitted Vic Orena on one side and Alphonse’s father on the other. Vic Orena had previously been named acting boss by Carmine, but Vic decided to betray the Persicos. Word reached Alphonse while he was still in prison, and he promptly ordered the death of Orena. By 1993, Orena had been sent to prison, and the Persicos won. Alphonse Persico took over as acting boss in 1996. However, he was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 for murder.
8 Raymond Patriarca and Raymond “Junior” Patriarca
Raymond was the boss of the Patriarca family. During his teenage years, he had already been involved in multiple crimes, creating a reputation for himself. After mobster Philip Buccola fled to Sicily under pressure from U.S. government agencies, Raymond took over the reins of power. He was ruthless in his reign; at one time, he ordered a family soldier to murder his own son after he lost a substantial amount of money in a bad deal. He died in 1984.
Raymond Jr. became the boss of the Patriarca family after the death of his father. Patriarca Jr. was considered weak but managed to stay in power mainly due to the support given by the Commission, the governing body of the Italian-American mafia, formed in 1931 by Charles “Lucky” Luciano. His first test as boss came within his family when his underboss tried to take over while he was still in prison. This plot failed when he got the support of the Commission. However, his reign marked the decline in the Patriarca crime family. He was arrested in 1990 on various charges, and when he was released from prison, he retired from the life of organized crime.
7 Carlo Gambino and Thomas Gambino
Carlo Gambino came to the United States as a stowaway on a ship. In 1957, his boss Anastasia was murdered in a barber shop, and Gambino took over the leadership of the family. Gambino was known to be a good earner for the family. During World War II, he made millions reselling food stamps that had been stolen. Throughout his life, he avoided attention and lived modestly. The Gambino family became the strongest during his reign. Despite being involved in organized crime for over 50 years, he only served 22 months in prison. He died peacefully in 1976.
Thomas joined the Gambino family soon after his graduation from college, backed by his father and uncle, Paul Castellano. In 1962, he married Frances, the daughter of the Lucchese family boss, Tommy Lucchese. He was heavily involved in New York’s garment and trucking industry. After Gotti murdered his uncle, Castellano, his life was spared because of the amount of money he was making for the family. In 1996, he served a five-year sentence and was released in 2000.
6 Frank James Calabrese Sr and Frank Calabrese Jr.
Frank Sr. came from a poor family, and with no education, he entered the Chicago underworld and joined the Outfit. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a caporegime—a ranking member of the family. Frank Sr. was also a cold-blooded killer, and he was found responsible for seven mob hits, including the 1986 murder of Tony Spilotro, the inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in the movie Casino. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 after his son, Frank Calabrese Jr., collaborated with the government against his father.
His son, Frank Jr., followed his father into the mob. As a teenager, he started doing errands for his father. At first, he idolized his father, but as he grew older, his father grew more erratic, and this caused a drift between them. While they were both serving time in prison, Frank Jr. contacted the FBI and told them of his willingness to cooperate. He wore a wire in prison, taping incriminating conversations with his father that led to multiple incarcerations of Outfit members, including his father. Frank Jr. got out of prison and out of the mob life and is now a motivational speaker.
5 Frankie LoCascio and Salvatore LoCascio
Frankie LoCascio joined the Gambino family in the 1950s. He was a good earner, and when John Gotti took over, he became the consigliere—adviser to the boss. He was a stickler for the mafia rules. When Sammy, the underboss, eventually decided to switch sides and cooperate with the government, Frankie and Gotti were sentenced to life in prison. At his sentencing, he said, “I am guilty of being a good friend of John Gotti. And if there were more men like John Gotti on this earth, we would have a better country.” He died in prison in 2021.
His son, Salvatore, became a caporegime. He was involved in one of the largest consumer frauds in American history. The plan involved internet users looking for adult content, enticing them to enter their credit card information for “free” trials, and then later charging them a monthly fee. Complaints from victims caught the attention of the U.S. Justice Department. By February 2004, the entire Salvatore crew had been arrested. Federal prosecutors estimate that the Gambinos grossed approximately $500 million from the phone cramming operation. He was sentenced to two years in prison and released in 2008. 
