Two different views of Phila. mob at closing arguments

Posted: January 08, 2014

It was, it seemed, the tale of two mobs.

During closing arguments Monday at the racketeering retrial of reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi and his purported consigliere, George Borgesi, a federal prosecutor described a thriving Philadelphia chapter of La Cosa Nostra that rules gambling and loan-sharking rackets through fear and force.

"The evidence in this case shows not only how the mob makes money," argued Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han, "but also how the money flows upward to the leadership."

But to listen to defense attorneys, the violent and structured Philadelphia mob of old was dismantled in crushing federal indictments of the late 1990s.

"There is not even a shell of the mob in Philadelphia anymore," said Ligambi's attorney, Edwin Jacobs Jr. "Anyone blackmailing or loan-sharking is doing it on their own."

The mob's ranks, he said, have been replaced by "private contractors," who do not answer or pay tribute to Ligambi but instead drop his name on the street to cash in on the 74-year-old's reputation.

After 12 years of investigation, 14,000 wiretap recordings, and 40 search warrants, the government has no proof that Ligambi "received a single dollar or was overseeing or orchestrating criminal activities," Jacobs told the jury.

Borgesi's attorney, Christopher Warren, described the prosecution's case as "the theater of the absurd" and "a bunch of androgynous bovine excrement."

Indeed, the two-month racketeering conspiracy trial, which came after a jury last year deadlocked on the most serious counts against Ligambi and Borgesi, contained few descriptions of the violence that for so long defined the Philly mob.

Rather, the case centers on the testimony of a string of mob informants and undercover police who said that Ligambi and Borgesi, as acting boss and second-in-charge after former boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino went to prison in 1999, profited from their underlings' collections of street loans, bookmaking, extortion, and illegal video gambling.

The modern mobsters, Han said, were "beneficiaries" of their predecessors' reputations for killing.

"They did not disavow it," Han said. "They embraced it and exploited it."

To prove conspiracy against the two alleged mob bosses, prosecutors do not have to show that Ligambi and Borgesi committed crimes, Han said, only that the two were aware that others would "carry out the mob business" for them.

Han laid out what he described as a decade of evidence, including jailhouse tapes of Ligambi visiting Borgesi, 49, while he was serving a 14-year federal sentence in West Virginia, taped recordings of Ligambi discussing business, photographs of Ligambi and his cohorts at a 2010 wedding, and testimony of mob turncoats who described Ligambi and Borgesi as the bosses.

Han stressed the importance of a 2010 meeting in a New Jersey restaurant between Ligambi and members of the New York Gambino crime family.

"They weren't there to meet impostors," Han said of the New York mobsters.

Closing arguments will continue Tuesday morning.


mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759

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