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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

FBI suspects Philadelphia crime family tried to sell paintings from Gardner Museum heist

 (From left) Ralph Abbruzzi, George Borgesi, the late Frank Gambino, Joey Merlino and "Uncle Joe" Ligambi

Is jailed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi or any other member of his organization a secret "patron of the arts?"

That question surfaced this week as the FBI in Boston said it was close to solving a $500 million art heist that may have had a Philadelphia underworld connection.

In a week full of wild speculation, rumor and innuendo about the 1990 robbery -- one bizarre and unfounded report had some of the masterpieces stashed in the backroom of a South Philadelphia bar -- the story of mobsters and stolen masterworks was getting lots of traction.

In more mundane courtroom developments, meanwhile, two major players from the crime family, underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and mob soldier Damion Canalichio are scheduled to be sentenced in May following their convictions last month on racketeering conspiracy charges. Each faces a potential double-digit prison term, given the nature of the charge and their lengthy criminal records.

Canalichio, 41, has two prior federal drug convictions. Massimino, 62, has been jailed on drug dealing and racketeering charges.

Ligambi, 73, his nephew George Borgesi, 49, and his top associate, Anthony Staino, 55, are to be retried on those same racketeering conspiracy charges in October after the jury hung on those counts at the earlier trial. Staino was convicted of two counts of extortion for which he is to be sentenced, but that has been put off until after the retrial.

There has been some speculation that Staino might be willing to cut a deal and plead guilty to the conspiracy count if the sentence for that crime would not bring more prison time than he is already facing for the extortion charges.

Several other prominent players in the Philadelphia mob, including Marty Angelina and Gaeton Lucibello, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges prior to the start of the trial and are serving prison sentences. In all, nine of the original 13 defendants have either been convicted or have pleaded guilty.

Skinny Joey Merlino and Damion Canalichio

While the Ligambi racketeering case continues to wind its way through the court system, there is a different buzz on the streets. Media reports out of Boston have speculated that members of the Ligambi organization may have information about the infamous heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in which an estimated half-billion dollars in art was stolen.

Media reports have mentioned both Ligambi and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino as potential Philadelphia connections in the investigation into the missing paintings which include 13 masterworks stolen 23 years ago by two men posing as police officers.

A report in the Boston Herald earlier this week said the FBI believes the heist was orchestrated by "members of an East Coast crime organization" and that some of the art work was being offered for sale in the Philadelphia area a decade ago.

Rembrandt's Stolen Storm On the Sea of Galilee

Ligambi was the boss of the crime family at that point. Merlino, jailed in 1999, was serving a 14-year sentence for racketeering. Before he was jailed, however, Merlino had established contacts in Boston with a group of organized figures headed by Robert Luisi Jr., who according to some law enforcement and underworld sources, was formally initiated into the Philadelphia mob by Merlino.
Luisi, later convicted of drug dealing, began cooperating with authorities, but reneged on that deal, claiming among other things that he had "found Jesus" and had turned away from the gangster life. Luisi's father, brother and cousin were killed in an infamous mob hit at a suburban Boston restaurant in 1995.

Manet's Chez Tortoni
In the mid 1990s, Luisi surfaced as a close associate of Borgesi's, then Merlino's crime family consigliere. Luisi's name has also been mentioned in media reports about the art heist investigation.
The stolen art included Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Manet's "Chez Tortoni." In a statement released earlier this week, the FBI in Boston said, "We have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England."
While the statute of limitations has run on the theft charge, possessing the stolen works would still be a criminal offense. A $5 million reward has been offered for the recovery of the art work which in addition to paintings, includes drawings, a sculpture and a beaker.
The heist occurred on the night of March 18, 1990, when two men dressed as Boston Police officers gained entry to the museum and overpowered a security guard.

Marty Angelina and Damion Canalichio

The Philadelphia connection to the notorious art heist comes amid reports that federal authorities hope to build yet another case against Ligambi and his top associates around three unsolved murders. Anthony Nicodemo, a mob soldier who is to be arraigned next month on first degree murder charges for the December slaying of Gino DiPietro, has been identified as a suspect in one of those homicides, the gangland hit on John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto in 2003.

Damion Canalichio, who is to be sentenced in May in the racketeering conspiracy case, has also been mentioned in connection with the Casasanto investigation. No one has ever been charged with that murder. The two other gangland hits that authorities would like to place on Ligambi's doorstep are the 1999 slaying of Ronald Turchi and the 2002 shooting of Raymond "Long John" Martorano.

George Borgesi and Damion Canalichio
Ligambi, who ran the crime family from 1999 until his arrest in May 2011 in the racketeering case, is generally credited with taking the organization back into the shadows. His approach was to make money, not headlines.

Missing masterworks and unsolved mob murders, however, are now shining two large spotlights on the mob boss and his beleaguered organization.



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