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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sopranos actor to be freed after spending 8 years in prison

‘Sopranos’ actor Lillo Brancato to be freed

“Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato will begin the new year a free man after spending eight years in the slammer for a botched Bronx break-in that ended with his pal killing an off-duty cop.

Brancato, 37, bragged about his release in a tweet that said Monday would be “my last full day in prison.”

“Thank you for your love and support. I love you all!” the star of 1993’s “A Bronx Tale” said in a tweet he dictated from behind bars.

He had been set for release in July after serving eight years of a 10-year sentence. But he is getting out early after agreeing to an unusual deal with the parole board in which he will serve five years’ parole with a 10 p.m. curfew. Had he waited until July, he would not have faced parole.

His release outraged the sister of Officer Daniel Enchautegui, who was fatally shot by the actor’s cohort in a burglary in 2005.

“I’m still upset that he was not convicted of the murder and that he did not serve enough time,” Yolanda Rosa said.

“I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow when he is free, walking on the streets, while my brother will not.”

Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary in 2008 but beat a murder rap that could have sent him away for life. He had been doing time at the upstate Hudson Correctional Facility.

He was trying to break in to a friend’s house in The Bronx to steal drugs on Dec. 10, 2005, when accomplice Steven Armento shot Enchautegui in the chest.

The cop, who lived nearby, was investigating after hearing Brancato kick out a window. He shot back and wounded both crooks.

Rosa said she was told Brancato had been a “model prisoner,” although he was sued last year by a jailmate who claimed the actor beat him up over a pay phone

“Well, he wasn’t a model citizen before. We’ll see if he’s a model citizen after he gets out,” Rosa said.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch vowed the “lowlife thug” would be made to abide by his parole conditions “to the last letter.”

“The minute he steps out of line, we’ll be sure that he is returned to prison to finish out the rest of his sentence,” Lynch said.


Monday, December 30, 2013

The mob murder that occurred at the famous Rao's restaurant

The crowd was three deep at the bar at Rao’s that night.

The East Harlem red-sauce joint, famous for its lemon chicken, celebrity clientele, and the impossibility of securing a table, was never known for a booming bar scene. But this was three days before Christmas in 2003, and on this Monday night, the 10 stools were full and patrons had come to party.

As bartender Nicky Vests — so nicknamed for the more than 100 vests he owns — mixed drinks, Rena Strober, an up-and-coming Broadway actress, dined at one of the 11 tables. She was a guest of Sonny Grosso, a Rao’s regular and an ex-cop immortalized by his work on the “French Connection” case. He was now a TV producer and something of a father figure to the 27-year-old Strober.

Frank Pellegrino, a Rao’s co-owner and sometime actor, came up to the table and asked Strober to sing. This was his routine ever since he learned Strober, a blue-eyed redhead, was in “Les Miserables.”

Pellegrino had long ago decided that “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” was Strober’s song, but on this night she tried to demur.

“I was very hesitant. It was so loud,” she recalled. “It was a party atmosphere. Maybe I should wait.”

But Pellegrino pushed play.

“Once the jukebox starts, that’s my cue,” she told The Post.

She began belting out the song made famous by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.”

Louis “Louie Lump Lump” Barone confessed to killing Albert Circelli in a dispute over a song sung by Rena Strober.

Mobster Albert Circelli was killed.

Strober finished to applause and sat back down at the table, continuing to talk to her dining companions, save for Grosso, who had gone outside.

“I heard a sound that I thought was someone dropping a glass. I didn’t think anything of the first pop. It literally just sounded like a sifter fell,” she recalled.

“Having seen movies like this, I sort of flashed to someone taking us all out” — singer-actress Rena Stober.

“Then I heard a second pop and a scream over near the door and I immediately without even thinking went under the table.”

• • •

What happened a decade ago at Rao’s has become the stuff of legend and Strober was center stage for it all.

One mobster shot another over a song.

Louis “Louie Lump Lump” Barone, a 67-year-old “associate” who would show up at Rao’s about once a year, shot to death Albert Circelli, a 37-year-old Yonkers resident and a “made man” in the Lucchese crime family.

The pair were not the first mobsters to visit Rao’s nor was it the first felony to unfold there (a 1995 arson gutted the place). The restaurant — which Charles Rao opened as a neighborhood saloon in 1896 — has been host to the likes of Lucky Luciano and John Gotti.

But legendary law enforcers were just as likely to be dining at Rao’s as goodfellas. Regulars included former NYPD Detective Bo Dietl, who showed up after the murder, and ex-prosecutor-turned-novelist Linda Fairstein, whose book covers adorn the walls. Former (and now incoming) Police Commissioner Bill Bratton broke bread there a half-dozen times and even Rudy Giuliani, when he was the mob-busting Manhattan US attorney, reportedly ventured there two decades ago. Legend has it that he was picked up on a wiretap and never went back.

The eatery was rebuilt after the fire, with a few more tables and crowds clamoring for a rarely granted reservation in a restaurant with only one seating a night. The place was closed on weekends.

Pellegrino, who played an FBI supervisor on “The Sopranos,” earned the nickname “Frankie No” for turning away diners.

• • •

He had a unique crowd-control measure. Regulars, including Ron Perelman and Tommy Mottola, got a table assigned to them one night a week. If they couldn’t make it, Pellegrino could seat whomever he wanted.

Grosso had a table on Mondays (and still does). The former NYPD detective had worked with partner Eddie Egan to break up the “French Connection” drug smuggling ring. In the movie, the first R-rated picture to win the Oscar, Grosso was played by Roy Scheider, and Egan by Gene Hackman.

Grosso had a bit part in the film, and also in “The Godfather,” playing an assassin. He went on to be a TV and movie producer.

One Monday night about 13 years ago, Grosso and Strober crossed paths at the restaurant.

Strober, who earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from Skidmore College, had just landed a spot in the touring company of “Les Miserables.”

A mutual friend of Strober’s and Grosso’s, who was a writer for the television show “Touched by an Angel,” brought her to Rao’s so Grosso could hear her sing.

“After one song, Sonny and I became very good friends,” she said.

They kept in touch while Strober was on tour. She returned to New York in 2001 and joined the Broadway cast of “Les Miserables” as an understudy for the waif Cosette. She became a regular at Grosso’s table on Monday nights.

Strober dined on lemon chicken, stuffed clams and Chianti.

“There were always the noodles that came out with the famous sauce with a dollop of ricotta, which I loved,” she said.

Pellegrino would put “My Girl” on the jukebox and walk around and sing, with patrons crooning along merrily.

Strober would sometimes join another Grosso guest, opera singer Michael Amante, in a rendition of “Time to Say Goodbye.”

The soprano sang for Bill Clinton and Billy Joel. Friends would call her on Tuesday mornings to ask what she had sung and whom she had sung for.

She said the tiny space at 114th Street and Pleasant Avenue, its walls lined with celebrity glossies, felt like a living room, and called Rao’s friendly staff her “famiglia.”

