When Gary Battaglini met with a guy named "Vinny" in spring 2002, Vinny told him he could supply him with cigarettes for $15 per carton and they wouldn't have tax stamps.
Battaglini did not realize then that "Vinny" was really an FBI undercover agent who was secretly recording his conversations with the onetime South Philly delicatessen operator.
During one conversation on May 17, 2002, Battaglini said he could sell 100 to 500 cases of cigarettes.
" 'Cause if you and me want to do business with cigarettes down here in the city, me and you can make a fortune with them," he said, adding both could "flip" cartons for $25 apiece because buyers were then paying $33 per carton, court papers said.
Battaglini, who had a retail license to sell cigarettes, told Vinny he preferred cigarettes without tax stamps to avoid detection by authorities.
Battaglini, 68, of Clementon, N.J., was later charged with trafficking in contraband cigarettes and pleaded guilty last May.
He was sentenced to four months in federal prison yesterday and fined $2,500 by U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell.
He remains free on $100,000 unsecured bond and was ordered to report to prison on Feb. 1.
Before sentencing, Battaglini told Dalzell he had fallen in with the wrong crowd but had since gotten married, turned his life around and abandoned his criminal past in South Philadelphia. The deli, called Deli on the Avenue, was at Snyder Avenue and Garnet Street but has since closed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor argued for a guideline sentence of four to 10 months, saying Battaglini had shown "disdain for the law" in order to make "easy money by living outside the law."
Defense attorney Louis Savino said putting Battaglini behind bars "would be a travesty" in the case and suggested the government brought the charges because Battaglini wouldn't cooperate. (Prosecutors said in court papers that Battaglini was operating a sports book when he met Vinny but he was never charged with illegal sports bookmaking.)
Authorities said FBI surveillance agents videotaped Battaglini, Vinny and another individual unloading six cases - or 360 cartons - of untaxed cigarettes at his deli on June 13, 2002.
The feds said Battaglini boasted to the undercover agent that he could quickly "knock out" distribution of the contraband cigarettes because of his contacts in the black market and even offered to drive a rental truck to Virginia and pick up the shipment of illegal cigarettes.
Battaglini was previously convicted of federal drug charges in 1993 and has a June trial date in Common Pleas Court on drug and related offenses. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.