Ronald Previte, Mafia captain turned informant, dies at 73
Posted August 29
Ronald Previte, a onetime Philadelphia Mafia captain whose work as an FBI informant helped take down three mob bosses, earning him the nickname "Fat Rat," has died. He was 73.
Previte died Aug. 21 at a hospital in Galloway Township, New Jersey, according to Carnesale Funeral Home. PhillyVoice.com reported he had a heart attack.
Previte, an imposing man who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed nearly 300 pounds, wore a hidden microphone beginning in 1997 and recorded hundreds of conversations for the FBI while leading a double life as a made member of the Mafia.
He freely admitted to a 30-year career in crime, including gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, drug trafficking and prostitution.
"I was a crook," Previte testified at the 2001 trial of Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and several other mobsters.
Previte testified he would meet FBI agents in a hotel, get the recording device strapped to his body, attend a mob meeting and then return to the hotel to be debriefed and return the equipment.
He couldn't wear the wire at certain social functions because "there was a lot of hugging and kissing," Previte said.
Previte's recordings led to the indictment of Merlino and another mob boss, Ralph Natale, in 1999. Natalie then became a government witness and testified 14 days in the Merlino trial.
The FBI paid Previte about $500,000 for his work, prompting mob lawyers to criticize his testimony as "bought and paid for." He defended the money as "hazardous duty pay."
Previte, who was born in Philadelphia but lived most of his life in Hammonton, New Jersey, was a corrupt Philadelphia police officer in the 1960s and '70s, extorting traffic violators, shaking down tavern owners and stripping impounded cars.
Forced to resign around 1979, Previte worked as a security guard for an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino — swiping cash and chips — then fixed horse races while employed at a New Jersey racetrack.
Previte was arrested for theft in 1985, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to work with New Jersey state police. Previte informed on Philadelphia boss John Stanfa — who had initiated him into the Mafia — before turning his sights on successors Natale and Merlino.