“I called it my Italian Passover seder every week,” she said.

Strober’s photo even earned a key spot on the eatery’s wall, right above the jukebox.

“It was never a gig,” she said. “It was merely people who loved music, and Frankie, who loved his clientele.”

• • •

As Strober belted out “Don’t Rain On My Parade” that night, singing toward the back of the restaurant, she was unaware of what was happening at the bar.

“Ah, shut up. Get her off. She sucks,” Circelli snarled to a friend, according to shooter Barone’s confession.

Barone made a “shhhh-ing” gesture by holding his index finger to his mouth. Then, he said, Circelli threatened him, saying “I’ll open up your hole. I’ll f–k you in the a–.”

“He had his finger in my face. I said, ‘You don’t have to talk to me like that,’ ” he told police.

The insults continued until, Barone said, “I was really mad. I had blood in my eyes.”

“I lost face. I had to defend my honor. I had no choice but to shoot him. I had no choice but to kill him.”

As Circelli started to leave, Barone pulled his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver out of his right pocket and shot him. As Circelli fell face down, he got off another round.

“I snapped at that point. I went ballistic,” he confessed.

The second bullet missed badly, hitting the foot of Albert Petraglia, a 57-year-old chief court clerk who had the misfortune of having a corpse land in front of him.

“He was staring up at me and I was staring down at him,” Petraglia told The Post at the time. “I felt sorry because I was going to the hospital and I knew he was going to the morgue.”

After the second shot, Barone dropped his gun, just like “The Godfather,” and walked outside, right into the path of two police officers. He told them someone had been shot. An off-duty cop who had been dining inside ran out and fingered him as the killer.

• • •

As the second shot rang out, Strober dove under her table and began to pray, first reciting the “shema,” the Jewish prayer that is a declaration of a faith and is said on a deathbed.

She was especially frightened for Grosso, who had gone to his car to get some of Amante’s CDs to give out as gifts. She did not know where he was.

“In my mind, having seen movies like this, I sort of flashed to someone taking us all out,” she said.

Strober called her boyfriend to come take her home to Brooklyn, her heart still racing. Within days her photo was all over the press, the face of a mob hit.

“I think Jay Leno was talking about it. It was everywhere,” she said. “This was the last thing I wanted. I might be an actress, but this is not how I wanted to be in the papers. A man was killed.”

Strober returned to Rao’s the next night to let Pellegrino and Grosso know she was OK, but the shooting haunted her. She jumped at an opportunity to leave town with another tour of “Les Miserables.”

While on tour she wrote a one-woman show called “Spaghetti and Matzo Balls,” which she described as how “being involved in that Italian world ironically led me back to my Jewish roots.” She performed it off-Broadway.

Strober moved to Los Angeles in 2009 and does voiceovers for cartoons and video games. She has acted in regional theater, but not again on Broadway.

Barone pleaded guilty in 2004 to manslaughter and assault and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He died in April of natural causes, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Although Rao’s now has outposts in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Strober has yet to visit them. Nor did she ever return to her regular Monday nights at the Harlem eatery, although she said she doesn’t regret her time there.

Instead, she joined the Friar’s Club and would sing there every Thursday night.

“I just figured old Jews with no guns is probably a better place for me,” she said.


Mobster plans to take the stand in his own defense at extortion trial

A reputed Colombo crime-family mobster who spent 22 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit is planning to play the sympathy card with jurors at his extortion trial next month.

Scott Fappiano, 52, of Staten Island became a poster boy for DNA-crime-scene testing in 2006 when he was cleared in the rape of a cop’s wife after more than two decades in the slammer.

Fappiano is now headed to trial in Manhattan Federal Court on Jan. 21 for allegedly helping to orchestrate a massive gangland effort to control the New York-New Jersey garbage-carting industry.

And he will “likely” testify on his own behalf, said his lawyer, Lee Ginsberg, to Judge Kevin Castel during a Dec. 20 hearing.

“I realize there’s parts [of the story the jury shouldn’t hear] because it would be viewed as sympathetic. But, if he testifies, in order for him to explain his life … I think it will have to come up,’’ Ginsberg said.

“I can’t put a client on the stand in a case where the jury has a 22-year hole that I can’t explain.”

When reached at his Todt Hill home on Friday, Fappiano told The Post that “it’s hard to tell’’ if jurors would be sympathetic after learning his story.

He pointed out that he won his freedom in the state court system and, “It’s a whole different ballgame in federal court.

“The deck is stacked against you there, but we’ll see,” he said.

Reputed wise guys rarely volunteer to testify in court because it could subject them being cross-examined about mob activities.

Fappiano was originally sentenced to 20 to 50 years in prison after a Brooklyn jury found him guilty of raping and sodomizing the woman in a brutal Dec. 1, 1983, attack. The woman’s cop husband was bound and forced to watch the horror.

At the time, Fappiano was a 22-year-old Bensonhurst wiseguy wannabe on probation for a juvenile sex offense.

The cop’s wife identified him from a mug shot, and prosecutors brought the case to trial despite Fappiano being a half-foot shorter than the 5-foot, 10-inch Italian-looking man she described as her attacker.

He remained in Attica before the Innocence Project got involved and cleared his name. The non-profit group’s lawyers tracked down a private Texas lab that had samples of jogging pants the victim was wearing at the time of the rape and found through testing that the male DNA on it didn’t match Fappiano.

But even after his stunning release, Fappiano still managed to find trouble.

He was one of 127 people arrested in 2011 in the biggest US mob racketeering crackdown ever.

He was sentenced to one month of time served and three years of probation after copping a plea to loan-sharking and extortion charges.

The Brooklyn federal judge who sentenced him, Kiyo Matsumoto, said Fappiano’s wrongful conviction in the rape case played a “very significant” role in her decision to not send him back to prison.

At his sentencing, Fappiano recounted some chilling prison ordeals, including having his face crushed with a pipe and cut with a razor blade and being stabbed in the back with an ice pick.

But he still couldn’t keep clean.

He was busted again in January along with 31 other reputed mobsters for allegedly scheming with rival Mafia families to shake down owners of legitimate garbage companies and secretly assume control of their operations.

Fappiano, a reputed Colombo member who is charged with trying to extort a waste-hauling company owner, has ties to the Gambino crime family, too.

He had three “made” uncles who rose to power in the Gambino ranks, including two notorious capos-turned-canaries, Frank “Frankie Fap” Fappiano and Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo.

