Friday, December 6, 2013
The anonymously chosen jury in the conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi headed home this afternoon for a five-day break.
There will be no trial Monday through Wednesday to accommodate judicial scheduling issues. The trial is set to resume on Thursday.
For all intents and purposes the prosecution has wrapped up its case against Borgesi, 50, who faces only a racketeering conspiracy charge.
The jury this week heard crucial testimony from two mob informants who tied the volatile South Philadelphia mobster to ongoing organized crime activities while Borgesi was in prison following a conviction in an unrelated racketeering case in 2001.
Anthony Aponick, 43, a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Viriginia, completed his testimony this morning with a brief cross-examination by Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr.
Aponick first took the stand on Wednesday. His testimony largely corroborated the story told by Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello who testified before him. Monacello, 47, has been described as Borgesi's "point man" in gambling and loansharking operations.
The two witnesses were both hammered on cross-examination with defense attorneys challenging their stories and their reasons for cooperating. Both admitted to committing a series of crimes and being part of an organized crime network.
"We're criminals," Aponick said at one point.
His matter-of-fact descriptions were in synch with Monacello who toned down his delivery considerably from the first time he took the stand last year in a trial in which Ligambi and Borgesi were defendants.
The jury in that case hung on the racketeering conspiracy charge that both defendants now face. Ligambi, 74, is also facing two gambling counts and a witness tampering count.
Prosecutors hope to complete their case before Christmas. Judge Eduardo Robreno has indicated that court will not be in session Christmas week. How many witnesses the defense opts to call could determine how much longer the trial will last.
Speculation is that jury deliberation will begin shortly after the New Year.
In the last trial, which included seven defendants, the jury deliberated for nearly three weeks. At one point Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor likened the process to wandering in the dessert. Four defendants were convicted in a confusing jury verdict in which the panel rejected the bulk of the prosecution's case. Of 71 charges, the jury came back with guilty verdicts on only five.
Joseph "Scoops" Licata was acquitted and walked out of court a free man. Borgesi came close to walking away with the jury finding him not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced. But the panel hung on the racketeering conspiracy charge, resulting in the retrial. Ligambi beat five of the nine counts he faced.
A month into this trial it's obvious the prosecution has streamlined its presentation. The fact that there are only two defendants is part of the reason. But the case has also been presented in a clearer and more understandable fashion.
The consensus after the last trial was the that jury had no idea what a conspiracy was.
This time the panel, based on the comportment and approach of the jurors each day, appears to be following the case closely. There is little indication of any confusion. If that assessment is correct, it might not bode well for the defendants.
The panel includes ten women and two men. There are four alternates.
A conspiracy charge is heavily weighted in the prosecution's favor. As explained by the judge to the jury, a defendant doesn't have to commit a crime, but merely conspire with others who carry out the criminal activity.
The prosecution has tried to put Ligambi into a conspiracy by introducing evidence that he was the boss or acting boss of the Philadelphia crime family. Among other things, the prosecution keyed in on a lunch meeting at a restaurant in North Jersey in May 2010 in which Ligambi and several other Philadelphia crime family leaders meet with leaders of the Gambino crime family.
One of the mobsters at that meeting was cooperating with the FBI and wore a body wire in which he taped conversations.
Borgesi, jailed since 2000, has been tied to a conspiracy through the testimony of Monacello and Aponick, according to the prosecution's presentation. A key part of that allegation is Aponick's trip to Philadelphia after he was released from prison to meet with Monacello.
The meeting, at Ralph's Italian Restaurant on Ninth Street, was set up by Borgesi, both Aponick and Monacello said. Borgesi called from prison during the dinner and that taped phone call (all prison calls are monitored and taped) was played twice for the jury.
While the defense tried to argue that Aponick and Monacello were meeting to discuss legitimate business deals, both witnesses said the meeting was set up to expand on Borgesi's proposal for Aponick to move from New York to Philadelphia and become part of a gambling and loansharking operation that Monacello was overseeing.
In separate testimony today, the jury heard about how authorities closely watched Borgesi while he was an inmate in a federal prison in Beckley, West Virginia. Aponick was his cellmate there for about a year between 2002 and 2003.
Borgesi, because of his mob connections, was designated "an inmate of concern." All his phone calls were monitored and recorded and all his correspondence (letters he wrote and those he received) were read, copied and copies forwarded to the FBI.
The jury was also shown prison records indicating that Ligambi visited Borgesi 14 times between 2002 and 2009 and Monacello visited 12 times. Other records showed that Ligambi had placed $7,700 in Borgesi's prison commissary during that period and that mobster Anthony Staino, who visited five times, placed an additional $1,600.
A prison official testified that inmates were limited to spending $250-a-month from their commissary account. He also said the $7,700 provided by Ligambi was "excessively" high and out of the ordinary for most inmates.
The jury also heard that Borgesi had two prison violations while at Beckley, once for fighting with another inmate and once for assaulting his wife in the prison visitation room while she was visiting him.
Testimony and evidence introduced during the trial has portrayed Alyson Borgesi as her husband's most loyal confidante. Both Monacello -- who referred to her one time as "Alyson Corleone" -- and Aponick said they were surprised that Borgesi shared mob business information with his wife and used her to pass messages.
"It's unusual for a woman to be involved," said Aponick who held himself out as an associate of the Bonanno crime family in New York and one who from the age of 12 had been around the mobster "life."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.