Thursday, March 14, 2013
Is the mob out of money?
Lawyers for two high ranking members of the Philadelphia crime family said this afternoon that they are waiting to hear from their clients and their clients' families before committing to represent them in a racketeering retrial tentatively set for October.
Edwin Jacobs Jr. told Judge Eduardo Robreno that members of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi's family "are attempting to gather sufficient funds to pay me for the retrial."
Gregory Pagano, the lawyer for top Ligambi associate Anthony Staino, said he is in the same position.
Robreno asked the lawyers to let him know by the end of the month. But with or without them, Robreno said, the retrial will start in October. In the alternative, the judge could appoint lawyers should Ligambi and Staino declare that they are unable to afford representation.
A third defendant in the pending retrial, George Borgesi, is apparently switching lawyers. Christopher Warren entered his appearance for Borgesi at a status hearing this afternoon. Warren would replace court-appointed attorney Paul Hetznecker who had a scheduling problem and would not have been able to retry the case until early in 2014.
Warren, who represented mob capo Joseph Licata at the earlier trial, said Hetznecker's inability to go to trial sooner was the only reason Borgesi opted to change attorneys. Robreno tentatively approved the switch but said Borgesi would have to appear before him and waive any potential conflict issues before Warren could officially take over.
Hetznecker's courtroom performance was hard to beat. Borgesi was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced. The jury hung on a racketeering conspiracy charge against him, Ligambi and Staino. That is the principal charge in the retrial. Ligambi also faces gambling charges.
The new trial would begin a year after the first trial which began in mid-October 2012. The trial took 10 weeks and the jury deliberated for 21 more days before delivering a mixed verdict on Feb. 5. Prosecutors said they did not anticipate a retrial taking as long.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor said the government case would take five or six weeks to present, slightly less time than the first trial.
There were seven defendants in that case.
The jury delivered not guilty verdicts on 46 charges, hung on 11 others and found four defendants -- Staino, Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, Damion Canalichio and Gary Battaglini -- guilty of a total of five charges.
Jacobs said the verdicts "gutted" the government's case, but the prosecution spun the outcome in the opposite direction, pointing to the convictions and earlier guilty pleas from other defendants. Nine defendants have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. Only Warren's original client, Licata, has been acquitted.
Massimino, Canalichio and Battaglini were all convicted of racketeering conspiracy, the principal charge in the case. They are to be sentenced in May. Staino was convicted of two extortion charges, but his sentencing will be delayed pending the outcome of the retrial or, according to some sources, a possible plea deal involving the still unresolved racketeering charge.
Ligambi will be retried on racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges on which the jury hung. Borgesi will be retried on the one racketeering conspiracy count. Two others defendants who were severed from the first case, Eric Esposito and Robert Ranieri, are also to be tried. Esposito faces gambling charges while Ranieri is charged with loansharking.
As the retrial moves forward, Philadelphia homicide detectives continue to work on a murder case pending against Anthony Nicodemo, a mob soldier arrested in December for the gangland-style shooting of Gino DiPietro in South Philadelphia.
Nicodemo, 41, was indicted earlier this week on first degree murder, conspiracy and weapons charges. The conspiracy count would seem to imply that authorities believe the shooting involved more than one defendant.
"Stayed tuned," said one investigative source.
Federal authorities, meanwhile, continue to monitor that investigation. Nicodemo has been identified in a New Jersey State Police affidavit as a suspect in the unsolved mob murder of John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto in 2003. That is one of three unsolved murders authorities would like to link to the Ligambi organization.
Contact George Anastasia at George@bigtrial.net.