Defense lawyers fire back in Philadelphia mob case

Posted: January 06, 2013

Lawyers for accused leaders of the Philadelphia mob railed against prosecutors and their case Friday, urging jurors to acquit the men and reject an FBI probe they said took more than a decade because it was built on petty crimes, flimsy evidence, and unreliable witnesses.

"They were investigating for 13 years," Gregory Pagano told jurors. "They were waiting for something bigger and better than video poker machines and sports betting to come along, and it never did."

A day after a prosecutor spent more than three hours delivering his closing argument, Friday was reserved for defense lawyers to fire back.

They did, again and again, for five hours.

Prosecutors lied or twisted evidence, they asserted. There had been no proof of racketeering. Agents tried to entrap suspects, and scripted or pressed informants to get what the government wanted or needed for a case.

In the first of five hour-long summations, lawyer Christopher Warren reminded jurors that one wire-wearing turncoat killed himself after becoming an informant, and another threatened to do so.

"Their cooperating witnesses either wanted to kill themselves or do kill themselves, and [agents] lie to people about death threats to get them to cooperate," said Warren, representing reputed captain Joseph "Scoops" Licata.

Jurors will hear the last defense argument Monday from Edwin Jacobs Jr., lawyer for alleged boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, followed by the government's rebuttal argument. Deliberations could start Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno said.

Prosecutors say Ligambi, 73, and his associates used the mob's reputation for intimidation and violence to control illegal gambling, loan-sharking, and bookmaking operations across the region for a decade.

The defense did not deny that the mob exists, that their clients are associates, or that they may have committed, as Gary Battaglini's lawyer, Lawrence O'Connor, said, "isolated incidents of marginally criminal activity, acting on their own behalf."

They took pains to attack the individual crimes alleged in the 51-count indictment, but at times argued on behalf of all the defendants, each charged with an overarching racketeering conspiracy.

"This case is full of reasonable doubt," said Margaret Grasso, lawyer for alleged soldier Damion "Dame" Canalichio. "Incredible witnesses - not just lying in the past, but lying" during the trial.

She and others scoffed at the star prosecution witnesses: "degenerate" gamblers or admitted criminals like Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, who cut deals to get out or stay out of prison.

"That's their evidence in this case. It's Louis Monacello against my client," said Paul Hetznecker, lawyer for reputed consigliere George Borgesi, who prosecutors say kept running his bookmaking operations while spending most of the decade in a West Virginia prison. "Monacello is a convicted perjurer who wants to get out of jail," Hetznecker said.

Pagano, the lawyer for reputed captain Anthony "Ant" Staino, said his client was under surveillance for more than two years, shadowed by undercover agents and named in thousands of recorded conversations. Still, there was not "a shred of evidence" that money flowed between Staino and the others, nor that any of them employed the brutality long associated with the mob, he argued.

"If Mr. Staino was inclined to act violently, he had plenty of opportunity to do so," Pagano said. "If any of these seven men was inclined to act violently, they had the opportunity to do so."

Warren said Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han "flat-out made up" facts during his closing argument. He said a secretly recorded 2010 gathering in a North Jersey restaurant that the prosecution says was a critical meeting of mob bosses from Philadelphia and New York was really "a bunch of geriatric old gangsters waxing nostalgic."

Prosecutors, he said, "spent more time talking about what the Mafia used to be instead of what it is now."

What the case showed, he said, was not a smoothly operating hierarchical enterprise with crime as its means and ends, as the racketeering statute requires. More likely, he said, it was a collection of individual operators trying to get by.

Among them, Warren said, was his client, Licata, a 71-year-old who runs a used-car lot in New Jersey and has spent much of the last two decades in prison.

"It is a 'broke, broke' mob," Warren said.

The argument won praise in corners of the courtroom, from relatives and supporters of the defendants who had grumbled during Han's summation a day earlier.

"Hey, nice job," one told Warren as they passed during a break. "You ate his brains."


Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com, or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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