The federal government is still fighting a war it won more than a decade ago, the lawyer for mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi told a jury this afternoon while asking the panel to reject the prosecution's case against his client and co-defendant George Borgesi.
"There was a sea change in 1999," Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. told the jury. La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia, he said, "is a shell" (of what it once was). "It's every man for himself...The FBI won the war."
And the result, said Christopher Warren, Borgesi's attorney, is a case built around "a theater of the absurd."
Those were two of the high points of more than two hours of spirited closing argument by the defense today in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50.
The prosecution, to no one's great surprise, presented the anonymously chosen jury panel with a decidedly different take, painting the two defendants as leaders of an organized crime family that engaged in gambling, loansharking and extortion and that used its reputation for violence to further the criminal conspiracy at the heart of the case.
"La Cosa Nostra, This Thing of Ours, Our Thing," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han. "It was Joe Ligambi's thing. It was George Borgesi's thing."
As is often the case with closing arguments, the two sides took the same set of facts and evidence and spun them in different directions. The ultimate decision rests with the jury which is expected to begin deliberations either late tomorrow or the first thing Wednesday morning. There are approximately two more hours of closing arguments scheduled for tomorrow by the defense and prosecution. Judge Eduardo Robreno will then spend a good part of the afternoon explaining the laws that apply before the jury can begin deliberations.
Neither Ligambi nor Borgesi showed much emotion during the five hours of closing arguments today, although Borgesi occasionally shook his head in disagreement over some of Han's comments.
In a methodical and detailed presentation, the federal prosecutor spent nearly 30 minutes of his two and one-half hour closing explaining the racketeering conspiracy charge that is at the heart of the case. The government, he said, does not have to prove that either defendant committed a crime, but merely that they conspired with others to commit crimes in furtherance of the organized crime family.
In fact, there was little, if any, direct evidence tying Ligambi or Borgesi to specific criminal acts. But Han argued that both defendants "embraced" the crime family's reputation for violence and "exploited it to their benefit."
While acknowledging that several key government witnesses were themselves mobsters or mob associates with checkered criminal pasts, Han said, "the government didn't choose them, the defendants did."
Referring to witnesses like Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick, Han pointed to the defense table and said, "they were their associates, their partners-in-crime."
"It's all about the money," Han said several times while outlining a government case that alleges that Ligambi and Borgesi received a piece of the mob's gambling and loansharking proceeds from 1999 through 2011 when the indictment was handed up in the current case.
Even though Borgesi was in prison for most of that time -- he was jailed in 2000 in an unrelated racketeering case -- Han said he still benefitted from the mob money-making gambits he had left in place and that Monacello ran for him.
Han described Ligambi, Borgesi and their associates as "bullies taking lunch money from a weak child on the playground."
That's the way the mob operates, he said.
He sarcastically challenged the defense argument that Aponick, a New York mob associate who had been Borgesi's cellmate, came to Philadelphia to develop a construction and home-building business with Monacello and for Borgesi. The only reason Aponick came to Philadelphia to meet with Monacello, he said, was to discuss mob business Borgesi was trying to set up from prison.
Monacello and Borgesi met at Ralph's, an Italian restaurant on Ninth Street. Borgesi called Monacello's cell phone from prison during the dinner.
"Is there a shortage of Italian restaurants in New York?" Han asked.
He also dismissed defense arguments that a $25,000 loan Ligamb's top associate, Anthony Staino, made unknowingly to an FBI undercover agent was anything other than a loanshark deal. The agreement was struck in the men's room of a restaurant with urinals flushing in the background and the money was delivered in cash in a cereal box.
"Is this a new way of banking?" the prosecutor asked the jury.
The defense countered with an attack on both the truthfulness and reliability of the key government witnesses and with its own sprinkling of sarcasm.
Warren said a linchpin of the government case is a secret recording of Ligambi and nine other mobsters from the Philadelphia crime family and New York's Gambino organization meeting for lunch at a LaGriglia, a North Jersey restaurant, in May 2010.
But four hours of tape recorded conversation from that meeting did not result in even one mention of an active criminal enterprise, he said. Warren cited an FBI report that called the lunch a "social meeting" and said the discussions were "a drunken stroll down memory lane" with talk of Lucky Luciano and Albert Anastasia [ Editor's note - no relation]."
Warren and Jacobs also hurled verbal barb after verbal barb at the chief prosecution witnesses.
Monacello was described as a convicted racketeer and perjurer who was using his association with Borgesi as a get out of jail free card. And Aponick was portrayed as a liar and con man who, even after he began cooperating with the FBI in 2003, committed a series of bank robberies.
He is "the poster child for why you need to shut this bad production down," Warren said of Aponick and the government's case. Even though Aponick deceived federal authorities, "they want you to believe him," Warren said incredulously.
"Don't buy a ticket to this theater of the absurd."
Both defense attorneys argued that the prosecution used rhetoric and hyperbole in place of facts to build the conspiracy charge.
At one point Warren referred to the case as "bovine excrement" while Jacobs called the racketeering conspiracy charge a "wastebasket."
Jacobs argued that the mob as a viable underworld operation in Philadelphia was dismantled in a 1999 case and that what is left is disorganized organized crime. While Ligambi and Borgesi may be members -- "It's not a crime to be a member of La Cosa Nostra," he said -- neither were the beneficiaries of the actions of other mobsters who ran gambling and loansharking operations during the period covered in the indictment.
It was, instead, "a group of independent operators," he said.
"This is not a mob," he told the jury. "This is not even a shell of a mob anymore. We are not what they say we are."
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.