Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Juror Dismissed as Defense Rests in Mob Case

A juror who apparently was leaning toward a guilty verdict was dismissed Wednesday shortly before the defense rested in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

Following a closed-door session before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno, defense attorneys and prosecutors returned to the 15th floor courtroom where Robreno told the other members of the jury panel that "juror number five will not longer be sitting with us."

Robreno offered no other explanation, but told the jury it had nothing to do with an impropriety and that the trial would continue.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Defense Scores Points at Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

It was a good day for the defense Tuesday in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

So good, in fact, that mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, a co-defendant, joked about going home. One of five defendants being held without bail, Massimino, during a break in the trial, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, "Can you give me a ride John?"

Massimino, Ligambi and the three other defendants held without bail will have to wait at least until January to find out if they walk out of the Federal Detention Center next door to the U.S. Courthouse. Jury deliberations are expected to begin on Jan. 7 following a recess later this week for the holidays.

But the defense camp was decidedly upbeat after Tuesday's court session which included testimony from one witness who blistered key government informant Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and another witness who raised serious questions about whether a mob meeting at a North Jersey restaurant back in May 2010 was anything other than a bunch of guys getting together for lunch.

"I think we had a really good day," said one defense attorney.

Big Trial Media Roundup

-We had a featured writeup in the American Journalism Review.

- Dan Gross gossiped about us.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer talked to George about the Ligambi trial jury.

- Victor Fiorillo of Philadelphia magazine interviewed George about becoming a blogger.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mob Soldier Charged in "Dumb" Gangland Hit

By George Anastasia

Mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo has been charged with first-degree murder in a gangland shooting that one police investigator called the "dumbest" mob hit he has ever seen.

A former federal prosecutor agreed, calling the broad daylight slaying of Gino DiPietro Wednesday afternoon "amateurish" but indicative of what the Philadelphia crime family has become.

Nicodemo, 41, was taken in to custody less than 30 minutes after the shooting. Witnesses had spotted him fleeing the scene in an SUV and gave authorities the license tag number. The vehicle was registered in Nicodemo's name and listed at his address, a few blocks from where DiPietro was gunned down.

The married father of two young children was arrested at that home without incident. He was charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons charges Thursday afternoon after a ballistic test linked a gun found in his car with a bullet fragment from the murder scene. Police also found gloves and a ski mask in the vehicle, a black Honda Pilot, according to an investigative source.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mob Hit Could Impact Ligambi Trial

By George Anastasia

A mob hit in the middle of a mob trial?
Anthony Nicodemo

That's never a good thing. Particularly when the defense has spent two months harping on the same theme: this group of South Philadelphia wiseguys was not cut from the same violent cloth as the mobsters who ran the organization in the 1980s and 1990s.

What impact the shooting of Gino DiPietro will have on the trial mob boss Joe Ligambi and six co-defendants is an open question. Whether jurors heard about the hit and whether they connected it to the defendants are questions that can't be answered until the panel returns to the federal courthouse on Tuesday.

The trial recessed Wednesday after the prosecution presented its final pieces of evidence. DiPietro, a 50-year-old South Philadelphia drug dealer, was gunned down about three hours later. The defense is not scheduled to begin calling its witnesses until next week. Thursday was devoted to arguments, without the jury present.

But the overriding issue was whether the arrest of mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo in connection with the DiPietro shooting would have an impact on the trial process. Nicodemo, 41, has been taken into custody but not formally charged in the murder.

Ironically, his name was mentioned on one of the last secretly recorded wiretap conversations played for the jury. One of the speakers in that conversation was Damion Canalichio, a co-defendant in the case.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Prosecution Rests in Mob Trial

The prosecution ended its case Wednesday against mob boss Joe Ligambi and six co-defendants  where it began two months ago, playing a taped conversation made by mobster-turned-informant Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli.

The conversation, featuring Stefanelli, Louis "Big Lou" Fazzini and Joseph "Scoops" Licata, was recorded in October 2010 at a meeting at the American Bistro, a restaurant in Belleville, N.J., just outside of Newark. Licata, 71, is a co-defendant in the ongoing trial. Fazzini, 45, pleaded guilty earlier this year.

