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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Turncoat gangster gives mob history lesson in court

A rear courtroom door opened and a slight man shuffled to the witness stand, clad in a black V-neck sweater over a white collared shirt and patterned tie.

Now 83, he looked too frail to lift a baseball bat, much less crush it against another man's skull, as he said he once would.

"Wow," a defense lawyer blurted out. "He got old," someone else whispered.

A dozen years have passed since Pete "The Crumb" Caprio became a turncoat against his associates in the Philadelphia mob. At least three times since, federal prosecutors have trotted out Caprio, a once-feared captain, to tell jurors about his life, exploits, crimes and similar details about others.

The Crumb was back again Monday, delivering a history lesson for jurors at the racketeering trial for reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi and six underlings.

Caprio said he met routinely with Ligambi and another defendant, George Borgesi, to discuss mob business in 1999 and 2000. The only other defendant he knew, Caprio said, was Joseph "Scoops" Licata, like him a member of the local mob's North Jersey crew.

Prosecutors say the defendants used threats of violence to run illegal gambling and loan-sharking rackets. Defense lawyers have pointed out that the charges, built on thousands of recordings over a decade, include no actual violence.

In fact, the only convicted or admitted killer in the courtroom Monday was the octogenarian on the witness stand, the one who admittedly can't hear so well anymore and whose testimony last month was postponed by an unexpected trip to the hospital.

Few of the questions Caprio took from Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fritchey over three hours concerned Caprio's contact with defendants.

Most were designed to give jurors perspective Caprio gained during a lifetime of crime that began when his father, a bookmaker in Newark, used his infant son's baby carriage to deliver and pick up betting slips.

His mother wanted him to become a priest, Caprio said, but "my father wanted me to be a gangster - so I became a gangster."

He got his nickname, Caprio said, because of his affinity for crumby treats - and because "I did a lot a lot of crummy things."

What kind of crummy things? Fritchey asked.

"Oh, I hit people with bats, pipes, shot people, stabbed people," the witness said.

In 1982, Caprio was inducted into the mob with a ceremony in Atlantic City presided over by then mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo. He was driven to the ceremony by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, against whom Caprio would testify decades later.

After Merlino's arrest in 1999, Caprio said, Ligambi became the crime family's acting boss, and his nephew, Borgesi, its consigliere.

But Caprio had his own plans. He acknowledged plotting in 2000 to murder Ligambi, reputed underboss Steven Mazzone and Borgesi, a hit he said was sanctioned by the Genovese and Gambino crime families in New York. Caprio said he intended to take over as the Philadelphia boss.

He had selected the gunmen and "started looking around for a spot to bury the bodies," when he was arrested by the FBI in early 2000, Caprio said. Agents then confronted him with secret recordings made by another turncoat, Phil "Philly Faye" Casale.

Facing life in prison, Caprio agreed to cooperate. He admitted his role in three murder plots, and told FBI agents about a man he shot and buried beneath his basement in 1975. He was sentenced to 75 months in prison and entered the witness protection program.

In cross-examination began shortly before the lunch break, Ligambi's lawyer honed in on Caprio's standing as a free man despite being an admitted killer.

"You don't even know how many people you've actually killed do you?" lawyer Edwin Jacobs asked.

"I know who I killed, yeah," Caprio protested. "Just a couple, that's all."



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