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Monday, November 25, 2013

Bent Finger Lou details the ins and outs of the Philadelphia crime family

To hear Louie Monacello tell it, his 20 years of dealing with the Philadelphia mob were part Godfather and part Family Feud.

On the witness stand for a second day in the racketeering retrial of mob boss "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and Ligambi's nephew George Borgesi, Monacello continued to offer the jury a picture of organized crime built around fear, violence, threats and extortion.

But he also spent much of today deconstructing the Ligambi-Borgesi family, portraying the gangsters as part of a dysfunctional family where greed and power trumped bloodlines and loyalty.

"Don't be fooled," he told the jury. "Him and his uncle were always at odds. They can't stand each other."

Described by authorities as a top associate who was chosen by Borgesi to run his gambling and loansharking operations in 2000 after Borgesi was jailed in an unrelated racketeering case, Monacello, 47, said he constantly found himself caught in the middle.

And, he added, the tension heightened when Anthony Borgesi, George's brother, began to undermine him with both his brother and his uncle.

"I always had problems with the brother because he felt he had been passed over when George Borgesi chose me to run things," Monacello said. He then recounted a conversation he had had with Borgesi in prison where Borgesi was serving a 14-year sentence following his conviction in 2001 on racketeering.

Moncello said he visited Borgesi about twice a year and that the visits included conversations about the gambling and loansharking businesses. He said Borgesi also called him from prison, but that those conversations were often in coded language because the phone calls were monitored and tape-recorded by prison officials. Finally, he said, Borgesi passed information on to him through his wife Alyson.

During a prison visit, he said, Borgesi told him what he already knew, that his brother Anthony "was jealous of me." He said Borgesi described his brother as "an incompetent, an idiot" who "was not capable of making money legally or illegally."

And making money, Monacello said, was what the mob was all about. He told the jury that he ran sports betting and loansharking operations for Borgesi in Philadelphia and Delaware County while Borgesi was serving his federal prison sentence. And he estimated that at one point he was providing Borgesi with $3,000-a-month. He gave the cash to Alyson Borgesi each month, usually by leaving an envelope stuffed with cash in the glove compartment of her car.

The payoff came after a coded phone conversation in which he would ask her what days she was working in a given week. On those days, he said, she would leave her car door unlocked and parked outside the office where she worked. He would circle the block several times to be sure he wasn't being followed or surveilled. He then would approach the car, open the door, place the envelope in the glove compartment and lock the door as he left.

On one secretly recorded conversation, Monacello is heard referring to Alyson Borgesi as "Alyson Corleone." Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han what he meant by that, Monacello said "for a female she got involved in a lot of mob business...Her husband was constantly calling her for prison" and using her to relay messages to him and others.

Family dynamics and money were recurring themes throughout the day-long testimony.

Monacello said Borgesi, 50, told him repeatedly not to tell his uncle what kind of business he was conducting or how much money he was making. Ligambi, 74, showed little reaction to any of the testimony. Borgesi occasionally whispered in his lawyer's ear and at the end of the day, after the jury had left the courtroom, he boldly predicted that defense attorneys would destroy Monacello during cross-examination.

The comment was in keeping with the picture of Borgesi that has emerged during the trial -- a wiseguy who has to have the last word and who cannot keep his mouth shut, even when he is talking on a prison phone that he knows is being tapped. 

"George Borgesi said, `Don't tell my uncle,'" Monacello said after detailing a loansharking operation he had set up in Delaware County with Nicholas "Nicky the Hat" Cimino, another mob associate who was funneling money through Monacello to Borgesi.

Later the prosecution played a taped phone conversation from prison in which Borgesi repeated that admonition.

"Don't tell people your business," Borgesi said on the tape. "I know for a fact...everyone wants to score points...From here on out, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing...I just wish all this stuff would go the fuck away....And don't tell no one that I called ya."

That, Monacello said, was an example of the treachery and deceit that were daily occurrences within the crime family. At another point, he said, Ligambi complained about Borgesi's inability to keep his own counsel. As soon as he walks about of prison, "they're gonna put the cuffs back on him," he said Ligambi said of his nephew's inability to keep quiet.

And then, he said, Ligambi told him, "I hope he gets a hundred years."

