|Anthony Staino (left) and Gregory Pagano|
Mob leader Anthony Staino, awaiting sentencing for his conviction on two counts of extortion, decided to fold his cards and avoid a retrial on racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges still pending against him.
Staino, 55, pleaded guilty to those remaining counts this afternoon during a hour-long hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno.
"It just makes sense," said Gregory Pagano, Staino's lawyer, of his client's decision. "He wants to get this behind him and move on with his life."
Staino, who has no criminal record, entered a so-called "open" plea to the racketeering conspiracy charge and to two gambling charges linked to his involvement in an illegal video poker machine operation.
Without a stipulation between the prosecution and the defense on a plea deal, it will be up to Robreno to determine how much time Staino is to receive. Sentencing has been set for July 17.
According to several individuals familiar with the sentencing guideline formula used in federal cases, Staino is facing about five years for the extortion convictions. His plea to the additional charges could add some time to his total sentence, but his decision to plead guilty and avoid trial would be a factor in his favor when the actual guidelines are established.
Dressed in a green prison jump suit, Staino smiled and nodded hello to his lawyer and reporters as he was led in handcuffs into the 15th floor courtroom prior to the start of the hearing. During the proceeding he answered "Yes sir" and "no sir" to a series of questions posed by the judge and ultimately offered a "guilty" when asked how he pleaded to the three charges pending against him.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Pagano said Staino had considered a guilty plea prior to the start of the trial last year, but he said prosecutors wanted Staino to plead guilty to all 29 counts he faced. In fact, a jury found him not guilty of 24 of those counts, most related to gambling and loansharking.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, one of the prosecutors in the case, said during the hearing that Staino was a capo in the crime family and a significant player in a organization that used the mob's reputation for violence to run its gambling and loansharking operations.
In a conversation secretly recorded by an FBI agent posing as a corrupt gambler and financier, Staino described himself as the "CFO" of the crime family and a member of the organization's "board of directors."
The tapes made by the FBI agent were considered the most damaging to Staino. The extortion convictions were linked to a loan he had made to the agent.
The trial, which lasted nearly three months, resulted in a convoluted series of findings by the anonymously chosen jury. The jury deliberated for a staggering three weeks after 10 weeks of testimony and at one point Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, one of the prosecutors in the case, suggested that the panel was wandering "in the desert."
In fact, the verdicts would suggest that the group had trouble discerning both the charges and the laws that applied. Of the 62 counts in the case, the jury delivered not guilty verdicts on 46 of the charges. The panel was hung -- undecided -- on 11 others. It delivered only five guilty verdicts.
While defense attorneys claimed a major victory in what they had described as an poorly drafted and overcharged case, the defendants themselves have had little to celebrate.
Only mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata has been able to walk away. The 71-year-old North Jersey mobster was found not guilty of racketeering conspiracy, the one central charge against all seven defendants.
While mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, Damion Canalichio, 44, and Gary Battaglini, 51, beat many of the gambling charges they faced, all three were convicted of conspiracy and are to be sentenced next month.
Massimino and Canalichio, a mob soldier with two prior convictions for drug dealing, could each face more than 10 years in prison.
Mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, 73, was found not guilty of five of the nine charges against him, but is scheduled to be retried on the racketeering conspiracy count, two gambling counts and an obstruction of justice count on which the jury hung. His nephew, mob leader George Borgesi, 50, was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced, but the jury also was hung on the racketeering conspiracy charge against him.
Borgesi's lawyer is expected to file a motion seeking to have the remaining charge dropped, arguing that the not guilty verdicts on gambling and related charges undermine the broader conspiracy count.
"What was the conspiracy if the jury found him not guilty of all the substantive counts?" an associate of Borgesi's asked recently.
Like Ligambi, Borgesi and the other defandants are being held without bail.
Staino's decision to plead guilty could result in a racketeering conspiracy trial in October that is literally and figuratively a "family" affair. Authorities have described Ligambi and Borgesi as leaders of the Philadelphia crime family.
Borgesi was finishing a 14-year sentence for a 2001 racketeering conviction when he was indicted in the current case. He was considered the consigliere of the mob family headed by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
Merlino, 51, who was also sentenced to 14 years, relocated to Florida after his release to a halfway house over a year ago. He has said he has no intention of returning to Philadelphia despite some law enforcement intelligence reports that continue to list him as the head of the crime family.
Ligambi is considered the "acting boss" in those reports. Ligambi's sister is Borgesi's mother.
Two minor defendants, Eric Espositio and Robert Ranieri, are scheduled to be tried along with Ligambi and Borgesi in October, but neither faces a racketeering conspiracy charge and several sources have said both are expected to enter guilty pleas and avoid trial.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.