|Bent Finger Lou|
Now it's personal.
When Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello took the witness stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, George Borgesi, the tone of the three-week-old trial shifted.
This was no longer an expert gambling witness or a beleaguered bar owner with a poker machine or an FBI agent interpreting secretly recorded conversations. This was Borgesi's one-time friend and, if the government is to believed, his chief partner in crime.
Monacello and Borgesi go back 30 years. They know a lot about one another. And much of it will get laid out for the jury. As he did at the first trial, Monacello, 47, began to paint a verbal portrait of his underworld involvement with both defendants.
It's not a pretty picture.
Bent Finger Lou identified Ligambi, 74, as the kingpin of the local crime family.
"Joe Ligambi told me on several occasions, "'I'm the boss,'" Monacello said, affecting a belligerent tone as he repeated the phrase. "'I'm the boss.'"
But it was his description of Borgesi, 50, that offered the most detailed and the most troubling personal insights.
Borgesi, he said, bragged about being a "gangster" and claimed to have been involved in 11 murders. "I'm a professional," he said Borgesi told him.
Describing himself as an enforcer for the mob capo, he told the jury how he had assaulted a contractor who ran afoul of the organization; how he used a baseball bat to split open the head of a member of the 10th and Oregon gang, and how he took a group of 12 to 15 men to a bar in Delaware County to intimidate two bookmakers who were scheduled to testify in a 2001 mob trial.
All of that, he said, was carried out on Borgesi's orders.
Dressed in a gray, pinstriped suit, white shirt and tie, Monacello was focused, but decidedly less arrogant as he retold the same stories he had provided in the first trial that ended earlier this year with a hung jury on the conspiracy charge that Ligambi and Borgesi are again fighting.
He said he met Borgesi when Borgesi was 17 and he was 14. He said he became a member of his mob crew about 10 years later and handled bookmaking, loansharking and extortion. He also said he and Borgesi would steal cars together in collaboration with an auto body shop operator who used to make copies of customers' car keys and give them to Borgesi.
Being part of organized crime, Monacello told the jury, was "a license to steal."
"You could stick your hand in anybody's pocket," he said Borgesi told him.
He called Borgesi a "maniac" and a killer whom others referred to as "The Fireman."
"Wherever he went, he started fires," Monacello explained. "He caused trouble."
Authorities allege that after Borgesi was jailed on racketeering charges in 2000, Monacello ran his gambling and loansharking operation. Borgesi was convicted in 2001 in that unrelated racketeering case and sentencted to 14 years in prison. The conspiracy charge in the current case is built largely around the allegation that, from prison, Borgesi continued to operate in the underworld.
Monacello, authorities allege, was Borgesi's street-level operative.
The defense, as it did in the first trial, is expected to argue that Monacello used Borgesi' name and reputation to enhance his own money-making underworld schemes and that Borgesi was unaware of what was going on.
The jury in the first trial acquitted Borgesi of 13 counts of gambling and loansharking that were based primarily on Monacello's testimony. But it hung on a final conspiracy charge, resulting in the retrial that began earlier this month.
Whether Monacello's story plays differently with the current jury could determine Borgesi's fate. Unlike Ligambi, who faces charges built around testimony and secretly recorded conversations, Borgesi's case revolves around Monacello and another government informant, Anthony Aponick, who is expected to testify within the next two weeks.
Monacello spent about two hours on the witness stand and is due back when the trial resumes Monday.
Borgesi, he said, used violence, fear and intimidation to get his way in the underworld and with his associates. "If he found out you were lying to him and making money behind his back, he would beat you up or kill ya." Monacello said. "He was known as a gangster and a very dangerous person."
Prosecutors reinforced that point by questioning Monacello at length about instances when Borgesi assaulted Angelo Lutz, another crime family associate. As he had in the first trial, Monacello described one incident in which, he said, Borgesi split Lutz' head open with the metal rod from an artificial Christmas tree while threatening to kill Lutz in a dispute over money.
Lutz, Monacello said, had forged a check and stolen $4,000 from a company Lutz and Borgesi ran at the time.
Monacello cited three other instances when, he said, Borgesi assaulted the then 5-foot-4, 400-pound mob associate, including one incident where, Monacello said, Borgesi bit Lutz in the forehead and spit his skin out on the sidewalk.
The prosecutor is expected to play a now infamous tape -- used at the racketeering trial in 2001 and again at the first trial in this case -- is which Borgesi is heard on a wiretapped phone laughing and cackling about how he had pummeled Lutz, knocking him out. That incident was separate from the ones described by Monacello today.
In an even more personal note, Moncello talked in detail about how he was first ordered by Borgesi to funnel money to Borgesi's wife, Dina, after Borgesi was jailed in 2000. About 18 months later, he said, Borgesi from prison told him the money should go to his then girlfriend Alyson.
"She was his commare," Monacello said. "His girlfriend on the side."
Borgesi divorced his first wife in 2004, Monacello said. And, from prison, married Alyson who has been in the courtroom every day during the trial.
Borgesi showed little reaction to Monacello, but occasionally commented to his lawyer, Christoper Warren, seated next to him at the defense table. The defense is expected to portray Monacello as a liar, cheat and thug when cross-examination begins.
Borgesi, in comments, emails and messages to friends, has been referring to Monacello as "Rat Finger Lou" and "Fuck Finger Lou."
But if this jury buys the story that Monacello is selling, it will be Borgesi who gets the finger.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.