Monday, February 25, 2013

Bail Denied For Ligambi In Mob Retrial

Judge Robreno
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

"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.

Lawyers for both Ligambi, 73, and Borgesi, 49, have indicated they will appeal the bail denials to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, both defendants remain in the Federal Detention Center.

At today's hearing, Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., argued that the jury verdicts in the trial that ended on Feb. 5 had substantially changed the circumstances under which Ligambi had originally been denied bail. But the prosecution contended that the verdicts -- even those verdicts of not guilty -- should not have any impact.

Jacobs again cited the fact that the jury delivered not guilty verdicts on 46 counts, hung on 11 and only delivered guilty verdicts on five counts. Ligambi, he said, was acquitted of five counts and the jury hung on four others which the government intends to retry.

Contending that the government had a weak case to begin with, the jury verdicts, Jacobs aruged, had further undermined the "legs" on which the conspiracy count rests. The pending case against Ligambi, Jacobs said, "pales in comparison to what we were facing" in the original trial.

But prosecutors offered an entirely different take built around the same set of facts 

"If our case is so weak, why were (three other defendants) convicted of racketeering conspiracy?" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, one of the prosecutors in the case.

Labor also pointed out that of 15 defendants originally charged, 10 have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. Only mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata, 71, was found not guilty.

Licata, who authorities said headed the Philadelphia crime family's North Jersey operations, was acquitted of racketeering conspiracy, the only count he faced. He was released after the jury verdict was announced.

Three other defendants. Damion Canalichio, Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, and Gary Battaglini, were convicted of racketeering conspiracy and are to be sentenced on May 21. A fourth defendant, Anthony Staino, was convicted of two extortion counts and is to be retried on racketeering conspiracy along with Ligambi and Borgesi. 

In other developments today, Robreno sentenced mob soldier Louis "Big Lou" Fazzini to 55 months in prison. Fazzini, 46, of Caldwell, NJ, had pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge prior to the start of the trial.

A top associate of Licata's, Fazzini faced virtually the same charges as the mob capo, leading many  courtroom observers believe he, too, would have been acquitted at trial.

A retrial for Ligambi, Borgesi and Anthony Staino has tentatively been set by Robreno for April 16, but in all probability will be postponed to a later date. Lawyers for both Ligambi and Borgesi have indicated that they have other trial commitments that could tie them up for the next four to six months.

Labor told Robreno the prosecution would be ready to start a retrial in April. He said the trial would be shorter than the 10-week presentation in the first case. Most observers believe the retrial will probably go off in September and last four to five weeks.

The government is expected to streamline its case, perhaps using fewer witnesses and playing fewer tapes. The most puzzling aspect to the case thus far is the racketeering conspiracy charge that remains against Borgesi.

The jury acquitted him of 13 other counts in the case, but hung on the conspiracy charge. That charge centers on allegations that the defendants played a knowing role in the ongoing criminal enterprise that is the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra. The case focused on events between 1999 and 2011 when the first Ligambi indictment was handed up.

For most of that time Borgesi was in jail. He was arrested in March 2000 and convicted in July 2001 of racketeering charges. He was completing a 14-year sentence when he was indicted along with Ligambi and the others in the current case.

The charges against him revolved primarily around the testimony of his one-time top associate, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello. But the jury verdicts -- the 13 not guilties -- would seem to indicate that the panel was not buying what Monacello was selling from the witness stand.

A new trial with a new jury could also include a new look -- less arrogant, more focused -- Monacello. And ironically, many of the allegations contained in the counts that the jury rejected in the first trial could again be used as evidence to support the racketeering conspiracy charge that Borgesi faces.

In other words, Monacello could get to tell the same story to a different jury that the prosecution hopes will come back with a different verdcit.

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