Witness' slip nearly derails Ligambi mob trial

Posted: November 17, 2013

PHILADELPHIA A loose-lipped witness nearly derailed the racketeering retrial of Joseph Ligambi during testimony Friday by referencing the government's previous attempt to convict the reputed Philadelphia mob boss.

Defense lawyers called for a mistrial after Joseph Procaccini, owner of a South Philadelphia video poker machine company, was asked under cross-examination whether he knew of a relationship between Ligambi and mob bookmaker Gary Battaglini.

"I know Gary was convicted in the first trial," Procaccini responded.

A federal jury found Battaglini and two other mob associates guilty of racketeering conspiracy in February but deadlocked on the same charge when it came to Ligambi and his nephew and purported consigliere, George Borgesi. Prior to the start of their retrial last week, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno barred any mention of the previous proceedings before the new jurors.

Rather than let the slipup Friday force yet another trial, Robreno called the panel back after 15 minutes of legal wrangling and instructed members to disregard the reference.

Still, the incident offered jurors their first hints of the four-month, 14-defendant marathon that was Ligambi's first go-round in federal court.

Then, many of the men implicated by witnesses - including Battaglini, mob capo Anthony "Ant" Staino Jr., and underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino - sat beside Ligambi and Borgesi at the defense table.

Staino was sentenced to eight years in prison in July, after pleading guilty to three counts of conspiracy and illegal gambling. Massimino received a 15-year sentence after his conviction in February.

This time, though, as witness after witness has outlined dealings with the lower-level mobsters, few have made mention of the two men on trial.

Procaccini's testimony, which began Thursday, offered one of the first direct links.

He told jurors Thursday that Staino, Massimino, and Ligambi edged him out of the South Philadelphia video poker market in 2001 by forcing him to sell his business. The three set up their own company, JMA Video Poker, so the deal would appear legitimate, prosecutors allege.

But what Procaccini viewed as a shakedown, Ligambi saw as just business, said Edwin Jacobs Jr., lawyer for the reputed mob boss. JMA paid Procaccini $3,000 for each of his gambling machines located at bars, coin laundries, and bodegas around South Philadelphia.

Ligambi, 74, and Borgesi, 50, deny any involvement in the illegal gambling, loan-sharking and bookmaking operations of their mob fellows and have repeatedly disputed prosecutors' characterization of them as men who muscled their way through business with threats of violence.

Testimony is to resume Monday.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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