Philly mob trial verdict: Not guilty

George Borgesi and wife Alyson Borgesi leaving the courthouse on his release day January 24, 2014. GABRIELA BARRANTES / DAILY NEWS STAFF
George Borgesi and wife Alyson Borgesi leaving the courthouse on his release day January 24, 2014. GABRIELA BARRANTES / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Posted: January 26, 2014

For the first time in 13 years, George Borgesi, the Philadelphia mob's former consigliere, left the James A. Byrne federal courthouse Friday unencumbered by handcuffs and hand in hand with the woman he married while behind bars.

Borgesi had been found not guilty.

Hours earlier, a jury acquitted the 50-year-old known as "Georgie Boy" on one count of racketeering conspiracy and said it was hopelessly deadlocked on three of four counts facing his uncle and codefendant, reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi. The jury cleared Ligambi of one witness-intimidation count.

The panel's partial verdict brought a stunning end to the mob figures' second go-round in court, and delivered a stinging blow to federal prosecutors who spent more than a decade and hundreds of thousands of dollars building a case against the men.

Last year, another jury similarly deadlocked on charges stemming from the same investigation, prompting the current retrial.

Prosecutors did not say Friday whether they planned to try Ligambi for a third time on the three outstanding counts, chief among them a racketeering conspiracy charge that could carry a significant prison term.

But as the 74-year-old purported mob chief was taken away in handcuffs pending a bail hearing next week, lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. liked his client's odds.

"Once again, they did not lay a finger on us," the lawyer said. "Anyone who emerges from two major federal racketeering cases with no convictions has something to be thankful for."

Borgesi choked back tears as the verdict was read. He silently mouthed "thank you" to each juror as one by one, they told U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno that their decisions were final.

His mother, Manny, who is Ligambi's sister and was a constant presence in the courtroom throughout the eight-week trial, gasped, "Thank God," before running to tell her daughter-in-law the news.

Alyson Borgesi, whom George married in 2004 while serving a sentence on a previous conviction, had been barred from the courtroom since two jurors said last month they felt she was trying to intimidate them.

All three Borgesis declined to comment as they left the courthouse just before 3 p.m. "This has been a grueling, gut-wrenching ordeal," Borgesi lawyer Christopher Warren said. "Let's move on."

By nightfall, Borgesi was moving on - celebrating his release with a party at his brother Anthony's South Philadelphia home. Left off the guest list? All mobsters with felony convictions, due to the terms of Borgesi's court-supervised release.

Friday's decision came after nine days of jury deliberations - negotiations that appeared troubled from early on.

Three days into the discussion, the panel announced it could not reach unanimity on any count.

The jurors told the judge Friday that little had changed during the last two weeks. They remained split 10-2 in favor of acquitting Ligambi, the same divide they encountered on that first vote on Jan. 13.

"We're disappointed with the result, but we respect the jury's verdict," said prosecutor Frank Labor.

His boss, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger, stressed the other convictions his office had won against the mob's "made" men and their associates also charged in the case.

During the first trial last year, jurors convicted three of Ligambi's codefendants, including reputed mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino. Eight others have pleaded guilty to various charges.

Memeger described the overall impact of the case as an "excellent result."

But bringing those men down hardly carried the same cachet as the prospect of bagging Ligambi - a man authorities say has led the city's chapter of La Cosa Nostra since a previous boss, Joseph Merlino, went to prison in 2000.

While Ligambi and Borgesi may not have racked up the body count of their Mafia predecessors, prosecutors said, they used the mob's reputation for violence to further their loan-sharking and gambling rackets.

Ligambi, they argued, strong-armed control of the local video-poker market, while Borgesi furthered his own gambling interests from a West Virginia prison cell and ordered subordinates to pass his cut of the proceeds to his wife in cash-stuffed envelopes left in the glove box of her car.

The defense team described that characterization as laughable.

The mob led by Ligambi paled in comparison to its predecessors, they said, and consists today of little more than a bunch of retired gangsters reminiscing about their glory days.

Pointing to his client's acquittal, Warren said Friday that testimony from the government's two star witnesses - turncoat mob associate Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello and Borgesi's former cellmate Anthony Aponick - had largely fallen flat.

The defense repeatedly claimed both men exaggerated, fibbed, and lied in efforts to dodge lengthy prison terms.

Whether Monacello and Aponick will be back for a third trial of Ligambi largely depends on what Justice Department officials in Washington see as the odds for a conviction. That decision will likely be made next week, Labor said.

But after two mistrials, Jacobs said enough was enough.

"They're trying a case that may have been provable 15 years ago," he said. "But the concept of coherent and active Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra is history. This has been a plain waste of taxpayer money."


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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