"He just can't control himself," Monacello said of Borgesi's constant badgering and questioning. He said he was reluctant to visit Borgesi in prison because he knew Borgesi was being closely watched.

"I wasn't even on the radar then," Monacello said, explaining that his role as a top Borgesi's associate was not well know. But, he said, Borgesi insisted he come to the prison.

"Don't worry about it," he said Borgesi told him. "It's bullshit. It's bullshit."

With that, Monacello paused, looked at the jury, then looked at Borgesi.

"It's not bullshit," he said, spreading his arms wide. "Where are we?"

Monacello said there was constant friction within the organization and that "people were constantly telling him (George Borgesi) things to make me look bad." Anthony Borgesi was the biggest offender, he said, adding that the younger brother often played his uncle against his brother, sharing information with both and "causing trouble."

Anthony Borgesi. who has been at the trial nearly every day since it began three weeks ago, was not in the courtroom today. Nor was he present on Friday when Monacello first took the stand and began to mention his role in the organization.

One mob associate who did show up unexpectedly for today's session was Angelo Lutz, now a successful restaurateur in nearby a Collingswood, NJ. Monacello had testified in gruesome detail on Friday about instances where Borgesi had abused and assaulted the 5-foot-4, 400-pouund Lutz, threatening to kill him, splitting his head open with a rod from an artificial Christmas tree, biting him in the forehead and smacking him in the face with a blackjack.

Lutz, who was convicted with Borgesi, Joey Merlino and several others in the 2001 racketgeering case, said little as he came and left the courtroom. He spent the day seated by Alyson Borgesi and Borgesi's mother Manny, ironically the spot usually occupied by the tough-talking Anthony Borgesi who was a no-show. When Lutz, 50, was referred to on another tape played for the jury today, Monacello pointed him out.

"He's sitting right there," the witness told the jury, pointing to Lutz.

Lutz smiled and casually waved at the defendant.

Monacello is expected to conclude his direct testimony when the trail resumes on Monday, Dec. 2, Court will be in recess for the Thanksgiving holiday until then. He will then face what is expected to be a lengthy and grueling cross-examination in which the defense will allege, among other things, that he has fabricated much of his testimony and that he was using Borgesi's name to enhance and expand his own criminal operations.

Before the session ended today, Monacello recounted several disputes he had had with mob capo Marty Angelina over money and gambling operations and acknowledged that he had considered killing Angelina, but settled on a plan to have him badly beaten.

That plot was detailed to Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo, an underworld associate who had secretly begun cooperating with the Pennsylvania State Police in 2007. The assault never took place, but Monacello was tapped making two $1,000 payments to DiGiacomo who claimed he had hired two thugs who brutally beat Angelina.

Several other DiGiacomo tapes, including a conversation in which Monacello and DiGiacomo met with Ligambi to discuss a disputed loansharking debt, were played for the jury. It was during that conversation, recorded on May 21, 2008, that Ligambi joked about George Borgesi's big mouth and how he would be "cuffed" again as soon as he got out of prison.

Borgesi, in fact, never made it out of prison. He was finishing his 14-year sentence in May 2011 when he, Ligambi, Monacello and nearly a dozen others were indicted in the current racketeering case. Monacello cut a deal and began cooperating with the government two months later.

Monacello testified at the first trial in which Borgesi was acquitted of 13 gambling and loansharking charges. The jury, however, hung on the conspiracy count against Borgesi and Ligambi, resulting in the retrial. Four other defendants were convicted. One was acquitted.

At the close of his testimony today, Monacello said he never intended to be a cooperator. He said  when he was arrested in the Delaware County investigation in 2008, he turned down offers by the State Police to cooperate and was sentenced to 23 months in prison.

But when the federal indictment came in 2011, he had a change of heart. The reason, he said, was the lack of honor and loyalty that he had seen first hand and that he felt had put his life in jeopardy.

'I don't believe in cooperating," he told the jury as the trial wrapped up for the day. "The only reason I'm sitting here (in the witness stand) and not there (pointing to the defense table) is because they were going to kill me."

Monacello is expected to expand on that story when the trial resumes. At the first trial he said his dispute with Angelina and his decision to assault a "made" member of the organization was tantamount to a death sentence. And, he said, he believed Ligambi intended to have Borgesi carry out that sentence



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