Phila. mob used reputation and threats of violence to secure gambling racket
They didn't break legs, because they didn't have to. They lived off the reputation of the organization and the gangsters who came before them.
They didn't break legs, because they didn't have to.
They lived off the reputation of the organization and the gangsters who came before them.
And they made a lot of money.
That was the picture of the Philadelphia mob painted by federal prosecutors Wednesday at bail hearings for two top members of the crime family arrested Monday in a racketeering-gambling case.
"If the threats work, then the violence doesn't have to occur," said Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer, one of the prosecutors in the case who argued that the defendants should be denied bail.
Authorities allege that threats of violence allowed reputed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his top associates to forcibly take over a lucrative video poker machine business and to extort gamblers, bookmakers, and loanshark customers for more than a decade.
Ligambi, 71, is the lead defendant in the racketeering indictment, which was unsealed Monday. He and two other associates have bail hearings Thursday.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy R. Rice accepted some of the prosecution's arguments.
Rice ordered that Anthony Staino Jr., who prosecutors said boasted on tape of being a "member of the board of directors" and the "chief financial officer" for the mob family, could be released on $1 million bail after six family members and friends agreed to post their homes and other properties as collateral.
Rice pointed out that Staino, 53, has no prior convictions. He also noted that while Staino was charged with making threats, he was not charged with carrying out any acts of violence, a point made repeatedly by Gregory Pagano, Staino's attorney.
The judge also appeared to be impressed by the willingness of those who knew Staino to literally put their homes at risk.
Staino, who lives in Woolwich Township, Gloucester County, will be on an electronic monitor and under strict home confinement that, with a few exceptions, amounts to 24-hour house arrest.
Gaeton Lucibello, 58, identified by authorities as a mob soldier, was denied bail and will remain in jail pending trial.
Rice said Lucibello's long association with organized crime and his two prior convictions for weapons offenses justified the bail denial.
Prosecutors are expected to make many of the same arguments at the bail hearings scheduled Thursday for Ligambi, reputed mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, and mob associate Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello.
The indictment charges Ligambi with heading an organization that used fear and threats of violence to fuel an extortion and gambling racket that generated a steady stream of cash for the organization.
Prosecutors offered a more detailed account of one of those extortions Wednesday, expanding on an allegation in the 50-count indictment that Ligambi, Staino, and Massimino took over a highly lucrative video poker machine business from two men who had inherited it from their father.
"They made them an offer they couldn't refuse," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor.
While the indictment does not provide specifics, comments made in open court and information from other sources indicate that the mob took over the business once owned by Anthony "Tony Machines" Milicia, a legendary video machine distributor.
Milicia, who lived in Somerdale, became a millionaire through the poker machine business, often financing bar and restaurant purchases for individuals who paid off the loans in part by allowing Milicia to place his machines in their establishments.
Milicia, who died of natural causes several years ago, was an extortion target of mob bosses Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and John Stanfa, but managed to avoid their advances.
In 1996, however, after balking at attempts by mob leaders Ralph Natale and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, Milicia was gunned down outside of Bonnie's Capistrano Bar at 13th and Dickinson Streets in South Philadelphia.
He survived that hit and eventually agreed to make tribute payments to the Natale-Merlino organizaton.
Ironically, the current indictment alleges that in May 2001, while Merlino and several of his associates were on trial for racketeering charges that included the extortion and attempted murder of Milicia, Ligambi, Staino, and Massimino muscled their way into the business that was then owned by his sons.
During that trial, Natale, who had become a government witness, testified about how lucrative the poker machine business was.
"Poker machines make more money . . . than even selling drugs," said Natale, who among other things was a convicted methamphetamine trafficker.
An operation like Milicia's, he said, with 50 or 60 machines, would generate profits of about $20,000 a week.
"They're in almost every bar in South Philadelphia," Natale said. "The profit on these machines is enormous."
Anthony Milicia, one of the sons, declined to comment when contacted by phone Wednesday.
"It's dredging up old history, I don't want to talk about it," he said before hanging up.
Both Labor and Troyer said during Wednesday's bail hearings that the takeover of that busines was an example of Ligambi and his associates using the reputation of the mob to intimidate and instill fear.
The indictment alleges that in May 2001, the FBI seized 34 video poker machines that were part of Ligambi's operation.
A short time later, the indictment alleges, "Ligambi, Massimino, and Staino approached the operators of another illegal electronic gambling device business and forced those operators to relinquish their illegal business for a fee that undervalued their business."
Before Wednesday's hearing, Pagano, the lawyer for Staino, said the business was purchased for $70,000. He described it as a legitimate transaction.
But investigators and other sources said the Milicia network of machines generated more than $70,000 in a month and that the value of the business was substantially more than what Ligambi and the others paid.
The transaction took place, Troyer said, after an intermediary approached Milicia's sons and told them "three men wanted to purchase their machines."
The intermediary, the prosecutor said, told them that these were "dangerous men."
Prosecutors said during Wednesday's hearing that Milicia's heirs, aware that their father had been shot and nearly killed, made the deal out of fear.
"If the threats work, then the violence doesn't have to occur," Troyer said.