The numbers are staggering.
More than $1.3 million in cash seized at his home in the Meadowbrook section of Huntingdon Valley, including $1.1 million stashed in PVC pipes buried in the back yard.
Another $1.7 million in bank accounts frozen by the feds, part of a seizure action that totals more than $6.3 million.
And a money trail of wire transfers in excess of $3.2 million to financial institutions in Sweden, Malta, Antiqua and Portugal.
That's the financial picture painted by federal prosecutors in the case against "Gentleman Gambler" Joe Vito Mastronardo Jr. and 15 co-defendants, including his wife, his son and his brother.
"At its peak, the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization had over 1,000 bettors and was generating millions of dollars of betting activity in a year," an indictment now pending in U.S. District Court alleges.
But that's just part of the story.
|Seized Joe Vito cash|
Mastronardo is without question one of the premier bookmakers in the Philadelphia area, if not the country. His clientele includes businessmen and corporate executives who think nothing of placing a $10,000 bet on a football or basketball game and whose wins and losses during a season of betting are often measured in six figures. That's serious gambling action and one reason why law enforcement has been buzzing around Mastronardo, 63, for most of his adult life.
The other is this: Joe Vito is the son-in-law of the late Frank L. Rizzo, the former mayor and the former police commissioner of Philadelphia. His wife, Joanna, is Rizzo's only daughter. His son, Joseph F. Mastronardo, 31, is Rizzo's only grandchild.
Their arrests in August 2012 when the indictment was unsealed set tongues wagging. Rizzo, the no-holds-barred, law-and-order mayor and top cop must be rolling in his grave. That was the media message of the day.
|Joe Vito's Estate|
The Mastronardos, on the advice of their lawyers, are reluctant to discuss particulars of the case as it moves forward. All are currently free on bail. A hearing on a series of pre-trial motions is set for Nov. 18. The trial itself is scheduled to begin in February.
In a series of off-the-record conversations, however, they have emphasized that the media portrayal of Joe Vito as the "rogue" son-in-law of the legendary mayor and police commissioner is built on speculation and hype rather than reality. Joseph F. Mastronardo said his father and grandfather genuinely liked one another.
He also said the case now pending in federal court is nothing more than a "money grab" by federal authorities, noting that his father and uncle have been down this road before.
In 2006, Joe Vito and his brother John, 58, a former standout wide receiver for Villanova University, pleaded guilty to gambling charges in Montgomery County in a deal worked out with the District Attorney's Office there. In exchange, the DA agreed not to pursue charges against other members of the family. The brothers also had to give up claims to more than $2 million that had been seized in that case, including $500,000 in cash that authorities found in Joe Vito's car which was stopped while he was returning from a trip to Florida.
|Joe Vito's father-in-law|
Montgomery County authorities launched another probe, taping phones (the current case includes over 1,000 secretly recorded conversations) and placing a tracking device in Joe Vito's Cadillac. Investigators also used several informants who were allegedly part of the gambling operation and tracked weekly collections by operatives of the organization.
The Cedar Brook Country Club and the Century House Restaurant on Bethlehem Pike in Hatfield were two favored locations for money exchanges, according to court documents.
The results of the investigation were subsequently turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office. That upped the stakes considerably for the defendants who, with the exception of Joanna Rizzo, face racketeering conspiracy and gambling charges. She is accused of "structuring" -- allegedly making a series of bank deposits (each under $10,000) to aid the gambling operation in avoiding detection.
But at its heart, defense attorneys say, this is nothing more than a gambling case. Joe Vito Mastronardo's reputation and his marital ties have made it much more, they contend.
For now, the battle will be fought over legal issues and police procedures. The defense is trying to have most, if not all, of the evidence gathered in the investigation thrown out, arguing that Montgomery County detectives failed to follow proper procedures while building the case.
Tapes of the secretly recorded conversations were not sealed in a timely fashion as required by law, the defense contends. Detectives monitoring the wiretaps failed to "minimize," that is turn off the recording device when conversations focused on topics unrelated to the gambling probe. Examples cited in a defense motion include discussions about health issues, dinner plans, the salaries paid to professional athletes and an attempt to "secure tickets to the musical Jersey Boys."
Finally, the defense argues that Montgomery Count detectives played fast-and-loose with the rules, misstating facts in probable cause affidavits in order to win court approved wiretaps.
