No retrial in Ligambi case

Joseph Ligambi has been in custody since 2011.
Joseph Ligambi has been in custody since 2011.
Posted: January 29, 2014

PHILADELPHIA He fought off conviction for a second time last week. On Tuesday, Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi could end up a free man.

Federal prosecutors said Monday they would not try Philadelphia's reputed mob boss for a third time after two juries failed to deliver a verdict in his racketeering and illegal gambling case.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno was expected to dismiss the remaining counts against the 74-year-old Tuesday morning, clearing the way for his release from federal custody for the first time since his indictment in 2011.

"He should be available for lunch tomorrow," said his lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr.

John S. Han, a Justice Department trial lawyer who helped prosecute Ligambi, declined Monday to discuss the decision to abandon the case, saying it "was made at a much higher level than mine."

"This was a worthy prosecution," he added. "But we accept the jury's verdict."

The choice not to retry Ligambi came after two costly and time-intensive attempts to bag the alleged mob don. Authorities spent millions of dollars and 14 years to buttress their claim that he oversaw the mob's illegal gambling and loan-sharking rackets across Philadelphia and its suburbs.

At a trial in 2011, prosecutors alleged he strong-armed his way into the local video-poker market and arranged secured medical benefits for himself with a phony job. But after a marathon 21 days of deliberation, a jury acquitted him of most of the counts he faced and deadlocked on four others.

On Friday, another jury also found itself unable to reach a unanimous verdict on three counts. The panel did clear Ligambi of one count of witness intimidation and found his nephew, one-time mob consigliere George "Georgie Boy" Borgesi, not guilty on one racketeering conspiracy count. Borgesi was released from federal custody Friday afternoon.

Prosecutors pointed to the 11 other convictions they obtained against other mob associates charged in the case - an outcome U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger described last week as an "excellent result."

But when it came to Ligambi's guilt, jurors said in interviews Monday, they doubted the testimony of many of the government's witnesses - a rogues' gallery of turncoat mobsters, small-time crooks, and debtors who owed thousands to the mob. They reported they were split 10-2 in favor of acquittal.

"There was very little physical evidence and the witnesses were convicted criminals," said one juror, who asked not to be named. "Maybe if the government could have provided us with credible witnesses, maybe things would have been different."

Jacobs said late Monday that he had not yet had a chance to tell his client about his imminent release but that his family was overjoyed. Ligambi's wife, Olivia, and his sister, Manny, did not return calls for comment.

"It's tough on the family to sit in court for three months," Jacobs said. "Those trials aren't enjoyable experiences."


jroebuck@phillynews.com

215-925-2649

@jeremyrroebuck

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