Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Uncle Joe Heads Home To An Unsettled Underworld

By George Anastasia
For Bigtrial.net

Mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi is being processed out of prison this morning, ending a two
and a half year stay as a "guest" of the government in the Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch streets.

Judge  Eduardo Robreno dismissed the remaining counts pending against the 74-year-old crime leader after federal prosecutors filed a motion yesterday declaring that they would not retry Ligambi a third time on conspiracy and gambling charges.

Ligambi has been in jail since he and a dozen others were indicted on racketeering conspiracy and related gambling and loansharking charges in May 2011. He was twice denied bail.

But once federal authorities filed a motion to dismiss the remaining counts against him, bail was no longer an issue.

Most observers believe the U.S. Attorney's Office wisely opted to cut its losses and save the fight for another day. Whether that day is close at hand remains an open question. If the government comes again with a mob case, those in both law enforcement and the criminal defense bar believe, it will need a more substantial body of evidence than it had this time around.

A jury on Friday acquitted Ligambi of one count of witness tampering and hung -- voting 10-2 to acquit -- on the three other counts. Earlier this year, in the first trial based on the same indictment, a jury found Ligambi not guilty of five of the nine counts he faced. The four remaining counts were the basis for the trial that ended last week.

The anonymously chosen jury of 11 women and one man was apparently less than overwhelmed by the government's case.

"There was very little physical evidence and the witnesses were convicted criminals," one juror, who asked not to be identified, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "... if the government could have provided us with credible witnesses, maybe things would have been different."

The jury also found Ligambi's co-defendant, George Borgesi, 50,  not guilty of a conspiracy charge. Borgesi was freed on Friday.

The two veteran mobsters returned to an underworld that is at best unsettled. Whether either will attempt to exert control and influence is a question being asked by both state and federal authorities. Borgesi, who was serving a 14-year sentence in a separate racketeering case when he was indicted in May 2011, will be on supervised release for about 18 months.

Free for the first time since March 2000, he is not permitted to associate with any convicted felons or organized crime figures and his travel is limited to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania unless he receives permission from his probation officer.

Borgesi, a leader in the mob once headed by Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, is one of nearly a dozen mobsters who comprise at least three difference factions in the beleaguered Philadelphia - South Jersey underworld.

Several individuals convicted and jailed in the 1980s with mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo are now back on the streets. While Merlino is living in Florida, several key associates, including Borgesi, Steven Mazzone and John Ciancaglini, are in town. And Ligambi and some other veteran mobsters who could line up in either camp, are also now part of the landscape.

Does everyone play nice and get along or does greed and treachery dominate? That's what several veteran law enforcement investigators are asking.

The situation is further clouded by two pending criminal prosecutions.

Mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo, 42, is awaiting trial for the gangland murder of Gino DiPietro in December 2012. The day light shooting on a South Philadelphia street corner has been described by investigators as one of the "dumbest" mob hits in Philadelphia history.

Nicodemo was arrested 30 minutes after the shooting in his home about five blocks from the murder scene. A gun and other evidence linked to the crime were found in his SUV which was parked in the driveway.

A year later Ronald Galati, a mob associate and South Philadelphia auto body shop owner, was arrested on witness intimidation and murder-for-hire charges. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office formalized those charges in an indictment that was unveiled yesterday a few hours before the feds were moving to dismiss the charges against Ligambi.

Galati is charged with hiring hitmen to kill two witnesses against him in a insurance fraud investigation. The 63-year-old wannabe wiseguy did 37 months on similar fraud charges in 1995.

"This time he's turned an insurance fraud case into a murder-for-hire case," said one law enforcement source. And that has raised the stakes considerably.

Galati, who claims he is in poor health (a judge has denied him bail, rejecting the medical argument), is now looking at a possible 30-year prison sentence. In addition, a broader indictment charging him with insurance fraud is expected from the District Attorney's Office within the next two weeks.

And in New Jersey, an investigation continues into the shooting of the boyfriend of Galati's daughter in Atlantic City. The same hitmen tied to the murder-for-hire case in Philadelphia are believed to be those who carried out that shooting. The boyfriend survived. The shooters, arrested minutes after the attempted hit went down, are said to be cooperating in both cases.

Galati is a target in that investigation and in a separate insurance fraud case focusing on the arson of at least one boat, according to sources familiar with the case.

At some point the various agencies handling the investigations are expected to map out a strategy for prosecution that could include the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The unanswered question -- and one that could put a damper on the welcome home festivities for both Ligambi and Borgesi -- is whether Nicodemo and Galati opt to cut deals with authorities in order to get out from under their own criminal problems.

Authorities would like to question both men about a series of unsolved mob murders. For either defendant, that could be their get out of jail card. But as the juror in the Ligambi trial pointed out, the dilemma for prosecutors as they consider building new cases is whether  Nicodemo and Galati would be "credible witnesses" or just two more "convicted criminals" taking the stand in a government deal with the devil.

George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.