Meet Philadelphia’s new mob trial. Same as Philadelphia’s old mob trials?
There’s good reason that the looming federal case against alleged crime boss Joseph Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi has a deja-vu feel for a city steeped in old-school mafia intrigue, vignettes and court proceedings.
The case itself
Scheduled to kick off Monday at the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse at Sixth and Market streets, the retrial centers on a racketeering conspiracy and comes nearly nine months to the day after a jury deadlocked on a handful of charges.
It will feature much of the same evidence presented in the trial that preceded it. The jury in that case found Borgesi not guilty of 13 counts accusing him of directing loan-sharking operations from prison.
However, the prosecution will be able to speak to those charges in its effort to convict Borgesi of the 14th charge: racketeering conspiracy.
The government alleges that crimes were committed while Borgesi was incarcerated in federal correctional facilities in West Virginia and North Carolina, the result of a lenghty sentence dating back to the Joey Merlino case in 2001. (Had this new case not been brought, Borgesi would have been a free man in July 2012. Instead, he remains behind bars to this day.)
Borgesi’s attorney, Christopher Warren, likened that, via motion, to the government having “free and unfettered reign to re-litigate to its heart’s content each and every factual issue that was decided against it in the first trial.” Warren declined to comment about the impending case this week.
Louis “Bent Finger Lou” Monacello, who federal prosecutors consider to have been a “key associate” who worked on Borgesi’s behalf while the latter was incarcerated, will again testify for the prosecution. He’s considered a key witness in the government’s case.
Reached via the cell-phone number listed on his business website, Monacello politely told NewsWorks on Thursday that he couldn’t comment on the case, but would be happy to talk about it afterwards.
Also expected to testify is Borgesi’s former cellmate, Anthony Aponick, whose sordid rap sheet rivals the defendants’.
How it’s different
Making this case unique from mob trials of yesteryear, neither man is charged with acts of violence — racketeering, video poker and extortion lead the way.
Also making it unique is the fact that Borgesi, his mother, brother and other relatives have lashed out about what they consider a vendetta against a 50-year-old with a penchant for speaking his mind in court and from his cell.
“We’ve always kept our mouths shut, but enough’s enough. It’s a personal thing,” Borgesi’s brother Anthony recently said. Warren “is fighting for my brother’s life. We want someone to fight for my brother’s rights. It’s a witch hunt. His civil rights are being violated and nobody will stand up for him.”
Borgesi recently made his thoughts known in a phone conversation heard by a Daily News reporter — “It is a joke, but I’m still sitting here,” he said from the federal detention center at 7th and Arch streets, according to the newspaper — and in letters that his family has shared with NewsWorks over the course of recent months.
One angry family
To Manny Borgesi — Ligambi’s sister and George’s mother — and Anthony, the feds have kept him in prison as part of a spiteful vendetta that has seen him harassed at every turn.
The conversations have centered more on Borgesi than the alleged boss Ligambi, who Manny says is suffering in custody as well. However, “my poor brother” Ligambi, 74, didn’t lose more than a decade behind bars before getting charged with new crimes while still in custody.
Their opinions of the individual prosecutors and FBI investigators involved in the case about a mob that they say no longer exists include words not fit for print.
“The whole time my brother has been in prison, he’s been under 24-hour surveillance,” Anthony Borgesi said. “If they’re saying that George Borgesi did all these things from jail, shame on the government, because they’re supposed to be watching him around the clock.”
Their allegations range from investigative malfeasance (i.e. protecting protected witnesses against a laundry list of criminal charges ranging from robbery to domestic violence which may, or may not, be introduced during the trial) to petty instances of driving south with cheesesteaks and pretzels to the correctional facility for Borgesi to see and smell, but not taste.
This, despite the fact that relatives say Borgesi was “a model prisoner” who brokered peace between the Aryan Nation and black inmates behind bars.
“My brother will sit in prison for 100 years if he knows he did something wrong. With the first case, he said, ‘I did what I did and I took my lumps and went to jail for it,’ but he didn’t do nothing this time,'” Anthony said. “Doesn’t my brother have civil rights?”
The grievance list also includes investigators visiting the businesses of in-laws and ex-wives, recording license-plate numbers outside of family bridal showers (where the only guests were females) and befuddlement about how allowing details of those 13 not-guilty charges into next week’s trial doesn’t constitute double jeopardy.
They are also of the mind that the prosecutors see the case as last gasp effort to justify keeping the Organized Crime Strike Force alive in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Veteran organized-crime journalist George Anastasia told NewsWorks that “there’s some basis” for where the Borgesis were coming from with some complaints.
“The feds have George in sights,” he noted. “They would never say this, but [I think they’re thinking] that George and his uncle both gotten away with murder; it’s a different set of rules.”
On the flip side, though, Anastasia noted that it’d be as unfair to call a potential witness a “wife abuser” despite charges being dropped as it would to call Borgesi a violent offender related to charges on which he wasn’t convicted.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment when NewsWorks asked about the “witch hunt” allegations.
However, David Fritchey, chief of the Organized Crime Strike Force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told the Daily News, “It’s hardly uncommon. I’m sure Jerry Sandusky is not happy about being in prison, either.”
With stacks of document-filled manila envelopes at every interview, the Borgesis say they’re not just griping.
“We have proof that everything they’ve done to my brother is a witch hunt, and they’re still doing it,” Anthony said. “He should have walked out of jail [in February]. He should have been home to prepare for this case.
“There is no justice. I don’t care [if I shouldn’t go public with this]. I’m not holding it in anymore. We want people to see what they’ve been doing to my brother. Enough’s enough. Nobody’s saying we’re angels, but if it’s fair, it’s fair, and this [case] isn’t.”
The case, for which jury selection is slated to start Monday, is expected to last more than a month.