His third Mafia uncle, the late Frank DeCicco, was “Dapper Don” John Gotti’s first underboss.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Infamous Canadian mob boss Vito Rizzuto dead at 67

Vito Rizzuto, the reputed Mafia boss of Canada, whose dapper outfits and ability to avoid prison led the authorities to call him the John Gotti of Montreal, died on Dec. 23 in Montreal. He was 67.
Mr. Rizzuto died of natural causes, Maude Hébert-Chaput, a spokeswoman for Sacré-Coeur Hospital, told The Associated Press. There were widespread reports that he had been receiving treatment for lung cancer.
Working with the Bonanno crime family in New York, Mr. Rizzuto ran an international drug smuggling operation that imported heroin and cocaine and distributed it in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, the authorities said. His father ran the operation before him.
“Compared to what New York-based authorities were used to looking at, the breadth of geography and intertwining connections of the Rizzuto organization surprised even seasoned investigators,” Lee Lamothe and Adrian Humphreys wrote in the book “The Sixth Family: The Collapse of the New York Mafia and the Rise of Vito Rizzuto.”
In a 2004 column on his website, then called This Week in Gang Land, Jerry Capeci, an expert on the Mafia, compared Mr. Rizzuto to Mr. Gotti, the longtime head of the Gambino crime family in New York, who died in 2002.
“Like Gotti in his heyday, Rizzuto is known as a flashy dresser who was tough to convict,” Mr. Capeci wrote. “He beat two major drug smuggling cases between 1987 and 1990 and his only jail time was a two-year bit for arson in 1972. As a result, he has often been compared to the Dapper Don by the Montreal press, and police.”
But Mr. Rizzuto’s luck ran out in 2004, when he was arrested in Montreal on racketeering charges related to a gangland shooting in Brooklyn that inspired a bloody scene in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco,” starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.
In the shooting, on May 5, 1981, Mr. Rizzuto and three other men burst from the closet of a Brooklyn social club and shot three Bonanno captains who had been challenging the family’s leadership, the authorities said. The shooters wore ski masks to make the killing look like a robbery, but the authorities said it had been ordered by Joseph Massino, then a senior Bonanno captain.
Mr. Rizzuto was extradited to the United States in 2006. He pleaded guilty in 2007 and was sent to prison in Florence, Colo.
While he was in prison, organized crime in Montreal fell into chaos and many of his relatives were murdered. His father was killed by a sniper while standing in his kitchen, and his eldest son, Nicolo, was shot and killed. His brother-in-law disappeared, the keys still in the ignition of his Infiniti.
Before his death, Mr. Rizzuto had been working to reclaim control of the mob and exact revenge, experts said. Since his return to Canada in 2012, there have been nine mob-connected murders there, Mr. Capeci said on his website.
“Vito Rizzuto gets out, and this immediately happens,” Pierre de Champlain, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence analyst and author of a book about the Mafia, told The Globe and Mail after one such killing in 2012. “If it’s a coincidence, it would be a very strange one.”
Victor Rizzuto was born in the village of Cattolica Eraclea in Sicily on Feb. 21, 1946. His family moved to Canada in the mid-1950s, and Mr. Rizzuto married Giovanna Cammalleri in 1966. Survivors include his wife; a sister, Maria Renda; and two children, Leonardo and Bettina, both lawyers.
Despite the spate of killings after he left prison, Mr. Rizzuto once had a reputation as a peacemaker in mob circles.
Mr. Lamothe credited him with “bringing calm to an underworld that at times was out of control” in the 1970s by, for example, arranging an end to a dispute between the Hells Angels and a rival motorcycle gang.
“Mr. Rizzuto’s management style was pretty unique, at least compared to American crime figures, who went to violence as an instant default,” Mr. Lamothe wrote in an email. “He was born into the Mafia and, from his father, inherited the ‘Sicilian view’: Better to share than to shoot.”


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Genovese associate seeks millions of dollars for unjust conviction

 Mario Fortunato a Brooklyn baker and acquittal maker wants some dough for false mob raps.
Someone who has been tried for murder not once but twice would most likely not want to see the inside of a court again — but this baker’s on a legal roll.

Reputed Genovese associate Mario Fortunato, who twice beat the rap for a gangland murder, is now headed to trial in civil court in a bid to recoup millions of dollars from the state for what he calls his “unjust conviction and imprisonment,” the Daily News has learned.

Fortunato, a co-owner of Fortunato Brothers Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has won a major legal victory over state prosecutors in the Court of Claims that allows him the potential to get payback in civil court.

“It’s a critical decision,” his lawyer, Irving Cohen, told The News. “It means the case will either be settled or go to trial.”

Judge Alan Marin rejected the state attorney general’s argument that Fortunato got himself convicted because he initially lied to a detective by claiming he had already left a card game in the San Giuseppe Social Club on Graham Ave. in East Williamsburg when a Mafia hit spilled blood in 1994.

Pasqualina Lombardi, mother of Sabatino "Tino" Lombardi, celebrates with a cry of "Revenge!" outside the courtroom after a judge convicted Mario Fortunato for Lombardi's 1994 murder. That conviction was overturned.

Fortunato, now 60, was tried and convicted in Brooklyn Federal Court for the rubout of loanshark Tino Lombardi and the wounding of the victim’s cousin Michael D’Urso. After the conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office brought Fortunato to trial in state Supreme Court, getting a conviction, which was also overturned, this time in the state Appellate Division.

Fortunato’s civil suit, Cohen said, seeks monetary damages only for the two years in prison he served following the state conviction.

Judge Marin ruled Wednesday that Fortunato’s inconsistent statements — after his initial fib, he later admitted to another detective that he was in fact present for the shooting — did not disqualify him from a right to sue the state under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act of 1984.

A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment.

Fortunato’s co-defendant in the case, pizzamaker Carmine Polito, also won a reversal of his federal murder conviction and was acquitted of murder at trial in a state court in 2007.

After he survived the shooting, D’Urso became a government informant and wore a hidden recording device in his Rolex watch which secured evidence that brought down dozens of Genovese gangsters, including Vincent "Chin" Gigante, then boss of the Genovese crime family.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Whitey Bulger transferred to federal prison in Oklahoma

Former Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger was moved to a federal prison in Oklahoma on Monday, although a prosecutor there said officials haven't yet decided whether to try him for a 1981 murder in Tulsa.
It appeared to be a coincidence that the 84-year-old gangster was taken from Brooklyn, N.Y., to FTC Oklahoma City, a transfer point that houses inmates as they are moved between prisons. Chris Burke, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, would not say where Bulger is ultimately headed, citing Bureau of Prisons policy.
Tulsa County First Assistant District Attorney Doug Drummond said Tuesday his office did not know Bulger was being transferred to Oklahoma City, and referred inquiries to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
"If he is in Oklahoma, we had no knowledge of that," Drummond said in an email to The Associated Press. "I think BOP would be the agency to address that. No connection as far as I am aware."
Drummond said prosecutors are still discussing whether to move forward with a murder case against Bulger in the 1981 killing of businessman Roger Wheeler.
Wheeler, the owner of World Jai Alai, suspected Bulger's group of skimming money from the business, and he was shot between the eyes at a Tulsa country club. Ex-hit man John Martorano testified at Bulger's trial that he was the shooter.
Last month, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris told the Tulsa World that prosecutors would take into consideration Bulger's federal sentence as they decide whether to try him.
Wheeler's daughter, Pam, has said she didn't want Bulger extradited to Tulsa, saying it would be a waste of taxpayer money.
"It took this long to come to a partial resolution. Just let it end there," she told the Tulsa World in August.
Federal prosecutors in Boston, Bulger's attorneys and Wheeler's son and his attorney did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Spokesmen for the U.S. Marshals Service in Oklahoma City and Tulsa said they had no information on why Bulger was transferred.
Bulger was moved out of Massachusetts in November.
A federal judge in Boston last week ordered Bulger to pay $6 million in restitution to Wheeler's family. The mobster previously was ordered to pay $19.5 million in restitution to his other victims' families and forfeit $25 million to the government.
Investigators found $822,000 in cash stashed in his apartment walls when he was caught in Santa Monica, Calif., after more than 16 years on the run.