4 Gregory Scarpa and Gregory Scarpa Jr.
Gregory Sr. was an infamous hitman for the Colombo family. In the third Colombo civil war, he sided with Carmine Persico. In 1962, he was arrested for armed robbery. To avoid persecution, he agreed to work with the FBI, beginning a 30-year relationship. He helped the FBI solve a case where three Black civil rights workers were killed by a gang of white supremacists. Scarpa threatened to kill a Klansman if he didn’t disclose the location of the bodies; the three bodies were later found. He died in 1994 from AIDS-related complications.
His son, Gregory Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps. He was a top hitman for the Colombo family, later on becoming a caporegime. In 1988, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. While in prison, he started to cooperate with the FBI by giving them leads on the World Trade Center bombing with information purportedly from Ramzi Youseff, the mastermind, who was also in the same prison as Scarpa Jr. This turned out to be a scam by Scarpa Jr., hoping to get an early release. In 2020, he was released on compassionate grounds.
3 John Franzese and Michael Franzese
John became the underboss of the Colombo family during the 1960s. He previously served in the Army but was discharged for displaying homicidal tendencies. It’s not surprising then that he was a top hitman. In one taped conversation with an informant, he said, “I did a lot of work back in the 1960s. I killed a lot of guys. You’re not talking about four, five, six, ten.” He served several stints in jail. He was released from prison in 2017 at the age of 100—at that time, the oldest federal inmate in the U.S. He died in 2020.
While John was known for being a hitman, his son Michael was known for his business acumen. He dropped out of a pre-med program at Hofstra University to help his family earn some money when his father was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was one of the pioneers of the gas tax scam, where they defrauded the government out of millions in tax money. At his height, he was making close to $8 million per week. He quit the mob life and became a Christian; he now has a YouTube channel.
2 Nicodemo Sarfo Sr. and Nicky Scarfo Jr.
Nicodemo Scarfo became head of the Philadelphia mob in the 1980s. Despite being only 5’5, he was feared and respected. He oversaw family operations in Atlantic city, bringing in a ton of money from extorting casino owners. His reign was characterized by fear and brutality. He once ordered the killing of family caporegime, Sal Testa, the son of his predecessor, for fear that the young Testa was becoming too popular in the streets. His creed at that time was, “Kill or be killed.” He was sentenced to 55 years in prison after his nephew, the underboss at the time, turned informant. (Link 23)
His son, Nicky Scarfo Jr., joined the mob in the 1980s. After surviving an attempt on his life in 1989 by a fellow Philadelphia mobster, his father arranged for him to become a made member of the Lucchese family to protect him, where he rose to be a caporegime. In 2011, he was arrested for his role in the embezzlement of millions of dollars from FirstPlus Financial Group. Scarfo was convicted for the scheme and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment in July 2015.
1 Philip Testa and Salvatore Testa
Philip became the boss of the Philadelphia mob after the death of Angelo Bruno in 1980. His operations were based out of the back of a restaurant, where he oversaw activities such as illegal drugs, extortion, and loan sharking. In early 1981, Philip and other mob members were indicted by the Philadelphia U.S. Attorney’s office for racketeering based on these various activities. By March, he would be dead, killed by a bomb hidden under his front porch. Testa’s killing spawned a string of intra-family wars that lasted until 1995.
Salvatore Testa took over control of the family businesses after the death of his father. He was promoted to caporegime by the new boss Nicodemo Scarfo. Salvatore sought vengeance for his father’s death. And he found his revenge when he murdered the mobsters responsible for his father’s death. In 1984, Salvatore later broke off his engagement to the daughter of one of the underbosses, Salvatore Merlino. Afterward, Merlino was insulted and not happy with the young suitor. Scarfo also feared Testa’s growing popularity and decided to eliminate him. Salvatore Testa was killed in 1984 at age 28.