Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Feds call Philly mob the IBM of the criminal underworld

Philadelphia mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino (left) and reputed boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi in summer 1998. (G.W. Miller III/Staff file photo)
The mob lives.
It's a brand-name enterprise leveraging a reputation forged through a century of crime, threats and violence.
That was a prosecutor's message Thursday at the start of three days of closing arguments in the racketeering trial of reputed Philadelphia boss Joseph Ligambi and six others.
"The mob is to the criminal underworld what IBM and GE are to legitimate corporations," Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han told the 12 jurors and four alternates.
The mob "has a simple and effective and enduring business model," Han said. "It goes like this: Work together to make money through force and intimidation."
The arguments follow a nearly three-month trial that showcased a decade-long investigation by the FBI into the crime family. The case included hundreds of secret recordings and testimony from mob insiders, turncoats and federal agents about gambling, extortion, loan-sharking and other crimes.
The first defense lawyer to address jurors late Thursday pointed out that the charges were short on the viciousness that had been a hallmark of past mob prosecutions: No claims of executions, brutal beatings or middle-of-the-night attacks.
"The only people who exhibited any violence in this case were the people the government called as their own witnesses," said Joseph Santaguida, lawyer for alleged underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino.
Santaguida told jurors the government owed them an apology for wasting time and tax dollars, which he said might be better spent chasing terrorists and keeping gunmen out of schools instead of paying agents to sit in vans and record calls from men who want to bet $200 on a football game.
"Shame on you!" Santaguida thundered as he pointed to the prosecution table. "Shame on you!"
The theatrics are likely to continue as attorneys for the other defendants address jurors Friday. Those defendants are: alleged consigliere George "Georgie" Borgesi; reputed captains Anthony "Ant" Staino and Joseph "Scoops" Licata; alleged soldier Damion "Dame" Canalichio; and an associate, Gary Battaglini.
Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, delivers his closing Monday, with a government rebuttal to follow. U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno told jurors deliberations could begin Tuesday.
Han and Santaguida spoke before a packed courtroom gallery that included prosecutors and agents, journalists and about two dozen friends and relatives of the defendants, with more waiting outside for an open seat.
During his three-hour summation, Han reminded jurors that racketeering - the central charge in the 51-count indictment - was like "the golden corral" of crimes, a smorgasbord of offenses that doesn't have to include violence. He also highlighted tapes where the defendants' boasted about past beatings, and witnesses who said the threat of violence was baked into every loan or bet.
But the first part of his argument was largely a refresher course in Mob 101 - its history and structure, rules and penalties - all part of establishing each defendant's willing membership in the family.
Han flashed a spinning wagon wheel on courtroom screens to illustrate the local mob leadership. Each spoke held a mug shot of a reputed mobster, with each linked in the middle to the 73-year-old Ligambi.
He rolled out the names of past Philly mob bosses - Bruno. Scarfo. Stanfa. Natale. Merlino.
Then Han walked toward Ligambi and pointed a finger at him.
"It is his family; it is his time," Han said.
He replayed portions of a May 2010 meeting at a North Jersey restaurant, that prosecutors say was a rare business meeting of leaders from the Philadelphia family and the New York-based Gambino crime family.
"Remember this," the prosecutor told jurors, "John Gambino and the Gambino La Cosa Nostra family of New York would not waste one minute of their time attending a meeting of impostors."
He said Ligambi - who became the family's "ultimate shot-caller" after his predecessor Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino went to prison a decade ago - strong-armed his way into controlling illegal video poker games across the region, and committed theft by collecting a paycheck and benefits from a no-show job at a trash company.
Han also cited the testimony of mob turncoats Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo, who described illegal bookmaking and loan-shark operations that they said they helped run for Borgesi and Ligambi. And he recalled how another star witness, Peter "The Crumb" Caprio, who admitted he once plotted to kill Ligambi, described the hierarchy of the Philadelphia mob.
Santaguida mocked Monacello, who became a cooperator after being charged in the case, as a "bastion of credibility." He used a similar term for DiGiacomo, and quipped that Caprio was "a doddering old man" and "one step away from being a serial killer."
Massimino might have made loans, he said, but never charged "a penny of interest" - and wasn't charge with extortion, he noted. Ultimately, Santaguida reminded jurors, membership isn't a crime.
Sure, there might be a mob, he acknowledged.
"Is Mr. Massimino a member of the mob?" he asked. "Maybe."
"But did they prove it?"



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