A North Jersey-based capo with the Philadelphia crime family, Licata has been the forgotten man in the case. His name has seldom been mentioned by witnesses who the prosecution has used to tie Ligambi and the other co-defendants to gambling, extortion and loansharking operations at the heart of an alleged racketeering conspiracy.

But as he had been on another Stefanelli tape played back in October at the start of the trial, Licata was the principal speaker and center stage at the American Bistro meeting, commenting on the historyof the crime family, former mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and Philip "Crazy Phil" Leonetti, Scarfo's nephew and underboss who became a cooperating witness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ligambi Showed Up On Pay Day

"Uncle Joe" Ligambi
Two employees of a South Philadelphia trash company testified Tuesday that they weren't sure if mob boss Joe Ligambi did any work for the company.

But they both agreed on one thing: Ligambi showed up every Thursday to pick up his check.

"I would only see him come in on Thursdays," said Charles Piacentino, the operations manager for Top Job Disposal. "That was the day we cut our checks."

Ligambi was listed as a salesman for Top Job between 2000 and 2011. Authorities allege it was a "no show" job for which he collected a weekly salary of $1,000 in addition to health benefits.

One of the charges in the ongoing racketeering case is that Ligambi illegally collected over $224,000 in medical benefits from a Teamsters health and welfare fund under a contract the union had with Top Job. The indictment alleges Ligambi did no work for the company and was not entitled to those benefits which covered medical and dental expenses for himself, his wife and one of his sons.

Jury Hits Killer Cop With $4.7 Million Verdict, But Lets City Off With No Damages

A federal jury came back with a $4.7 million verdict today against former Police Officer Frank Tepper  for the Nov. 21, 2009 murder of 21-year-old Billy Panas.

Tepper, serving a life sentence, did not attend the trial of the civil suit filed against him by William and Karen Panas, the parents of the murder victim.

The big winner in court today, however, was the other defendant in the case, the city of Philadelphia.

The jury unanimously decided that the off-duty Philadelphia cop was acting as a police officer when he pulled a gun on Panas in a neighborhood dispute outside the cop's home.

The jury unanimously decided that Tepper violated Billy Panas's civil rights by murdering him; the jury  also unanimously decided that the city of Philadelphia had a custom or policy of "deliberate indifference" when it came to overlooking the use of excessive force by Officer Tepper.

But the jury unanimously decided that the city's custom of deliberate indifference did not cause the murder of Billy Panas. So they let the city off without having to pay any damages.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Did the City of Philadelphia Turn A Blind Eye to Officer Frank Tepper's Use of Excessive Force?

The jury in the killer cop civil trial will have to decide whether the city of Philadelphia deliberately ignored Officer Frank Tepper's past use of excessive force, and whether the murder of 21-year-old Billy Panas was a preventable tragedy.
James J. Binns

Lawyers in the federal case staked out opposing views during closing statements to the jury.

James J. Binns, lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the jury to remember the 911 tape from the night of the murder. On the tape, the first exhibit played to the  jury, Tepper is heard identifying himself to the 911 operator as a police officer, and then greeting fellow police officers arriving at the scene with: "It's all right" and, "We're all cops here."

"For him this was business as usual," Binns said, meaning that Officer Tepper was used to the police department covering up and excusing his use of excessive force.

"The city of Philadelphia turned a blind eye" to Tepper's abuses, Binns argued. It was "a policy of deliberate indifference" that Binns said not only emboldened Tepper, but "caused the murder of Billy Panas."

Deputy City Solicitor Mark V. Maguire characterized that argument as "a bridge too far."

"This is a tragic anomaly," Maguire said of the murder of Billy Panas. "No one could have predicted it ... Any one who tells you this was predictable is being disingenuous."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Parents of Murder Victim Break Down In Court

Karen Panas found out she had rectal cancer in 2006. She had to undergo radiation treatments and chemotherapy. She couldn't sit down for six weeks, and spent every day in bed. She had to endure four operations, and wound up with a colostomy bag.

