Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., and six other defense attorneys used the rest of the day to make a more eloquent version of that argument.
"They spent 13 years putting us under a microscope and they came up with a gambling case," Jacobs said. "We're not villains; we're victims."
Ligambi and his associates - Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, George Borgesi, Anthony Staino, Damion Canalichio, Gary Battaglini and Joseph "Scoops" Licata - went on trial Thursday in a racketeering case built around allegations of loan-sharking, extortion, sports betting and the operation of illegal video-poker machines going back to 1999.
Prosecutors say that Ligambi's crew cashed in on La Cosa Nostra's history of violence to make people pay up, then moved the money up the family hierarchy. Ligambi also is charged with holding a no-show job at a South Philly trash company and fleecing a Teamsters health fund out of more than $200,000 in medical and dental benefits for himself and his family.
"It's a nice job if you can get it," Labor said. "And if you're the acting boss of the Philadelphia mob, you can get it."
The indictment, however, isn't very sexy, as far as mob indictments go. No murder plots. No beatdowns. Not much to work with in terms of Mafia intrigue. As Jacobs put it, the charges "would never make a single episode of 'The Sopranos.' "
"Nobody got his hair pulled in this case," Jacobs said.
The investigation, Jacobs said, involved dozens of law-enforcement officials, about 40 search warrants and thousands of intercepted conversations from phone taps and body wires. The conversations range from potentially incriminating threats of bodily harm, to drunk talk over urinals, to a debate over Elvis Presley and Tom Jones.
"What you're going to hear is a bunch of geriatric gangsters waxing nostalgic about things that happened long ago," said attorney Christopher Warren, who represents Licata, 71, the white-haired caporegime of the Philly mob's North Jersey faction.
Security has been heightened for the trial, with a metal detector placed directly outside U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno's courtroom. The jurors will remain anonymous and will be transported to and from an undisclosed location before and after court.
Prosecution witnesses are expected to include mob rats Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, a Borgesi associate who flipped last year; Eugene "Gino" Milano, a hit man for imprisoned mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo; and Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio, an octogenarian ex-capo from Newark, N.J. The trial could run through Christmas.
"We're going to be together for a long time, unfortunately for you," said Staino's attorney, Greg Pagano.
During opening arguments, the jury was barraged with a seemingly endless cast of characters with bad monikers and dates of acts and conversations that occurred over the past decade. Like when a mobster took a bet on the Eagles when they were in the Super Bowl in 2005.
"Once you're in, you're in for life," Labor said.
Ligambi, who wore gray slacks and a black long-sleeve polo shirt, appeared skinnier than in recent years. But he didn't seem particularly concerned that, if convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
"Do me a favor," he told one of his supporters at the lunch break, "bring me back two prosciutto hoagies."
Contact William Bender at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5255. Follow him on Twitter @wbender99.