Wednesday, February 6, 2013

`Victory' In Mob Trial Savored From Jail

By George Anastasia

One day after defense attorneys touted their stunning defeat of the government in the trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants, it was difficult this afternoon to find anyone in the defense camp celebrating "the victory."

In fact, the the numbers support the defense claim -- the jury rejected 46 charges, hung on 11 others and delivered just five guilty verdicts.

But reality told a different story.

Prior to the convoluted and still puzzling mixed-bag, partially deadlocked jury announcement Tuesday afternoon, there were two defendants free on bail and five in prison. At the end of a series of post-trial hearings this afternoon, six defendants were in jail. Four were awaiting sentencing. And three faced a potential retrial on racketeering conspiracy charges.

If that's a victory, what does defeat look like?

Judge Eduardo Robreno rejected bids for bail from three defendants at separate hearings spread over most of the day. In so doing, he revoked the bails of Anthony Staino, 55, and Gary Battaglini, 51, who had been free pending trial.

Robreno also denied bail to George Borgesi, 49, Ligambi's nephew. The volatile South Philadelphia mobster was found not guilty of 13 of the 14 charges he faced at trial. But the jury hung on a racekteering conspiracy count for which he could be retried.

Borgesi, who was serving a 14-year sentence for an earlier racketeering conviction when he was indicted in May 2011 with Ligambi and a dozen others, was described by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han as a "danger to the community" who should not be granted bail, the jury verdicts not withstanding.

Han cited Bogesi's criminal history and penchant for violence in urging Robreno to keep him behind bars. 

Borgesi's lawyer, Paul Hetznecker, argued that his client deserved to be released, even under strict electronic monitoring and house arrest, contending that the jury's verdict carried great weight and was a "wholesale rejection" of the government's case and the testimony of its star witness, former Borgesi associate Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello.

The spirited 30 minutes of legal wrangling ended with Robreno calling a recess and retiring to his chambers to consider the issue. It appeared the judge might be leaning toward some form of release.

As he was being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, however, Borgesi started to berate Han for mentioning Borgesi's wife during the government argument for no-bail. Han appeared to ignore Borgesi's taunts and the mobster then called the prosecutor "a fuckin' punk."

A half hour later Robreno returned to court and denied bail. It could not be determined if the judge had learned of the verbal fracas, but the comments from Borgesi underscored the government's description of the short-tempered, high strung mob figure who, Monacello had testified, once boasted of taking part in 11 gangland hits.

Hetznecker said he was "disappointed" in the judge's ruling and would consider an appeal of the bail issue. He said the jury's verdict had clearly been a rejection of Moncaello's testimony, but that Han and the prosecution team continued to "mischaracterize" the evidence against his client.

Robreno's decision to deny Borgesi's bail request made it a clean sweep for the government.

Staino's bid to remain free was turned down first.

Staino had been found not guilty of 24 of the 29 charges he faced. But the jury found him guilty of two extortion counts and, by law, an extortion conviction created a non-bailable situation.

Battaglini was acquitted of a gambling offense, but was convicted of racketeering conspiracy. He was jailed and is awaiting sentencing along with Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, 62, and Damion Canalichio, 44, who were both convicted of racketeering conspiracy.

Ligambi has not yet filed a motion for bail reconsideration. He was found not guilty of five charges. The jury hung on four others, including racketeering conspiracy.

While the government has made no formal announcement yet, it is expected that the prosecution will move to retry Ligambi, Staino and Borgesi on the racketeering conspiracy charges on which the jury hung and on the five other charges, primarily gambling offenses, against Ligambi and Staino that resulted in deadlocks.

Twenty-four hours after the jury verdicts that were hailed by the defense, only mob capo Joseph "Scoops" Licata, 71, was a free man. Licata, who was held without bail prior to trial, was found not guilty of the only count he faced, racketeering conspiracy.

He was set free late Tuesday afternoon and apparently celebrated with his attorney at a local restaurant before heading home to North Jersey.

But it appeared no one else was in a position to celebrate.

Throughout the trial, Massimino had joked and quipped about the "victory party" he and the others intended to throw once they were acquitted. "Keep those martini glasses chilled," the cocky mob underboss said on several occasions.

Massimino and the others are to be sentenced in May. With a lengthy criminal history that includes convictions for drug dealing and racketeering, Massimino could be looking at anywhere from 10 to 15 years in prison.

That's a long time to keep a martini glass on ice.

George Anastasia can be reached at

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