Friday, December 14, 2012

Mob Soldier Charged in "Dumb" Gangland Hit

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net


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.

Using a car registered in your own name to carry out a mob hit is considered an underworld blunder of the highest order. Usually a stolen vehicle or an untraceable "junker" is used and then quickly abandoned.

Getting rid of the murder weapon -- in this case a Smith&Wesson .357 Magnum, is also paramount.

DiPietro, 50, a convicted drug dealer, was shot five times. Several sources said that he has been an informant for law enforcement and the motive for the hit may have been the fact that he was providing information about the unsolved murder of John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto in November 2003.

Nicodemo has long been a suspect in that slaying and that fact has sent a ripple of shockwaves through the South Philadelphia underworld and, according to one source, all the way to Florida where former mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino is now living.

The long-term impact of Nicodemo's arrest could be devastating for the crime family now headed by Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, 71. Ligambi and six co-defendants are currently on trial in federal court in a racketeering conspiracy case built around allegations of gambling, loansharking and extortion.

Throughout the two-month trial, defense attorneys have tried to present the Ligambi organization as a non-violent band of benevolent bookmakers and loansharks. The shooting of DiPietro, just a few hours after the prosecution wrapped up its case, undermines that argument.

The jury is due back in court on Tuesday when the trial resumes and the defense begins to present its case. But first, U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno has said he intends to individually question each of the 17 jurors (there are five alternates) to determine if they had read or heard anything about the shooting and whether that had impacted their ability to fairly judge the case.

That's the short-term impact. The potentially more damaging impact depends on what Nicodemo does now. Will he fight the murder charge in Common Pleas Court and risk a potential life sentence? How will he hold up in a city prison -- never a pleasant place -- while waiting for the legal process to play out? Will he cut a deal?

Damion Canalichio, 44, a co-defendant with Ligambi in the ongoing trial, has also been mentioned in terms of the Casasanto investigation. What does he do? Does he roll the dice in the racketeering case, hoping to win an acquittal and than take his chances on what comes next. Or does he try to cut a deal before Nicodemo?

Those are the questions swirling around law enforcement and underworld circles.

The DiPietro shooting was a botched hit on several different levels. It was poorly planned and executed. The timing made no sense. Why do it while the racketeering trial was underway? DiPietro was not living in hiding. He could have been targeted at any time. Why not wait until the trial was over?

Several years ago a defense attorney, assessing the Philadelphia mob and a series of botched and bungled hits during the war between John Stanfa and Joey Merlino, quipped, "Goodfellas? This is dumbfellas."

Hardly the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight, the Philadelphia mob has become the Gang that Couldn't Think Straight. The DiPietro shooting is the latest example. It could open up a racketeering-murder investigation that will decimate what's left of the crime family.   

The Casasanto murder is one of three (the others are the slayings of Ron Turchi and Raymond "Long John" Martorano) that authorities believe were ordered by Ligambi. No one has ever been charged with those homicides.

Investigators also believe that Merlino, who had "personal problems" with Casasanto according to several sources, also approved the murder. Merlino was serving a racketeering sentence at the time Casasanto was killed. The murder was carried out in the victim's South Philadelphia rowhome. Police believe he unwittingly let the shooters in, indicating that he knew who they were and was comfortable dealing with them.

Nicodemo, according to the district attorney's office, is being held without bail pending a  court hearing on Jan. 2. More details about the DiPietro hit are likely to surface at that time.

But what Nicodemo knows about the Casasanto murder could be the key that unlocks his cell. Whether he's ready to make that move is the unanswered question. For the next three weeks he will sit in a prison several miles and light years removed from the neatly appointed home, festooned with holiday decorations, that he shared with his wife and two children.

He won't be home for Christmas.

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