Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Date For Mob Trial; Kaboni Savage Drug Case Continues

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

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.

Not unexpectedly, Robreno also denied motions by lawyers for six of the defendants seeking to have  all the charges against them dismissed. The judge also set sentencing dates in May for four defendants who were found guilty by the jury in a split verdict that still has defendants, their attorneys and many courtroom observers scatching their heads.

Meanwhile, seven floors below Robreno 15th floor courtroom, another big trial continued to play out as prosecutors laid out the case against drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants. FBI Agent Kevin Lewis, the lead investigator in the case, finished his fifth day on the witness stand early this afternoon.

Two other prosecution witnesses were called later in the day. The first of several cooperating witness who worked the drug underworld with Savage is expected to take the stand when the trial resumes this morning.

The two cases offer different and changing views of the Philadelphia underworld.

Ligambi and his co-defendants were charged with racketeering conspiracy in a case built around allegations of gambling, extortion and loansharking. Testimony focused on video poker machines that generated a few hundreds of dollars a week (or month) in profits and street-level extortion loans of several thousand dollars.

Defense attorneys derisively referred to the case as "racketeering lite." Others said the case was indicative of the waning days of Cosa Nostra.

Savage and his co-defendants, on the other hand, are charged in a case that includes 12 homicides and that epitomizes the bloody and wantonly violent drug underworld. Testimony thus far has focused on a drug network where a kilo of cocaine costs $27,000 and where the "players" in that game dealt in multi-kilogram shipments and hundred-thousand dollar business deals.

Savage and two of his co-defendants could be sentenced to death if convicted.

The penalties in the Ligambi case are substantially less, but could effectively end the criminal careers of some of the defendants.

Ligambi, 73, his nephew George Borgesi, 49, and a top associate, Anthony Staino, 55, could face retrial on racketeering conspiracy charges. The jury could not decide that count against those three defendants. Ligambi and Staino also face gambling-related chares on which the jury hung.

Mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, potentially faces a retrial on three gambling charges on which the jury hung as well.

But Massimino, mob soldier Damion Canalichio and mob associate Gary Battaglini were convicted of racketeering conspiracy by the same jury. They are scheduled to be sentenced in May. Staino was convicted of two extortion charges for which he also will be sentenced.

Massimino and Canalichio, with prior convictions and criminal records, could be facing 10 to 12 years in prison when they are sentenced.

A retrial, if it happens, is expected to be shorter and more focused than the 10-week trial that led to 21 days of often confusing jury deliberation. Most obsevers say the prosecution has an advantage in any retrial because it is able to reshape its case. Fewer tapes, fewer witnesses and more pointed testimony would likely be part of a new presentation for a prosecution team that believed the jury in the first trial got lost.

Part of that might be attributable to a prosecution presentation that many believed was disjointed and unorganized. The second time around, that probably won't be the case.

The jury had to decide 62 charges against seven defendants in a 52-count indictment. It came back with 46 not guilty decisions. The panel was undecided on 11 charges and delivered just five guilty verdicts.

Nevertheless, those convicted face significiant jail time. In addition, Ligambi, Borgesi and Staino run the risk of being convicted of a racketeering conspiracy count that carries a maximum 20-year sentence. At Ligambi's age, a conviction would be tantamount to a life sentence.

For Borgesi the situation is particularly galling. The volatile mobster, who was finishing a 14-year sentence for a 2001 racketeering conviction when he was indicted with Ligambi and the others in May 2011, was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 charges against him by the juyr.

But the jury hung -- was undecided -- on the racketeering conspiracy charge, a decison that Borgesi's lawyer, Paul Hetznecker, is expected to challenge as illogical in a post-trial motion.

The decision on whether to retry on the unresolved charges is expected to be announced in the near future. In the meantime, Ligambi, Borgesi and the four other defendants remain in the Federal Detention Center.

Savage, 38, and his co-defendants are in the same facility,.

His trial was marked by a rare note of levity this afternoon when FBI Agent Edward Frimel testified about how he and others members of a fugitive task force tracked Savage down in 1999 when he was wanted on a murder charge pending in Philadelphia (He later beat that case when a key witness was killed days before trial. That murder is one of the 12 homicides in the current case).

Frimel said he and other members of the task force learned that Savage was staying at an apartment in Stoney Run Village in Maple Shade, N.J. He said when they entered the apartment they found Savage "hiding under a pile of clothes and a comforter" at the foot of the bed in the apartment's one bedroom.

A veteran of the fugitive unit, Frimel said it was "not unusual" for find fugitives hiding under beds or clothes and blankets. Then, he added, "I once had a guy standing in a corner with a lampshade on his head."

The comment drew laughter from attorneys, jurors and members of the audience.

And before Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gallagher completed his questioning of Frimel, he came back to that incident.

"The guy with the lampshade," Gallagher asked. "You caught him, right?"

"For sure," Frimel replied.

George Anastasia can be contacted at ganastasia@verizon.net.

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