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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Canary testifies against Philly mob boss Ligambi

The future looked bright for the Philadelphia mob, Louis Monacello was told.

It was the 1990s and Monacello was working with George Borgesi, a La Cosa Nostra captain who ran gambling and loan-sharking operations. The pair had known each other for more than a decade, growing up together in South Philadelphia.
"This family is going to be one of the youngest crime families in the country," Monacello recalled his friend telling him.

Borgesi reveled in life as a mobster, Monacello said, ordering beatings and once boasting to him that he committed 11 murders.

"He's a gangster, he was born a gangster, he'll die a gangster," Monacello told a federal jury Friday.

Monacello, 46, was the latest in a parade of informants and mob turncoats to testify against reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi, Borgesi and five other defendants.

Prosecutors contend the men used violence and threats to run criminal rackets across the region for more than a decade.
Defense attorneys have derided the case as "racketeering lite," a 10-year investigation that produced thousands of recordings of tough talk but little if any actual criminal violence.

Once a high-ranking associate, Monacello, also known as "Bent Finger Lou," is the most significant insider to take the stand thus far. He became a government cooperator after being swept up in the 2011 arrests of Ligambi and the others.

Monacello began cooperating weeks after the indictment because he thought Ligambi wanted him dead, authorities have said. "He never liked me, and I know that," he testified, without elaborating.

Led into court by FBI agents and dressed in a dark suit with a light shirt and purple-and-lavender striped tie, Monacello walked to the witness stand, sat and poured himself a glass of water.

The defendants, especially Borgesi, seemed to aim their eyes at him but Monacello avoided the glares. Another defendant, Damon Canalichio, smiled to an observer in the courtroom gallery as Monacello raised his right hand - its index finger bent - and swore to tell the truth.

Then Monacello settled in, walking jurors through what could be days of testimony about his entanglement with the crime family. He was the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers, worked as a city clerk, bartender and trade school operator before devoting himself to the mob.

For 20 years, Monacello said, he helped Borgesi run gambling and loan-sharking rackets in Delaware County, even as Borgesi served a decade in jail.

During that span, Monacello said, he ferried the monthly payments to Borgesi's wife, sometimes just stuffing envelopes of cash into the glove compartment of her car.

He said he also collected "Christmas taxes" each year for Ligambi, gathering up the tribute payments that bookmakers must pay the mob to keep running their businesses without interference.

For most customers, Monacello said, the threat of retaliation was enough to guarantee payment.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time it was just threats - or put a brick through the car window or the house, or slit their tires, or go to their workplace," he said.

But sometimes violence was necessary, Monacello said. He described one day in the late 1990s when he and others were enlisted to beat a contractor. Monacello said the man was supposed to renovate a property for Ligambi but had been "giving him trouble."

"We beat the s--- out of the guy," he said. "I kicked the guy in the face twice. The third time I went to kick him and I kicked Georgie by mistake."

Another victim, he said, was Angelo Lutz, an underling who Borgesi suspected had been stealing from him. Monacello recounted a late December 1998 night when Borgesi brought Lutz to Monacello's South Philadelphia home.

The three men went into the basement, where Borgesi started punching Lutz.

Monacello said his artificial Christmas tree was in a box in the room. "So I took the rod out and I split his head," Monacello said.

Borgesi then drew a knife, the witness said. "He says, I'm killing him," Monacello said.

Monacello argued against it, he told jurors. His mother was upstairs, and besides, Lutz was near 400 pounds and the two men could never haul him out.

"I got a guy for that," Borgesi said, according to Monacello.

Ultimately, they did not kill Lutz.

For three hours, Monacello glided along as a witness, at times talking to jurors like he was just trading war stories with friends over a beer.

He laughed as he described catching a friend who had told Monacello's wife that her husband was having an affair. Yes, he was cheating, Monacello told jurors, but not with the women the friend had claimed.

And he smiled when he recounted another time he wanted to send a message to an associate who had been speaking a little too freely about mob connections. Feigning anger, Monacello said he fired a gunshot into the air, then laughed as the man scurried from the room.

"That was a joke," he said, turning to the jury. "Even if it may not sound funny, if you were there it was."

Monacello said he's not sure who gave him his nickname. He once was known as Big Louie, he said. But after getting arrested in 2008, the new nickname suddenly appeared in the news media.

No mystery, he said. "Because I have a bent finger," showing it to jurors.

Monacello entered a guilty plea in July 2011, but details of that plea has been sealed by the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.

He is expected to be grilled by defense lawyers, especially Borgesi's, when cross-examination begins late Friday or next week.

"Lou Monacello had one thing in mind, and that was Lou Monacello," Borgesi's lawyer, Paul Hetznecker, said during opening statements.


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