John Gotti's famous lawyer takes plea for punching man at steakhouse

Famed mob lawyer Bruce Cutler got his steakhouse sucker punch case tossed Wednesday — and says a move to Brooklyn might help cure his anger issues.

The camera-friendly former mouth piece for late mafia boss John Gotti slugged another lawyer dining at the Porter House in Columbus Circle on Nov. 7.

Cutler, 65, says the “pressure cooker” of living in Manhattan is making him consider a change of scenery.

"I'm thinking about moving to Brooklyn, where I can live a little more stress-free."

"I'd like to live in one of those new neighborhoods, ride a bike, walk around."

He said he'd try yoga to chill out "if the right girl asked me to."

Cutler has to attend one anger management class after the case was adjourned.

"My fighting days are over. The only fighting I'm going to do is in court," the legal eagle told the Daily News after taking the deal.

"I should not engage in that kind of activity. I should've let him be," Cutler said of his victim, white shoe attorney John Aiello, 38, of Brooklyn.

"He's probably a decent guy."

In a Gotti-like reaction, Cutler confronted Aiello because he felt his table was being too loud and "disrespectful in a nice restaurant."

"I said, 'Fellas, that's not nice to do that,' " Cutler recalled from a diner near Midtown Community Court, where he took the deal.

"Then I let my temper get the best of me. It's not the way a man should conduct himself.... I'm not a brawler per se."

Cutler's misdemeanor assault case will be dismissed after a grace period if he remains out of trouble.

"It was interesting to me, and humbling, and educational," he said, about being a client instead of a lawyer.

"I gave out a lot of cards and saw old friends."

He said he felt it was "educational and feeling like you are part of the greater mass."

"I champion the common man, always have and always will."


Colombo gangster submits leniency letters from priests and NYPD chaplain in bid to avoid jail

BLESS me Father, I have sinned and don't want to go to the slammer.

A reputed Colombo mobster has submitted letters from a half-dozen Catholic priests — including an NYPD chaplain — seeking leniency from the judge who will sentence him for racketeering.

Angelo "Little Angelo" Spata is praying the divine intervention will whittle down the up to 21 months in prison he faces for money laundering and illegal gambling.

The tributes were all written to Brooklyn Federal Judge Kiyo Matsumoto months ago, long before Spata was busted again on Nov. 18 for shoplifting $164 worth of lighting equipment from Home Depot in Coney Island.

"He is certainly a good friend to the church and the community at large," stated Msgr. David Cassato, pastor of St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst and a longtime NYPD chaplain.

Several letters praised Spata, who owns a company that operates neighborhood feasts and carnivals, for donating food and rides to the stricken community after Hurricane Sandy.

The Rev. Alfred LoPinto of St. Helen Church in Queens said Spata, 39, provided two large generators to power the Howard Beach school's gym.

"Countless 'honorable' men in our community refuse to help our cash-strapped parish and have turned their backs on us, but from day one, Mr. Spata has and is committed to helping us succeed in bringing fun events to help our children enjoy their neighborhood and church," wrote the Rev. Michael Louis Gelfant of St. Finbar Catholic Church in Bath Beach.

Federal prosecutors paint a darker picture of Spata, contending that as the son-in-law of Colombo crime boss Carmine "The Snake"Persico and brother-in-law of acting boss Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, he holds a unique position in gangland.

Spata was proposed for induction as a goodfella in August 2010 but the ceremony was called off, according to court papers.

Prosecutors say Spata "leveraged his reputation" as mob royalty to extort fees from vendors at the Figli di Santa Rosalia festival in Brooklyn. He also allegedly passed a message from Alphonse Persico in jail to a Colombo soldier on the street about loansharking.

"He generally was able to wield more power within the Colombo crime family than other associates due to his familial relationship with the Persicos," prosecutors Elizabeth Geddes, Allon Lifshitz and Gina Parlovecchio stated in court papers.

The feds dismissed Spata's charity, noting that he's a multimillionaire and was simply donating free services from his company while reaping the public relations benefit from patrons in the community.For their part, the priests aren't venturing into virgin territory by writing letters for organized crime figures. Cassato previously sought breaks for Colombo capo Michael Uvino, Colombo associate Joseph Virzi and Gambino soldier Vincent Dragonetti.

Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello of St. Bernard Church in Brooklyn penned two letters on behalf of Dragonetti for each of his last two convictions, in addition to the Spata letter.

The Rev. Joseph Fonti praised Spata and Bonanno consigliore Anthony "Fat Anthony" Rabito; Father Joseph Calise knew Spata from the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg, where he has "always been a gentleman with me and has treated our dealings with honesty and integrity."

While butter melts in Gelfant's mouth describing Spata, the priest has used his Twitter pulpit to bash Mayor Bloomberg (ticketing the church for safety violations is a "Bloomberg scam"); Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio (Gelfant tweeted the Daily News front page of Raymond Kelly saying the mayor elect is full of shit); and incoming Police Commissioner William Bratton ("I cringe every time I hear the accent").


Prosecutors attempt to show that Uncle Joe intimidated wedding photographer

The photo of Joseph Ligambi, taken at a mob associate's wedding three years ago, captured the reputed mob boss in less troubled times.
Decked out in a dark suit and tie, and surrounded by a dozen close friends and family members at the Curtis Center, his face bore a smile not often seen in recent days in a federal courtroom here.
But what that image meant, and its potential implications for Ligambi's criminal case, was the subject of testimony Friday as his racketeering retrial ended its sixth week.
Prosecutors contend the photo shows the purported Mafia don alongside his network of loan sharks, bookmakers, and mob enforcers. Ligambi's defense maintains that the government has mistaken a simple family gathering for the wedding scene in The Godfather.
In any case, Mark Louis Scoleri, the South Philadelphia photographer who captured that happy tableau, told jurors Friday he knew exactly which image the FBI was looking for when an agent showed up on his doorstep. Scoleri was presented with a subpoena for all of his photos from the 2010 wedding reception of Anthony Staino, a made man.
"I figured he was looking for that one photograph I took of the group," he said. "I knew he didn't want to look at no bride and groom photos."
Scoleri's testimony lies at the core of a witness-intimidation charge against Ligambi. While jurors have spent weeks hearing of the 74-year-old's alleged involvement in loan-sharking, illegal gambling, and extortion as part of the conspiracy case against him, prosecutors sought Friday to show that Ligambi fought back as an FBI investigation closed in around him.
Agents who had Staino's nuptials under surveillance were interested in the photo for the glimpse it provided into Ligambi's relationships with other reputed mob figures whose names had surfaced in their investigation.
Scoleri, who photographed dozens of family events for the Ligambis over 20 years, said he immediately called his client after that visit from the FBI. The reputed mob boss paid the photographer a visit.
As soon as he arrived, Scoleri told the jury, Ligambi placed his hand on his shoulder and said, "Don't give them that picture."
"We were talking real close," the photographer said. "We were right next to each other."
At first, Scoleri did as he was told. But once investigators questioned him about the photo's absence, he turned it over.
Prosecutors contend that Ligambi's instructions amount to an act of intimidation. But despite what he described as a momentary lapse, Scoleri conceded under questioning from Ligambi's lawyer that he never felt threatened by Ligambi.


