Ligambi jurors to be guarded under tight security

Reported mob boss Joseph Ligambi as seen in 2001. Audio tapes by a witness, who since committed suicide, are expected to be played in the racketeering case against Ligambi. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Reported mob boss Joseph Ligambi as seen in 2001. Audio tapes by a witness, who since committed suicide, are expected to be played in the racketeering case against Ligambi. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 22, 2012

From a juror's perspective, the upcoming trial of reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and 13 co-defendants might be starting to look like the "Trial from Hell."

Not that you're necessarily in danger of getting whacked, but the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a court motion Thursday requesting that the racketeering case be presented to an anonymous jury.

The office doesn't want the wiseguys or their lawyers to know the names of prospective jurors. Or where they live. Or work.

And they want the secret jury sequestered during lunch and recesses "under the protection of the United States Marshals Service," which would transport jurors each day to and from an "undisclosed central location, from which the jurors may commute to and from their respective communities," the motion said.

Ya know, just in case.

On the upside, the trial, which could last three months or longer, isn't scheduled to begin until October. Plenty of time to buy a bulletproof vest.

"My God," defense attorney Joseph Santaguida sighed Thursday, as his secretary read the prosecutors' motion aloud. "I think they're going too far."

Santaguida, who represents reputed mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, said he'd fight the motion if it prevents him from knowing the occupation of prospective jurors and their spouses.

"If a woman's husband is a police officer, I think we'd want to know that," he said. "It tells you something about their mind-set. Could this person be fair?"

Anonymous juries are somewhat unusual, but they've been used in several high-profile federal trials involving organized crime, terrorism and violent drug gangs.

Santaguida said it's unnecessary in this trial, though, because the indictment focuses mostly on economic crimes like video-poker and loan-sharking.

"It's a glorified gambling case," he said.

The indictment doesn't include any murders, but the threat of violence has long been the calling card of La Cosa Nostra.

Said one law-enforcement source: "These guys would be walking around with nothing in their pockets but the dirty hands they were born with if it weren't for violence. Nobody would give them the time of day."

David Fritchey, chief of the feds' Organized Crime Strike Force in Philadelphia, said prosecutors are concerned not only about the jurors' safety, but the possibility that someone could attempt to intimidate or influence them, particularly because Internet databases make it easier than ever to gather personal information.

"In light of the impact convictions in this case will have on the power and continuity of the Philadelphia [La Cosa Nostra] family, the risk of juror intimidation here is genuine," the motion reads.

If U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno grants the government's motion, he and his staff would likely be the only people to know the juror's names.

Santaguida said he isn't worried about the heightened security swaying the jury.

"At some point, they're going to know this is bull----," he said of the indictment. "Hopefully."

Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or benderw@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @wbender99. Read his blog, "Daily Delco" at philly.com/dailydelco.

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