Louis "Bent-Finger Lou" Monacello said he never killed anyone.
He stole cars, supervised gambling operations, collected debts and "tax" payments that reputed Philadelphia mob boss Joseph Ligambi allegedly demanded from other criminals. Occasionally, Monacello told jurors Friday, he smashed windows, slashed tires, even cracked heads.
Once, on orders from above, Monacello staked out a South Philadelphia rival's house for three months before finally catching the man as he left to walk his dog one night, he said. Bat in hand, Monacello went to work.
"I swung with all my might," Monacello said, "and split [his] head open."
Monacello, 46, was the latest in a parade of informants and turncoats to testify in the racketeering trial of Ligambi, his nephew George Borgesi, and five other defendants.
A former high-ranking associate, he was the most significant witness to date, an insider enlisted to bolster prosecutors' claims that the defendants used violence - or the threat of it - to run rackets for more than a decade.
Defense lawyers have derided the case as "racketeering lite," a 10-year investigation built on criminals seeking deals and on thousands of secretly recorded conversations with tough talk but little proof of violence.
Monacello's message was that intimidation was often enough.
"You would remind them who you were working with and where the money is going to, and usually that would do the trick," he said. "There was always that underlying thing - that you're with the mob, and if they don't pay, they're going to get hurt."
His appearance marked his first as a government witness, a role he assumed after being arrested with the others in May 2011. His former codefendants, notably Borgesi, glared his way as Monacello, dressed in a dark suit, light shirt, and lavender striped tie, entered the courtroom, walked to the stand, and poured a glass of water.
Defendant Damon Canalichio turned and smiled at a friend in the gallery as the witness raised his right hand - its index finger bent - and swore to tell the truth.
At first, Monacello appeared to avoid looking toward the defendants. Then he settled in. For more than five hours, he glided comfortably along, at times talking to jurors as if he were trading war stories over a beer.
He laughed as he described catching the friend who told Monacello's wife he was having an affair. Yes, he was cheating on her, Monacello told jurors, but not with whom his friend thought.
And he smiled when he recounted a time he wanted to send a message to an associate who had been speaking a little too freely about mob business. Feigning anger, Monacello said, he fired a gunshot into the air, then laughed as the man scurried from the room.
"That was a joke," he assured the jury. "Even if it may not sound funny - if you were there, it was."
Most of the questions from the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney John S. Han, focused on Monacello's longtime association with Borgesi, a reputed capo in the crime family.
They met in South Philadelphia in the early 1980s. Monacello was the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers, and later held jobs as a city clerk, a bartender, and a trade-school operator.
Borgesi was a bookmaker at 17, and emulated his uncle, Ligambi, then a soldier for mob boss Nicky Scarfo, Monacello said. "He had no qualms about telling you he was a gangster," Monacello said.
In the late 1990s, Monacello said, he was riding in a car with Borgesi when the pair began talking about a killing that had been in the news. According to Monacello, Borgesi turned up the car radio volume and then, flashing the numbers with his hands, whispered that he was a "professional" with 11 murders to his credit.
The prosecutor asked Monacello's reaction.
"You find out you're sitting next to a serial killer? It definitely got my attention," he replied.
(Monacello did not elaborate on the alleged killings and was not asked to. Borgesi is not charged with and has never been convicted of murder.)
For much of the last decade, Monacello said, he helped Borgesi run gambling and loan-sharking rackets in Delaware County, including an illegal casino allegedly run in Folsom by another associate, Nick "the Hat" Cimino.
With Borgesi in prison on unrelated charges, Monacello ferried his monthly payments to Borgesi's wife, he said, sometimes stuffing envelopes of cash into the glove compartment of her car.
He also collected "Christmas taxes" each December for Ligambi, gathering the cash bookmakers paid to keep their business running without mob interference.
Sometimes, violence was necessary, like the time in 2001 that Monacello said he and others severely beat a gambler in Manayunk who was behind on his debts.
"We put in him the hospital," Monacello said. "He paid the next week."
He also recounted a day in the 1990s when he and others were enlisted to beat a contractor who was renovating a property for Ligambi but had been "giving him trouble."
"I kicked the guy in the face twice," he said. "The third time I went to kick him and I kicked Georgie by mistake."
Another victim, he said, was Angelo Lutz, an underling Borgesi suspected of stealing.
Monacello recounted a late December 1998 night when Borgesi brought Lutz to Monacello's South Philadelphia home. The three men went to the basement, where Borgesi started punching Lutz.
Monacello said he noticed his artificial Christmas tree in the room. "So I took the rod out," Monacello said, "and I split his head."
Borgesi then allegedly drew a knife. "He says, I'm killing him," Monacello testified.
Monacello said he argued against it. His mother was upstairs, and besides, Lutz was nearly 400 pounds, too heavy for the two men to haul away by themselves. Borgesi told him not to worry. "I got a guy for that," he allegedly said, before giving in and letting Lutz live.
Monacello said he ultimately tired of the family squabbles and backstabbing. According to Monacello, he had ongoing disputes with another capo, Martin Angelina, and Borgesi's brother, Anthony, was jealous because he was overseeing Borgesi's rackets. And he was sure Ligambi didn't like him.
"Meanwhile, I got the uncle who wants me out of the way," Monacello said, turning to the jurors. "Great family, aren't they? This is what it's all about."
Monacello entered a guilty plea in July 2011, with the terms initially sealed by the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno.
He is expected to be grilled about that and his testimony by defense lawyers, especially Borgesi's, when the trial resumes Tuesday.