Tuesday, December 4, 2012

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.

In what may have been the most damaging testimony to date in the two-month-old trial, Procaccini said he and his business partner met with Ligambi and Massimino in May 2001 to dicsuss a business proposal. The meeting, Procaccini testified, was set up by Joseph Malone, a South Philadelphia bar owner and the father-in-law of mobster Steven Mazzone.

Ironically, Mazzone, and six other mob figures, including mob leader Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino,  were on trial for racketeering at the time authorities say Ligambi moved to take over the M&P video poker machine route.

"Be careful with them, they're dangerous people," Procaccini said Malone told him.

Procaccini said he was well aware of the mob's reputation for violence and said that during their first meeting, he suggested that M&P make a tribute payment rather than give up its poker machine route. The company, he said, also distributed video games and cigarette and snack vending machines to bars, restaurants and social clubs.

In all, he said, M&P, which was started in the mid 1990s by Anthony Milicia and Procaccini's father Louis, had gross earnings of about $1 million annually. 

"They wanted out Dodge City (video poker machine) locations," Procaccini said of the topic discussed at a meeting at Lou's Crab House, a bar controlled by Massimino in South Philadelphia. Procaccini said he countered by offering to make a tribute payment.

"But they said no," he told the jury.

During the meeting, he said, Massimino did most of the talking, but he frequently looked to Ligambi who would nod or shake his head, indicating yes or no, Procaccini said.

Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor if he wanted to sell the poker machine route, Procaccini said, "No."

Asked if he thought he had a choice, Procaccini again said, "No."

"They had the power over us to make us sell," he said.

Authorities allege the takeover of the M&P machines was a form of extortion. Prosecutors had earlier described the buisness deal presented to Procaccini as "an offer he couldn't refuse." The phrase, from another classic mob moive, The Godfather, will likely surface again in closing arguments to the jury.

Speaking in a firm, clear voice and with just a hint of anger, Procaccini said he started working in the vending machine buisness in the 1990s and said that "from time to time" the company had to pay a "street tax" or tribute payment to the mob. He also told the jury that one of the company founders, Anthony Milicia, was shot in 1996 after he balked at paying then mob boss Ralph Natale.

Milicia was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside Bonnie's Capistrano Bar at 13th and Dickinson Streets on May 29, 1996. He survived the hit, but spent several months recovering. Following the shooting, Procaccini said, M&P began making tribute payments to the mob.

Anthony Milicia died of natural casues in 2000. Louis Procaccini died in 2001.

Within a week of his father's death, Joseph Procaccini said Tuesday, he was told that Ligambi wanted to meet with him. Procaccini testified that there were two more meetings but that there never was nay serious bargaining.

Over the next several months through the summer of 2001, he turned over the machines to Staino who changed the locks on the machines' cash boxes. 

"After that they were his machines," he said.

But Procaccini said he balked at signing a sales agreement.

"That's the one little stand I was able to make," said Procaccini who is due back on the stand for cross-examination when the trial resumes Wednesday.

Procaccini said between November 2001 and March 2003 Staino made monthly payments to M&P, usually about $3,000. In total, he said, M&P received $63,000, most of it in the form of checks from JMA, a company that authorities said Ligambi, Massimino and Staino set up in a veiled attempt to legitimize the takeover.

The JMA initials stand for "Joe, Mousie and Anthony," authorities allege.

Procaccini estimated that the machines generated between $85,000 and $125,000 in revenue annually for M&P. Asked if he thought $63,000 was a fair price for the machines that M&P gave up, Procaccini replied, "Not at all."

Asked again if he wanted to sell, he replied, "Absolutely not."

But he said he and his business partner agreed to give up the machines.

"We figured that part of the business was lost," he said. "We were worried about the rest of our business...We were afraid of getting beat up or hurt in some way."

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