The party ended before it got started for mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino.
The 63-year-old mobster, who joked continually about a victory celebration during a racketeering trial that ended in February, was sentenced to 188 months in prison today for his conviction on racketeering conspiracy charges.
In a courtroom packed with friends and family members of the defendant, Judge Eduardo Robreno imposed the sentence of nearly 16 years after a two-hour hearing. The hearing included an impassioned and rambling statement by the defendant who denied he was a mob leader, questioned the draconian sentencing guideline system employed in federal cases and suggested that the country would be safer if the government focused on terrorists rather than La Cosa Nostra.
"I'm no boss of nuthin'," the thin, goateed wiseguy said while denying government accusations that he had extorted and threatened gamblers and the operators of a video poker machine company.
If the FBI used the money that the investigation in this case cost to track down and prosecute Al-Qaeda, he said, "The World Trade Center would still be there and those poor people in Boston would still have their arms and legs."
He also questioned sentencing guidelines that sometimes add up to 100 years.
"Those laws are for trees," Massimino said, his arms outstretched, his palms up in supplication. "Trees live a hundred years."
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said Massimino was a "career offender" with an arrest and conviction record dating back more than 40 years. His prior convictions included racketeering and drug dealing on behalf of organized crime, Labor said.
"Enough is enough," Labor said in urging Robreno to impose a 20-year sentence.
"Every day in jail is one more day he is less likely to commit a crime," said Labor who quipped that "it was more likely that the Tooth Fairy would walk through the door" than Massimino would be rehabilitated.
"He's not going to relent," Labor said.
Massimino, dressed in a green prison jump suit and white sneakers, showed little emotion when Robreno finally imposed the sentence at the end of the hearing. The judge had set the sentencing guideline range at from 151 to 188 months and sentenced Massimino to the top end of that range.
"Civilized society cannot tolerate" organized crime activities, the judge said, accepting the government's argument that Massimino was a leader of the mob family and a career criminal who would not change his ways.
Robreno said watching Massimino interact with others during the trial showed that he was a "gregarious and pleasant individual." But he told Massimino that his extensive criminal record indicated that, "You don't get it. You never have gotten it. You've dedicated your life to crime."
Several friends and family members privately praised Massimino after the hearing.
"He's a great guy," said one. "They (the government) don't know him. He's helped more people than he's ever hurt...He's paid his debt for his earlier crimes."
"He's a good man," said another friend as the crowd exited the 15th floor courtroom after the hearing. "He don't deserve this."
Massimino has been held without bail since his arrest in May 2011. As a result, he already has two years and two months prison time accumulated. With a federal standard of no parole, inmates routinely serve 85 percent of their sentence (with credit for good time). Under that scenario, Massimino would have to spend about 11 more years in prison before he could be released.
The wiry mob underwboss beat several gambling and extortion charges that were part of the case, but he was convicted of the overarching charge of racketeering conspiracy. In a 62-page memo filed yesterday, prosecutors say that conviction coupled with Massimino's "reprehensible criminal history" and status as a leader of organized crime warranted a 20-year prison sentence.
Defense attorney Joseph Santaguida had argued that the government turned a "glorified gambling case" into a mob conspiracy and that his client should be facing a sentencing range of 51 to 63 months. In a memo filed earlier this month, Santaguida wrote that the "defense would have no objection to a 63-month sentence."
During today's hearing, Santaguida challenged the government's positions on several issues, including the allegation that Massimino was the mob underboss. He said prosecutors had failed to establish that and, like several other issues in the case, had relied on news media reports to support their contention.
After Robreno rejected most of Santaguida's arguments, the defense attorney asked that Massimino be sentenced to the low end of the 151-188 month guideline range that Robreno had established. The judge, however, went in the other direction.
Massimino quietly nodded and told friends "don't worry" as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. His mood was substantially subdued and unlike the jocular, quick-with-a-quip attitude he has displayed throughout the trial.
Day after day as the trial dragged on over a three-month period that included three weeks of jury deliberation, he predicted his acquittal and the acquittals of his co-defendants, telling friends and family members who gathered in the courtroom to "keep those martini glasses on ice." He talked about a big victory party and joked with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, one of the prosecutors in the case, chiding him about the evidence and asking Han "for a ride home" after the trial ended.
While friends and family members laughed at his antics (which occurred without the jury present), the government clearly did not see the humor.
"Massimino's character, revealed by his courtroom demeanor in this case, reflects his view that the rule of law is a joke," Labor wrote in his sentencing memo. Today prosecutors got the last laugh.
"Those glasses are going to be gathering dust before he gets out," said one law enforcement source.
Labor also argued that even though Massimino was acquitted of specific counts of gambling and extortion, his conviction for conspiracy made him accountable for the underling crimes committed on behalf of the crime family. Those crimes were detailed in an indictment handed up against him, acting mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and nearly a dozen others in May 2011.
Massimino, Labor wrote in his memo, "made money ... by leveraging the participation of other members of the racketeering conspiracy and the mob's well earned reputation for violence."
The memo detailed many of the charges from the case, including allegations that Massimino, Ligambi and Anthony Staino used implied threats to take over a video poker machine distribution network.
The government said Massimino ran a gambling operation out of Lou's Crab House, a South Philadelphia bar-restaurant that he operated.
The memo also cited Massimino's attempt to collect a debt while serving a racketeering sentence in a New Jersey state prison in 2005. The memo quoted from a letter that Massimino wrote from prison asking a friend to help him collect the debt.
Santaguida pointed to the letter as just one example of the prosecution taking facts and distorting the issue. He said the debt Massimino was complaining about and trying to collect was a legitimate loan that he had made and had nothing to do with gambling or organized crime.
Nevertheless, the letter, which was introduced as evidence during the trial, was cited as an example of Massimino's threatening, violent manner.
"I don't care if he has to rob a bank, he fuckin' better get my money," he wrote of an individual who owed him $35,000. "That bald-headed motherfucker, I'm tired of the stories and bullshit. He won't be able to hide anywhere in the U.S."
In the same letter, Massimino told his friend, "If you write me, watch what you say. They read everything that comes to me." Either Massimino believed only incoming mail was monitored or he didn't care about making threats in his own letter.
Stupidity or arrogance, law enforcement sources said. Both were traits that have marked Massimino's criminal career which, Labor wrote, "spans five decades."
In his sentencing memo, Labor also addressed the ongoing defense argument in the case that the offenses charged were not crimes of violence and amounted to little more than petty gambling.
"Illegal gambling," Labor wrote, "provides a ready market for loanshark victims: once a gambler becomes indebted to the Philadelphia LCN Family bookmaker, the enterprise is ready, willing and able to extend credit through a `street loan.' The losing bettor becomes the equivalent of an ATM machine, from which the Philadelphia LCN can withdraw cash `juice' payments every week.
"Faced with the threat of violence if such payments are not made, the gambler must continue to generate cash from some source, such as looting family savings, the assets of legitimate business or from criminal activity.
"Gambling set in motion the cycle of criminality which enabled the racketeering enterprise to continue profiteering from crime."
Robreno's sentence was watched closely by several others in the case. Three other defendants are scheduled to be sentenced within the next week. In that light, what Robreno imposed on Massimino would likely be interpreted as the standard that will be applied to co-defendants Gary Battaglini, who is to be sentenced tomorrow, and Damion Canalichio and Anthony Staino, who have sentencing hearings next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Two other defendants, Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, are to be retried on the same racketeering conspiracy charge that Massimino was sentenced for today. The jury hung on that count for both Ligambi and Borgesi. Their retrial before Robreno is set for October.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.