By George Anastasia
The jury in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi headed home at 4 p.m. today after a second day of deliberations.
Early in the day, the panel of 11 women and one man asked to hear a tape recording that had been introduced as evidence by the defense, then they hunkered down for the next four hours behind closed doors.
Members of the defense camp were guardedly optimistic. The tape, of a conversation between government informant Anthony Aponick and Borgesi's wife Alyson, was introduced to challenge and discredit Aponick who at the time was a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Virginia.
Trying to determine why the jury wanted to hear the tape and what it means in terms of deliberations is, of course, speculative. It's like reading tea leaves. But Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, said it was a good sign that the panel asked for a piece of evidence that the defense had introduced.
Deliberations are to resume at 9:30 tomorrow. The anonymously chosen jury panel has now deliberated for about 10 hours over two days.
Across the river in federal court in Camden, defense attorneys completed their opening statements in a racketeering conspiracy case against mobster Nicodemo S. Scarfo, Elkin Park businessman Salvatore Pelullo and five others.
Testimony is scheduled to begin on Monday.
Scarfo, 48, and Pelullo, 47, are accused of looting a Texas mortgage company of $12 million by secretly taking control of the company's board of directors. FirstPlus Financial then began to purchase straw companies set up by Scarfo and Pelullo, according to the government. Those purchases and bogus consulting contracts, prosecutors said, were used to siphon cash out of the company and into the defendants' pockets.
The jury heard from lawyers for four other defendants today, including Donald Manno, Scarfo's longtime defense attorney.
Manno, who is representing himself, told the jury he had done nothing wrong and that any actions he took were as a lawyer for Scarfo. Referring to himself in the third person, he told the panel, "Mister Manno makes no apology, Nick Scarfo is a friend." But he emphasized that Manno had nothing to do with the FirstPlus wheeling and dealing that the government says is at the heart of the case.
And he said other tangential charges involving an escrow account and the purchase of a home by Scarfo's wife were without foundation.
He said the government's case was built around "polluted sources" and that it didn't conduct an investigation, but rather was on a "mission" to get Nicky Scarfo because of his reputation and alleged mob ties.
The Scarfo trial is expected to last about four months.
In Philadelphia, meanwhile, two days of deliberations led to typical speculation about where the jury was headed. On Wednesday the panel asked a question about the jury tampering charge that is part of the case against Ligambi.
Ligambi, 74, is charged with racketeering conspiracy, two counts of illegal gambling and witness tampering, in that order. Some observers believed the question about witness tampering meant the jury had finished with Ligambi.
The question today related only to Borgesi, 50, who is charged with racketeering conspiracy.
The conversation occurred on June 6, 2003, while Aponick was still in prison. On it he discussed a copy of Gangland News -- a weekly news column that focuses on organized crime -- that Alyson Borgesi had sent him. He also asked for real estate listings from a Philadelphia paper.
Alyson Borgesi promised to send him the information and also another edition of Gangland News. Aponick, in his direct testimony, had indicated he was surprised to receive the column. The conversation seemed to contract that part of his testimony.
Aponick and Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, two former Borgesi associates, were the key witnesses against Borgesi. Their credibility is the crux of the case against him. A question about Aponick, according to one theory, meant the jury had already gotten through Monacello's testimony and was now focusing on the final phase of the case against Borgesi.
That scenario would seem to indicate that a verdict could be announced some time tomorrow.
But that same type of speculation was rampant in the first trial that ended in February after three months of testimony and a staggering three weeks of deliberation. There were seven defendants in that case, however. Four were convicted. One was acquitted. And the jury split on the charges against Ligambi and Borgesi, leading to the retrial.
Borgesi was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 counts he faced. Ligambi was acquitted of five of the nine charges against him. The remaining charges are now before the new jury.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.