By George Anastasia
Mobster Anthony Nicodemo has been indicted on first degree murder and conspiracy charges in the shooting death of a South Philadelphia drug dealer and suspected government informant.
The indictment was announced this afternoon at a status hearing for Nicodemo in Common Pleas Court. The 41-year-old mobster, who has been held without bail since his arrest in December, did not attend the session.
His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, declined to comment.
The indictment is expected to up the ante in the case against Nicodemo who now faces life in prison or a potential death sentence for the murder of Gino DiPietro. The case has also fueled speculation about whether Nicodemo, long a suspect in a second gangland murder, would agree to cooperate in order to get out from under his legal problems.
The conspiracy charge in the DiPietro case would seem to indicate that authorities believe Nicodemo did not act alone in carrying out the hit. In fact, several sources have said investigators believe he may have been the driver, rather than the shooter, in a slaying that one police source has called one of "the dumbest" mob hits in Philadelphia history.
During a brief hearing this afternoon before Common Pleas Court Judge Charles A. Ehrlich, authorities announced that Nicodemo had been indicted for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and weapons offenses.
He is scheduled to be arraigned on those charges on April 1.
The indictment had been expected after the District Attorney's Office disclosed three weeks ago that it was bypassing a prelminary hearing in the case. Under new procedures set up to thwart witness intimidation, a grand jury proceeding can be used in place of a prelminary hearing.
The secret grand jury session allows the District Attorney's Office to protect the identities of potential witnesses for a longer period to time. Ultimately the names of witnesses will be disclosed to the defense prior to the start of trial. With a prelminary hearing, witnesses or witness statements are made public early in the criminal proceeding process.
Authorities apparently relied on both witnesses and tape from private surveillance cameras to build the case that was presented to the grand jury.
DiPietro, 50, was gunned down near the corner of Johnston and Iseminger Streets around 3 p.m. on Dec. 13. A gunman wearing a ski mask walked up to him and opened fire as he was getting into his car.
The gunman then ran to a waiting SUV and fled the scene.
Witnesses got the license tag number of the vehicle, a black Honda Pilot that authorities quickly discovered was registered in Nicodemo's name. Less than 30 minutes after the shooting, police were at Nicodemo's door -- he lives about five blocks from the murder scene.
His Honda Pilot was parked in front of the house. Police found a ski mask and a .357 Smith&Wesson inside the vehicle. The gun is believed to be the murder weapon.
"He's buried," said one legal source familiar with the case.
Nicodemo has apparently told friends that he is willing to "sit forever" and has no intention of cutting a deal.
Forever could be what he is facing if convicted of the first degree murder charge.
With a wife and two young children at home, sources believe Nicodemo may eventually trade in his bravado for a deal that will allow him to some day rejoin his family.
The tough-talking wiseguy was tied to a mob-linked sports betting operation run out of the high stakes poker room of the Borgata casino back in 2007. He eventually pleaded guilty to a gambling conspiracy charge and was given a four-year suspended sentence.
A New Jersey State Police affidavit in that case identified Nicodemo as a "suspect" in the 2003 murder of mobster John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto.
If Nicodemo is going to cut a deal with authorities, he would have to provide details about both the DiPietro and Casasanto murders and any other criminal activity he was involved in, according to law enforcement sources.
His own words established his status in the underworld during the Borgata investigation.
New Jersey State Police wiretaps included a conversation in which Nicodemo boasted about his role in the underworld and told one of the principal operators of the bookmaking ring not to worry about any other "sharks" trying to horn in on the business.
From the conversation it was clear that Nicodemo was referring to other mobsters who might want a piece of the action.
"You don't have to worry about no one," Nicodemo said in a conversation with Andrew Micali recorded in October 2007. "You won't have to do nothing for no one...John Gott's son could come up to ya. Anybody! I don't give a fuck...Ya ever have a problem, come and see me...I don't care if it's fuckin' Carlo Gambino's fuckin' son...Don't worry about none of that stuff."
Now it's Nicodemo who has a problem.
And the question is, who will he go see?
The indictment announced today comes just three days before a status conference in federal court for mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and several co-defendants. Ligambi and two associates are scheduled to be retried on racketeering conspiracy charges later this year.
A jury hung on those charges at a trial that ended on Feb. 5.
The DiPietro shooting came during testimony at that trial and while defense lawyers were going on at length to the jury about how the case lacked violence and how Ligambi and his associates were not cut from the same murderous cloth as earlier mob bosses like Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and John Stanfa.
Both Scarfo and Stanfa were convicted of ordering murders.
Authorities have been trying without success to tie three unsolved mob murders to Ligambi who took over the top spot in the Philadelphia crime family in 1999. They include the Casasanto murder and the murders of Raymond "Long John" Martorano in 2002 and Ronald Turchi in 1999.
Damion Canalichio, 44, a co-defendant with Ligambi in the recent racketeering trial, has also been identified by authorities as a person of interest in the Casasanto hit. Canalichio was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and is to be sentenced in May.
A twice-convicted drug dealer, Canalichio could face from 10 to 12 years in jail on the racketeering charge.
Law enforcement sources are now watching and waiting to see if either Canalichio or Nicodemo makes a move toward cooperating.
It's just a matter of time, said one investigator. And, he added, authorities have all the time in the world.
Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net