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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Undercover FBI agent describes the mob's bookmaking business

Taking bets and chasing debts.

That was the business of bookmaking outlined Tuesday in a series of secretly recorded FBI recordings played for the jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

With the trial now in a week-long Thanksgiving holiday hiatus, jurors will get to ponder terms like "in the red" and "the Lakers for a dime" as they enjoy their turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Everyone will be back in court on Nov. 27.

The tape recordings were made by FBI agent Joseph Stone posing as a gambler and bookmaker named "Vinny" who in 2002 had worked his way into the gambling operations of mob associates Louis Barretta and Gary Battaglini.

Battaglini is one of the seven defendants on trial. Barretta pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this year.

The jury heard Battaglini discuss his sports betting business with Stone and Peter Albo, a gambler and government informant who worked with and was in debt to Battaglini. The scenario set up during the undercover investigation was that "Vinny" would bring his business to the operation and would pay down Albo's debt.

Collecting, Battaglini said on several of the tapes, was always problematic.

"I'm tired of people bringing me bets and not bringing me assets," he said in what could easily be described as a bookmaker's lament.

At another point he exclaimed, "I got four people on the street, between the four of them, they owe me $30,000."

He later told Albo, who owed customers thousands, "Pete you're so fuckin' red, you won't be makin' money til this football season."

Stone explained to the jury that "red" was the designation bookmakers used to describe when they owed money to the gamblers who bet with them. He also noted that Battaglini, 51, was describing a situation in the spring and summer of 2002 when bets were being taken on basketball and baseball. This was several months before the start of the football season.

Stone testified that during a four-month period beginning in March 2002 he placed $101,000 worth of bets with Battaglini. That "action," he said, resulted in wins and losses. Overall, he said, he lost about $2,000. The money, he said, was supplied by the FBI.

The jury also heard phone calls in which he placed the bets, using typical gambling phrases like "San Fran, 500, Boston 750, the Lakers for a dime."

This, he explained, was the amount wagered on those teams: $500 on San Francisco, $750 on Boston and $1,000 ("a dime"') on the Lakers.

Stone said he met Damion Canalichio, 42, another defendant in the case, while doing buisness with Battaglini. Canalichio was "working" at Battaglini's deli in South Philadelphia while living in a halfway house completing a prison sentence for drug dealing.

"I'm in the halfway house...I just go out of the joint," Canalichio said in one taped conversation while offering to help Stone with betting information. Canalichio apologized, saying, "I can't move around," because of the halfway house restrictions. "I gotta go back there to sleep."

And while in theory he was working at the deli during the day, Canalichio said, "I'm mostly collections. That's my thing."

Stone, in a second undercover operation, also taped Anthony Staino, 54, a top Ligambi associate and co-defendant. Posing again as "Vinny," but this time playing the role of a loanshark, Stone said he met with Staino twice in July 2003. In that scenario, he said, he claimed to owe money to Henry Scipione, another cooperating witness who testified earlier in the trial.

Scipione, in turn, was in debt to Staino. A deal was struck where "Vinny" would pay down his loan to Scipione by paying Staino, thereby satisfying Scipione's debt to Staino.

Stone said he made two payments totalling $6,500 on a debt of over $20,000.

And as with the Battaglini tapes, he recorded Staino describing the loansharking business.

"It's all mathematics," Staino said at one point after detailing the back interest that was owed because Scipione had missed six weeks of payments.

"As soon as you get bogged down it's a lot harder to catch up then to just stay above board," Staino said in a conversation recorded on July 9, 2003, at Scipione's South Philadelphia home.

He also offered Stone his support in future loansharking dealings.

"Nobody will bother you," Staino told the undercover FBI agent. "God can't bother you...just say you're with me. That's all."

While prosecutors have alleged that Battaglini, Canalichio and Staino were all working for and reporting to Ligambi, the mob boss's name was not mentioned in any of the tapes made by Stone.

During his cross-examination, Staino's lawyer Gregory Pagano seemed to portray his client as a benevolent loanshark who neither pressured nor threatened anyone and who, in fact, ultimately forgave most of Scipione's debt.

"Everybody's gotta make a dollar, doesn't bother me," Staino said on one tape.

On another, when Stone showed up without all the money he was supposed to pay, Staino told him, "Listen, there's no rush. Whenever it comes."

But two months later, in September, after Stone had failed to make any more payments and had disappeared -- in fact, Stone said, he had been promoted to a new FBI post in Washington, D.C., and was taken out of the undercover investigation -- he received what he caled "threatening" voicemail messages from Staino.

Those were also played for the jury.

"Hey Vinny, I never thought you were a tough guy," Staino said on a call recorded on Sept. 13, 2003. "Alright, motherfucker. I'll talk to you."

And on Oct. 10, 2003, he left a voicemail in which he told Stone, "Hey Vinny. Don't think I forgot about you. You better give me a call."

Stone, however, acknowledged that he never borrowed any money directly from Staino and said in their face-to-face meetings Staino never raised his voice or threatened him.

What he did instead, the tapes showed, was offer advice about how to deal with loanshark customers and how to run a business.

"You can't let these guys think they can get away with this," Staino told Stone after Stone said he had several customers who owed him money. "They'll just bury you."

Then Staino added, "Whenever I borrow, I pay."



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