Jury follows the money trail at Philadelphia mob trial

FOLLOW THE money, right?

Depending on who's talking, the money flow could appear shady or innocent.

During the federal racketeering conspiracy retrial of reputed Philly mob boss Joseph Ligambi, 74, and his nephew, onetime mob consigliere George Borgesi, 50, jurors yesterday looked at two charts showing fund disbursements to a reputed mob leader, Anthony "Ant" Staino Jr., and to Ligambi's wife, Olivia Ligambi.

The money came from JMA Industries Inc., for which Staino filed an application for a fictitious name in 2001 with the Pennsylvania Department of State. Staino was the company's president.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Suzanne Ercole, IRS special agent Scott Fitzpatrick yesterday walked jurors through two charts showing how a portion of $684,073 in cash deposits into JMA Industries' business account ended up in Staino's personal accounts or in checks to Olivia Ligambi.

From July 2002 to June 2009, Staino signed $285,031 in checks to himself. The majority of that money ended up in his personal checking accounts.

Meanwhile, from 2004 to 2009, $107,977 in checks was issued to Olivia Ligambi, with memos on the checks saying they were for payroll. About $90,000 of that ended up in her personal checking account. Another $13,000 in checks were cashed at a check-cashing place in South Philly.

Authorities have alleged that Joseph Ligambi, Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, the reputed underboss of the mob, and Staino set up JMA Industries as a front company to funnel illegal income from their video-poker-machine business. JMA was derived from the first initials of their names or nicknames - Joe, Mousie and Anthony, authorities have said.

During his cross-examination of Fitzpatrick, Ligambi's attorney, Edwin Jacobs Jr., made the large monetary figures on the charts seem not so huge. He noted that $684,073 over a seven-year period, from 2002 to 2009, was less than $100,000 a year.

The $285,031 in checks made out to Staino, who was listed as president and a signatory of the company, when divided over a seven-year period, came out to about $40,000 a year. For Olivia Ligambi, the $107,977 over a six-year period, came out to $17,996 a year. The checks had the proper taxes withheld and looked like proper payroll checks, Fitzpatrick acknowledged.

"You didn't see Joe Ligambi['s name] on these documents?" Jacobs asked.

"No," Fitzpatrick said.


Colombo family underboss dies while serving 100 year prison sentence

Former Annadale resident Gennaro "Gerry Lang" Langella, 74, the convicted underboss in the Colombo crime family who was serving a 100-year prison sentence, died Sunday in the U.S. Medical Center for Prisons in Springfield, Missouri, a facility for federal inmates with chronic medical problems.

Langella was admitted to the medical center in December 2008, according to a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, who declined to provide information about his medical condition and cause of death.

Langella was tried with seven others in a highly publicized case, known as the "Mafia Commission Trial," that started in September 1986 in Federal District Court in downtown Manhattan's Foley Square, at the time when former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani served as U.S. attorney.

Lead defendants in the trial included Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, 75, head of the Genovese crime family; Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, head of the Lucchese family, and Carmine "Junior" Persico, the Colombo family boss.

Citing Racketeer-Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) conspiracy violations, prosecutors built a successful case that the defendants belonged to a "commission" that had handled Mafia business since the 1930s, encompassing everything from loan-sharking and extortion to murder.

The trial lasted 10 weeks, and all eight defendants were found guilty in November 1986.

The chief prosecutor, Michael Chertoff, said after the verdict that the eight were "directing the largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States."

Then-U.S. Attorney Giuliani commented: "The verdict reached today has resulted in dismantling the ruling council of La Cosa Nostra."

At the sentencing hearing in January 1987, U.S. District Judge Richard Owen addressed each defendant, individually. He started with Salerno, but said that his words applied to the other seven men as well: "You, sir, in my opinion, essentially spent all your lifetime terrorizing this community to your financial gain."

Seven of the defendants, including Langella, received 100-year sentences in federal prison.

Langella had already been sentenced to 65 years in November 1986 in a separate racketeering case so the judge ruled that he could serve the sentences concurrently.

"I can't say it's the end of the commission," Giuliani said after the sentences were handed down. "But it makes it much more difficult to operate that kind of an operation."

Former New York Times investigative reporter and crime writer Selwyn Raab described Langella as "a ruthless arrogant loan shark and drug trafficker" in his critically acclaimed book, "Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires."

Langella's speech "was peppered with expletives," Raab wrote. "He was considered a vain clotheshorse and unlike more contemporary Hollywood gangster attire he favored double-breasted blazers, sporty open collar shirts and wrap around sunglasses. He was a regular patron of the Casa Sorta restaurant in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where he would hold meetings with associates".

Judge refuses to let Genovese wiseguy attend New York Rangers hockey game

He’ll have to watch the Rangers game from home.

A Brooklyn federal judge swatted away a hockey-loving mafioso’s request to break the terms of his court-imposed house-arrest curfew to attend a New York Rangers game this Sunday, according to a court filing.

Judge Pamela Chen blocked Genovese crime family associate Felice Masullo’s application to watch his beloved blueshirts whack the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden.

Masullo appealed to Chen to suspend his 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew to go the game after the Probation Department said the allowance would set a “bad precedent” in allowing crooks to break curfew for sporting events.

Once considered an up-and-coming Genovese hoodlum with designs on becoming a made man, Masullo served an eight-month prison term on illegal gambling raps and is currently on six months of post-release supervision.

Chen did not offer a reason for the rejection, only writing “motion denied,” on the application.


Judge sentences Little Tony to life in prison for 2001 murder

Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari will spend the rest of his life in prison for the 2001 mob-style murder of South Florida businessman Konstaninos “Gus” Boulis who ran a fleet of gambling ships and founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain.

Thursday morning, Broward Circuit Court Judge Ilona Holmes sentenced Ferrari to life in prison without parole.

A jury this week recommended life without parole for the 56-year-old Ferrari in Boulis’ murder. Judge Holmes indicated she would follow that recommendation at Thursday’s sentencing, rather than imposing the death penalty.

