Prosecution witness says Staino seldom threatened him

Anthony Staino, accused of collecting mob's take.
Anthony Staino, accused of collecting mob's take.
Posted: October 21, 2012

A South Philadelphia bookmaker who owed reputed mob leader Anthony Staino between $60,000 and $80,000 rarely made his loan payments on time, and usually paid less than was due.

Yet, Henry Scipione testified Friday, Staino seldom threatened him or demanded more money.

Scipione, the first witness the prosecution called in the racketeering trial of Staino, reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi, and five others, spent nearly six hours on the witness stand Friday detailing his role as a reluctant FBI informant between 2003 and 2007.

"It's not the way I was raised," said Scipione, 55, who spent most of his life in South Philadelphia. "You don't tell on your friends."

At another point, the former postal worker and admitted degenerate gambler said: "What I'm doing, they just don't do."

Scipione told the jury he began cooperating with the FBI in May 2003 after falling deeply in debt to Staino who, he said, worked for Ligambi. A month before he cut his deal with the FBI, Scipione said, Staino had threatened "to put a bullet in my head" in a dispute over the unpaid loan-sharking debts.

But over the next four years while he was cooperating with the FBI and recording dozens of conversations with the reputed mob capo, Scipione said, Staino never again threatened him.

Speaking in a low voice and never making eye contact with Staino, Scipione acknowledged that they had been friends and that he borrowed money in part to support a gambling addiction, although he said he told Staino he needed the money for living expenses.

Scipione also acknowledged that he left his job with the Postal Service after a "bag of cash" that he was responsible for disappeared. Later, he said, he stole thousands of dollars in state lottery proceeds while operating a neighborhood convenience store that had a lottery franchise.

Scipione said that as part of his cooperating agreement, he introduced two undercover FBI agents to Staino, describing them as associates to whom he had lent some of the money he borrowed from Staino. The agents used the names "Vinny" and "Dino."

In all, Scipione told Staino he had 24 loan-sharking customers. In fact, he said, he fabricated all of the names and their debts.

At least one of the agents is expected to testify later in the trial and play recordings he made of conversations with Staino.

Ligambi, Staino, and their codefendants are being tried on racketeering conspiracy charges built around allegations of gambling, extortion, and loan-sharking.

The trial, expected to last eight to 12 weeks, will resume Thursday before U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno. Court will be recessed Monday through Wednesday for a judicial conference.

In addition to Scipione's testimony, the jury heard nearly a dozen tape-recorded conversations in which he and Staino discussed the loan-sharking debts and Vinny's failure to make payments that were due.

On one, Staino said he had "two gorillas" who would "chop" Vinny up. On another, he told Scipione, "I'm telling you right now, I'm going to kill him."

But under questioning by defense attorneys for Staino and Ligambi, Scipione acknowledged that Staino never acted on those threats and that he was often cordial and friendly despite the failure to pay off the loans.

Over the four years while he was cooperating with the FBI, Scipione made payments totaling $50,250 to Staino. The FBI supplied the cash.

He also received an additional $53,755 for "services and expenses," and, under questioning by Gregory Pagano, Staino's lawyer, acknowledged that he could be in line for an additional bonus payment.

But Scipione said he paid a personal price for his cooperation. His wife divorced him once she learned he was an FBI informant, he said.

And he testified that in June 2003, shortly after striking his deal with federal authorities, he attempted suicide.

After sending an e-mail to his FBI handlers in which he said, "I can't take life, I can't take all the lying that I've been doing," Scipione checked into a motel near Philadelphia International Airport and swallowed a handful of prescription pills, including Xanax and Percocet.

"What happened after that?" Scipione was asked as he recounted the events from the witness stand.

"I woke up," he said.

He said he tried to commit suicide again a few days later, then was hospitalized for treatment. For the next four years, he worked with the FBI, recording conversations with Staino and paying down a loan-sharking debt with cash supplied by his federal handlers.


Contact George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.

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