Defense Attorney cites federal racketeering case as no more than a glorified gambling case

At the onset of arguments heard against presumed mob boss Joseph “Uncle Joe” Ligambi and five codefendants, Ligambi’s lawyer argued that charges against his client should not be decided based on who the prosecution says they are, but rather on what they’ve done. He went on to tell a federal jury that neither Ligambi nor any of the other defendants named in the case essentially did anything.

As the long-awaited mob racketeering conspiracy trial that began in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia at the end of October, the attorney pronounced in his opening statement that “It’s not a crime to be associated with or to be a member of the Mafia.”

“In America, you can be a member of almost anything. It’s not about being a member. It’s about what you do.”

The “real charges” in the case “wouldn’t support an episode of The Sopranos,” his lawyer said. At another point, he threw in The Godfather, contending that the Philadelphia mob is so ineffective and nonviolent “that Tony Soprano and Don Corleone would laugh at us.” He further stated that the prosecution’s case is built on half-truths and fabrications from cooperating witnesses looking to get out from under their own criminal difficulties and said, on behalf of his clients; “We’re not guilty, we’re victims,” in the trial that is predicted to take eight to twelve weeks to conclude.

However, the prosecution maintains that victims besieged in mob extortions and shakedowns, systematically ordered by Ligambi and his coconspirators are nothing to laugh about.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, told the jury that Ligambi and his co-defendants “exploited” the Philadelphia mob’s violent reputation “to make money” and “to intimidate” victims into paying mob shakedowns and tribute payments in his opening statement.

He then expressed to the jury that Ligambi, 73, and his codefendants were members of an illicit criminal enterprise. “That enterprise”, Labor said, “relied on the aforementioned reputation of the Philadelphia mob to instill fear and intimidate underworld targets.”

Dismissing the defense’s repeatedly stated position that this current case doesn’t contain any of the murder and attempted-murder charges that marked prior mob trials, Labor said that “a dead man” can’t make an extortion payment, but a terrified man can. Also, in his opening statement Labor peppered more than a few potentially incriminating remarks from secretly recorded conversations. The prosecution anticipates playing dozens of recorded dialogues captured by wiretaps and also by wires that were worn by witnesses who cooperated in the investigation. The prosecution purportedly has more than 15,000 recordings and 9,000 surveillance reports collected over a decade of which many refer to this particular case.

In addition to Ligambi, the other five defendants are Joseph “Scoops” Licata, 71, Anthony Staino, 54, George Borgesi, 49, Damion Canalichio, 42, and mob associate Gary Battaglini, 51.

Ligambi is the principal defendant in the case. Authorities contend that he controlled the criminal organization that was involved with unlawful gambling, loansharking and extortion throughout a 12-year period that goes back to 1999.

In one of the recorded conversation with Canalichio, one of the codefendants, Michael F. Orlando Jr., who owed money that he said he couldn’t pay back, asked the alleged loan shark if he might earn credit and good will by working for the organization as a street collector. Canalichio said that Orlando’s loan wasn’t his to forgive. It belonged to “Stevie and Joey,” Orlando presumed this to mean reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi and one of his lieutenants.

“It’s Uncle Joe’s money?” Orlando asked in the 2002 conversation, which was recorded by the FBI.

“Yeah,” Canalichio answered.

Federal prosecutors played that tape and a grouping of others in their attempt to demonstrate to the jury that even the lesser loans were a portion of a larger organized gambling, extortion and loan-shark racket organized by Ligambi and his associates, and that the money rolled upward.

In another recording, co-defendant George Borgesi, laughed and joked about how he brutally assaulted mob associate Angelo Lutz who lied about trying to cash a check from their pasta business.

“I knocked him out,” Borgesi is heard saying in the phone conversation which was recorded in a Pennsylvania State Police wiretap in November, 1999. “I kicked him so hard he was sleeping… I ripped his shirt off. He was out like a fucking light.”

Labor also cited defendant Anthony Staino in a conversation about an unwilling debt payer to say “I got two gorillas, gonna chop him up,” in what was said to be revealed when referring to one of the recordings.

The trial continues and more recorded testimony is expected to be heard before U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno before the case is sent to the jury.


If you are being investigated for, or charged with a federal crime and are looking for a federal criminal defense attorney in the Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach County areas, Mr. Cohen’s office can provide you with the skilled representation you need.

A Federal criminal defense attorney is an attorney that practices criminal law in Federal Court, defending those that are charged with federal crimes and argue their cases in Federal Court.
Federal courts and agencies set their own qualifications for those practicing before or in them. Up until very recently, the Southern District of Florida required all federal criminal attorneys to take a written exam in order to be admitted to practice law before the Court.
At a regularly scheduled meeting of the Judges of this District held on February 23, 2012, the Judges have determined that requiring a local examination to a large degree duplicates matters found on the Florida Bar exam and no longer accomplishes the purposes it was intended to serve and have voted to eliminate the examination requirement.

Mr. Cohen is a board certified criminal trial lawyer rated AV by Martindale Hubbel (pre-eminent) and a “Super Lawyer” recognized as being in the top 5% of his specialized field (criminal trial law) among Florida lawyers. He is considered a specialist by the Florida Bar in his field. Mr. Cohen has tried scores of cases over his 35 year career and is a member of the Florida and New York Bars. He practices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, among other counties. He is also admitted to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh and Second Circuit.