Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve At The Mob Trial

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

"It's New Year's Eve," "Uncle Joe" Ligambi yelled at one of the feds. "What are you doing here? You should be getting ready for tonight's parties."

For a guy stuck in jail on the holidays, the boss of the Philadelphia mob was in surprisingly good spirits today.

The prosecution had wound up its case, and the defense was putting on its witnesses. They included a former car dealer who once sold Uncle Joe a Cadillac, and a gambling expert who tried to show that the people overheard on federal surveillance tapes were actually part of somebody else's bookmaking operation, and not Uncle Joe's.

It was a half-day for the mob trial on New Year's Eve, as the judge and lawyers in the case knocked off early, but not before they talked about scheduling. It looks like the defense will wind up its case on Thursday by calling "Frankie The Fixer" DiGiacomo, a former government witness.

At the first mob trial, DiGiacomo, a South Philly plumber and wannabe wise guy, sounded more like a defense witness last year when he described Uncle Joe and his co-defendants as "good people, great people." Frankie the Fixer also ripped fellow government witness "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello as somebody who "should have been dead a long time ago."

Judge Eduardo Robreno said he expected closing statements on Monday and Tuesday, and then, after the judge delivers his charge on Tuesday afternoon, the case will go to the jury.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Judge Sarmina Declares She's Fallible, Lets Lynn Out Of Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
D.A. compares Msgr. Lynn to this guy
for Bigtrial.net

After declaring "I am fallible," the Hon. M. Teresa Sarmina today announced she would reverse course, and grant bail to Msgr. William J. Lynn.

It was Judge Sarmina who denied Lynn bail twice in 2012, before and after she put him away for three to six years after a jury found the monsignor guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

A three-judge panel of Superior Court appeal judges on Dec. 26th reversed that conviction, saying the "plain language" of the state's original child endangerment statute plainly didn't apply to Lynn. It only applied to adults who had direct contact with children, such as parents, teachers and guardians, the Superior Court judges said. It did not apply to the monsignor, who never even met the alleged victim in his case. [The state's original 1972 child endangerment law was amended in 2007 to include supervisors such as Lynn.]

The Superior Court judges went one step further, labeling Sarmina's handling of the law in the Lynn case as "fundamentally flawed." So no wonder Judge Sarmina looked like she was sucking on lemons today when she read a legal soliloquy from the bench that basically amounted to: I may have screwed up the case, but I really don't think so; I'm still the trial judge and you're not; and I bet I'm going to be upheld when the state Supreme Court takes this up on appeal.

Meanwhile, not to be upstaged, a representative for District Attorney Seth Williams managed to top their previous high standard for rhetorical excess. Only a few days after filing a motion that suggested the hapless monsignor might be masterminding an international plot to flee the country and escape to the Vatican, Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit, topped that whopper by comparing Lynn's status as a flight risk to Ira Einhorn, AKA the Unicorn.

For those of you too young to remember, Einhorn was the notorious killer hippie who, back in 1981, fled the country on the eve of his murder trial in Philadelphia.

So the D.A. was comparing Lynn, the celibate priest and ultimate company man, to the free-loving, freewheeling hippie sociopath who clubbed his girlfriend to death and stuffed her mummified corpse into a steamer trunk he kept next to his bed for 18 months. Nice.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

District Attorney Says Msgr. Lynn Is A "Flight Risk"

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is asking Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to deny bail to Msgr. William J. Lynn, on the basis that Lynn is a "flight risk" who may seek refuge in the Vatican.

A panel of three Superior Court judges on Dec. 26th reversed Lynn's "historic" 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and said that the monsignor should be "discharged forthwith." But the D.A. isn't going along with the higher court's opinion at a bail hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday before Judge Sarmina.

Lynn was labeled a "flight risk" in a six-page answer to a petition for a bail hearing filed by Hugh J. Burns, Jr., chief of the D.A.'s appeals unit. The monsignor is a "high ranking official [in] a worldwide organization, the Roman Catholic Church, that has both diplomatic and non-diplomatic facilities in many nations," Burns wrote.

