Monday, November 19, 2012

Pete the Crumb's Hits and Misses

In January 2000, Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio plotted with members of the Genovese and Gambino crime families to kill the leaders of the Philadelphia mob.

The reason? As always, money.

The targets? Then acting boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, underboss Steven Mazzone and consigliere George Borgesi.

"They wanted to make a move and get rid of all of them," Caprio said Monday after taking the stand in the racketeering conspiracy trial of Ligambi, Borgesi and five others in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Caprio, who was a Newark-based capo for the Philadelphia crime family at the time, said members of the powerful Genovese family had planned to distribute illegal video poker machines throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey. And, he added, they didn't want to cut Ligambi and his organization in on the action.

The murder plot was part of a history lesson Caprio, 83, provided for the jury as the fourth week of testimony in the Ligambi trial got underway. The veteran gangster, who cut a deal with the government and began cooperating in July 2000, testified for nearly four hours.

"I was a gangster all my life," he said.

For many, including prosecutors, defense attorneys and at least one defendant, Borgesi, it was a repeat of the same stories Caprio told when he testified in the same federal courthouse back in 2001.

That racketeering case ended with the convictions of Borgesi, Mazzone, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and four others. Ligambi was not a defendant in that case.

Borgesi is the only defendant from the 2001 trial facing the new racketeering conspiracy charges.
Caprio frankly admitted he knew very little about the specific loansharking, extortion and gambling allegations that are part of the current case. He said he had no knowledge of what was going on on the streets after he was arrested in March 2000.

In fact, Caprio has either been in jail or relocated in the Federal Witness Security Program for most of the period covered in the indictment against Ligambi and the others. The racketeering conspiracy began in 1999 and concluded with the arrests of Ligambi and his co-defendants in May 2011, according to the indictment.

But Caprio was able to reinforce one of the prosecution's major themes in the case: the mob uses violence or threats of violence to get its way.

"They live on violence," he said of La Cosa Nostra.

Caprio admitted his role in three murders and to conspiriing to commit five others, including the plot to eliminate the hierarchy of the Philadelphia mob. He also said his 60-year career as a mob associate and then "made" member was replete with criminal acts, including beatings, stabbings and assaults.

"One time I almost cut a guy's hand off," the now grandfatherly and hard-of-hearing mob informant said.

He recounted his rise through the ranks of the organization and his dealings with Philadelphia mob bosses from Angelo Bruno and Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo through John Stanfa, Ralph Natale, Joey Merlino and Ligambi.

He also identified Joseph "Scoops" Licata, another co-defendant in the case, as a major North Jersey operative for the Philadelphia crime family. While he said he got along with Licata, he said Licata got the nickname "Scoops" because "he used to bring the news of the day" around to various mob hangouts and was always "bad mouthing people."

"He liked to run his mouth," Caprio said at another point, using his fingers and thumb to signal someone who talks too much and who gossips.

Caprio said he got the nickname "Crumb" because he used to scoop up the crumbs whenever he was eating a cake. He also said, "I did a lot of crummy things."

Murder, he said, was part of the business of the mob.

The plot to kill Ligambi, Mazzone and Borgesi, he added, was based on business. He said the Genovese and Gambino organizations would have backed him as the new boss of the Philadelphia family had the plot succeed.

In a quiet but firm voice, the aging gangster said he and others involved in the murder scheme had begun to scout locations where they intended to bury the bodies after luring Ligambi and the others to a meeting in North Jersey.

They were looking at several landfills and construction sites.

But Caprio said he was arrested in March 2000, based largely on information supplied by a top associate, Philip "Philly Fay" Casale, who was cooperating with the FBI and wore a body wire and recorded conversations with Caprio.

Several of those tapes were played for the jury by the defense in an attempt to undermine Caprio's testimony. In one he said that cooperating witnesses deal in "lies, half truths and truths."

But Caprio insisted that he was telling the truth from the witness stand Monday, in part because the cooperating agreement he signed with the feds back in 2000 could be negated if he lied on the stand.

Caprio said he was sentenced to 75 months in prison after pleading guilty and served a little more than five years. He said he has being living in another part of the country since his release and aknowledged that the government has provided him with financial support and cover medical and living expenses during the time. In total, he has received about $360,000 in support and benefits, according to govenment records.

While most Caprio's testimony was a repeat of his 2001 apperance, he did raise some eyebrows at the defense table and in the courtroom when he said that in the late 1990s, when Merlino was controlling the crime family, he did not make any tribute payments to the young South Philadelphia mob leader.

Tribute payments, or the lack thereof, were often a sticking point with Merlino and, Caprio had testified, led to the 1996 murder of another North Jersey capo, Josephi Sodano who balked at paying Merlino and Natale.

Nevetheless, Caprio said he did not give Merlino money. In fact, he said, Joey once "gave me a thousand dollars."

During a break in the trial Monday, a defense attorney familiar with Merlino's reputation for grabbing money with both fists from everyone and anyone he came in contact with in the underworld said that comment by Caprio "was the least believable part of his testimony."

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