Crime

‘Pants on Fire’ Arsonist Linked to Reputed Philadelphia Mob Boss

Suspected Gambino associate Peter Tuccio pleaded guilty this week to felony extortion in torching a businessman’s Mercedes Benz in New York City. Tuccio has been linked to reputed Mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino. The 58-year-old Merlino was convicted of illegal betting in 2018.

Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino, left, and Peter Tuccio stroll down a sidewalk toward a photographer. Tuccio has pleaded guilty in an arson case. (Image: New York Daily News)

The Gambino crime family is one of the longtime Mafia organizations in New York City known as the Five Families.

At his upcoming sentencing, Tuccio faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Gabrielli and another participant in the incident, Jonathan Gurino, also are awaiting sentencing. Gurino pleaded guilty in June 2020.

On Wednesday, acting US Attorney Seth D. DuCharme said, “With today’s guilty plea, Tuccio has been convicted of an offense arising from his efforts to extort a local businessman by brazenly chasing him through the streets and then setting his car ablaze.”

DuCharme added that his office and the FBI will continue to “investigate and prosecute members and associates of organized crime to eradicate the danger they pose to our community.”

Extortion and Arson

In December 2015, Tuccio, 27, and two others chased a businessman at high rates of speed through the streets of Queens. The unnamed businessman wanted to stop making a $400 annual extortion payment to a Gambino crime family captain. The three men confronted him at a pizzeria, according to the US Department of Justice.

That night, the businessman heard a noise outside his home and saw his car was on fire. His home security video captured images of a suspect identified as Gino Gabrielli dousing the 2014 luxury car with fluid. The car burst into flames. Gabrielli could be seen running off with his right pant leg on fire, authorities said.

The New York Daily News dubbed this incident the “pants on fire” torching.

Shortly after the 4 am blaze, Gabrielli and Tuccio were spotted on surveillance video entering a hospital. Gabrielli had received third-degree burns. He said he burned himself at home while cooking chicken and rice, according to news accounts.

Fire officials said they later spoke with Gabrielli’s mother. She said no one had cooked anything that night.

In 2016, Gabrielli pleaded guilty to arson.

‘Elusive’ Relationship

In the past few years, Tuccio has been seen with Merlino, who has denied being head of the Philadelphia crime family. 

In 2018, Merlino received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to a charge of illegal betting. Tuccio was seen with Merlino at the courthouse in New York City and other places.  

“If you saw Joey in New York, you also saw Tuccio,” Mafia expert Dave Schratwieser wrote this week on his website, Mob Talk Sitdown.

Schratwieser is a former Philadelphia television journalist. He co-hosts the website with George Anastasia, an author, and veteran print reporter.

According to Schratwieser, questions are being raised about why Tuccio had access to the reputed Philadelphia boss. “The answer to that question is still elusive,” the journalist wrote.

Major Mafia Trials

Tuccio’s plea is one of at least three court matters of interest this week to Mafia watchers. In a separate court case, prosecutors and defense attorneys are seeking a delay in a Philadelphia Mob trial scheduled for this month. The defendants in this illegal gambling case include Joseph Joey Electric” Servidio and Anthony Tony Meatballs” Gifoli.

Another Mafia trial began in Italy this week. This case involves hundreds of suspected ’Ndrangheta crime family members accused of murder, loan sharking, and other criminal activity.

Larry Henry

Gaming Regulation, Crime, Politics — Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who spent more than 16 years in Nevada, including serving as legislative reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as political editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He's also written about popular culture for the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. As a broadcast journalist, he worked as managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Arkansas, where he now lives and where casino growth is a hot topic. A Marine Corps veteran and LSU graduate, he is also an avid movie fan, especially of classic film noir from the 1940s and ’50s.

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