The evidence presented at Lynn's trial "established that numerous individuals within that organization are closely associated with [Lynn] and may be willing to improperly assist him out of personal interest without proper sanction," Burns wrote.

In response, Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, said, "The whole thing is idiotic. These guys [in the district attorney's office] are the most unprofessional lawyers I've ever run across in my life. They simply ignore the law and they're gonna continue to do it. But that [Superior Court] order applies to them as well."

Friday, December 27, 2013

Judge Sarmina To Decide Whether Msgr. Lynn Gets Out Of Jail

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The state Superior Court has reversed the conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn, saying he never should have been charged in the first place with the crime of endangering the welfare of a child.

But whether Lynn gets out of jail is up to Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, the trial court judge who put Lynn away, and whose prior rulings in the case have been described by a panel of three Superior Court judges as "fundamentally flawed."

At 10 a.m. Monday, Judge Sarmina will convene a bail hearing to determine whether Msgr. Lynn gets out of jail. The hearing will be held in Courtroom 507 of the Criminal Justice Center. Several members of District Attorney Seth Williams' office are expected to attend, and argue that the monsignor deserves to stay in jail for months or years while the D.A. appeals the Superior Court opinion.

For Msgr. Lynn's lawyer, Thomas A. Bergstrom, this doesn't make much sense.

"The Superior Court has said he [Lynn] should be discharged forthwith, so I don’t think that requires any interpretation," Bergstrom said. "Seems to me she [Judge Sarmina] has to do exactly what they’ve ordered," Bergstrom said, referring to the panel of three Superior Court judges that reversed Lynn's conviction.

In the past, however, Judge Sarmina, has not exactly been impartial, or merciful, when it comes to Msgr. Lynn.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Superior Court Reverses Msgr. Lynn's "Historic" Conviction

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania today reversed the landmark conviction of Msgr. William J. Lynn on one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

The court said the "plain language" of the state's 1972 child endangerment law required that Lynn had to be "a supervisor of an endangered child victim" in order to be convicted of the third-degree felony of endangering the welfare of a child. Lynn, however, never even met Billy Doe, the former 10-year-old altar boy who was the alleged victim in the case.

In a unanimous 43-page opinion by a panel of three judges, the Superior Court said Judge M. Teresa Sarmina's decision to allow the conviction of Lynn under the state's original child endangerment law was "fundamentally flawed."

"It's just absolutely wonderful," said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's defense lawyer. "This whole prosecution was totally dishonest from day one," Bergstrom said of District Attorney Seth Williams and his staff. "They had to know that that statute didn't apply to Lynn. And their attempt to justify it just doesn't wash."

"The tragedy of this is Lynn should have never been prosecuted," Bergstrom said. "He's been sitting in jail 18 months for a crime he couldn't possibly commit as a matter of law."

"Now, we're working on getting him [Lynn] out of jail," Bergstrom said. "We're looking for a judge to vacate the sentence. The warden needs more than just our assurances" to let the monsignor out of jail.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Key Question For Mob Trial Jury As The Government Wraps Up

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The question went to the heart of the case against mob boss Joe Ligambi.

After verbally sparring with an FBI undercover agent over a $25,000 cash payment by Anthony Staino that was either a loanshark transaction or an investment in an illegal (and ficticious) money-laundering scheme set up by the FBI, Edwin Jacobs Jr. asked, "What does Joe Ligambi have to do with that?"

That's the question, applied on several different levels, that Jacobs hopes the jury in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi takes with it when deliberations begin sometime next month.

Absent a smoking gun (literally and figuratively), the prosecution has built the racketeering conspiracy charge against Ligambi around the criminal activities of other mobsters. Some examples  -- a sports betting operation run by Gary Battaglini for mob leader Steven Mazzone; the loansharking/extortion gambit for which Staino was convicted in the first trial earlier this year, and the operation of a video poker machine company (JMA) by Staino.

The prosecution says they support the conspiracy charge; that Ligambi as mob boss approved of and benefitted from the crimes committed by his underlings. The defense says the evidence, weak and circumstantial, does not tie Ligambi, 74, to the allegations.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Galati Switches Lawyers, Mob Trial Stalled

 By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The racketeering conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi was temporarily derailed this afternoon by a Philadelphia Daily News story about mob associate Ron Galati.

