Thursday, February 28, 2013

Billy Doe's Junkie Hustle

By Ralph Cipriano

Michael E. Wallace, criminal defense lawyer, has a cardinal rule: don't ever believe anything your client tells you.

Wallace's client in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case was Edward V. Avery, a defrocked priest with a history of sexually abusing young boys. So when Avery told Wallace he didn't touch "Billy Doe" -- the former altar boy who accused Avery of raping him -- Wallace was skeptical.

Billy Doe -- Bigtrial photo by Jon Anderson
"Father, you're saying Mass for me this Sunday," Wallace told the former priest. "And next Sunday. And the Sunday after that."

Wallace had Avery stop by his law office on the 12th floor of 2 Logan Square. Every Sunday morning, the lawyer would serve the former priest a cup of tea, and then grill him about the details of the crime. "After 65 Sundays of cross-examination, I believed him," Wallace said. But that didn't mean Wallace was done checking out his client's story.

Wallace's next move was to send the "smiling padre" out "to be boxed," meaning a polygraph test. The man who administered the test was William L. Fleisher, a former FBI agent who did polygraphs for District Attorney Seth Williams and the U.S. Attorney's office. How'd Avery do? "He passed it with flying colors," Wallace said.

That brought Wallace to a firm conclusion about Billy Doe's allegations -- "It all added up to a big lie," Wallace said.

The Imam's Clout

By Ralph Cipriano

On a 13-year-old FBI surveillance tape, a cocaine dealer named Bubby is overheard lamenting how he could have saved the life of a fellow drug dealer known as Shafiq.

If only he had brought Shafiq and his rival known as Bree to the Sister Clara Muhammad School, the late Gerald "Bubby" Thomas says on the tape, recorded in Oct.  6, 2000, it could have all been worked out. We could have saved Shafiq.

On Aug. 2, 200 Kareem Bluntlly, AKA "Bree," shot and killed Mansur Abdullah, AKA "Shafiq," while he was sitting in his Mercedes-Benz. In federal court today, former drug dealer and now cooperating witness Craig Oliver talked with regret about his best friend Shafiq didn't listen when Oliver warned him to stay away from Bree.

"Did you know that Shamsud-din Ali referred street disputes involving drug dealers?" defense attorney Christian Hoey asked Oliver.

"No," Oliver said; he wasn't into the Muslim thing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Murder, Mayhem And Philadelphia Politics

John Street
By George Anastasia

File this one  under politics and strange bedfellows ... VERY strange bedfellows.

Drugs, money and murder have been the primary focus of the prosecution's case in the racketeering trial of cocaine kingpin Kaboni Savage.

But the month-long trial also has offered a look at the dark side of Philadelphia politics, a fascinating back story that has been referred to repeatedly in testimony, on wiretaps and in statements by defense attorneys.

In fact, it was the FBI investigation of Savage and fellow drug kingpin Gerald "Bubby" Thomas in 2003 that spawned a major political corruption investigation and the bugging of then Mayor John Street's City Hall office.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mean Streets And Murder

By George Anastasia

Kenneth Lassiter was trying to park his car near the corner of 8th and Butler Streets one afternoon back in 1998 when he accidentially bumped a car already parked along the curb.

Bumped, in fact, probably isn't the right word. "Tapped" might be a better description. But this was 8th and Butler, a notorious drug corner, one of the meanest streets in North Philadelphia. And the other car was owned by Kaboni Savage, then an up-and-coming drug dealer.

Lassister, a barber from Lansdale in town to visit a friend, said he was sorry. Savage, according to witnesses, asked for money to cover the damages. Lassister was incredulous. There was hardly a scratch. Angry words were exchanged.

Then, according to one law enforcement report, Savage looked at the two men on the corner he had been talking to and asked, "Do you know this boy?" When they said they did not, Savage pulled out a gun and shot Lassiter in the stomach.

He died at Temple University Hospital a short time later.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Death Threats From A Prison Toilet

By Ralph Cipriano

Paul Daniels was a drug dealer in prison when he decided to become a cooperating witness. That's when the death threats to his family began.

Daniels told the jury at the Kaboni Savage trial about back in 2004, imprisoned drug dealer Dawud Bey took him aside and asked if he "was cooperating."

Bey warned Daniels that he only needed one phone call "to make magic happen." To Daniels, that meant his family member was in grave danger.

The next inmate to deliver the message was Kaboni Savage himself, Daniels told the jury. Daniels said other inmates told him that Savage was going to use the prison toilets to talk to him.

"Kaboni's on the bowl," one inmate told him.

Bail Denied For Ligambi In Mob Retrial

Judge Robreno
By George Anastasia

"Uncle Joe" Ligambi will remain a "guest" of the federal government while awaiting a retrial on racketeering conspiracy, gambling and obstruction of justice charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno, in a ruling that drew sarcastic comments from several friends and family members who packed the courtroom for today's bail hearing, turned down Ligambi's request for bail, accepting the government's argument that the mob boss was a "danger to the community."

