Mob-trial prosecutors seek to bar defense claims

George Borgesi , codefendant.
George Borgesi , codefendant.
Posted: January 06, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Two of Philadelphia's top reputed mob dons have done their best during the last two months to paint the federal case against them as nothing more than the "cobbled together" result of 13 years of squandered investigatory resources.

But if prosecutors have anything to say about it, they won't have a chance to make that argument again.

As both sides prepare to make their final pitch to jurors Monday, government lawyers are seeking to bar defense attorneys for Joseph Ligambi and George Borgesi from repeating what they describe as inaccurate and improper claims.

In disparaging the government's case against their clients, the defense team has all but asked jurors to "ignore the evidence" and "base [their] verdict on an emotional response" to the plight of the made men, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank Labor and John Han said in court filings Thursday. They described the defense claims as an "unabashed and highly improper appeal to juror sympathy."

But lawyers for the two mob figures say that prosecutors have simply missed the point of their arguments.

"Despite 11,000 intercepts, 40 search warrants, and countless hours of visual surveillance over the course of more than a decade, the government has failed to develop a case," defense lawyer Michael F. Myers wrote in court filings Friday. "The point is lack of evidence."

The eleventh-hour spat comes amid what has become a frequent defense theme throughout Ligambi's retrial on racketeering conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors allege that Ligambi, 74, oversaw the mob's wide-ranging illegal gambling and loan-sharking rackets across the Philadelphia area and that Borgesi, his nephew and purported consigliere, stood by his side. If convicted, both men face potential life sentences.

Defense lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. has repeatedly depicted Ligambi as the victim of an FBI witch-hunt and derided the charges against him as picayune when compared with the violence-filled cases that brought down the city's previous mob dons.

"Why are these charges here at all?" he asked during his opening statement to jurors Nov. 7. "The federal government had to charge something to justify the enormous allocation of government time and resources and money."

He added: "This case is a misuse of 13 years of investigation [of Ligambi], which cleared us of wrongdoing."

For his part, Borgesi, 50, has centered his defense on his prior conviction on racketeering charges. He was sentenced to federal prison in 2000 and has remained behind bars ever since.

The government contends he continued to run illegal rackets from prison. But his lawyer, Christopher Warren, has maintained that Borgesi learned his lesson the first time and is no longer criminally involved with his mob brothers.

"You don't keep getting to lock somebody up again and again for the same thing," he said in November. "He has been trying to get out and back to his family - that's family with a lowercase F."

In filings Thursday, prosecutors insisted that, Warren's portrayal of his client notwithstanding, he is guilty of the charges against him.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Myers responded on Borgesi's behalf. "Instead, defense counsel merely explained why a so-called career criminal like Borgesi would 'hang up the towel.' "

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno is expected to issue a ruling before the trial resumes Monday on whether the defense can reprise those arguments.


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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