Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Motive Behind the Martorano Murder

It's not part of the case, but clearly on the FBI's to-do list: solve the 2002 gangland murder of mobster Raymond "Long John" Martorano.

Long John
Jurors in the ongoing racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (long suspected of ordering the hit) got a sampling of what authorities know Tuesday when a secretly recorded conversation involving mob bookmaker Gary Battaglini, one of Ligambi's six co-defendants, was played as the trial entered its sixth week.

Battaglini was speaking with his brother-in-law Peter Albo, a convicted gambler, drug dealer and thief who was then about $10,000 in debt to what authorities say was a mob-controlled bookmaking operation.

Albo was also wired for sound.

He had begun cooperating early in January 2002.

On Jan. 29, with the tapes rolling, the topic of the Martorano shooting, which had occurred 12 days earlier, came up. Albo, in fact, thought Martorano was dead.

He wasn't.

Not yet. But he was in critical condition.

"Oh, they had him for dead, but then he miraculously came back to life," Battaglini said on the tape.

Albo said he had met Martorano in prison and didn't think he was that sharp. In fact, he said he thought he was "stupid."

"He's stupid like a fox," Battaglini said of Martorano, a major money-maker for the mob dating back to his ties to mob boss Angelo Bruno in the 1970s. Gambling, loansharking and dealing in major quantities of methamphetamine were part of Martorano's resume. So were video poker machines.

"He ain't stupid," Battaglini added. "Far from it."

Martorano had returned to South Philadelphia in November 1999 after his murder conviction for ordering the assassination of Philadelphia Roofers Union boss John McCullough in 1980 was overturned. Martorano had served 17 years for the murder and an unrelated drug conviction.

Back on the streets and in his 70s, most underworld and law enforcement sources thought the tall, thin and always dapper wiseguy would go into retirement and enjoy the final years of his life out of the limelight. There was even some speculation that he intended to relocate of Sicily.

But apparenly Martorano had second thoughts. He remained in the house where he lived around Sixth and Fitzwater Streets in South Philadelphia and despite medical problems -- he had a heart condition for which he was being treated -- he apparently wanted to get back in that game.

"What, he try doin' shit, something he shouldn't be doin'?" Albo asked Battaglini.

"Tried moving in on the sports and everything," Battaglini replied.

Martorano was in his car and about to drive to a doctor's appointment on the afternoon of Jan. 17, when two gunmen ran up on him and opened fire. He was hit several times in the chest and arms, but managed to drive the six blocks to his doctor's office before crashing his Lincoln Towncar into a fire hydrant.

He remained in critical condiction for three weeks and died on Feb. 5.

The murder is one of three that investigators have long hoped to tie to the Ligambi organization. The others were the 1999 murder of Ronald Turchi and the 2003 murder of John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto. Authorities have information about all three hits, but not enough evidence to bring charges.

It is one of the unspoken hopes of prosecutors in the current case that at least one of the defendants, if convicted and facing serious jail time, will agree to cooperate. The chief bargaining chips in any deal would be information about those unsolved murders.

Battaglini, 51, did not return to the topic on any other tape played for the jury Tuesday. But he did offer a bleak economic picture of the bookmaking business circa 2002.

"It's a broke mob, that's the bottom line, and it's gotten worse every year," he said in one conversation."Broke, broke."

In another, he complained that gambling customers had gotten more sophisticated and state-run casino gambling was eating into the bookmaking market. Eventually, he predicted, sports betting, like the lottery/numbers racket, would be legitimized.

"Everybody's got computers," he said. "Everybody's making moves. It ain't like it used to be...You got to run it like it's a business...You better watch what you take. You got to limit people."

The government contends that Battaglini, 51, and Louis "Sheep" Barretta, 48, ran a bookmaking operation that kicked money up to Ligambi. Barretta pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial. He was sentenced to 33 months.

On one tape, Battaglini seemed to confirm that, telling Albo, "Joe don't give a fuck what goes on on the street...He don't wanna know nothin'...Alls Joe wants is his money."

FBI Agent John Augustine, who was on the witness stand as the tapes were played, said the Joe referred to by Battaglini was Ligambi.

Other comments by Battaglini, however, seemed to support the defense position that Battaglini and the other defendants in the case were not part of a broad mob conspiracy, but rather independent operators.

That defense is aimed at undermining the principal charge, racketeering conspiracy, that the seven defendants face.

"There's no real fuckin' crews and fuckin' like Scarfo days," Battaglini said, referring to 1980s mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and a mob organization built around capos who directed crews of soldiers and associates.

"There's no money to be made," Battaglini said. "And now it's fuckin' all done and over with."

Shakedowns and threats were also a thing of the past, at least as far as he was concerned, Battaglni said.

"I ain't chasing nobody around no more...I ain't catchin' an eight- or 12-year case."

Then, explaining the new business model for the bookmakers, he told Albo, "If you can't collect it, don't take it. We don't want your fuckin' work."

In fact, Albo was about $10,000 in debt to Battaglni and Barretta when he went to the FBI and agreed to cooperate. Both a gambler and a bookmaker, Albo told Battaglini he had a customer "Vinny" who was deeply in debt to him.

Vinny, in fact, was Robert Stone, an FBI undercover agent.

Earlier jurors heard testimony from Stone and tapes that he recorded in which he agreed to pay down Albo's debt to Battaglini.

In all, the FBI p;rovided Albo with about $50,000 while he was cooperating, including $9,900 that Stone used to pay down his debt, $4,320 in mortgage payments when Albo was facing foreclosure on his home in Somers Point, NJ, $4,800 in expenses and $25,000 in relocation money.

Albo feared mob retaliation, Augustine said. But the agent also acknowledged that Albo had begun to "lie" and contradict himself in debriefings with the FBI within the past month.

As a result, Albo will not be called as a witness.

The defense hopes to portray the defendants as underworld businessmen targeted by lying cooperating witnesses who were trying to either get out from under criminal problems they faced or mounting debts that they couldn't pay.

"It's a business world today," Battaglni said on another tape that underscored the defense position in the case. "Nobody wants trouble."

But prosecutors hope that stories like the murder of Long John Martorano provide the jury with a look at a darker side of that business. Even though it's not part of the case, they contend, the Martorano hit was an example of the way mob business is conducted.

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