By George Anastasia
Lunch was clearly on the minds of jurors as they entered the 13th day of deliberations this morning in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.
Sticking with a routine established two weeks ago, the jury placed their orders shortly after arriving in court at 8:30 a.m. They also asked if Olive Garden and Red Lobster could be added to their luncheon options, according to several courthouse sources.
The answer was "no." Lunch is supplied by vendors who own businesses close to the courthouse at 6th and Market Streets.
Later the jury panel asked to rehear several tapes, including a 40-minute secretly recorded session from a mob lunch meeting at LaGriglia, an upscale -- this is no Olive Garden -- Italian restaurant in Kenilworth, N.J.
The lunch meeting, in May 2010, was recorded by Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli, a Gambino crime family soldier who was wearing a body-wire for the FBI.
The LaGriglia tape was one of the first played for the jury after the trial began back on Oct. 18. That the panel has asked to return to that meeting now has raised eyebrows and questions about where the deliberations are heading.
Prosecutors have described the restaurant gathering of leaders of the Gambino crime family from New York and the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra as a "meeting of the board of directors of organized crime."
But Christopher Warren, the lawyer for co-defendant Joseph "Scoops" Licata, has argued that it was simply a lunch. He described the attendees, including Licata, 71, who set the meeting up, and Ligambi, 73, as "a bunch of geriatric gangsters talking about old times."
Warren also has emphasized that Licata and the others turned down an offer from the restauraant manager to meet and eat in a private room, opting instead for the main dining area.
Why the jury wanted to rehear that tape, of course, is the central unanswered question from today's session. The discussions picked up on Stefanelli's body wire have nothing to do with the gambling, loansharking and extortion charges that are part of the current case.
Part of the tape included Licata introducing Ligambi as the "acting boss" of the Philadelphia crime family. (Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, in jail in May 2010 when the meeting occurred, was described as the boss of the organization.)
There was also a discussion about a making -- mob initiation -- ceremony presided over by Ligambi in which Louis "Big Lou" Fazzini and Damion Canalichio were formally sworn in as members of the organization.
Fazzini, like Licata from North Jersey, pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial. Canalichio, 42, is one of the co-defendants in the case.
Stefanelli, 66, recorded dozens of conversations while working for the FBI between 2009 and 2011. The LaGriglia tape was one of the first to be made public. Another tape, from a meeting at the American Bistro, a bar and grill near Newark, was also played during the trial. Only Licata, Fazzini and Stefanelli attended that lunch meeting.
While he was a prolific recorder of conversations, Stefanelli never made it to the witness stand. The mob soldier apparently had second thoughts about testifying against his former partners in the underworld. He committed suicide in March 2011.
Federal authorities in New York and Newark are still assessing dozens of other recordings that he made and that could figure in prosucutions in those cities. Tapes made by Stefanelli were also referred to in a case against a Rhode Island mob boss who pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge earlier this year.
The jurors also asked to rehear several wiretapped conversations from 2006 between Canalichio and mob capo Martin Angelina. Angelina also pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial.
The conversations centered on problems at the First Ward Republican Club, an after-hours bar in South Philadelphia that authorities said Angelina and Canalichio controlled. Both were charged with having illegal video poker machines in the club.
On one tape Angelina and Canalichio expressed concern because members of the Pagans, an outlaw motorcyle gang, had begun hanging out in the bar. But when Angelina said they had to get the Pagans out, Canalichio replied, "How do you get rid of them? They're like fuckin' termites."
Both mobsters conceded that the Pagans' presence was bad for buisness and would drive other customers away.
"Nobody's gonna make no money in there," Canalichio said. "It will be death."
The jury was scheduled to resume deliberations tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. Whether they maintain the same pace or pick up the process was a question being debated after Judge Eduardo Robreno told the panel that he would have them come in on Saturday and Sunday if deliberations stretch through the rest of the week.
Lunch is one thing.
But no one expects the jurors to opt for Super Bowl Sunday -- who's bringing the dip? -- in the deliberation room.
George Anastasia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.