Before sentencing, the sister of Gus Boulis who has been in court every day, had the opportunity to make a final statement. She had a prosecutor read from a letter she hand wrote.

“We still need prayers, faith and support to overcome the next trial, Moscatiellos. In order to start healing from this tragic loss,” wrote Mersina Koumoulidis.

Ferrari also had the opportunity to address the judge, but he didn’t say much.

“Your honor, I just wanted to thank the court for its time. That’s all I’m going to say and the staff and everyone concerned. That’s all I have to say your honor.”

Testimony showed that Ferrari and Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello plotted to have Boulis killed by a mob hit man in a battle for control of the SunCruz fleet.

Boulis was gunned down in his car on a Ft. Lauderdale street twelve years ago.

Moscatiello allegedly has ties to the Gambino crime family.

Moscatiello got a mistrial when his attorney became ill and will be retried later.

Ferrari has plans to appeal but is out of money and has to have a court appointed attorney for that appeal.


Grandson of murdered Gambino mob boss accused for running illegal carting business

He wanted to haul dirt, but said his name is mud, according to authorities.

The grandson of one of Staten Island's most notorious mobsters is accused of running an illegal waste carting business and griping to investigators that he'll never get a license because of his name.

Paul A. Castellano, 39, is the grandson of Paul (Big Paul) Castellano, the slain mafia boss who was gunned down outside of the Sparks Steak House in Manhattan in 1985.

On Wednesday, he was hit with a misdemeanor charge of operating a business without a trade waste license, after a dump truck owned by his business, American Materials Inc., was caught picking up excavating material from a construction site at 53 Wadsworth Ave. in Fort Wadsworth.

Said Castellano, according to a law enforcement source, "They'll never give me a license because of my name."

Castellano had, in fact, applied for a license in April 2006, but withdrew that application in 2008, the source said.

Investigators with the city's Business Integrity Commission took photos of Castellano operating the truck and picking up dirt personally, the source said.

The criminal complaint against Castellano offers more of his alleged statements to a BIC investigator: "I pick up dirt. I tried to get a license. They will never give me a license. I didn't want a denial on my record so I withdrew the application from BIC. I own the company. I won't do it again."

Castellano's business is located at 2945 Richmond Terr. in Mariners Harbor, and he lives on the 300 block of Ashland Avenue in Prince's Bay.

According to a BIC official, Castellano's company applied to the BIC for a Class-2 Exempt registration in April 2006, but withdrew that application two and a half years later, in October of 2008.

Trade waste applications are reviewed by the BIC's background investigations and legal units to make sure applicants meet the city's standards of "good character, honesty and integrity," the BIC official said.

Castellano's grandfather, who lived in a Todt Hill mansion, was often called "the real-life godfather," and his death has become legend in the city's organized crime history.

On Dec. 16, 1985, a four-man hit crew working for John Gotti waited outside the Sparks Steak House, wearing Black Russian fur hats and pale trenchcoats, and when Castellano got out of his car on his way to dinner, they riddled him with bullets.

Back in 2004, the city Buildings Department issued a violation to the grandson after heavy equipment crashed into a 10-foot-high brick retaining wall at 2945 Richmond Terr., sending a 15-foot section crashing onto the roadway between Harbor Road and Bush Avenue. Paul A. Castellano was listed as an officer of The Storage Bin Inc., which owned the property. That violation was ultimately dismissed, though the property still shows numerous active violations, according to the Buildings Department website.

If convicted, the grandson could face a criminal fine of up to $10,000 and a civil fine of up to $5,000 for each day he's in violation of city code and up to six months in jail, according to information from District Attorney Daniel Donovan's office.

He was arraigned in Stapleton Criminal Court on Wednesday, and released on his own recognizance until his next court date Feb. 4.

Castellano did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.


Gambling operation and pill ring linked to the Colombo family busted

These longshoremen worked docks with 30-ton shipping containers, where one false move could easily crush someone.

And some were high on oxycodone at the time, prosecutors allege.

On Wednesday, District Attorney Daniel Donovan announced that investigators busted up a drug conspiracy headed by a dirty doctor and chiropractor that sold some 1.8 million oxycodone pills to longshoremen on Staten Island and in Brooklyn and others over the past four years.

"Some of this equipment is 10 stories high. They pick up boxes that are 45 feet tall, that weigh 60,000 pounds," said John Hennelly, the chief of police for the Waterfront Commission. "Put 60,000 pounds in the wrong place at the wrong time, somebody dies."

The complicated plot involved workers compensation fraud and insurance fraud, with the conspirators enlisting the help of a New Jersey pharmacist to fill the doctor's scripts when pharmacies on the Island rejected them.

The wiretaps used to break up the conspiracy also led prosecutors to an online gambling operation run by a Colombo crime family associate, authorities said.

On Wednesday, Donovan announced the arrest of nine people, including Dr. Mihir Bhatt, 47, the physician allegedly at the top of the conspiracy's food chain; chiropractor Thomas E. Dinardo, 44; Steven John Alcaras, 42, who authorities say coordinated the doctor's dealings with the longshoremen; and Rita Patel, 48, the pharmacist in charge of Shayona Pharmacy in Perth Amboy, N.J.

"My father, as many of you may know, worked as a longshoreman for 40 years on the piers in Tompkinsville, and then after they had closed, worked for many years at Howland Hook. So I grew up knowing the dangers of the job of a longshoreman. I can't imagine how those risks were multiplied when those people showed up to work high on narcotics, and the dangers that they put fellow longshoremen in," Donovan said at a press conference in his St. George office Wednesday morning. "But that's exactly what happened here - longshoremen abusing painkillers, prescribed to them by a pill-pushing doctor and a criminal chiropractor who conspired to rip off millions from insurance companies in a complex insurance scheme."

Investigators have thus far seized roughly $6.1 million of the alleged plotters' assets, as well as 12 pounds of gold from Dr. Bhatt.

Dr. Bhatt would see his patients at the New York City Wellness Center at 4870 Hylan Blvd., which Dinardo owned and operated, and he'd also work out of medical offices at 456 Arlene St. and 3733 Richmond Ave. on Staten Island, Donovan said. He'd also dispense prescriptions from his home in Edison, N.J., yet tell insurance companies he was prescribing from one of his medical offices, Donovan said.

"Over a four-year period, Bhatt prescribed nearly 2 million pills, enough to cover seven miles if they were put piece by piece," Donovan said.

Patients were told to come back for chiropractic and medical treatments, and "these exams, if done at all, were done solely to support a long-term insurance billing scheme and the dispensing of oxycodone prescriptions," he said.
The longshoremen indicted in the scheme were assigned to either Brooklyn Cruise Terminal or the New York Container Terminal at Howland Hook, Donovan said.

"Based on Dinardo's concerns about law enforcement, Dinardo advised Dr. Bhatt about which patients, pharmacies and pills might generate unwanted attention," reads the 108-page indictment outlining the alleged drug conspiracy. "Dinardo counseled Dr. Bhatt how to avoid law enforcement attention, and flagged patients who presented a risk of discovery of (the wellness center's) fraudulent activities due to their age, reputation for talking too much, and likelihood of getting caught in illegal pill-related activities."

