PHILADELPHIA -- The FBI paid mob informants more than $500,000 and overlooked their crimes to try to bolster a racketeering case that's "been on life support" for years, a defense lawyer argued Monday.
The FBI has little to show for its 13-year investigation into La Cosa Nostra under reputed boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, veteran mob lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. told a jury in closing arguments. Federal prosecutors believe the 73-year-old Ligambi has quietly run the Philadelphia mob since his flashy, younger predecessor, Joseph "Joey" Merlino, went to prison in 1999.
"Things changed in 1999. They just don't want to admit it. This indictment ... has no guns, no knives, no explosives, no beatings, no killings," Jacobs said. "You got nothing but some gambling talk and a couple of angry conversations."
Prosecutors accuse Ligambi of running a cash enterprise centered on loansharking, sports betting and illegal video poker machines – all controlled through threats about "cracking heads" or hiring "gorillas" to chop people up.
"The defense wants you to believe everyone in South Philadelphia talks like that every day of the week. That's an insult to your intelligence," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Han told jurors Monday, as he replayed tapes on which the defendants brag about beatings and make profanity-laced threats. Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Tuesday after three months of testimony.
Authorities also charge that Ligambi had a no-show job, with Teamsters benefits, at a trash disposal company.
But the defense said thousands of wiretaps offer no proof that Ligambi, nephew George Borgesi and five other co-defendants did anything more than make private loans and rent poker machines to bars and social clubs.
By comparison, the government witnesses include aging mobster Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio, who admits killing several people but spent just five years in prison. The FBI has also paid him nearly $400,000 and set him up with a new identity. In exchange, the FBI rolls Caprio out every few years to testify at mob trials, Jacobs said.
"Pete Caprio is out there somewhere, in the federal witness protection program, and he is somebody's next-door neighbor. That's how the system works," Jacobs said. "These criminals have been playing the FBI."
Another government witness, former loanshark and gym owner Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, appeared eager to turn his testimony into a Hollywood audition. Jacobs said his "venom" for the Ligambi and Borgesi families was clear, given that he even took shots at their women.
"This case has been on life support for a long time," Jacobs argued.
A few dozen of the defendants' friends and relatives come to court each day, sometimes chuckling at the testimony and cheering on their loved ones during breaks. One woman in court Monday clutched rosary beads.
Although there hadn't been a mob hit in Philadelphia in nearly a decade, police last month charged a gambling figure in a brazen daytime shooting that occurred hours after the government rested its case.
Anthony Nicodemo is charged with killing convicted drug dealer Gino DiPietro in broad daylight. DiPietro's name had come up in wiretaps played in court during the Ligambi trial. But the motive for the slaying remains unclear.