Thursday, November 15, 2012

Frankie the Fixer Then and Now

He was a South Philadelphia plumber who hung with the wiseguys ... and loved it.
Now he's a government witness ... and hates it.

"I turned on my family and my friends," Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo said Thursday from the witness stand in the racketeering trial of Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants. "I became the piece of shit no one wants to be."

DiGiacomo's candid assessment came during nearly five hours of testimony in which it was sometimes difficult to tell for whom he had taken the stand.

The prosecution witness described Ligambi and his co-defendants as "good people, great people" and talked about the fun he had hanging with them at bars and restaurants in South Philadelphia.

"I was fascinated by the lifestyle," he said of his days and nights spent in wiseguy hangouts..
Then shaking his head and smiling, he added, "And the women who would go in there..."

Conversely, even though he was a government witness, he blistered his former mob supervisor Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello who had proceeded him to the witness stand in the trial.
Monacello, he said, "should have been dead a long time ago."

DiGiacomo, 48, said that while he worked as a collector and enforcer for Monacello's bookmaking and loansharking operation, he was also targeted by him because of money he had borrowed.

"He would squeeze and squeeze and squeeze," he said of Monacello, who has emerged as the key prosecution witness in the case. "Lou just wouldn't give up."

At one point DiGiacomo, who made his living as a plumber, said he was living in his truck because of business and financial problems. Nevertheless, he said, "Lou was shaking me down for money," demanding each week that he pay on loanshark money he had borrowed.

In contrast, he said co-defendant Anthony Staino often lent him money with no interest.

"They're good guys, aren't they?" Edwin Jacobs Jr., the attorney for Ligambi, said during a spirited cross-examination that is expected to continue when the trial resumes Friday.

"Yes," DiGiacomo said, adding however, that he was talking about how they treated him when he was on the streets.

Today, he said, it would be different.

"Ed, you think I could walk down the street?"

Jacobs didn't reply, but instead moved to another question.

The give-and-take, however, underscored the contrasting testimony of a government witness who often seemed more sympathetic to the defendants than to the prosecution, at least to the prosecution's star witness.

During direct testimony, DiGiacomo had confirmed many of the details Monacello, 46, had outlined for the jury during his three days on the witness stand. The focus was on loansharking and bookmaking operations that Monacello said he ran for George Borgesi, Ligambi's nephew and co-defendant.

Borgesi, 49, was jailed in 2000 in an earlier racketeering case for which he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Monacello has testified that the loansharking, extortion and gambling operations he oversaw were Borgesi's and part of the Ligambi organization.

The defense has challenged that contention, arguing that Monacello used Borgesi's name to enhance his standing in the underworld, but that Borgesi from a federal prison had little influence or control over what Monacello did.

DiGiacomo testified that Monacello frequently told him that part of all their earnings went to "our friend," a reference to Borgesi. But he said he could not corroborate Monacello's assertion that he gave thousands of dollars each month to the jailed mobster's wife.

In one comment that supported the defense's postion, DiGiacomo said that after Borgesi went away to prison, Monacello told him, "This is my crew. I'm the boss."

He recounted a story, first told by Monacello, about an assault on a loanshark customer who failed to pay a $4,800. DiGiacomo, like Monacello, said the victim was lured to a meeting in Manayunk and brutally assaulted by Monacello, DiGiacomo and two others.

"He thought he was a tough guy," DiGiacomo said of the victim. "When we left he wasn't....The next day he paid."

Asked if Borgesi had anything to do with the assault, DiGiacomo said he did not.

DiGiacomo said he agreed to cooperate with the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI late in 2007 after finding himself unable to pay the massive loansharking debts he had accumulated. The decision to wear a body wire and record conversations literally made him sick, he said.

"I was just waiting for the day when I was going to get killed," he said of his time between November 2007 and July 2008 when he was wired for sound.

"My life was upside down the day I put that recorder on," he told the jury. "It changed my life completely...The first time I think I threw up for a week."

Several tapes, including conversations with Ligambi and Monacello, have been played for the jury to support the loansharking and extortion charges.

DiGiacomo said that while he considered Ligambi, 73, and most of the other defendants "good friends" and "good guys," he also knew that he could never return to the streets of Philadelphia or the life of a hustler and enforcer that he once lived.

DiGiacomo is now in the Federal Witness Security Program living in another part of the country with a new identity and a new life.

"It's all good," he said.

Monacello's greed, he added, was the major source of his problems and the reason he decided to cooperate.

"His greed went beserk," he said.

During his cross-examination, Jacobs came back repeatedly to comparisons between the volatile and angry Monacello that DiGiacomo described and the laid back, soft-spoken Ligambi who DiGiacomo said he dealt with.

Ligambi and the others, Jacobs said at one point, were just a bunch of "Italian-American men" who liked to have a good time in bars and restaurants and strip clubs.

DiGiacomo agreed, but said "they weren't all Italian. There were some Irish."

"Who?" Jacobs asked, clearly enjoying the banter-like give-and-take he had established with a government witness who appeared at times to be pro-defense.

DiGiacomo then said he himself was "half Irish." And, he added, so was Monacello.

"Lou doesn't like telling people he's half Irish," DiGiacomo said, adding that the two of them share the same ethnic makeup -- Italian on their father's side and Irish on their mother's.

"We both have the same blood," DiGiacomo said. "And we're both rats."


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