Meanwhile speculation mounted that the South Philadelphia auto-body shop operator may be considering cooperating with authorities.

Galati, 63, abruptly replaced Joseph Santaguida as his attorney today with Anthony Voci, a criminal defense attorney and former Assistant District Attorney. Santaguida said he was informed of the change in a telephone conversation with Galati's son this afternoon. Santaguida had met with Galati at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility this morning.

"He didn't say anything (about changing attorneys)," Santaguida said. "Then I heard from his son."

Santaguida said he wouldn't speculate about the change. Galati is scheduled for a bail hearing on Monday. Several observers say that if he is granted bail -- which was considered unlikely at the time of his arrest -- it could be a sign that he has cut a deal with the District Attorney's Office or is in the process of doing so.

Voci, who left the DA's Office in 2006, said that "any suggestion that my client is contemplating cooperating is absolutely not true." He said he is focused on the bail issue and getting his client home for the holidays.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mob Associate Jailed In Murder For Hire Case

Mob lawyer seeks bail for wannabe wiseguy
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Here we go again.

Last year it was  mobster Anthony Nicodemo, arrested for allegedly carrying out a gangland hit while mob boss Joe Ligambi was on trial in U.S. District Court.

This year it's Ronald Galati, a notorious wannabe wiseguy. Galati, whose name surfaced during the testimony of Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello two weeks ago in the ongoing Ligambi retrial, was arrested Saturday for allegedly hiring a hit man (or men?) to knock off a witness in a pending insurance fraud investigation in which he is the principal target.

Galati, 63, who owns an auto body shop in South Philadelphia, has been in this situation before. The question being asked in law enforcement and underworld circles is whether the fast-talking mob associate, who was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for insurance fraud back in 1995, is ready to roll the dice in a case that could land him in state prison for the next 15 years?

The retrial of Ligambi and his co-defendant and nephew George Borgesi resumes this morning before Judge Eduardo Robreno. The case could go to the jury early in January. But there are those who believe the racketeering conspiracy charge the defendants are currently fighting could be the least of their problems if Galati rolls.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Flushing Out An FBI Sting Operation

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

On the FBI surveillance tape played in court, the jury heard the gurgling sounds of men standing at urinals.

In the men's room of the Chop House Restaurant in Gibbsboro, N.J., a tipsy mobster named Anthony Staino was overhead warning a sleazy financial planner named "Dino" what would happen if he didn't repay a $25,000 mob loan with the astronomically high interest rate of 144 percent.

"If you fuck with me, you know what's gonna happen, right?" Staino was overheard telling Dino amid the sounds of flushing urinals. "Don't fuck with me."

 Dino's real name was David Sebastiani; he's a certified public accountant and an undercover FBI agent. And while he was standing at the urinal in 2004, Dino was wearing a wire that not only recorded the watery sounds of the men's room, but also a successful FBI sting operation.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Family Is A Distraction At Mob Trial

 By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

For more than a month family members of mob boss Joe Ligambi and of his nephew and co-defendant George Borgesi have sat in the second row behind the defense table at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of the two South Philadelphia wiseguys.

Today, as the trial resumed after a five-day break, that row was empty.

Following a highly publicized flap on Friday over possible jury intimidation, the families of the two men opted not to attend the trial today and for the foreseeable future, according to one defense attorney.

"The government and the press were making them into a distraction," said Christopher Warren, Borgesi's lawyer, during a break in today's session. "They (the family members) have voluntarily decided to absent themselves from the proceedings."


Vince Fumo Finally A Winner In Court

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Vince Fumo finally walked out of court a winner.

The former Pennsylvania state senator won a case in New Jersey Superior Court on Tuesday Dec. 10th in Atlantic County when a judge denied a $73,000 claim against Fumo brought by Mitchell Rubin. He's a former Fumo political ally and the husband of Ruth Arnao, Fumo's co-defendant at his 2009 federal corruption trial.

It's a tale of three former political buddies who went in on a condo development down the shore a decade ago and then wound up suing each other after everybody got convicted by the feds and had a bitter falling out.

