By George Anastasia
Two more tapes, another lunch and still no verdict.
Despite unfounded rumors and rampant speculation that they had reached a decision, jurors in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants wrapped up another day of deliberation this afternoon without reaching a decision.
"I think they're playing a high stakes game of chicken," said one defense attorney, speculating that the panel has broken into two camps, one favoring conviction and the other acquittal. "The question is will either side blink."
With Judge Eduardo Robreno announcing on Monday that deliberations would continue through the weekend -- including Super Bowl Sunday -- the conventional wisdom is that the anonymously chosen jury will announce something by Friday at the latest.
The jury has multiple options -- across the board acquittals or convictions, split decisions that allow some of the defendants to go free or deadlocks and a hung jury on some or all of the counts.
The jury, as it has each day since deliberations began, started their 14th day of deliberations by ordering lunch and asking to hear another tape. In fact, two tapes (one was requested at the end of Monday's session) were played before 10 a.m. After that the deliberation process went silent.
For the rest of the day there were no questions and no requests.
Whether that was a sign of progress or an indication that competing jurors had hardened their positions was open to interpretation in the 15th floor hallway where friends, family members and the defense attorneys (who have been assigned a small meeting room) keep watch each day.
Ligambi and the others are charged with racketeering conspiracy and with assorted other charges tied to gambling, loansharking and extortion. Ligambi, 73, is also charged with fraud and obstruction of justice.
The tapes that the jurors asked to rehear today involved conversations that focused on the gambling business.
A wiretapped phone call from March 2006 picked up a discussion in which co-defendant Damion Canalichio talked about bets that had been placed on pro and college basketball games with Louis "Sheep" Barretta. Barretta, a bookmaker, pleaded guilty prior to the start of the trial.
A second tape, picked up on a body-wire worn by cooperating witness Peter Albo in February 2007 included comments by Gary Battaglini, another defendant in the case.
Among other things, Battaglini decried the state of the underworld gambling economy, noting that the legalization of the lottery and later of casino gambling had decimated those businesses for illegal operators. The state offered better and more stable options for gamblers, he said, asking, "what the fuck is left down here for the other guys?"
In another part of the conversation, Battaglini told Albo the days of organized crime were also fading and that the high profile and violent reign of bosses like Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo were a thing of the past.
"There's no real fuckin' crews and fucking like Scarfo days," he said. "And these guys, it's a joke. Like what are you really gonna lock people up for?"
The 10-week trial was built around dozens of secretly recorded conversations picked up on wiretaps or from body wires worn by cooperating witnesses during an FBI investigation that extended from 1999 through 2011. Evidence also included testimony from several cooperators.
Many of those tapes, however, have been used by the defense to undermine the charges. Battaglini's comments -- on another tape he talked about a "broke, broke mob" -- could support the defense claim that the criminal conspiracy charged in the indictment doesn't exist; that the defendants were all independent operators and not co-conspirators.
On the other hand, his comments and the discussion by Canalichio could be used by jurors favoring convictions to support the allegation that the defendants were knowing participants in a mob racketeering conspiracy -- even though that criminal enterprise might not have been as violent nor as financially lucrative as those of earlier mob families.
Unless and until the jury announces a verdict, there is no way to know why the jurors asked to hear those and other tapes played during deliberations and how those tapes related in the jurors' minds to the charges in the case.
George Anastasia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.