Ligambi-Borgesi trial's second chapter begins

Anthony Borgesi, brother of reputed mobster George Borgesi.
Anthony Borgesi, brother of reputed mobster George Borgesi. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 09, 2013

PHILADELPHIA It might be considered the low-budget sequel. But reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Ligambi and the federal authorities who have pursued him for 13 years both hope this time brings blockbuster results.

Ligambi, known as "Uncle Joe," returned to court Thursday for his second trial in as many years on racketeering conspiracy charges. His nephew and alleged consigliere, George "Georgie Boy" Borgesi, sat by his side.

Eight months ago, a federal jury deadlocked on the most serious counts against them after a marathon, four-month trial involving 12 other mob defendants.

But as a new panel of 10 women and two men took up the case again, prosecutor Frank Labor cut straight to the chase.

"Joe Ligambi . . . our boss," he said in his opening statement. "That was how he was introduced to a meeting of mob leaders in New Jersey in 2010."

Though these jurors have not been told of the results of the last trial, the evidence Labor outlined for them Thursday sounded much the same: More than 11,000 recorded conversations. Results of 40 search warrants. And an expected cavalcade of mob associates-turned-government witnesses.

All will add up, he said, to prove that Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, oversaw the Philadelphia chapter of La Cosa Nostra, a violent group with profitable revenue streams from illegal gambling, loan-sharking, and bookmaking.

But for Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., the same equation yielded different results.

"This case is a misuse of 13 years of investigation and came up with nothing," he countered in his opening statement. "They cobbled together some sort of case to justify all the money and resources they spent."

The last jury mostly agreed, acquitting Ligambi in February of five counts of loan-sharking, theft ,and bookmaking and leaving only four, including the racketeering conspiracy count, unresolved. Borgesi was cleared of 13 of the 14 charges against him.

Thursday, though, Labor and Jacobs circled each other like two often-matched prizefighters - each anticipating the other's blows and defending against weak spots exposed in their previous bout.

Hoping to fend off confusion that seemed to trip up the jury last time, Labor cautioned the new panel that in order to prove a racketeering conspiracy he needed to show only that Ligambi and Borgesi were aware of and profited from the Philadelphia mob's crimes, not that they committed them themselves.

"The CEO doesn't go down to the assembly line and tighten bolts," Labor said, comparing the mob to Ford Motor Co.

Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., countered: "The CEO of Ford is not going to go to jail if some of his line workers are involved in an illegal gambling operation."

Already well aware of the expected testimony of government witnesses, Jacobs described the bunch as "the most unsavory, unreliable arch-criminals who have ever been assembled in one courtroom" and later as "walking, talking embodiments of reasonable doubt."

Borgesi's lawyer, Christopher Warren, joined in the attack but saved the brunt of his ire for the only new government witness expected during the retrial - Anthony Aponick, a former associate of New York's Bonanno crime family.

Aponick shared a cell with Borgesi at a federal prison in West Virginia and later told the FBI his cellmate had tried to recruit him for the Philadelphia mob.

But even after Philadelphia's chief federal prosecutor traveled to New York to personally urge a judge to release him for his cooperation, Aponick robbed another bank and found himself back behind bars.

Deeming him too risky to put on the stand, prosecutors left him off their witness list during Borgesi's first trial.

Now, they plan to call him - a move Warren compared to "taking someone they had kicked out of their bed and putting them back under the covers."

For their part, Ligambi, dressed in a red turtleneck and sweatpants, and a cardigan-clad Borgesi sat quietly as the lawyers sparred Thursday.

Their family, however, was fuming.

Borgesi's brother Anthony has described the ongoing case against his brother and Uncle Joe as a "witch-hunt," in a series of recent expletive-laden interviews.

And throughout Thursday's proceedings, he and other family members made little effort to hold back their whispered, sarcastic asides.

"It's ridiculous," he said after court let out for the day. "Other than that, I have nothing left to say."

Testimony in the case is expected to resume Tuesday.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649 @jeremyrroebuck

 

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