News Column

Reputed Mob Boss Joseph Ligambi Found Not Guilty on Five Charges

Feb 6, 2013

John P. Martin

A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the trial of reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Ligambi, after jurors acquitted him on five counts but said they were hopelessly deadlocked on four others, including the key charge of racketeering conspiracy.

Three codefendants, including alleged underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, were convicted on the conspiracy charge and face years in prison.

But jurors found them and the others not guilty of 45 counts of bookmaking, extortion, loan-sharking and other crimes.

One defendant, Joseph "Scoops" Licata was acquitted of the lone charge against him and freed.

The verdicts came on the 21st day of deliberations and after a trial showcasing what prosecutors contended was the latest generation of La Cosa Nostra to run local gambling, extortion and crime rackets, led by the understated 73-year-old boss known as "Uncle Joe."

Ligambi's lawyer hailed the verdicts as "a victory" and repudiation of a case that FBI agents built over more than a decade.

"It's a failure for the government," said the lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. "It was an enormous waste of precious taxpayer funds."

Prosecutors noted they won major convictions against three of seven defendants and said they would consider retrying 11 charges jurors couldn't resolve, including the allegation that all conspired as members of a criminal enterprise -- the mob.

"It was an important case, and it needed to be brought," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey, who heads the office's organized crime unit.

But the results were clearly mixed, and in some corners as confusing as some of the 42 notes jurors sent to U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno since they began weighing the evidence Jan. 8.

For the second time in four days, the anonymous panel of eight men and four women reported they were at an impasse Tuesday. This note was more forceful than the first on Saturday, declaring they had verdicts on some counts but not all, and were "of unanimous opinion that no future headway can be made to resolve these charges."

Robreno gave them the option of delivering a partial verdict or continuing to deliberate on all the charges. At first they chose to keep talking, then changed course barely 30 minutes later.

About 100 prosecutors, agents, reporters and supporters of the defendants crammed into Robreno's 15th-floor courtroom for the verdict just after 3:30 p.m., with others crowding outside. As the jury foreman began reading decisions in the 61 charges, relatives of Ligambi and the others gasped or cried, trying to untangle what the verdicts meant.

Authorities argued that Ligambi and his cohorts may not have racked up a body count like their predecessors, but used threats of violence to maintain the same grip over gambling, loan-sharking and crime rackets.

Ligambi, they said, strong-armed control of the local video-poker market and stole money and benefits through a no-show job for a local waste disposal company. And they said the boss got a cut of the proceeds in illegal sports betting.

But jurors rejected five of the underlying crimes against Ligambi and deadlocked on four others, including the RICO charge that could have effectively sent him to prison for life.

They also deadlocked on the conspiracy charge against Ligambi's 49-year-old nephew, reputed captain George "Georgie" Borgesi, and cleared Borgesi of 13 other counts related to loan sharking and extortion of debtors.

Borgesi's lawyer said the verdicts were vindication and proof that testimony of a star prosecution witness, turncoat Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, fell flat.

"The jury rejected his testimony," Paul Hetznecker said. "They did not believe it."

Hetznecker and Jacobs asked the judge to immediately release their clients on bail, arguing the jury had rejected the claims prosecutors used to hold Borgesi and Ligambi without bail since May 2011. Robreno said he would consider the request during a hearing Wednesday morning.

Massimino, 62, reputed mob soldier Damion "Dame" Canalicho, 44, and alleged associate Gary Battaglini, 51, were convicted of the larger mob conspiracy, but not any charges related to specific extortion or loan-sharking crimes, all built on testimony and secret recordings from informants, debtors and turncoats.

"It struck me as illogical," Lawrence O'Connor, lawyer for Gary Battaglini, said after the verdict. "We're obviously disappointed."

Margaret Grasso, Canalichio's attorney, said the jury "got it right on the bookmaking and video poker machines. [But] I think they were confused on the RICO."

Like the 62-year-old Massimino, both men have criminal records and could face years in prison. Robreno scheduled their sentencings for May 21.

The only other guilty verdicts were returned in two counts against alleged captain Anthony "Ant" Staino, 55, in connection with a loan to an undercover FBI agent.

Staino's attorney, Gregory Pagano, said jurors may have been swayed by tapes of a bathroom conversation in which Staino tells the agent "Don't make me hurt you."

Pagano argued Staino was obviously drunk at the time. Jurors acquitted Staino on 27 other counts, and deadlocked on the racketeering conspiracy.

"I'm surprised," Pagano said. "I would think that the RICO was all for one and one for all."

Staino and Battaglini were the only two defendants to be free on bail during the trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han asked the judge to revoke bail for both men; the judge deferred a decision until Wednesday.

The one clear victor in the case was Licata, a 71-year-old alleged captain known as "Scoops" who authorities say is part of the family's North Jersey faction.

Licata was a focus in the trial's opening days, as jurors heard a recording of a May 2010 lunch meeting he helped organize at a New Jersey restaurant for mob members from New York and Philadelphia. Licata introduced Ligambi as "acting boss" but spent most of the gathering waxing nostalgic about former friends, associates and adventures.

Prosecutors contended he was part of the mob conspiracy, but didn't charge him with any underlying crimes.

"The lack of evidence against my client was shameless," his lawyer, Christopher Warren, said after the verdict. "There was zero evidence my client was doing anything but sitting around, talking and drinking."

For the first time in nearly a year, Licata got to do the same thing again Tuesday night. About an hour after the verdict, Licata was sipping a Ketel One vodka and soda with his lawyer at DiNardo's restaurant, as he waited for his family to arrive from New Jersey.

"His grandchildren can't wait to see him," Warren said.

Four other codefendants pleaded guilty before the trial and three more are awaiting a separate trial. If or how the verdicts might affect those prosecutions are unclear.



Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer


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