Authorities alleged that cooperating witnesses said they feared "harassment, retaliation and/or physical violence." In fact, the defense argues, there has never been any indication that the Mastronardos engaged in violence or intimidation.
"If you didn't pay your debt, your punishment was you weren't allow to place any more bets," Dennis Cogan, a long-time attorney for the brothers, said in the 2006 case. He and other lawyers have emphasized that there is no evidence of threats or violence in the Mastronardos' history.
Cogan is currently representing John Mastronardo. He has represented Joe Vito in the past.
Another example of police misstatements, the defense contends, is the identification of Enrique Carlos Molina Sobrino as part of the Florida-based Mastronardo bookmaking operation. In fact, the defense notes, Molina "made a fortune" through his ownership of bottling rights for Pepsi Cola and Diet Pepsi in Mexico. He is also a hotel owner. His properties include the Ritz Carlton in Cancun, the defense points out.
The defense will also provide financial documentation to support that contention and will offer tax returns that show that Joe Vito -- a gambler -- paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in income tax on his gambling earnings.
Joe Vito Mastronardo makes no bones about the fact that he is a gambler. He is considered a master at setting a sports betting line and for years others looked to the "Vito line" while setting up their own bookmaking operations.
For more than three decades in the gambling business, according to both underworld and law enforcement sources, Mastronardo avoided doing business with the mob, ducking attempted shakedowns and seeking out a clientele of gentlemen gamblers like himself.
Ironically, the Mastronardo case on the 12th floor of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia moves forward at the same time that mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi are being retried on the 15th floor in a racketeering conspiracy case centered around gambling and loansharking. Jury selection in that case began today.
What is even more ironic is that the charges in the mob case are built around video poker machines that might generate $200- or $300-a-week in profit and bookmaking disputes about debts of $5,000 and $10,000. Mastronardo's clients wagered that much and more on a game.
The indictment makes reference to one customer who bet $20,000 on a Syracuse University basketball game and $50,000 on a Kentucky University game. The gambler, identified only by his account number -- 1487 -- eventually "covered his betting loses," the indictment alleges, by sending the Mastronardos $250,000.
The 23-count, 73-page indictment includes dozens of other references to the high stakes action that authorities allege was the Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization.
A close associate said earlier this week that Joe Vito defined his life by being a bookmaker. It was all he did and all he ever wanted to do.
He is now in poor health -- he is battling cancer, recently had a stroke and has a feeding tube in his stomach. But Joe Vito remains a one-of-a-kind, roguish entrepreneur who has always played by his own set of rules.
In a series of private conversations over the past year, it was clear that he doesn't draw a distinction between placing a bet and taking bet. It is all gambling. And for most of his life he has made a very good living at it. He just doesn't think it's a crime.
The indictment offers a hint into that mind set, citing a letter he wrote to the Montgomery County Probation Office in September 2007 seeking permission to travel to Costa Rica while still under office supervision in his 2006 case.
"The weather there is perfect for my health," he wrote, "82 degrees and HUMID every day. I traveled at least fourteen times to San Jose last year, 2006, from August to January, leaving on Friday and returning on Monday...Betting is an integral part of my income, and in order to maintain that, San Jose is a legal venue for all types of gambling...by restricting my gambling to Costa Rica and other offshore betting venues where betting is 100% legal, I will be allowed to make a living doing what I do best and love without being in violation of my probation."
But authorities say Joe Vito never restricted his action. In fact, the indictment alleges, he never stopped bookmaking from his suburban Philadelphia base. That allegation is at the heart of the racketeering and gambling indictment he now faces.
Over lunch at his home, a stylish Italianate mini-mansion in Meadowbrook this summer, Mastronardo talked about his life, his relationship with his late father-in-law -- they were friends and respected one another, he said -- and the future. But for the time being, the thin, silver-haired gambler said he wanted to keep those thoughts private.
He avoided any specific references to the charges, but with a sparkle in his eyes and a smile crossing his lips, he said he liked his chances in court. He talked about his uncle and the Pepsi Cola connection, about his legitimate gambling earnings and the taxes he has paid over the years.
Joe Vito didn't miss a beat. He and his family have been through a lot, he said. Every time the authorities come after him, he said, they seize or freeze his bank accounts, as they have done in the current case.
He buried cash in the PVC pipes, he said, so that his wife would have something to fall back on.
"I wanted her to have something in case they took everything else," he said.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.