Fumo built the five-unit development located at 6601 Mommouth Avenue in Ventnor on land his mother bought back in the 1960s for $1,800. He rented the units out before he converted them into condos, and sold one unit to Rubin in 2003, for $135,000.

Rubin filed suit in 2011, claiming he was owed as much as $174,000 for money he had allegedly spent on improvements that included rebuilding decks and docks. The cased was tried on Oct. 15th and 16th before Judge Michael Winkelstein.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Newspaper Guild Complains About Meddling, Standing Ovation

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

After a judge ordered his immediate reinstatement on Nov. 22nd, Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow made a triumphant return to the newsroom, where he was greeted by a standing ovation from staffers.

Now, the union that represents those staffers, the Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia, is complaining that the standing ovation wasn't  a spontaneous event.

In a Dec. 7th email to Chris Bonanducci, vice president of human resources, Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, wrote, "when Bill Marimow's return to the newsroom was announced, [Inquirer City Editor] Nancy Phillips went around the newsroom telling employees to give him a standing ovation."

"Some members were uncomfortable with this request, which of course seemed like an order when asked by the city editor," Ross wrote. "Others have asked about her credibility after she admitted concocting a cover story about Marimow's rehire during her testimony in the recent court case."

"As you might imagine, people are fearful for reprisal or punishment so I am not attaching any members names to this," Ross wrote, "but I thought you should know what is out there, while also trying to help avoid anyone feeling like they are working in a hostile environment."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mob Trial Recesses For Five Days

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

The anonymously chosen jury in the conspiracy retrial of mob boss Joe Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi headed home this afternoon for a five-day break.

There will be no trial Monday through Wednesday to accommodate judicial scheduling issues. The trial is set to resume on Thursday. 

For all intents and purposes the prosecution has wrapped up its case against Borgesi, 50, who faces only a racketeering conspiracy charge.

The jury this week heard crucial testimony from two mob informants who tied the volatile South Philadelphia mobster to ongoing organized crime activities while Borgesi was in prison following a conviction in an unrelated racketeering case in 2001.

Anthony Aponick, 43, a cellmate of Borgesi's in a federal prison in West Viriginia, completed his testimony this morning with a brief cross-examination by Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr.

Aponick first took the stand on Wednesday. His testimony largely corroborated the story told by Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello who testified before him. Monacello, 47, has been described as Borgesi's "point man" in gambling and loansharking operations.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Meddling In Inky Newsroom

Hands-On Inky Owner Lewis Katz
By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

At The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, owner Lewis Katz raised eyebrows by sitting in on a morning news meeting attended by at least 10 editors. Katz, according to two sources, discussed a story that ran in that morning's paper about the surprise resignation of Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor, the company that owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

Owners don't usually attend news meetings. Katz, however, has asserted previously in court that he has an "open door" to visit the Inky newsroom whenever he wants.

And Katz doesn't have to stop by the newsroom to influence news coverage. Last week, an Inky obit writer was informed by a funeral director that Katz had personally Ok'd an obituary to run in the paper; the funeral director claimed that Katz was a "personal friend" of a relative of the deceased. The obituary was for the father of actress and Philadelphia native Kim Delaney. The obit writer, concerned about editorial interference, reported the incident to the Newspaper Guild.

Both incidents occurred at a newspaper where all six new owners, including Katz, made a public pledge not to meddle in editorial operations. The same owners who are busy suing each other over allegations of past meddling, by recently filing three appeal briefs in Superior Court over a period of nine days.


Words And Meanings Argued At Mob Trial

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

What was said in a taped telephone conversation or written in the letter or Christmas card was not in dispute.

But what the words meant was the focus of nearly four hours of cross-examination today as mob informant Anthony Aponick, 43, spent a second day on the witness stand in the racketeering conspiracy retrial of George Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss Joseph Ligambi.

Aponick, a New York mob associate who was Borgesi's cellmate in a federal prison in Virginia for parts of 2002 and 2003, clashed repeatedly with Christopher Warren, Borgesi's defense attorney.

Warren, trying to underscore in the jury's mind that much of what Aponick has testified to is uncorroborated, came back again and again to a simple query.

