By George Anastasia
They went back to the beginning ... again.
For the second time in the past three days, the jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi started deliberations anew after another juror was replaced today by an alternate.
But it appeared the panel wasted little time getting back up to speed. By 1 p.m. it was again asking to rehear tapes that it had requested yesterday before controversy over a juror's comment about a defense witness derailed the process.
The juror who made the comments was replaced this morning by U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno. But the judge denied defense motions asking that two other jurors be replaced. He also rejected a defense motion for a mistrial.
Robreno, who has presided over the three-month trial, praised the work of the anonymously chosen panel, despite grumbling in both prosecution and defense camps about what appears to be a rambling process.
"The jurors are lay persons dealing with complex issues," the judge said before seating the new alternate, a middle-aged white male, in place of the young, African-American woman who was dismissed.
Robreno said the jury's conduct "has been commendable."
"You're witnessing justice being done," he said at another point during this morning's hearing.
On Wednesday, Robreno sat another alternate in place of an elderly juror who had called in sick two straight days. Each time an alternate is placed on the panel, deliberations have to start over. But in both instances, it appear the remaining members of the panel were able to quickly bring the new member up to speed.
Once deliberations started today the jury wasted little time asking to rehear several secretly recorded conversations that appear to focus on co-defendant George Borgesi, 49, and key prosecution witness Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello.
Thursday was the first time since deliberations began on Jan. 8 that the jury had asked any questions about Borgesi or Monacello.
The tapes replayed this afternoon included a phone call Borgesi made from prison in which he talked with Monacello and New York mob associate Anthony Aponick who had been in inmate with Borgesi in a federal prison in West Virginia.
Monacello and Aponick were having dinner in Ralph's, an Italian restaurant on Ninth Street in South Philadelphia. They were having mussels, according to comments made during the phone call.
The the actual conversation appeared vague. At one point Borgesi talked with Monacello and said he would "straighten everything out, you know what I'm saying."
It was unclear what Borgesi was referencing. There were several other comments in the same, ambiguous vein. Defense attorneys later said that if those kinds of tapes were the best the prosecution had, the jury would be hard pressed to convict Borgesi.
The opposite spin on the tape was that, while it wasn't specific, it showed Borgesi directing Monacello.
Monacello's testimony is considered crucial in the case against Borgesi. He testified that he ran Borgesi's bookmaking and loansharking operations after the mob figure was jailed on an unrelated racketeering charge in 2000.
The defense has argued that Monacello, 46, used Borgesi's name to advance his own underworld operations.
Borgesi is Ligambi's nephew. Among other things, Monacello testified that the uncle and nephew were constantly at odds. Monacello also acknowledged that he neither liked nor trusted Ligambi.
Other tapes replayed for the jury included conversations in which Monacello coached mob associate Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo to lie to a state grand jury conducting an investigtion in 2007 into the Delaware County gambling operation. Monacello was unaware that DiGiacomo was wearing a body wire and cooperating with state and federal authorities.
DiGiacomo testified for the prosecution in the current case, supporting some of Monacello's testimony. But he also labeled Monacello a braggart and blowhard who used Borgesi's name.
On tapes made by DiGiacomo in the South Philadelphia law office of attorney Greg Quigley, Monacello talked about the state investigation and openly coached DiGiacomo on how to lie to the grand jury.
He also said that the state investigation had targeted him as a way to get at Borgesi.
"That's who they have a hot nut for," he told Quigley.
At another point, he said he expected to be squeezed by state investigators, predicting that they would confront him about his dealings for Borgesi and Ligambi. He said authorities would confront him and say, "Tell us what you're doing with Georgie and the other guy (Ligambi)...or you're gonna get 10 years."
In fact, neither Ligambi nor Borgesi were charged in the Delware County investigation. Monacello eventually pleaded guilty to a gambling conspiracy and obstruction of justice charge and was sentenced to about two years in prison which he served primarily in a work-release program.
From the witness stand, Monacello said he did not cooperate with authorities in that state investigation and was willing to do jail time. He said he turned informant after being indicted with Ligambi, Borgesi and the other co-defendants in May 2011 because he believed Ligambi and Borgesi planned to kill him.
The defense has challenged that assertion, alleging the Monacello cut a deal with federal authorities to get out from under his own criminal problems and that he has used Borgesi and Ligambi as his get-out-of-jail cards.
He has pleaded guilty to the same racketeeing conspiracy charge that the others face and has yet to be sentenced.
As with all the tapes that were replayed for the jury the "tell us what you're doing" tape has been spun in two differections by those trying to determine what the jury is thinking and why they want to rehear it.
In the most favorable light for the Borgesi camp, the tape shows that Monacello knew that he could use information about Borgesi and Ligambi to get out from under his own criminal problems. On the other hand, the tape could be intepreted as an unguarded acknowledgement by Monacello that he worked for Borgesi and Ligambi, the position he staked out on the witness stand.
Ligambi, Borgesi and five co-defendants are facing racketeering conspiracy charges tied to allegations of bookmaking, loansharking, extortion and the distribution of video poker machines. Ligambi, 73, also is charged with obstruction of justice and defrauding a union health and medical fund for more than $220,000 in medical expenses for himself and his family.
Jury deliberations are to begin again Tuesday following a three-day recess.
George Anastasia can be reached at email@example.com