Dinardo used a lookout to watch out for possible law enforcement interference at the wellness center, Donovan said.
Alcaras, who was assigned to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, arranged prescription pickups, and would tell the doctor and chiropractor which longshoremen were suitable patients, prosecutors said.

"Alcaras also spoke frequently with Dr. Bhatt and Dinardo about his concerns regarding law enforcement discovery of his criminal activities," reads the indictment against the ring.

He'd also coordinate which longshoremen needed bogus medical exams, or, often doctor's notes to prevent them from losing their jobs through "decasualization" because they haven't put in enough days at work, prosecutors said.

"Some of the longshoremen also evaded drug tests at work, using devices like prosthetics, cleansing drinks and synthetic urine to try and pass the test. Believe it - there's such a thing as synthetic urine," Donovan said.

For all their caution, though, investigators still uncovered the scheme, through confidential informants, a camera placed inside an office, and wiretaps over the course of a 20-month probe, Donovan said. The investigation was conducted by the NYPD; the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security; and several state agencies.

The suspects also include Nicholas Tornabene, 28, a longshoreman at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal and his twin brother, Charles, a laborer; Rosario Savastano, 28, and Christopher Galasso, both longshoremen at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal; and Joseph Favuzza, 29, a longshoreman at Howland Hook who was suspended last year because of separate cases.
Favuzza, a reputed Colombo crime family associate, was caught on wiretaps setting up an online gambling operation, Donovan said.

As for Ms. Patel, she lined her pockets by charging patients more than their insurance company co-pays to fill prescriptions, Donovan alleged.

At the height of the conspiracy, Shayona Pharmacy ordered more than 800,000 oxycodone tablets annually in 2010 and 2011, though that number dropped sharply in 2012 and 2013, after New Jersey instituted a prescription monitoring program.
This past August, New York state put its own beefed-up monitoring program into effect, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed its creation into law last year.

Though doctors used to have limited access to data about high-risk patients, under the new law, they're now required to log into a new database -- dubbed I-STOP, or the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing -- when they prescribe controlled substances.

Pharmacists also have access to the database, which provides patients' up-to-the minute prescription history.
Ms. Patel's involvement in scheme scheme highlights the need for a national database, Donovan said. "We have three bridges that cross to New Jersey," he said.

Dr. Bhatt, Dinardo, of the 3,700 block of Amboy Road in Great Kills, and Alcaras, of the 700 block of Katan Avenue in Eltingville, all face enterprise corruption charges, which carry a maximum 25-year prison sentence if they're convicted at trial.
Dr. Bhatt was arrested Tuesday in New Jersey and is awaiting extradition, while Dinardo and Alcaras were arrested on Staten Island Tuesday and are being held on $90,000 and $77,500 bail respectively.

Ms. Patel, of Matawan, who was arrested in New Jersey and awaits extradition, could face a maximum of 15 years behind bars on the top charge against her, criminal sale of a controlled substance.

Nicholas Tornabene, of Brooklyn, who's accused of selling drugs as well, could face up to 9 years behind bars, and is being held on $25,000 bail. His twin brother and Savastano, also of Brooklyn, and Galasso, of the 400 block of Fanning Street in Castleton Corners, all face up to seven years behind bars for their role in the scheme, and are being held on $15,000 bail.

Favuzza, of Fahy Avenue in Graniteville, faces up to four years in prison on promoting gambling charges. He's being held on $5,000 bail.


Questions mount as government wraps up case against Uncle Joe and the Philadelphia mafia

The question went to the heart of the case against mob boss Joe Ligambi.

After verbally sparring with an FBI undercover agent over a $25,000 cash payment by Anthony Staino that was either a loanshark transaction or an investment in an illegal (and ficticious) money-laundering scheme set up by the FBI, Edwin Jacobs Jr. asked, "What does Joe Ligambi have to do with that?"

That's the question, applied on several different levels, that Jacobs hopes the jury in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi takes with it when deliberations begin sometime next month.

Absent a smoking gun (literally and figuratively), the prosecution has built the racketeering conspiracy charge against Ligambi around the criminal activities of other mobsters. Some examples  -- a sports betting operation run by Gary Battaglini for mob leader Steven Mazzone; the loansharking/extortion gambit for which Staino was convicted in the first trial earlier this year, and the operation of a video poker machine company (JMA) by Staino.

The prosecution says they support the conspiracy charge; that Ligambi as mob boss approved of and benefitted from the crimes committed by his underlings. The defense says the evidence, weak and circumstantial, does not tie Ligambi, 74, to the allegations.

The only thing that really matters is what the jury thinks. And the anonymously chosen panel probably won't get to debate those points until sometime next month.

The prosecution is expected to conclude its presentation of witnesses and evidence when the trial resumes on Dec. 30 after a one-week break for the Christmas holiday. At that point, the defense will begin calling its witnesses.

The government has also used secretly recorded conversations, some dating back more than 10 years, to support the charge that Ligambi sat at the top of the Philadlelphia crime family.

There was the four-hour lunch meeting at LaGriglia, the North Jersey restaurant, in May 2010 in which Ligambi and three Philadelphia mobsters broke bread with leaders of the Gambino crime family. One of the Gambino soldiers, however, was cooperating and wearing a body wire.

There were tapes of Gary Battaglini discussing bookmaking and loansharking with a cooperating witness in 2002 and, on one tape, telling the cooperator that part of the payment he made each month was kicked up to Ligambi.

And there was Staino, on tape with undercover FBI agent David Sebatiani -- posing as a hustler and financial wheeler-dealer named Dino. Staino boasted about his ties to the mob, describing himself as the "CFO" and a member of the "board of directors" of the crime family.

While more focused than its prosecution in the first trial, the government's case against Ligambi is still largely circumstantial, a fact that Jacobs has alluded to again and again during the six-week trial. Despite an investigation that extended from 1999 to 2012, Ligambi's voice is seldom heard on tape.

And when it is, the mob boss's comments are often innocuous and open to various benign interpretations.

Frequently sarcastic and certainly profane, Ligambi largely kept his own counsel. Even at the LaGriglia meeting, his comments were less than incriminating. He joked about the father of an alleged member of a rival mob faction coming to his door after being told by the FBI that Ligambi planned to kill his son.

"I said, `What the fuck you talking about?'" Ligambi said, recounting the encounter which occurred on his South Philadelphia doorstep. "`Don't ever come around this house again. I don't know what you're talking about.' I mean, that's, that's the kind of nuts you're dealing with."

At another point he told a story about a mob associate who was so broke "the guy was selling cakes out of the trunk of his car." Ligambi also drew a laugh with a comment about the associate's girlfriend whom he described as "the broken down broad he was going out with in Florida."

