PHILADELPHIA Teased at the start with tales of mob shakedowns, swindles, and contract slayings, jurors in the racketeering retrial of reputed Philadelphia Mafia boss Joseph Ligambi instead have received a long lesson this week in the minutiae of the video gambling business.
Testifying over three days, Curt Arbitman, the operator of a South Philadelphia video poker machine company, detailed his work collecting money and fixing gaming machines for several convicted mob figures.
But while he may have been aiding an illegal operation, his day-to-day frustrations with broken bill acceptors, malfunctioning meters, and grousing South Philadelphia bar owners dominated discussion in 35 recorded phone calls played by prosecutors. Throughout all that talk, one name rarely crossed his lips: Ligambi's.
Under cross-examination Thursday from Ligambi's lawyer, Arbitman conceded that none of the mob figures he worked with - including Martin "Marty" Angelina and Anthony "Ant" Staino Jr., both of whom have pleaded guilty in racketeering conspiracy charges - ever mentioned Ligambi in reference to their illegal gambling operations.
Arbitman's mundane maintenance concerns offered a marked departure from the high-stakes story spun by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor in his opening statement last week.
Ligambi, he said, along with his nephew and purported consigliere George Borgesi, oversaw a violent chapter of La Cosa Nostra that raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from illegal gambling, loan-sharking and bookmaking.
And the government's first witness, ex mob-hitman Peter "Pete the Crumb" Caprio, appeared poised to deliver on that promise, regaling jurors with tales of the Philadelphia Mafia's glory days and testifying that he had murdered so often he "couldn't remember how many people" he had killed.
"Without violence there wouldn't be La Cosa Nostra," he said. "We would lose all sorts of respect."
But his time on the stand was cut short after prosecutors reported Tuesday that the 84-year-old had fallen and broken a knee on the way back to the government safe house where he was being held. They hope to recall him when he recovers.
Throughout the trial, Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., has argued that Philadelphia's days as the violent Mafia hub described by Caprio are long gone.
His client had nothing to do with the crimes of Angelina, Staino, and others, he said. And the indictment facing Ligambi alleges none of the violence that marked previous cases against Philadelphia's mob figures.
Questioning Joseph Procaccini, owner of a rival South Philadelphia video poker business, Jacobs asked whether the man had ever been shaken down for payments by Ligambi or his associates.
"This street tax thing - this tribute thing - that is a thing of the past," Jacobs said.
But late Thursday, Procaccini struck the first blow to Jacobs' depiction of his client as a harmless old man known by the nickname "Uncle Joe."
He told jurors that Ligambi, Staino, and others approached him in 2001 seeking to buy out his company, M&P Vending, after an FBI raid nearly wiped out the mob's South Philadelphia video gambling business.
Procaccini refused, but offered to pay a monthly tribute to stay in operation.
Ligambi's response came in the form of a sales agreement, Procaccini said. And within days, the mob had effectively taken over 21 M&P machines, forcing Procaccini out of the video gambling business.
Procaccini called what the mob did to him a shakedown.
"There was nothing pleasant about it," Procaccini said.
His testimony is expected to resume Friday.