Thursday, November 7, 2013
He was described by the defense as an 84-year-old Mafia hitman with a faulty memory, a mobster who had murdered so often "he couldn't remember how many people he had killed."
But when he took the stand this afternoon in the racketeering conspiracy trial of crime boss Joe Ligambi and wiseguy George Borgesi, Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio rattled off the how, when and why of a series of hits that are part of his organized crime resume.
Thin, balding and hard of hearing, Caprio was the leadoff witness for the prosecution in the retrial of the two Philadelphia mob leaders. Dressed in a blue V-neck sweater over a shirt and tie, Caprio spent 90 minutes on the stand at the end of the trial day. He is due back when the trial resumes next Tuesday.
"Shoot him again to make sure he's dead," Caprio said matter-of-factly as he recounted the instructions he gave to an associate during the 1975 slaying of a mob associate known as Butchie whose remains were dropped in a shallow grave in the basement of a Newark social club and then covered with cement.
Caprio said he was a member of the North Jersey branch of the Philadelphia crime family and identified both Ligambi and Borgesi as leaders of the organization. He said he was elevated to the rank of capo or captain after orchestrating the 1996 murder of Joe Sodano, a long-time capo who had failed to fall in line under the leadership of Ralph Natale and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino in the mid 1990s.
Caprio's trip down memory lane was a reprise of testimony he had given on at least two other occasions in federal courtrooms in Philadelphia. He testified at a racketeering trial in 2001 in which both Merlino and Borgesi were convicted.
And he was a witness last year in the racketeering trial of Ligambi, Borgesi and five others. A split verdict and a hung jury on conspiracy charges against Ligambi and Borgesi led to the retrial that opened this morning. Ligambi also faces gambling and obstruction of justice counts.
Many of those in the courtroom, including prosecutors, FBI agents, members of the media and the defendants and their friends and family members had heard Caprio's stories before. But for the twelve jurors and six alternates the testimony was new and, the prosecution hoped, would provide the foundation for the rest of its case.
"This case is about how the mob makes money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor told the jury in his opening statement at the start of the trial day.
Labor spent a little over an hour laying out the allegations against Ligambi and Borgesi and offering the jury what amounted to a legal primer on the nature of a conspiracy charge. The simple fact that Ligambi and Borgesi agreed that a crime should be committed by someone else was enough to support a guilty verdict, he argued.
Both defendants, as leaders of the Philadelphia branch of Cosa Nostra, benefitted from the gambling, loansharking and extortion carried out by others, he said. And the government's case, based on secretly recorded conversations and the testimony of cooperating witnesses -- including two undercover FBI agents and several admitted mobsters like Caprio -- would support those charges.
Defense attorneys offered a decidedly different take on the same set of circumstances.
Edwin Jacobs Jr., the lawyer for Ligambi, said the government's allegations were built around implausible theories and unsubstantiated testimony from less than credible witnesses.
Jacobs used a quote from Abraham Lincoln in a legal argument offered in a case 150 years ago.
"My adversary's case is as thin as the broth made from a starving chicken," he said.
He described the government's witnesses as liars and thugs who had cut deals to get out from under criminal charges they faced. Ticking off a list of witnesses who are scheduled to take the stand during the six week trial, Jacobs described one as a hitman who committed so many murders "he can't even remember how many people he killed." Another, he said, was a violent thug and a "convicted perjurer."And a third was a serial bank robber who cut a cooperating agreement with the government, was freed from prison and then went out and robbed some more banks.
Those witnesses, in order, were Caprio, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick.
Christopher Warren, Borgesi's lawyer, spent most of his opening blistering Monacello and Apronick, the two key witnesses in the case against Borgesi.
Like Caprio, Monacello testified at the trial last year. Aponick, a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Virginia between 2001 and 2003, will be making his debut in the current case.
Warren said Aponick, an associate of the Bonanno crime family in New York, viewed Borgesi as his "get out of jail free card" and fabricated information to work a deal with the FBI. And even after he committed the second set of bank robberies and violated the terms of his cooperating agreement, the government took him back as a witness because they were desperate to make a case against Borgesi.
"They took somebody they had kicked out of their bed and put him back under the covers," Warren argued, "because they didn't have anything better."
Monacello, a South Philadelphia mob associate, used Borgesi's name and reputation to advance his own gambling and loansharking operations, which Warren argued, Borgesi knew nothing about. He called Monacello "an egomaniacal blowhard" and a "petty bully" who enjoyed beating up and assaulting others.
Both witnesses are "frauds," Warren said. Aponick, he told the jury, "will try to sell you a bill of goods. Don't buy it."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial,.net.