In a stunning rebuke of the government's case, a jury today found mobster George Borgesi not guilty of racketeering conspiracy, acquitted mob boss Joe Ligambi of a witness tampering charge and hung on three other counts against Ligambi.
The panel of 11 women and one man voted 10-2 to acquit Ligambi of a conspiracy charge and two gambling charges he faced.
The nearly total rejection of the government's case came at the end of a retrial that had begun in November. The trial focused on five counts that remained after an earlier jury had acquitted Borgesi and Ligambi of a series of charges tied to gambling and loansharking.
Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., said he would file a motion next week asking for bail for Ligambi, 74, who has been jailed since he was indicted in the case back in May 2011. Borgesi, 50, was released today. The South Philadelphia capo, who is Ligambi's nephew, has been in jail since his arrest in an unrelated racketeering case in March 2000 for which he subsequently was sentenced to 14 years.
"Thank you, thank you," Borgesi's brother, Anthony, said to the jurors as they left the courtroom after announcing the partial verdict in the case. Family members and friends smiled and hugged one
another after the jury left the courtroom.
"Thank God," said Manny Borgesi, George Borgesi's mother, as she hugged her son Anthony. They had attended nearly every day of the trial. Manny Borgesi is Joe Ligambi's sister. Borgesi's wife Alyson, who had been barred from the courtroom, smiled and embraced family members in the hallway after learning of the verdict that will send her husband home for the first time since they were married.
The couple wed while Borgesi was in a federal prison in West Virginia serving the 14-year sentence from the 2000 case.
|David Maialetti / Philadelphia Daily News|
Jacobs was referring to the fact that Ligambi was found not guilty of five of the nine counts he faced in the first trial that ended in February. Jacobs also said he was disappointed that the jury in the current case was unable to reach a decision on the three counts on which they hung.
"It's a damn shame the two dissenters didn't respect the views of the 10 who were clearly on the right path," he said. In addition to filing a motion for bail, Jacobs is expected to ask for a quick decision from the government on whether they intend to retry Ligambi a third time.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, the lead prosecutor in the case, said that decision rests with the Justice Department in Washington. Labor said he was "disappointed" in the jury verdict. But he pointed out that the overall impact of the case has been to "disrupt La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia."
Of the 14 defendants named in the indictment handed up in this case, 10 have either been convicted or pleaded guilty. Only two, Joseph "Scoops" Licata and Borgesi, have been acquitted. One defendant is still awaiting trial and Ligambi's status remains in limbo.
Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, was quick to praise Jacobs for leading the defense during the eight-week trial.
"The architect of (the acquittals of both defendants) is standing right over there," Warren said as he pointed toward Jacobs. Warren also urged everyone in both camps and those he has seen filing comments on this website to tone down the rhetoric.
"It's been an exhausting and gut-wrenching trial," he said. "We're well passed the time for the ugly vitriol to be put to bed. Let's move on."
Both lawyers chided the government for calling witnesses whose credibility and motivation were suspect. In fact, the case against Borgesi was built almost entirely around the testimony of mob informants Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick.
Jacobs, repeating an argument he made in his closing, said it was impossible to believe that "any reasonable grown-up would base any important decision" on the word of the suspect witnesses the government used to build its case.
And, as he had argued to the jury, Jacobs said the government's case was built on "ancient history" and the phony assumption that Ligambi was the boss of a criminal organization. The mob, Jacobs had told the jury, was dismantled more than a decade ago.
While gambling and loansharking still take place, "as it does in every major city," Jacobs said, those involved in those businesses are "independent contractors" and not part of an organized criminal conspiracy.
While Jacobs said he was prepared to retry the case a third time, he said he hoped the government would not waste taxpayer money for a third chance at conviction.
Warren took a parting shot at Monacello, who is reportedly living in Ventnor, joking that "there are a lot of walnuts cracking in an asshole in Ventnor right now." Warren defended Borgesi in the current case. He had represented Licata in the first case. His clients are the only two defendants to win acquittals thus far.
Borgesi was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced in the first trial, but the jury hung on the conspiracy count that was retried this time. The defendant left the federal building with his wife, mother and other family members. They were reportedly celebrating his release this afternoon at a party at his brother Anthony's South Philadelphia home.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.