"I'm shocked," one members of the Ligambi entourage said at the end of the 90-minute court session. 

Robreno had earlier turned down a similar bail request by George Borgesi, Ligambi's nephew and co-defendant. His his ruling today was not unexpected.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kaboni Savage In His Own Words

By George Anastasia

Jurors got to hear more of Kaboni Savage in his own words today, but some of it came through a filter of defense attorney objections that apparently were aimed at blocking some of the more inflammatory comments uttered by the North Philadelphia drug kingpin.

Most of the afternoon session at Savage's racketeering-murder trial focused on things he had said either from the witness stand at his 2005 drug trafficking trial or in conversations secretly recorded by the FBI from phone taps or electronic listening devices planted in his prison cell.

"You a rat," Savage said on one tape in which he was describing a verbal confrontation he had had with Juan Rosado, a former associate who he suspected was cooperating with authorities. "Fuck you nigga. It's gonna cost you your life."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Christmas, Cocaine And A Red Lobster Gift Certificate

By George Anastasia

Kaboni Savage worked holidays.

The North Philadelphia drug kingpin made major cocaine purchases on Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to a big-time coke dealer who testified for the prosecution this afternoon at Savage's drug trafficking/murder trial.

The fact that Savage was under house arrest and wearing a court-ordered electronic ankle bracelet at the time didn't slow him down, said Juan Rosado as he described holiday deliveries that he made to Savage's home on Darien Street in North Philadelphia in November and December 2000.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Uncle Joe Wants To Go Home

By George Anastasia

Jailed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi wants to go home

What's more, his lawyer says there is a job at a "respected Philadelphia-based corporation" waiting for the 73-year-old mob leader if he is freed to await retrial on a racketeering conspiracy charge.

A motion for bail was filed by Ligambi's lawyer this week. He has requested a Feb. 25 hearing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

AKA Miami

By George Anastasia

His name is Robert Wilks, but on the streets and on dozens of secretly recorded conversations he is frequently referred to by his nickname, "Miami."

He grew up in the notorious Richard Allen Homes public housing project in North Philadelphia, was dealing small quanities of drugs by age 17 and by his mid-twenities was moving half kilos and kilos of cocaine.

In 2004, already in jail on a drug charge and facing a broad federal drug racketeering indictment, he decided to cooperate. This morning, for the second time, he took the stand against one of the men who he said supplied him drugs --  Kaboni Savage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Date For Mob Trial; Kaboni Savage Drug Case Continues

By George Anastasia

Judge Eduardo Robreno has set April 16 as the date for the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and three co-defendants.

But most courtroom observers say you'd be would be wise to hold off on putting that notice in your "save the date" calendar.

"He's just trying to push the process along," said one veteran of the criminal justice system. "I doubt  the trial will go off that quickly."

In fact, the prosecution hasn't formally announced that it intends to retry Ligambi and the others on  the 11 charges that a jury left "undecided" when it delivered its verdicts earlier this month. That decision is now in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Tale Of The Tapes ... And Much More

By George Anastasia

Drugs, guns and tapes .... lots of tapes.

That's been the story thus far in the racketeering-murder trial of North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants.

The trial resumed this morning as it had ended last week with FBI Agent Kevin Lewis on the witness stand. Lewis and his partner, Philadelphia Police Detective Tom Zielinski, have spearheaded the Savage investigation for more than a decade. They are two of the principal players in a bloody drama that prosecutors began presenting to a jury in U.S. District Court last week.

Savage and two of his co-defendants face possible death sentences if convicted. The case lists 12 murders, including the October 2004 firebombing of a North Sixth Street rowhouse in which two women and four children were killed.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

George Anastasia on Preston and Steve

Big Trial reporter George Anastasia chats with WMMR's Preston and Steve about the Ligambi verdict, and his 35 years of stories covering the Philadelphia mob.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Books Under Billy Doe's Bed

By Ralph Cipriano

When Billy Doe's mother testified before the grand jury in 2010, she talked about finding two mysterious books under her son's bed.

"When he went to the Christian Academy," the mother told the grand jury, "We found books under his bed that talked about sexual abuse, and they were from a library. And I would ask him why do you have these, and he would say they were from a girl at school and they need them for a report. And they never went away, they were always there."

"I was always digging through his room and he always had these books," Billy's mother told the grand jury. And we'd question him, did something happen to you, did someone touch you? And he would always say no."

There are two possible explanations for why those books were under Billy's bed.

To Billy Doe's defenders, the books are evidence that back when Billy was a high school student, he was trying to come to terms with the three rapes he had endured as a Catholic altar boy and school kid.

To Billy's detractors, however, the books show a con artist at work, doing research for a future story he would tell to bail himself out of legal jams and drug problems. They think he made the whole thing up.

