Growing up in South Philadelphia, Michael Francis Orlando Jr. dreamed of following in his father's footsteps.
He wanted to join the mob.
Orlando's dad was a bookmaker and loan shark. But the son set his sights higher. He sold pot and cocaine, robbed a drug dealer, staged fake accidents, and ran a credit-card fraud scheme.
Orlando hoped to impress the local mob leaders, but instead ended up in their debt, unable to make his $150 weekly interest payment.
One day he woke to find his car windshield smashed. On another, an enforcer paid his 85-year-old grandmother a friendly visit that Orlando interpreted as a threat. If he didn't pay, Orlando knew, he would get beaten - or worse.
"That's how things get done, through violence and intimidation," he told a federal court jury Thursday.
Orlando, 45, was the second in a string of FBI informants and insiders expected to testify at the racketeering trial of reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Ligambi and six codefendants.
Armed with more than 15,000 recordings and 9,000 surveillance reports gathered over a decade, prosecutors are trying to persuade jurors that the men ran extensive gambling, extortion, and loan-sharking operations across the city and beyond.
Defense lawyers have portrayed the accusations as overblown fabrications, built on the word of untrustworthy turncoats trying to cut deals to save themselves. Orlando can expect such treatment when he faces cross-examination as soon as Friday.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han, he admitted his cooperation helped win him leniency in a 2003 federal fraud prosecution. That crime carried a maximum prison term of 15 years, Orlando said.
Instead, he got probation. (The sentencing order is sealed from the public.)
That fraud was one of his better "scores," Orlando testified, one that got him notice within the mob.
He had co-opted a source within TransUnion, the credit reporting agency. For a fee, Orlando would arrange for her to rewrite scores, making poor credit risks or people with a history of unpaid debts look like a safe bet.
"Did people approach you in South Philadelphia to get their credit fixed?" Han asked.
"Yeah," Orlando said, a wide smile crossing his face. "Just about everybody."
One, Albert Lancelotti, asked Orlando to fix the credit score for his uncle Michael, Orlando said. Michael Lancelotti was prominent, a "made man" within the Mafia, according to the witness.
"I said, 'Absolutely, no problem. Of course I'll take care of him,' " Orlando recalled. He didn't charge Lancelotti, and got a gracious thank-you note in return, he said.
His debts, however, eventually caught up with him.
Orlando said he owed $5,000 to Damion Canalichio, one of the defendants Orlando said he knew well.
(He said the same about another defendant, Gary Battaglini, but then twice picked the wrong man when he was asked to identify Battaglini in the courtroom.)
A decade or so ago he and Canalichio were friends, Orlando said. When Canalichio got out of prison, Orlando arranged to get him a black Cadillac, so Canalichio could be seen driving a nice car.
He also knew Canalichio wasn't shy when it came to collecting debts, and said he had heard the man talk often about giving debtors a beating.
When Orlando began falling behind in his payments, he said, he began to hear warnings from others at a deli that Battaglini ran at 19th Street and Snyder Avenue.
Orlando said he fled to New York City, where he was in hiding for about a month. One day, Orlando's brother called and told him not to worry, that he had been paying down the debts.
Soon after, Orlando returned to the area. Then his brother asked him to come to his Delaware County apartment.
There, Orlando said, his brother confessed that he had been working as an FBI informant and gathering evidence against the loan sharks. His apartment was wired, he said, and he recorded conversations and payoffs.
Orlando said the news made him so sick he vomited on the way home. In his mind, a mob turncoat or informant was "lower than a pedophile," he testified.
Then he realized he had no option but to become one.
Not long after that, Orlando walked into Battaglini's deli to make his weekly interest payment - and a recording for the FBI. Jurors are expected to hear those tapes when trial resumes Friday.