It could be a packed house for what basically amounts to a rerun.
Friends and family members of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi, are expected to fill the small, 15th floor courtroom tomorrow for opening statements in the retrial of the two South Philadelphia wiseguys.
Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, are facing a racketeering conspiracy charge, a leftover from a broader racketeering case that ended in February with both defendants acquitted of most of the charges they faced. Borgesi beat 13 of the 14 counts and Ligambi was acquitted of five of nine.
The turnout in U.S. District Court at 6th and Market is expected to be a public showing of support for the two gangsters who have been held without bail since an indictment was handed down in May 2011. It also comes on the heels of a blistering attack by Borgesi's family in the Philadelphia Daily News last week in which they charged that George Borgesi was the victim of a government vendetta.
|Manny and Anthony Borgesi|
How any of that plays to the anonymously chosen jury of ten women and two men (there are also six alternates) that will decide the fate of Borgesi and Ligambi is a question that can't be answered. No one knows whether any of those jurors even read the article or what they may have thought about if they had.
But one reader who clearly wasn't happy with the Borgesi family rant was Joey Merlino. The erstwhile Philadelphia mob boss who was tried and convicted with Borgesi and five others back in 2001 is now living in Boca Raton, finishing his final year of federal supervised release (formerly known as parole) and continuing to vow that he will not be returning to South Philadelphia.
In the Daily News article published last Friday, Anthony Borgesi decried the fact that his brother has been denied bail in the pending case and pointed out that he has (like Merlino) finished his 14-year sentence for the 2001 conviction.
Merlino said in a telephone interview this week that he read the article and was surprised by Anthony Borgesi's comments.
"What's he saying, that I should still be in jail? " he asked. "Do they want me back in jail?"
Merlino also said he thought Anthony Borgesi was off base in portraying his brother as a victim of discrimination. According to the Daily News piece, Anthony Borgesi argued that his brother's constitutional rights were being denied, that the government was "playing dirty." And he added that if his brother were Black, the country wouldn't stand for it.
"Where's our Al Sharpton?" Anthony Borgesi is quoted as saying.
That kind of talk, Merlino said, does not play well with jurors, especially jurors who are African-American. (There are three African-Americans on the current panel.)
For an historic perspective, Anthony Borgesi ought to research Joe Colombo and the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League Colombo founded back in the 1970s. Like Borgesi, Colombo launched a campaign against the federal government alleging that Italian-Americans were being targeted. He picketed the FBI Office in New York and held rallies that attracted large crowds. Frank Sinatra performed a benefit concert for the organization which morphed into the Italian American Civil Rights League.
Colombo became the Al Sharpton of his day. But his fellow gangsters decided that kind of publicity was not good for business. Things ended badly for Colombo.
How it ends for Borgesi and Ligambi will depend on the jury and the evidence, two issues that often get lost in the rhetoric. Clearly, and this has been written here before, the conspiracy law is stacked in the government's favor.
Borgesi was acquitted of gambling and loansharking charges in the first trial. But those charges, built largely around the testimony of discredited mob informant Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, can legally to used again to support the conspiracy charge.
In fact, this jury will hear much of the same testimony that the first jury rejected.
Fair? It doesn't seem so, but that's the law.
Ligambi faces the same hardship but the mob boss has opted to keep his feelings to himself.
"You can pick your friends," he said. "You can't pick your family."
There are those in both law enforcement and underworld circles who believe the mob boss might have been granted bail were it not for his co-defendant who among other things called Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, one of the prosecutors in the case, "a fuckin' punk" after one court session earlier this year.
While the defense will present a united front at trial, Ligambi's relationship with his nephew has been strained at times. Monacello testified about this in the last trial and is likely to revisit it again when he takes the stand in the current case.
Anthony Aponick, a jailhouse snitch and cooperator with ties to the Bonanno crime family in New York, is scheduled to testify as well. Aponick was not called in the first case, in part because of his criminal history and questions about his credibility. He has said Borgesi and his uncle didn't always get along and that Borgesi, from his prison cell, frequently criticized Ligambi, claiming his uncle was pocketing Borgesi's underworld earnings while he was in jail.
Aponick was a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Virginia, planted there, the Borgesi family alleges, to lure George Borgesi into criminal acts. The family said that was just one example of the feds "vendetta." It failed, they contend, but it will not stop Aponick from taking the stand for the government and lying to the jury.
"They are the real criminals," Manny Borgesi was quoted in the Daily News article, commenting about witnesses like Monacello and Aponick.
|Bent Finger Lou|
Monacello's involvement in the mob stems from a relationship with George Borgesi. It was Borgesi who tapped Monacello as an associate in the 1990s and later used him to handle his underworld affairs. If Monacello is a liar, a cheat, a bullshit artist, if "Fag Finger Lou" or "Rat Finger Lou" as George Borgesi now refers to his former associate, is a heartless punk out to save himself, did he become those things only after he agreed to cooperate?
Or was that who he always was? If so, why did Borgesi have someone like that in his inner circle?
The same question could be asked about several other Borgesi associates, including Aponick (who came to Philadelphia with an introduction from Borgesi in 2003 after he was released from prison); Robert Luisi, a Boston gangster who was close to Borgesi before turning informant (and then finding Jesus and being drummed out of the federal fold) and the elusive Roger Vella, a drug dealer and admitted murderer who Borgesi referred to as a "bed bug" even as he maintained a relationship with him on the streets in the 1990s.
Those are the kinds of questions that don't get asked during a trial or in a newspaper article where the Borgesi family gets to rant and rave. But those are the questions that many who have followed the soap opera like saga of the Philadelphia mob find intriguing because they say as much about Borgesi as they do about the witnesses against him.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.