Judge Weighs Scope Of Mob History At Philly Trial
PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A U.S. judge must decide how much mob history the government can detail at the upcoming racketeering trial of nine alleged La Cosa Nostra members in Philadelphia.
The 52-count indictment accuses the alleged crime family of gambling, loansharking and threats of violence under Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi in recent years, but nothing resembling the mob hits and gangland executions that rocked Philadelphia a generation ago.
Federal prosecutors nonetheless hope to tell jurors about the violent 1980s reign of Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo and a line of other infamous Philadelphia mob bosses before and after him. Defense lawyers say that will taint their clients.
“They’re trying to make the jury believe these people on trial here are every bit as evil as the people who went out and committed murders for Scarfo,” lawyer Ed Jacobs, who represents Ligambi, argued Thursday at a pretrial hearing.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno did not immediately rule on the issue. The government also asked for extra jury protection. They want to keep jurors’ names anonymous and have them escorted to court each day from a secret location. Similar precautions were taken at Scarfo’s 1988 trial – when he was convicted of a racketeering indictment that included nine murders – and other mob cases at the downtown courthouse.
The defense agreed to the anonymous jury, but said the appearance of other security measures could influence the jury.
“The others (trials) were full of murders. This is a gambling and money case,” Jacobs said. “We want to try the case on the evidence, not on impressions.”
Prosecutors challenge the notion that Ligambi’s operation was not violent, given the alleged threats. Government wiretaps captured defendants threatening to get “gorillas ... to chop you up” and “put bullets in your head,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor.
The trial will also feature testimony from two mob turncoats, Peter Caprio and Gene Milano, along with a retired FBI agent who infiltrated the Gambino crime family in New York, prosecutors said. The government also wants to call an expert to interpret the mob slang heard on wiretaps during the 12-year investigation.
The judge, pondering the scope of mob history he should allow, wondered if the mob’s feared reputation didn’t help Ligambi’s crew, even if the alleged threats were never carried out.
“(If) they benefit from the LCN’s reputation, ... isn’t it necessary, then, to lay out the background?” Robreno asked.
Ligambi, alleged underboss Joseph Massimino and the others are set for trial in October.
Two defendants, Martin “Marty” Angelina and Gaeton Lucibello, have pleaded guilty before trial, but their pleas don’t call for them to cooperate.
Three others named in the indictment are not yet scheduled