|"Uncle Joe" Ligambi and George Borgesi/photo courtesy Fox 29|
Ron Galati won't be taking part in the underworld renaissance currently unfolding in South Philadelphia.
Instead, the wannabe wiseguy and auto body shop owner, who is already serving a 23-year federal sentence for a murder conspiracy conviction, is due in Common Pleas in September to answer fraud and murder-for-hire charges.
A trial date of Sept. 7 was set this morning at a status conference hearing before Judge Jeffrey Minehart. Galati, his wife Vicki and his son, Ron Jr., are slated to be at the defense table along with several other defendants if that trial goes off as planned.
Both Ligambi and Borgesi were back in the news this week. On Monday, reporter Dave Schratwieser on a Fox 29 television special report, offered an update on the local mob, noting that Ligambi, Borgesi and others are frequently spotted at a recently opened clubhouse at 11th and Jackson Streets and that Borgesi and others have branched out into the construction and home rehab business with an office on Passyunk Avenue.
"It's all legit," said one source familiar with the new business ventures. "They're not doing anything wrong."
The television report said as much, but that hasn't stopped some of the wiseguys, wannabes and sycophants now hanging out at the clubhouse from complaining about media coverage.
"You have to admire their resilience," said one state investigator who, like several others, has been surprised at how quickly and easily the mobsters have fallen back into their old routines, hanging with the same individuals, congregating at a clubhouse to socialize and branching out into the business world.
The FBI and investigators with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and State Police have been tracking the activities.
David Fritchey, the recently retired head of the Organized Crime Strike Force for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, said the business ventures and associations bear watching and that he is confident law enforcement is doing just that.
"They have a long and successful business model" that involves "violence and intimidation," Fritchey said while dismissing the argument that the one-time convicts have paid their debt to society and ought to be left alone. "If they're not doing anything wrong, then they shouldn't be worried about who's looking at them."
No one is claiming any criminality in the current activities. But Fritchey noted that, "it doesn't bode well for their rehabilitation if they are hanging out with the same people with whom they committed crimes."
That, the ex-prosecutor said, is a formula for "recidivism."
Law enforcement investigators are also aware that back in October there was a mob initiation ceremony in which five associates were formally inducted into the crime family. Traditionally, a making ceremony is overseen by the crime family boss and the initiates are individuals who have sworn a blood oath of allegiance to Cosa Nostra and who have proven that allegiance by having taken part in a murder.
But this is Cosa Nostra 2000 and individuals are often "made" because of their blood relationship to another member or because they are good earners. Money trumps murder in the modern American Mafia, at least in South Philadelphia.
For now, at least, the greed, treachery and violence that once were the hallmarks of the organization are on hold. It has not been lost on law enforcement, however, that the ventures into home rehab, construction and mortgage refinancing are exactly what mob informants Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Anthony Aponick testified about at Borgesi's last two racketeering trials.
Both said Borgesi, from prison, was planning a foray into those fields once he was released. Borgesi's first trial ended with his acquittal on all but one charge on which the jury hung. At the second trial he was found not guilty of that as well.
Monacello and Aponick were vilified by the defense camp as "lying rats" who were fabricating information to curry favor with federal prosecutors. While the jury rejected the bulk of their testimony, it appears that at least in terms of what Borgesi's future plans were, they were telling the truth.
Part of the reason for the continued monitoring of the local crime family is the belief in law enforcement circles that several of the mobsters who have returned from prison and are back out on the streets have literally gotten away with murder. None of the murder or attempted murder charges that were part of a 2001 racketeering case against mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, Borgesi and five other defendants were proven, however.
What's more, there are those who believe that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia no longer has the mob as a top priority. Terrorism, political corruption and narcotics trafficking are the topics of primary concern. The FBI's organized crime unit, which once boasted nearly a dozen investigators, currently has four or five members.
Still, local, state and federal investigators continue to work on the unsolved murders of Raymond "Long John" Martorano, John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto and Ron Turchi. The hope in investigative circles is that pressure can be put on someone who knows enough to help make one of those cases.
|George Borgesi and Stevie Mazzone/photo courtesy Fox 29|
Still, Fritchey said, "there are a lot of people in law enforcement who believe he was telling the truth" when he described the roles Ligambi and Borgesi played in the mob, its penchant for violence and its deceit and treachery.
Among other things, Monacello testified that he, Borgesi and others helped Galati carry out insurance fraud scams in the 1990s by deliberately crashing into and wrecking cars. Galati was convicted and sentenced to 38 months in prison in 1994 for insurance fraud.
Two years ago, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced a new indictment alleging that Galati was back to his old tricks, orchestrating a $5 million insurance fraud scheme through false and trumped up accident and repair costs. What's more, the indictment alleges, Galati hired two hitmen to kill two rival auto body shop owners who had testified before a grand jury that was investigating him.
All of that is part of the case now set for trial in September.
Authorities say Galati came out of prison in the late 1990s and went right back to doing what landed him in jail in the first place. Both law enforcement and underworld sources say there's a lesson there for the mobsters with whom he has had "close personal relationships."
George Anastasia can be reached at GeorgeAnastasia@bigtrial.net.