Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Defense Scores Points at Mob Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

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

Mousie
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.

The trial resumes Wednesday with U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno taking up the issue of whether a highly publicized mob hit in South Philadelphia last Wednesday impacted the jury. Robreno privately questioned each of the 17 jurors (there are five alternates) before the start of Tuesday's session.

Nine jurors said they had heard about the shooting, but only one indicated that the news might have affected his ability to remain impartial, according to courtroom sources. The defense is deciding whether to ask that the juror be replaced by an alternate. Robreno intends to take up the issue before the defense continues presenting its witnesses.

Testimony could conclude later in the day.

Ligambi, Massimino and their co-defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy in a case built around bookmaking, loansharking, extortion and illegal video poker machines.

The key defense witness called Tuesday was Jerry Davis, 54, a one-time South Philadelphia neighbor of  Monacello.

Monacello testified for the prosecution earlier in the trial, tying Ligambi and co-defendant George Borgesi, Ligambi's nephew, to gambling, extortion and loansharking rackets.

The defense has argued that Monacello, 45, a key Borgesi associate, lied on the witness stand. They contend that he was acting on his own in the criminal underworld while using his mob connections, particularly his ties to Borgesi, to advance his own money-making operations.

Davis, who lived next door to Monacello on South 18th Street before Monacello moved to Vetnor in 2011, said he frequently socialized with the mob figure who he described as "vicious" and vindictive.

He said after Monacello was indicted along with Ligambi, Borgesi and the other defendants in May 2011, he told Davis that he would "do whatever it took" to get out from under the charges. Monacello was at first denied bail, but was released in July 2011 after agreeing to cooperate.

He relocated to Ventnor after being freed.

Davis said he met Monacello around 2005, about the time authorities allege Monacello was running Borgesi's gambling and loansharking operations in Delaware County. Borgesi, 49, was serving a 14-year sentence for an unrelated racketeering conviction at the time.

Davis described several drinking sessions he said he had with Monacello in the basement of Monacello's home. Monacello, he said, favored a shot of Crown Royal whiskey chased with a glass of beer. Davis said the more Monacello drank, the more he talked about Borgesi, Ligambi and mobster Martin Angelina.

Monacello, he said, boasted that he could use "Borgesi's name to get anything he wanted."

He said Monacello told him that "he hoped (Borgesi) would never come home from prison." He also said Monacello "hated" Ligambi and wanted Angelina "dead."

From the witness stand Monacello admitted most of that to the jury, but insisted that whatever he did in the underworld was on behalf of Borgesi and often with Ligambi's blessing.

Davis, speaking in a quiet, firm voice, said Monacello frequently complained about the leadership of the crime family.

"Nobody knows what they're doing," he said Monacello would say after a few drinks. He also said Monacello told him that he, Monacello, should be the boss of the organization.

Monacello has been described as a mob associate, but not a made or formally initiated member of the crime family. During his testimony, he told the jury that he often found himself caught in the middle of underworld disputes between Borgesi and Ligambi involving gambling and loansharking issues.

Borgesi, who was about to be released from prison for the earlier racketeering conviction when he was indicted and ordered held without bail in this case, clearly felt that Davis' testimony supported his contention that Monacello had fabricated stories about him.

"See, I told you," he said during a break.

Whether the jury sees it that way, however, is the only issue that matters. After two months of testimoy and evidence, it is clear that the case against Borgesi depends almost entirely on Monacello's testimony.

The defense also appeared to undermine a key piece of evidence against Joseph "Scoops" Licata, a North Jersey mob figure whose connection to the overall racketeering conspiracy has been tenuous at best throughout the trial.

Among other things, the prosecution has alleged that Licata was a key participant in a mob meeting at a North Jersey restaurtant, La Griglia, in May 2010. Authorities have described the lunch meeting, attended by Ligambi, Licata, co-defendant Anthony Staino and several members of the Gambino crime family as a meeting of the "board of directors of organized crime."

The meeting was secretly recorded by a mob informant who wore a body wire to the session.

But Tuesday Chris Tocci, the manager of the Kenilworth restaurant, testified that the lunch meeting took place in the main dining room and within earshot of other patrons. Under questioning from Licata's lawyer, Christopher Warren, Tocci said he had offered to set the party up in a private room, but that Licata and the others declined.

"They said they wanted to eat in the main dining area," Tocci said.

Warren then introduced as evidence photos of the main dining with dozens of tables and the private room where the mobsters could have met. The point Warren made visually -- and one he is expected to expand on verbally in his closing argument -- is that if the mobsters wanted privacy to discuss criminal business the private dining area would have made more sense.

In his opening argument, Warren, along with several other defense attorneys, argued that the prosecution had stitched together a series of unrelated charges and events to create a criminal conspiracy where none existed. The meeting at LaGriglia was one example.

During what authorities have said was a four- to five-hour lunch meeting, the food ordered by Licata, Ligambi and the others included seafood salad, cajun calamari, grilled filet mignon, yellow fin tuna, Chilean sea bass, chicken with broccoli rabe and diver scallops, according to the bill.

One mobster also ordered the cod lunch special. Another had a half plate of linguine. And there were two orders of broccoli rabe with sausage and two orders of fricassee. Desserts included fresh berries, cheesecake and shortcake. They washed it all down with seven bottles of mineral water (at $7 each) and five bottles of wine, four 2005 Mocali (at $65 per bottle) and a 2001 Biondi Santi for $200.

The bill came to $902 with tax. Tocci said the bill was paid in cash. There was no indication of how big a tip the mobsters left.

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