They won't be going home for Christmas, but several accused mobsters appeared upbeat Wednesday as their racketeering trial in Philadelphia nears an end.
After two months of prosecution testimony followed by two days this week from the defense, closing arguments are set for Jan. 3. The jury was sent home for the holidays, and five of the seven defendants returned to jail.
“Happy holidays! See you in about a month, three weeks,” defendant George Borgesi told supporters as he was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. He even extended the greeting to prosecutors.
Prosecutors believe his 73-year-old uncle, lead defendant Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi, quietly ran Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra for a decade, making money through sports betting, illegal poker machines and loan-sharking. There's been practically no talk of any bloodshed, in marked contrast to the mob rule a generation ago.
But a gangland-style slaying in South Philadelphia last week may have shattered defense claims that the mob today uses neither handguns nor hollow-point bullets.
A man whose name had come up at trial was gunned down hours after the government rested its case. Court records show 50-year-old victim Gino DePietro forged a plea agreement with federal prosecutors in a 2008 drug case, but they don't show if he was ever sentenced or sent to prison. That's helped fuel speculation he was cooperating, although he was not one of the several mob turncoats who testified.
One of them, Louis “Bent Finger Lou” Monacello, tried to make a star turn of his day in court. Newly chiseled -- compared with images of him in surveillance tapes -- Monacello stared down Ligambi and swiveled in his seat to talk to jurors.
He apparently has hopes of landing a reality TV show, according to a neighbor's testimony, though Monacello still faces at least some prison time after pleading guilty to a long run as a loan shark.
Monacello also dropped bold-face names during his testimony last month, claiming Ligambi had threatened to kill oldies radio DJ Jerry Blavat. Blavat laughed off the claim.
Jurors also heard from aging ex-mobster Peter “Pete the Crumb” Caprio; a retired FBI agent who had infiltrated the Gambino crime family in New York; and a mob historian who described La Cosa Nostra activities over 40 years under Angelo Bruno, Nicodemo Scarfo and others.
As the testimony wrapped up Wednesday, one juror was removed amid concerns about news coverage of the DiPietro slaying. The juror had done nothing wrong, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno said.
The final defense witness was a gambling expert who said wiretap evidence suggests defendant Damion Canalichio was a heavy bettor, not a bookmaker.
A day earlier, a South Philadelphia produce terminal manager likewise challenged claims that Ligambi had a no-show Teamsters job with a trash company. Ligambi was frequently on site, he said. And a North Jersey restaurateur said an alleged La Cosa Nostra leadership meeting had been held in the open, not in a back room. The lunch fare included filet mignon, calamari, broccoli rabe and six bottles of wine.
Bank records seized by prosecutors show a Ligambi entity deposited nearly $700,000 in cash in a corporate bank account from 2002 to 2009.
But the trial's most damaging testimony may have come from a man who said Ligambi's men had wrested control of dozens of profitable -- albeit illegal -- video poker machines he had in area bars.
They didn't take no for an answer when he declined to sell them, the witness said.