Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi was temporarily derailed this afternoon by a Philadelphia Daily News story about mob associate Ron Galati.
Meanwhile speculation mounted that the South Philadelphia auto-body shop operator may be considering cooperating with authorities.
Galati, 63, abruptly replaced Joseph Santaguida as his attorney today with Anthony Voci, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant District Attorney. Santaguida said he was informed of the change in a telephone conversation with Galati's son this afternoon. Santaguida had met with Galati at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility this morning.
"He didn't say anything (about changing attorneys)," Santaguida said. "Then I heard from his son."
Santaguida said he wouldn't speculate about the change. Galati is scheduled for a bail hearing on Monday. Several observers say that if he is granted bail -- which was considered unlikely at the time of his arrest -- it could be a sign that he has cut a deal with the District Attorney's Office or is in the process of doing so.
Voci, who left the DA's Office in 2006, said that "any suggestion that my client is contemplating cooperating is absolutely not true." He said he is focused on the bail issue and getting his client home for the holidays.
"The charges are bailable offenses and we look forward to our day in court Monday morning," Voci said.
The impact on the Ligambi trial was temporary, but the Galati situation has added another twist to the ongoing saga of the mob boss and his co-defendant nephew. Both have been identified as friends of Galati's. Borgesi, according to testimony, has also been involved in scams run from the auto-body shop.
The Daily News article published this morning included a blaring front page headline that labeled Galati a "Wrecketeer." The piece, by William Bender, raised questions about how Galati, who was convicted of insurance fraud and racketeering in 1995, was able to obtain a contract to repair cars for the city, including Philadelphia Police Department vehicles.
The article said that Galati's auto-body shop was awarded a city contract in 2011 that runs through June 2014. Last year he was paid over $400,000 for repair work for the Police Department, according to the story which also detailed Galati's mob associations to Borgesi and former mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino. (See Bigtrial December 17).
Galati was arrested Saturday and charged with attempted murder, solicitation of murder and witness intimidation for allegedly hiring hitmen to kill three different individuals who have testified against him in an ongoing grand jury investigation into insurance fraud.
The targets allegedly included the boyfriend of Galati's grown daughter. The victim was shot outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30 , but survived. Two gunmen, both Philadelphians, were arrested within minutes of the shooting and both, according to the Daily News, are now cooperating.
Members of the Ligambi jury panel were privately questioned by Judge Eduardo Robreno after defense attorneys, at the lunch break today, raised questions about whether exposure to the article could have tainted the panel.
The trial resumed around 2:40 p.m. after an hour-long delay. Apparently none of the jurors had seen or heard about the Galati piece.
"No one saw or read anything," said Christopher Warren, Borgesi's attorney, as he emerged from the judge's chambers prior to the start of the afternoon session.
Robreno made no mention of the issue as he called the trial back into session.
Despite the delay, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the government hopes to complete its presentation of witnesses and evidence by Friday. With a weeklong recess for the Christmas holiday, the trial would then resume on Dec. 30 with the defense calling its first witnesses.
Closing arguments and jury deliberation are likely the first or second full week in January.
Galati's situation, meanwhile, continues to cast a shadow over the trial. The wannabe wiseguy, according to people who know him, has said he does not want to go back to jail. Galati was sentenced to 37 months in 1995 after a federal jury convicted him of racketeering and fraud charges. In that case, he was found not guilty of threatening to kill a postal inspector who was part of an insurance fraud task force targeting him.
The current insurance fraud case is apparently built around the same kind of accusations that landed him in jail eight years ago. The murder threats and the hiring of hitmen, if proven, add a different dynamic to the case and bring substantially stiffer penalties if there is a conviction.
Galati's dealings with members of the South Philadelphia underworld and any role he may have played in an infamous shooting during the Stanfa-Merlino war in the 1990s could be information around which he could negotiate a deal.
Galati was targeted for death by mob boss John Stanfa because Stanfa believed it was Galati who aided the Merlino faction by cutting portholes into the side of a stolen van that was used in an ambush of Stanfa on the Schuylkill Express in August 1993. The shooting, in the midst of mid-morning rush hour traffic, resulted in Stanfa's son Joseph being wounded.
No one has ever been convicted for that crime. And while the statute of limitations has expired on the shooting itself, the act could be part of a broader racketeering case should federal prosecutors opt to go in that direction.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.