He referred to Ralph Natale, a mob boss who had become a government witness, as "that rat motherfucker." And drew more laughter when he told the story about a phone call that came to his home from a North Jersey mobster who had gotten Ligambi's number from Rita Merlino, Skinny Joey's mother.

"It was Joey's mother," he said. "I told her, what're you giving this guy my number for? What the hell's the matter with you?"

But there are other comments that support the government's position, including an introduction made by Joseph "Scoops" Licata at the opening of the LaGriglia meeting. Introducing Ligambi to the New York mobsters, Licata said, "Our acting boss, Joe Ligambi, Philadelphia."

With the government's case all but completed, it's clear that it won't be Ligambi's words, but the words of others, that will determine his fate.

The same is true for Borgesi.

The case against the volatile 50-year-old mobster is built almost entirely around the testimony of two mob associates who became government witnesses.

If the jury believes the story Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick told from the witness stand, Borgesi was running a mob bookmaking and loansharking operation from prison where he was serving a 14-year sentence for a 2001 racketeering conviction.

Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, has attacked the credibility and motivation of both witnesses, claiming they implicated Borgesi with lies and half-truths, presenting a story that curries favor with the government and gets them out from under their own criminal problems.

Several defense witnesses who are expected to be called after the Christmas break will offer testimony to back up that claim.

Who do you trust?

Who do you believe?

Reasonable doubt?

Those are the questions that Warren wants the jury to consider.

Both defendants have been in this situation before.

In the first trial, which ended in February, Borgesi beat 13 of the 14 counts he faced and Ligambi was acquitted on five of nine charges. But the jury hung on the other counts, leading to the retrial that began in November.

The jury in the first trial appeared to reject Monacello's testimony (Aponick was not called as a witness in that case) finding Borgesi not guilty of specific loansharking and sports betting charges but inexplicably hanging on the overarching racketeering conspiracy charge.

The jury hung on that same count against Ligambi as well as on two gambling counts and on a witness tampering count which are also part of the ongoing trial. (Overall, after three weeks of rambling deliberations, the jury in the first trial delivered not guilty verdicts on 46 charges, hung on 11 others and delivered just five guilty verdicts. Four of the seven defendants in that case, however, are now serving lengthy jail terms. One, Licata, was acquitted, and Ligambi and Borgesi are still fighting.)

With its convoluted verdict, the jury in the first trial apparently couldn't answer the key question posed by Jacobs earlier this week.

"What does Joe Ligambi have to do with that?"

We're not sure, the jury verdict seemed to say. Or, more to the point, we can't agree.

But this is a different jury. And it has heard a more focused government case. How it answers that question will determine Ligambi's fate. And what it thinks of Monacello and Aponick will go a long way toward determining Borgesi's future.

Speculation mounts that jailed gangster will cooperate with the government

The racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi was temporarily derailed this afternoon by a Philadelphia Daily News story about mob associate Ron Galati.

Meanwhile speculation mounted that the South Philadelphia auto-body shop operator may be considering cooperating with authorities.

Galati, 63, abruptly replaced Joseph Santaguida as his attorney today with Anthony Voci, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant District Attorney. Santaguida said he was informed of the change in a telephone conversation with Galati's son this afternoon. Santaguida had met with Galati at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility this morning.

"He didn't say anything (about changing attorneys)," Santaguida said. "Then I heard from his son."

Santaguida said he wouldn't speculate about the change. Galati is scheduled for a bail hearing on Monday. Several observers say that if he is granted bail -- which was considered unlikely at the time of his arrest -- it could be a sign that he has cut a deal with the District Attorney's Office or is in the process of doing so.

Voci, who left the DA's Office in 2006, said that "any suggestion that my client is contemplating cooperating is absolutely not true." He said he is focused on the bail issue and getting his client home for the holidays.
"The charges are bailable offenses and we look forward to our day in court Monday morning," Voci said.

The impact on the Ligambi trial was temporary, but the Galati situation has added another twist to the ongoing saga of the mob boss and his co-defendant nephew. Both have been identified as friends of Galati's. Borgesi, according to testimony, has also been involved in scams run from the auto-body shop.

The Daily News article published this morning included a blaring front page headline that labeled Galati a "Wrecketeer." The piece, by William Bender, raised questions about how Galati, who was convicted of insurance fraud and racketeering in 1995, was able to obtain a contract to repair cars for the city, including Philadelphia Police Department vehicles.

The article said that Galati's auto-body shop was awarded a city contract in 2011 that runs through June 2014. Last year he was paid over $400,000 for repair work for the Police Department, according to the story which also detailed Galati's mob associations to Borgesi and former mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.

Galati was arrested Saturday and charged with attempted murder, solicitation of murder and witness intimidation for allegedly hiring hitmen to kill three different individuals who have testified against him in an ongoing grand jury investigation into insurance fraud.

The targets allegedly included the boyfriend of Galati's grown daughter. The victim was shot outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30 , but survived. Two gunmen, both Philadelphians, were arrested within minutes of the shooting and both, according to the Daily News, are now cooperating.

Members of the Ligambi jury panel were privately questioned by Judge Eduardo Robreno after defense attorneys, at the lunch break today, raised questions about whether exposure to the article could have tainted the panel.

The trial resumed around 2:40 p.m. after an hour-long delay. Apparently none of the jurors had seen or heard about the Galati piece.

"No one saw or read anything," said Christopher Warren, Borgesi's attorney, as he emerged from the judge's chambers prior to the start of the afternoon session.

Robreno made no mention of the issue as he called the trial back into session.

Despite the delay, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the government hopes to complete its presentation of witnesses and evidence by Friday. With a weeklong recess for the Christmas holiday, the trial would then resume on Dec. 30 with the defense calling its first witnesses.

Closing arguments and jury deliberation are likely the first or second full week in January.

Galati's situation, meanwhile, continues to cast a shadow over the trial. The wannabe wiseguy, according to people who know him, has said he does not want to go back to jail. Galati was sentenced to 37 months in 1995 after a federal jury convicted him of racketeering and fraud charges. In that case, he was found not guilty of threatening to kill a postal inspector who was part of an insurance fraud task force targeting him.

The current insurance fraud case is apparently built around the same kind of accusations that landed him in jail eight years ago. The murder threats and the hiring of hitmen, if proven, add a different dynamic to the case and bring substantially stiffer penalties if there is a conviction.

Galati's dealings with members of the South Philadelphia underworld and any role he may have played in an infamous shooting during the Stanfa-Merlino war in the 1990s could be information around which he could negotiate a deal.

Galati was targeted for death by mob boss John Stanfa because Stanfa believed it was Galati who aided the Merlino faction by cutting portholes into the side of a stolen van that was used in an ambush of Stanfa on the Schuylkill Express in August 1993. The shooting, in the midst of mid-morning rush hour traffic, resulted in Stanfa's son Joseph being wounded.

No one has ever been convicted for that crime. And while the statute of limitations has expired on the shooting itself, the act could be part of a broader racketeering case should federal prosecutors opt to go in that direction.