Her husband had to work, so Karen's primary caretaker became her son, Billy Jr.

Billy Panas Jr.
"He cooked, he cleaned, he did everything," Karen Panas testified in federal court. He took her to doctor's appointments, radiation and chemo. At home, while she was lying in bed, Billy would  play computer games with her. He prepared meals, and cleaned the house to his mother's exacting standards. He didn't even flinch when it came time to change Mom's bag.

Karen Panas lost her primary caretaker on Nov. 21, 2009, when Police Officer Frank Tepper shot 21-year-old Billy to death. It happened after the off-duty cop came out of a party at his house and attempted to disperse a bunch of teenagers by waving his gun and threatening to shoot everybody.

Billy, who was unarmed, made the mistake of saying, "He won't shoot anybody." He was shot once  in the chest, and was dead on arrival at Temple University Hospital.

Karen Panas's brief testimony came to an end today when she held up a graduation picture in front of her face and sobbed, "He's my son."

There would be no cross-examination. "No questions," said Deputy City Solicitor Mark V. Maguire.

Tony Soprano and Joe Ligambi, Garbage Mobsters

Not for nothing was Tony Soprano a "solid waste management consultant."

The writers of that highly acclaimed cable televison series borrowed from real life when they created "employment" for the ficticious New Jersey crime boss. The mob, they knew, has always had its hooks into the trash business.

Jurors in the ongoing trial of Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi are about to get another version of that same story. Prosecutors on Friday began laying the groundwork for one of the last charges remaining in the two-month-old racketeering conspiracy case -- an allegation that Ligambi turned a "no show" job with a South Philadelphia trash hauling company into nearly a quarter million dollars in medical benefits.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Shame Of The Philadelphia Police Department: Multiple Cover-Ups to Protect A Psycho Cop

Frank Tepper
A former Philadelphia police inspector told a federal jury today that the city police department should have fired killer cop Frank Tepper 17 years ago.

"Starting in 1995, the Philadelphia Police Department knew they had a bad police officer," Joseph Stine testified. But instead, Stine said, the department gave Tepper one pass after another during his 16-year-career, with internal investigations that Shine described as either incompetent or blatant cover-ups.

Tepper joined the police department in 1993. Two years later, he got in trouble after running out of a bar while off-duty and in partial uniform, and initiating a car chase with two 21-year-old men he saw committing the offense of talking to his fiancee.

During an ensuing two-mile chase through Northeast Philadelphia, Officer Tepper repeatedly rammed the men's car with his own vehicle at several stop lights, attempting to push the men's car out into traffic. When the two men pulled over to seek assistance from uniformed police officers, Tepper allegedly beat the driver in the face with the butt of his gun.

"He [Tepper] should have been fired and should have been arrested" back in 1995 for aggravated assault, Stine told the jury. "On numerous occasions, Mr. Tepper should have been fired. He should have been fired and should have been arrested."

On Trial for Gambling, But Targeted for Murder?

Joseph Ligambi
He's charged with gambling and evidence played at a racketeering conspiracy trial Thursday tied him to a South Philadelphia social club where the mob did business.

But Damion Canalichio, a co-defendant of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and five others, is seen as much more than a bookmaker and video poker machine operator by the FBI. He is, they and Philadelphia police sources believe, the potential linchpin to solving one of three gangland murders for which no one has been charged.

Canalichio, they believe, knows the details behind the gangland slaying of  John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto in November 2003. And that, say several sources, is why he is sitting at the defense table with Ligambi and the others in a racketeering case that defense attorneys have described as a run-of-the-mill gambling investigation.

A conviction, authorities hope, might be the leverage they need to pry loose information about the murder.

Canalichio's role in the mob's alleged gambling operation was part of the focus of testimony and evidence Thursday as the prosecution moved closer to the end of its presentation in the now two-month old trial.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Forgotten Man at the Mob Trial

Every day around 4:30 Joseph "Scoops" Licata stands up, puts his hands behind his back and waits for a federal marshal to slap handcuffs on his wrists.

