Thursday, January 3, 2013

Closing Arguments Begin in Mob Trial

A federal prosecutor urged jurors on Thursday to rely on dozens of secretly recorded conversations in finding mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants guilty of racketeering conspiracy charges.

"Their words define them," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han told the jury during a three and one-half hour closing argument that marked the start of the final phase of the ten-week old trial.

Mob Lawyer Seeks Apology
Han asked the jury to consider "the words that came out of the mouths" of Ligambi and most of the other defendants who he said had been "caught in the act of being themselves."

The secretly recorded conversations, from body wires worn by cooperating witnesses and from wiretapped conversations, were gathered during an investigation that began in 1999 and concluded with the indictment of Ligambi and the other defendants in May 2011.

The defendants are charged with gambling, loansharking and extortion that the government alleges were part of an ongoing racketeering conspiracy.

Han's methodical and detailed arguments were in sharp contrast to the highly charged, 35-minute closing by Joseph Santaguida, the lawyer for co-defendant and mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino.

Santaguida, his voice rising in anger and disdain, repeatedly told the jury that the government had failed to prove its case against his client and against any of the other defendants. He pleaded with the jury to decide the case "based on the evidence, or the lack of evicence, that came from the witness stand."

Closing arguments will continue from five other defense lawyers Friday.

Santaguida said the prosecution used arguments instead of facts and evidence in presenting its case over the past 10 weeks and that Han used that same tactic in his closing. Citing a line from The Godfather, Santaguida shouted "they owe my client an apology."

"Not only that," he said of the government. "They owe you, the taxpayers, an apology."

He said the case was a waste of time and money, estimating the government had spent "millions" chasing after a group of bookmakers.

Why didn't they spend that time and money, "finding terrorists or getting guns off the street" he asked the jury.

But Han's description of the Philadelphia branch of La Cosa Nostra was, in many ways, a picture of urban terrorism. He said Ligambi, 73, was the successor in a line of mob bosses who had used violence, beatings and murder to enforce control and generate income for decades in the underworld.

While the current case does not include any allegations of murder or assault, Han argued, as the prosecution has throughough the trial, that Ligambi and the others lived on the reputation of the organization.

Providing the jury with what amounted to a history lesson of the Philadelphia mob, he said that while the faces of the leadership might change, the goal and purpose of the organization remained the same.

Former mob boss Angelo Bruno might have been known as the "Gentle Don," he said. Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo, who ruled the family in the 1980s, was a psychopath leaving the "streets strewn with bodies." But both, he said were, like Ligambi, caretakers of an organization that used fear, violence and intimidation to generate income.

"Violence is the life blood of the mob," he said, "the source of its power...the engine that makes the wheel move."

Han also used slides, graphics and played snippets of tapes for the jury. One graphic was a picture of a wagon wheel with Ligambi's photo in the center and photos of the co-defendants and other mobsters at the end of each spoke on the wheel.

The closing arguments were in some ways pro forma. As expected, Santaguida challenged the credibility of key govenment witnesses like mobster-turned-informant Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio and mob associates Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo.

Santaguida sarcastically described Monacello as a "bastion" of credibility; said DiGiacomo was a "citadel" of credibility, and called Caprio, who has admitted his role in four gangland murders, as "practically a serial killer."

But Han, as prosecutors often do, told the jury, "the defendants chose Caprio, Monacello and DiGiacomo" who were all part of the same criminal organization that is at the heart of the racketeering conspiracy charge in the case.

Closing arguments are expected to continue through Monday. Jury deliberations are likely to begin on Tuesday after a lengthy explanation of the laws that apply to the case from U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno.

The courtroom was packed with family members and friends of the defendants Thursday and likely will remain so through the rest of the proceeding. The defendants appeared confident.

Damion Canalichio, during one break, asked a friend to make sure his wife brought "the three-quarter lenth coat" for him to wear once the not guilty verdicts were returned.

"It's cold outside," said Canalichio, a twice-convicted drug dealer who is linked to a gambling operation in the current case.

Canalichio, Ligambi, Massimino, George Borgesi and Joseph Licata are being held without bail. Anthony Staino and Gary Battaglini have been free on bail during the trial.

Canalichio also expressed concern when his wife was unable to gain admittance to the morning session of the trial because the courtroom had filled up. He was upset that a family member -- his wife -- was denied access while a reporter --- "an asshole," he said -- got to sit in the front row.

His wife made it into the afternoon session. The reporter was late. He missed some of the proceedings, but eventually gained admission as well.

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