"We just have to take your word?" the lawyer asked.

"It's the truth," Aponick responded.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Witness Puts Price Tag On Mob Membership

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

An outsider can buy his way into the Philadelphia mob for $10,000.


That, at least, is what New York mob informant Anthony Aponick said he was asked to cough up to George Borgesi while they were cellmates in a federal prison in West Virginia back in 2003.

"He said I would become a member of his crew," said Aponick as he testified today at the racketeering conspiracy retrial of Borgesi and his uncle, mob boss Joe Ligambi. "He wanted $10,000."

The membership fee was just 10 percent of what Boston mobster Bobby Luisi said he had to pay Joey Merlino back in the late 1990s to become a made member of the organization. Whether that was a reflection of an economic downturn in the underworld or whether Aponick was getting a special discount could not be determined. Like Aponick, Luisi became a close associate of Borgesi's. And like Aponick, he eventually became an FBI informant.

Aponick said his dealings with Borgesi also came with an ominous warning.

"Listen, no matter what, don't fuck me," he said Borgesi told him as Aponick was about to be released from prison in 2003. "If you fuck me, I'll kill you and your whole family."

Aponick, who was already cooperating with the FBI by that time, disregarded the warning.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mob Trial Descends Into Soap Opera

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

Bent Finger Lou was looking at a picture from happier times.

There he was, posing for a snapshot between two smiling women. One was George Borgesi's mother, Manny; the other was Borgesi's wife, Alyson.

"We were all friends," Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello admitted from the witness stand. That was before Monacello became a cooperating witness for the government in the case against Borgesi, the alleged mob capo, and his uncle, Joe Ligambi, the alleged boss of the Philly mob.

Monacello had the most difficult time talking about Borgesi's mother. "I always thought Manny was the only sincere one through the whole process," he testified.

But a few minutes later, Monacello was ripping George's younger brother, Anthony, as someone who was so jealous of Bent Finger Lou's favored position in the crime family that he was "constantly looking to stab me in the back."

While Monacello was teeing off on Anthony Borgesi, "Ant" was sitting right there in the courtroom soaking it up. Manny Borgesi draped a protective arm around her youngest son's muscular shoulders as Bent Finger Lou piled on the abuse.

Christopher Warren, George Borgesi's lawyer, used cross-examination to delve into such pressing legal issues as how Monacello used to date one of Anthony Borgesi's old girlfriends, and how Bent Finger Lou's ex-wife cut Anthony Borgesi's hair. Isn't this whole mob feud really just some bullshit over women, Warren asked.

Women had nothing to do with it, Monacello said. It might be bullshit, but "this bullshit could cause a serious problem," said Bent Finger Lou.  He was staring at Anthony Borgesi when he said it.

It was that kind of a day at the mob trial, as the cross-examination of Bent Finger Lou descended into soap opera, petty gangland feuds, and plenty of name-calling. Why was Uncle Joe pissed at the Geator with the Heater? Did George Borgesi really bite Fat Angelo Lutz on the forehead? And why did Bent Finger Lou label one government witness "a nut case" and another government witness "a mental misfit?"

"This is hysterical," Manny Borgesi was overhead saying. Better than court TV or any reality show, spectators agreed.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Life And Times Of Bent Finger Lou

Bent Finger Lou (right) with Frankie the Fixer
By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello didn't deny that he was cheating on his first wife.

But the mob associate said his business partner, Jack Palermo, was out of line when he told Monacello's wife about it. So he pistol-whipped him, hitting him over the head with the butt of a  revolver.

And when another associate lied about $50,000 in gambling debts that he had secretly run up on Monacello, the martial arts trained wiseguy said he "gave him a little kick in the head."

He also acknowledged that he coached three other associates to lie to a Delaware County grand jury that was investigating him in 2008. And that he once told another deadbeat gambler that if he didn't come up with the money he owed, he would be "dead."

Monacello, testifying for the third day in the retrial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, spent most of his time on the witness stand today in a verbal sparring match with Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. What emerged was the life and times of Bent Finger Lou, tales of assaults with baseball bats, kicks in the head, gambling debts, extortions and shakedowns.