Reputed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi was ordered held without bail Thursday after a federal prosecutor argued that he was a threat to the community and would continue to run the Philadelphia crime family if released from prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Troyer cited Ligambi's "long history" as a member of the Philadelphia branch of La Cosa Nostra and his alleged role as boss of the organization for the last 10 years in urging U.S. District Judge Timothy R. Rice not to grant bail.
Rice agreed with the prosecution.
Ligambi, 71, handcuffed and wearing an oversize green prison jumpsuit, smiled and nodded to several relatives and friends in the sixth-floor courtroom as he was led into the detention hearing.
When Rice, known for his courteous demeanor, said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Ligambi," the silver-haired defendant casually replied, "How ya doin'?"
Ligambi and 12 others were charged in a 50-count racketeering-gambling indictment unsealed Monday. Authorities allege that he headed an organization that used fear and threats of violence to control an illegal video-machine operation and to extort bookmakers, gamblers, and loan-shark victims.
The hearing Thursday shed more light on the lengthy federal investigation into the Ligambi organization. Troyer said the government had at least seven cooperating witnesses who would identify Ligambi as Philadelphia's mob boss.
A detention motion filed by the government also pointed to surveillance and secretly recorded conversations that place Ligambi at the top of the crime family.
Ligambi's attorney, Joseph Santaguida, said friends and relatives were prepared to post property valued at $1.7 million as bail if Rice would release his client.
Santaguida described the charges as a basic gambling case and said there were no acts of violence attributed to his client or any other defendant in the case.
The veteran defense lawyer said the defendants' alleged mob ties were being used to deny them their basic rights.
"Because of who they are, the government is making the case a lot bigger than it is," he said.
A second defendant, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello, 44, who was described as a high-ranking mob associate, was also denied bail during a separate hearing.
On Wednesday, reputed mob soldier Gaeton Lucibello, 58, was ordered held without bail, while Anthony Staino, 53, one of Ligambi's top associates, was released on $1 million bail and placed under house arrest. Staino is one of the only defendants without a previous arrest or conviction.
Detention hearings are scheduled Friday for alleged mobsters Martin Angelina and Joseph "Mousie" Massimino.
The detention motion filed in Ligambi's case referred to several secretly recorded conversations the FBI made during the investigation.
On one tape, codefendant Damion Canalichio threatened a loan-shark debtor, authorities said, telling him the cash he owed was "Uncle Joe's money" and adding that "everything goes back" to Ligambi.
Authorities say they also have tapes of Ligambi discussing loan-shark debts with another cooperating witness. The witness, identified as Associate #1 in court papers, is Frank "Frankie the Fixer" DiGiacomo, a South Philadelphia mob associate, according to investigative sources.
DiGiacomo began cooperating with the FBI and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office sometime in late 2006 or early 2007 and recorded dozens of conversations.
Those tapes figured prominently in the state's Delco Nostra investigation into a mob-run gambling ring in Delaware County that resulted in an earlier conviction for Monacello.
Now some of those tapes are surfacing as part of the federal case against Ligambi, Monacello, and jailed mob leader George Borgesi.
Borgesi, 47, is Ligambi's nephew. Authorities have alleged that Monacello ran Borgesi's Delaware County gambling ring while the latter was serving a 14-year sentence for racketeering.
A volatile mob leader whose relationship with his uncle is said to be strained, Borgesi was scheduled to be released to a halfway house early next year, but instead will now be to brought to Philadelphia to face new federal charges that could extend his time in prison by a decade or more.
The charges against Ligambi also include an allegation that he threatened a photographer who took photos at the wedding of reputed mob leader Staino in September 2010.
Authorities subpoenaed the photos taken at the wedding reception. According to court documents, Ligambi then "made threatening statements" to the photographer in an attempt to keep him from turning those photos over to a grand jury.
Law enforcement sources say the usually camera-shy Ligambi didn't want federal investigators to have pictures of him with other members of his organization.
The wedding, a lavish affair at the Curtis Center in Philadelphia, attracted about 300 guests, according to investigators who had surveillance set up outside the center on Sixth Street near Walnut.
Mob members and associates, including a contingent of alleged wiseguys from New York and North Jersey, were reportedly in attendance.
Investigators hoped photos from the reception would show Ligambi interacting with other mob figures. That, they said, could be used as physical evidence to establish relationships that might tie into criminal charges.