After 13 years in a Connecticut prison, 50-year-old Philadelphia Mafia member Damion Canalichio is out from behind bars and expected to be promoted after he is released from the Philly halfway house where he was sent following his prison stint.
The mobster, who was released late last month, wasn’t expected to be up for parole until 2021, but before Christmas of 2019, went before a judge to be resentenced on racketeering charges.
In federal prison for drug dealing, bookmaking and loansharking, behind the scenes, Canalichio was an enforcer for the Philadelphia Crime Family.
Canalichio – who used his time in prison to turn his once stocky body into a ripped, more intimidating form – is expected to take on even more responsibilities as a higher-ranking official in the Philadelphia Mafia. He is widely believed to be offered a capo position in the crime family hierarchy if he plans to return to his Mafia roots.
One murder made Canalichio a made man
The mobster got his start in the 1990s as a driver and bodyguard for Philly mob boss Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino’s best friend, Steve (Handsome Stevie) Mazzone, a job that was followed by a violent, bloody period as an FBI suspect in at least one Mafia-related murder, that of the November 2003 murder of John (Johnny Gongs) Casasanto.
Casasanto was a ladies’ man who was shot to death in his own home, most likely because he was seen with Debbie Merlino, the wife of (Skinny Joey) Merlino, by then a close associate of Canalichio, and flaunted the relationship, at one point grabbing Debbie Merlino’s backside at a bar, yelling to her husband’s Mafia associates, “You can tell Joey this is mine now,” according to a story circulating online.
“Johnny Gongs had no tact,” one source told the website. “He hated Joey and wanted to stick it to him while he was away. That’s all that was about, nothing more. Johnny was the kind of guy that lived his entire life with an ‘I don’t give a f**k attitude’ and he didn’t curb that in the women he saw and how he acted about it. He wanted to be a bad boy and a tough guy in the worst way. Some women like that. But acting that way can also get you two in the back of the head.”
Canalichio, however, while never charged with Casasanto’s murder, was “made” into the Philadelphia Mafia following the slaying, which will likely go down as unsolved.
A Mafia empire begins to fall
Canalichio’s luck began to crumble in May of 2011. In jail wrapping up a 58-month sentence for drug dealing, he and eleven other Philly Mafia members were indicted on various charges.
A jury convicted Canalichio on February 5, 2013, after a four-month trial, during which they heard evidence of mob-related illegal bookmaking and perhaps most damning, loan sharking and racketeering. Canalichio earned his reputation as a heavy by threatening those who owed money with physical harm, leaving borrowers and their families in fear for their lives. The mobster also supervised a team of associates who participated alongside him in intimidating those who owed money.
On July 16, 2013, Canalichio, dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, was sentenced to 137 months in prison.
Afterward, he apologized in court to his wife, three daughters and other friends and family, but it fell on deaf ears as far as Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han was concerned.
“His allegiance is not to family, his children or his wife,” Han said in court, “but to La Cosa Nostra.”
Han called Canalichio a career criminal, adding “He had a reputation on the street for being a very violent person. He was an enforcer for the mob…He’s the muscle behind all these operations.”
The evidence against Canalichio was fairly damning. In taped recordings from an undercover FBI agent posing as a gambler, Canalichio said, “”I’m into collections,” while wiretaps caught Canalichio making threats against those who had taken mob money loans, including one in which he said, “I’m gonna go crack his f****n’ head.”
Canalichio was a resident of Turnersville, New Jersey, at the time of his sentences. There, he owned a $235,000 home, despite never claiming more than $5,000 a year in income on his taxes.
“Where does that money come from?” Han asked before offering as evidence, “Loansharking, bookmaking and threatening people with violence.”
While it remains to be seen whether or not Canalichio will revisit his Philly Mafia roots, with a promotion on the table, it seems like an offer he won’t be able to refuse.