`Victory' In Mob Trial Savored From Jail

By George Anastasia

One day after defense attorneys touted their stunning defeat of the government in the trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants, it was difficult this afternoon to find anyone in the defense camp celebrating "the victory."

In fact, the the numbers support the defense claim -- the jury rejected 46 charges, hung on 11 others and delivered just five guilty verdicts.

But reality told a different story.

Prior to the convoluted and still puzzling mixed-bag, partially deadlocked jury announcement Tuesday afternoon, there were two defendants free on bail and five in prison. At the end of a series of post-trial hearings this afternoon, six defendants were in jail. Four were awaiting sentencing. And three faced a potential retrial on racketeering conspiracy charges.

If that's a victory, what does defeat look like?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Jury Hangs On Uncle Joe, But Three Associates Guilty in Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

The jury in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi delivered a split verdict today leaving courtroom observers and attorneys scrambling to make sense of a mixed bag of predominantly not guilty and undecided pronouncements.

Three defendants were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, the most serious charge in the 52-count indictment, by the jury which deliberated a staggering 21 days before declaring that it could go no further.

One defendant was acquitted and the jury announced that it was hopelessly deadlocked on the conspiracy charge against Ligambi and two others.

The only other guilty verdicts were two counts of loansharking conspiracy against Anthony Staino, a top Ligambi associate.

"The government's case was gutted," said Edwin Jacobs Jr., Ligambi's lawyer. "We won 90 percent of the counts. The government blew this case out of all sensible proportion."

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

By Ralph Cipriano

Last week, the jury in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse case sent a note to the judge, asking where was Billy Doe's older brother? And why didn't he honor a subpoena from the defense?

That set off a blame game amongst the judge and lawyers in the case trying to figure out who was responsible for the older brother of the alleged triple-rape victim not showing up in court.

They're still arguing about why the witness didn't show. But now we know why the defense wanted to call Billy's older brother as a witness.

On Jan. 9, 2012, Billy's older brother gave a signed, 14-page statement to Detective Joseph Walsh of the District Attorney's office.

The statement showed that the older brother, then a 26-year-old lawyer, had no direct knowledge about the three alleged rapes of Billy Doe. But the older brother, who had served as an altar boy and a sexton at St. Jerome's, contradicted Billy on several key elements of his story, such as who took care of the sacramental wine after Mass, whether priests were ever alone with altar boys, and whether the doors to the church sacristy at  St. Jerome's were ever kept locked.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gangsters and 'Gangstas' In Federal Court Trials

By George Anastasia

Kaboni Savage
There are gangsters and then there are 'gangstas.'

The difference was seven floors apart in the U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia today.

On the 15th floor a jury continued to deliberate without reaching a verdict in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants. By most accounts, they would be described as the gangsters.

Meanwhile, on the eighth floor, a different jury heard opening arguments in the racketeering trial of convicted North Philadelphia drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants.

In underworld and law enforcement circles, Savage, once described by a top Philadelphia police official as "pure evil," would carry the gangsta label.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

No Super Bowl Verdict In Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

Jurors spent more than six hours deliberating today, but then headed home -- presumely to watch the Super Bowl -- without reaching a verdict in the racketeering conspiracy trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.

The panel of eight men and four women are scheduled to resume tomorrow morning, capping nearly a month of deliberatoins. The jury first got the case on Jan. 8 after a 10-week trial. Until this week, the panel did not meet on weekends.

The jury asked no questions today and remained secluded as defense attorneys and a small group of friends and family members of the defendants kept watch in the 15th floor hallway of the federal courthouse.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Groundhog Day At The Mob Trial

By George Anastasia

Larry O'Connor, the lawyer for co-defendant Gary Battaglini, said it best.

"Don't mess with me pork chop."
"It's Groundhog Day," the lawyer quipped as the jury in the mob racketeering case was completing its 18th day of deliberations without a verdict. "The jury saw it's shadow, so I guess that means six more weeks of deliberations."

Edwin Jacobs Jr., the attorney for lead defendant, mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, picked up on the theme a few minutes later.

"Every morning I wake up and the same song is playing on the radio," said Jacobs, "then I come here and we do the same thing all over again."

The movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray that Jacobs was channeling finally ended.

The assumption is that eventually deliberations will end as well. But as the panel moved into Super Bowl Sunday, nobody was betting when.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Was Ligambi A 'Garbage Mobster' Or A Salesman?

By George Anastasia

Was Joe Ligambi a "garbage mobster" collecting a salary and benefits for a no-show job or was he a hardworking salesman who helped his company, South Philadelpha-based Top Job Disposal, win a highly lucrative contract at the Food Distribution Center?

That may be one of the questions the jury in Ligambi's ongoing mob racketeering case is now wrestling with.

The panel completed a 17th day of deliberations this afternoon without reaching a verdict. But the jury did ask for a copy of Top Job's contract with the center, a piece of evidence introduced by the defense during the 10-week trial.

What does it mean?


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