By George Anastasia
An outsider can buy his way into the Philadelphia mob for $10,000.
That, at least, is what New York mob informant Anthony Aponick said he was asked to cough up to George Borgesi while they were cellmates in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2003.
"He said I would become a member of his crew," said Aponick as he testified today at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss Joe Ligambi. "He wanted $10,000."
The membership fee was just 10 percent of what Boston mobster Bobby Luisi said he had to pay Joey Merlino back in the late 1990s to become a made member of the organization. Whether that was a reflection of an economic downturn in the underworld or whether Aponick was getting a special discount could not be determined. Like Aponick, Luisi became a close associate of Borgesi's. And like Aponick, he eventually became an FBI informant.
Aponick said his dealings with Borgesi also came with an ominous warning.
"Listen, no matter what, don't fuck me," he said Borgesi told him as Aponick was about to be released from prison in 2003. "If you fuck me, I'll kill you and your whole family."
Aponick, who was already cooperating with the FBI by that time, disregarded the warning.
Aponick celebrated his 43rd birthday this morning by making his public debut as a government witness. Describing himself as an associate of the Bonanno crime family in New York, he said he befriended Borgesi after being transferred to the federal prison in Beckley, W. Va., in 2002.
Borgesi was serving a 14-year sentence for a racketeering conviction. Aponick had been sentenced to 93 months for a series of armed robberies. They and several other mob members and associates hung out together in the federal institution, Aponick said.
He described Borgesi as a "serious" mobster, but also as a funny and witty individual whom he genuinely liked. He said that laughed, joked and cooked meals together, and eventually became cellmates.
While reticent to discuss mob business at first, Aponick said Borgesi eventually confided in him and also urged him to move to Philadelphia after he was released from prison. While he was not a full-blooded Italian-American (his mother was Italian, but his father was Ukrainian and Lithuanian), Aponick said Borgesi assured him that he could become a made -- formally initiated member -- of the Philadelphia mob.
The price tag was $10,000.
Aponick is due back on the stand when the trial resumes tomorrow. His testimony is considered crucial to the government's case against Borgesi who prosecutors allege continued to run a mob operation from prison while serving his 2001 sentence for a racketeering conviction.
Dressed in a gray, sharkskin suit, white shirt and tie, and speaking with a thick Brooklyn accent, the five-foot-six Joe Pesce-look-alike gangster testified for nearly four hours. Much of what he said supported and corroborated the testimony of Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, another Borgesi associate who finished three days of testimony on Tuesday.
Among other things, Aponick said Borgesi boasted of his own involvement in 11 mob murders, some of which he had been charged with and acquitted, and others for which he had avoided prosecution.
"He told me he beat 11 murders," said Aponick. "I'm from the streets. When you say you beat something, that means you did it."
Like Monacello, Aponick described Borgesi, 50, as someone who enjoyed his status as a mob leader and his reputation for violence.
"He told me he was the `coon-see' (consigliere)," Aponick said. He also said that Borgesi told him his uncle (Ligambi) was the boss but that the crime family "belonged" to Joey Merlino, Steven Mazzone and Borgesi, all three of whom were convicted in the 2001 racketeering case.
Borgesi is the only one of seven defendants in that case still in jail.
"He said the family belonged to him, Merlino and Mazzone," Aponick said. "His uncle was minding the store (and) would have a step aside" when they came out of prison. If not, Borgesi said, Ligambi or anyone else trying to run the organization "would have serious problems."
Aponick said he began cooperating with the FBI in September 2002 while he was Borgesi's cellmate. He said he did so because he was finishing his 93-month sentence and didn't want to go back into the mob life. His cooperation earned him a six-month reduction in that jail term.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Aponick said he was a Bonanno crime family associate for more than 20 years and was engaged in gambling, drug dealing, hijacking, extortions and robberies for the organization. He said Borgesi encouraged him to leave New York and move to Philadelphia where he would become part of the crew being run by Monacello while Borgesi's was in jail.
He said he described Monacello as "his man on the street."
"I had never been to Philadelphia," Aponick said. But he went along with the plan as part of his cooperating agreement with the FBI.
He, like Monacello, also said he was surprised that Borgesi used his wife Alyson to communicate about mob business with him and other associates.
"It's not customary to get a woman involved to that extent," he said after detailing messages relayed to him in letters and phone calls by Borgesi's wife.
He said he and Borgesi discussed setting up an after hours club and a men's clothing store through which they could run gambling and loansharking operations in the Philadelphia area. But he said Borgesi told him repeatedly to stay away from his uncle.
"He said his uncle was greedy," Aponick said.
The jury was also shown a video of Aponick meeting in Brooklyn with Borgesi's brother Anthony and Mauro Goffredo, a Borgesi associate in the trash business, while Aponick was in a halfway house in New York completing his prison term.
The jury has already heard a phone conversation Borgesi had with Monacello and Aponick after Aponick came to Philadelphia and met with Monacello at Ralph's, a restaurant on Ninth Street. The tape is expected to be played again so that Aponick can explain parts of what the government contends was coded conversation. Borgesi made the call from prison where all phone calls are taped and monitored.
Aponick's motivation for testifying and his credibility are both expected to be challenged when cross-examination begins some time tomorrow. One of the things the jury has yet to hear is that shortly after his release from prison in 2003, and while he was cooperating with the FBI, Aponick robbed several banks in New York. He was arrested for those robberies and his cooperation agreement negated.
But he managed to convince federal authorities to give him a second chance. His new deal resulted in a three-year sentence for the bank robberies and his agreement to help make the case against Borgesi.
Aponick was not called as a witness in the first trial that ended with a hung jury on the conspiracy count that Borgesi and Ligambi now face.
The defense will argue that Aponick has used Borgesi as a trading chit to get out from under his own criminal problems. That same argument has been presented to the jury in an attempt to undermine Monacello's testimony.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.