Thursday, January 10, 2013

Toilets Flush and Tapes Roll as Mob Jury Deliberates

A federal prosecutor in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants said in his closing arguments last week that secretly recorded conversations made during the 12-year investigation were a linchpin to the case.

"Their words define them," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han told the jury.

On Thursday, the third day of jury deliberations, the jurors asked to listen again to the words of co-defendant Anthony Staino, described as a mob capo and Ligambi's "right arm."

What Staino said is not in dispute in conversations he had with cooperating witness Henry Scipione and an undercver FBI agent posing as a corrupt financier named "Dino."

But what the jury believes Staino meant could determine his guilt or innocence.

The jurors asked to hear four tapes at the end of their second full day of deliberations. They are due back in court 8:30 a.m. Friday with most courtroom observers speculating that they are about to reach a decision in the three-month old trial.

Scipione, a long-time friend of Staino's who had borrowed close to $50,000 from the mobster, testified for the prosecution early in the trial. The government witness, with a history of his own criminal problems and an admitted suicide attempt, was unsettled and often uncertain on the witness stand and his credibility and motivation for cooperating have been challenged by the defense throughout the case.

Among other things, Staino's lawyer, Gregory Pagano, has argued that Staino never threatened Scipione and allowed him to pay off a debt between friends at his own pace and virtually on his own terms.

One of the tapes replayed for the jury included a discussion about money and Scipione's explanation that much of what he had borrowed from Staino he had then lent to "Dino." At that point Scipione was working with the FBI, wearing a body wire and setting up a scenario in which he would introduce Dino to Staino.

Among other things, prosecutors contend the discussion supports the overall charge of racketeering conspiracy and the allegation that Staino's money-lending was for the Ligambi organization.

"There's 48 fuckin' thousand out there and there's nuthin' comin' in," Staino says. "He's fuckin' flipping."Authorities say Staino was referring to Ligambi.

On the tape, Staino also is heard complaining about Scipione's failure to make payments on the debt and appears angry over the fact that some of his money has in turn been lent to Dino who is using it, in the story told by Scipione, to finance his own loansharking operation.

At another point, he tells Scipione, "You know this motherfucker, I'm gonna kill him, okay. I'm telling you...I don't talk like this, but I'm gonna kill him ... Everybody's makin' money and I can't get mine ... I got fuckin' two gorillas, fuckin' chop him up."

Later in the same conversation, Staino asks Scipione about Dino, "How do you know he ain't a cop or nothing?"

And still later, he adds, "Just do the right thing. Explain to this guy, this ain't a joke...It's getting to the dangerous point."

Shortly before recessing for the day, the jury of seven men and five women asked to hear another tape, this one a conversation between Staino and Dino. At this point in the investigation, Dino has insinuated himself into Staino's world and has offered, among other things, to launder money for him and to invest money in what he implies are corrupt but lucrative business deals.

The conversation replayed for the jury took place in the men's room of a casino-hotel in Las Vegas. Staino was there celebrating his son's 21st birthday. Dino, according to testimony, showed up and hung out with Staino and his son.

The FBI agent was wearing a body wire at the time.

Authorities have contended, and the FBI agent has testified, that Staino confronted him in the men's room and threatened him over $25,000 he had given him. Authorities say the money was a loanshark debt. Staino's attorney has argued that the money -- given to Dino in cash in a cereal box -- was for what Staino believed as a legitimate investment by the "financial consultant."

While the agent testified that Staino "cornered" him in the men's room and threatened him, the defense argued that the two men were both at urinals and that Staino, who had been drinking, was slurring his words and in no position to confront anyone.

The tape, played against a backdrop of toilets flushing and water running, includes Staino telling Dino, "If you fuck with me, you know what's gonna happen...Don't fuck with me."

At one point, Dino replies "I wanna make you money."

Staino, his words sounding slurred, repeats his concerns about his money, but tells Dino "I love ya."

Toilets continue to flush in the background.

Prosecutors, as they left the courthouse Thursday, appeared pleased that the jury was focusing on tapes that the government believes supports the overall racketeering conspiracy charge. The defense spin was that the tapes, particularly the "toilet tape," undermined Dino's testimony from the witness stand that Staino was sober and that Staino threatened and confronted him in the men's room about the money.

"Anyone listening to that tape can tell Staino is bombed," said one member of the defense camp. "If that was the reason the jury wanted to hear the tape, then it helps us."

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