Then Licata and four other defendants who are being held without bail are led off to the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. The routine has been playing itself out for two months now at the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants (two are free on bail) in federal district court in Philadelphia.

One day this week, as Licata stood up, one of the many friends and family members of the defendants who gather in the 15th floor courtroom smiled and said, "Have a good nap Joe?"

Licata laughed and shook his head.

In many ways the white-haired, 71-year-old gangster is the forgotten man in the Ligambi trial. His name hasn't been mentioned in weeks of testimony. Often, and with the encouragement of his lawyer, he grabs catnaps.

A Psycho Cop, A Suspect's Face, And A Sizzling Car Hood

On the hot summer afternoon of July 31, 2000, Ronald Spencer was walking to the barber shop when Police Officer Frank Tepper got out of a car and ran after him screaming, "Omar, Omar," and "Black hat, black hat."

Spencer wasn't named Omar, but he was wearing a black hat.

"When I turned to him, he had a gun pointed at me," Spencer testified in federal court. Tepper wasn't in uniform, and he didn't identify himself as a police officer, Spencer told the jury, but he did ask to see Spencer's ID.

"When I didn't oblige, I got punched"in the face by Tepper, Spencer said. The next thing Spencer knew, he was thrown face-down on the sizzling hood of a car by three cops, one of whom had Spencer's arm twisted behind his back.

"My face was laid flat," Spencer testified. "The car was burning up. My flesh was burning. Every time I lifted my head up, Tepper gave me a punch" right in the face.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Psycho Cop Pulled Gun On 10-Year-Old

Stokley Playground
Ten-year-old David Florek was dribbling a basketball at the Stokley Playground in Port Richmond, when off-duty Police Officer Frank Tepper came out of his house brandishing a gun.

It was 8:30 at night, and Tepper was upset about the boy's dribbling, because the cop had to get up in the morning for an early shift.

"He had the gun in his hand," Florek, now 23, testified today in federal court. "I was scared out of my mind ... He was flailing his hands in an angry way."

Tepper was wearing a white T-shirt and police uniform pants with a blue stripe down the leg, Florek recalled. Florek said that while he was playing with his gun, the cop told him, "The game's over." Florek said he ran home as fast as he could, and wound up crying to his mother.

Florek was one of eight neighbors from Port Richmond who testified about their personal "encounters with Police Officer Frank Tepper," as repeatedly characterized in court by attorney James J. Binns.

The Offer He Couldn't Refuse

He came dressed like a character out of Guys and Dolls but the story he told was classic Goodfellas.

Joseph Procaccini, a major video poker machine vendor in the Philadelphia area, told a federal jury Tuesday that mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and two of his top associates forced Procaccini and a business partner to give up their control of a highly lucrative poker machine distribution network back in 2001.

"If we didn't deal with them they were just going to take it and we'd be left with nothing," Procaccini said when asked how Ligambi and his associates took 34 video poker machines assigned to 20 different locations. "We would get hurt if we didn't play ball with them...They said if we did, they wouldn't bother the rest of our business."

Dressed in a gray, sharkskin suit, black shirt and gray tie, Procaccini, 53, spent two hours detailing what authorities have charged was the extortion of his buisness, M&P Vending, by Ligambi and co-defendants Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and Anthony Staino.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lawyers Describe Killer Cop As A "Bully" And A "Drunken Idiot"

Frank Tepper
A plaintiff's lawyer characterized former Philadelphia Police Officer Frank Tepper as a lying, bullying drunk who loved to pick on teenagers before he shot 21-year-old Billy Panas to death with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

"Basicallly, Police Officer Tepper was a bully," said attorney James J. Binns, "someone who never should have worn a badge, or been a police officer."

Binns, representing the parents of the murder victim, is suing Tepper and the city of Philadelphia for damages in a civil case. Opening statements were made today in federal court; the case is expected to run into next week.

In his opening statement, a lawyer for the city conceded that Tepper was a "drunken idiot," but said that the former cop was not acting in any official capacity back in 2009 when he shot the unarmed Port Richmond man during an off-duty incident outside the cop's home.


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