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.

Prosecutors are expected to conclude their presentation in the two-month old trial Wednesday morning, but the schedule set up by U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno won't have the case going to the jury until after the New Year.

Ligambi, 73, and six co-defendants are charged with racketeering conspiracy in a case built on allegations of bookmaking, loansharking, extortion and the distribution of illegal video poker machines. Ligambi is the only defendant charged with "theft from an employee benefit plan," the allegation tied to his Top Job employment.

From the witness stand, Piacentino said he believed Lligambi had brought four or five small contracts to the company shortly after he was hired in 2000. Those contracts, with restaurants and caterers, lasted two or three years, he said.

But between 2002 and 2011, he said, he knew of nothing Ligambi had done for the company.

"Not that I know of" and "Not that I'm aware of," Piacentino said in response to a series of prosecution questions about whether Ligambi had done any sales, marketing or advertising work for Top Job during that period.

 In fact, Piacentino said, he asked the late Mauro Goffredo, the owner of Top Job, why the firm needed a salesman. Goffredo died of natural causes in 2006.

Piacentino was not permitted to tell the jury what Goffredo said in reply because it would be considered hearsay.

Cheryl McCann, who worked as an office administrator and secretary at Top Job between 2005 and 2011, also said she only saw Ligambi on Thursdays, but she acknowledged that since his job was "in the field," there was no reason for him to be in the office.

Like Piacentino, she said she also had questioned the need for a salesman.

During his cross-examination of Piacentino, Edwin Jacobs Jr., Ligambi's lawyer, implied that his client was responsible for getting Top Job a highly lucractive contract at the Food Distribution Center which at that time was located off Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia.

The contract, which covered 10 years, generated $17,000-a-week in income for the company. Piacentino said he had no idea what, if any, role Ligambi played in Top Job being awarded the contract, but conceded that it had provided about 30 percent of the company's income, a major economic factor.

Whether the defense can back up Jacobs' for now unsubstantiated claim should be clear shortly.

The defense is expected to begin presenting its case next Tuesday. The trial is scheduled to recess on or before Friday, Dec. 21, and resume on Jan. 3 with closing arguments. Under that schedule, the jury is not likely to begin deliberations until Jan. 7 at the earliest.

The prosecution is scheduled to present its final witnesses Wednesday morning and then rest. At that point, Judge Robreno could hear arguments on defense motions for directed verdicts of acquittal. The so-called Rule 29 motions are to be filed with the court Wednesday morning.

Robreno could also opt to hearing those arguments on Thursday. In any event, he is expected to rule on the motions before the trial resumes with the defense presentation next Tuesday.

This Tuesday's session was a "family affair" of sorts. Evidence included decades-old photos of the Philadelphia crime family from the 1980s when Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scafo was boss. Ligambi was then a young man, as were several of the other defendants.

"The prosecution's proved our clients had a youth," Jacobs said during a break in Tuesday's session.

Family members also filled the courtroom for Tuesday's session. Ligambi's wife Olivia and one of their sons sat in the second row along with Rita Merlino, the mother of former mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. Seated in that same row were Ligambi's brother, Philip, who has attended the trial most days; Anthony Borgesi, who is the brother of co-defendant George Borgesi and the nephew of Ligambi; Manny Borgesi, who is George Borgesi's mother and Ligambi's sister, and George Borgesi's wife, Allyson.

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