The deal was signed, but it wasn't sealed or delivered.

In a surprise move Tuesday, mobster Gaeton Lucibello withdrew his guilty plea to racketeering charges, rejecting a government plea deal that called for a 63-month sentence in the case.

During a brief hearing before Judge Eduardo Robreno, Lucibello, 59, turned down a deal he had signed off on earlier this month.

The signed plea agreement was the basis for Tuesday's hearing. Lucibello is one of a dozen reputed mob figures charged in an indictment handed up in May.

Reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi, underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino, and several other mob soldiers are also defendants in the case.

Like Lucibello, they all have been charged with a racketeering conspiracy involving gambling, loan-sharking, and extortion enterprises.

In a comment that may not bode well for the defendants, Robreno said "it is unlikely" he would have accepted the plea deal worked out between prosecutors and Ligambi's court-appointed attorney, Caroline Cinquanto, even if Lucibello had decided to honor the agreement.

Robreno said he was concerned about an "unwarranted disparity of sentencing" had Lucibello been sentenced to a little more than five years in the racketeering conspiracy case.

While the judge offered no further explanation, one interpretation is that Robreno, who has a reputation for meting out tough sentences, expects to level prison terms significantly greater than 63 months should the defendants be convicted.

Trial is set for Sept. 4.

After Tuesday's hearing, Cinquanto said Lucibello looks forward to making his case with the jury. She said his decision to plead guilty was based primarily on medical problems.

"He needs a hip replacement and is in constant pain," she said of the former ironworker. Cinquanto said prison regulations stipulate that only sentenced prisoners qualify for surgery unless they are in a life-threatening medical situation.

Lucibello believed that had he been sentenced, he could have had the hip-replacement surgery at a prison hospital. He stopped paying his personal medical insurance coverage after he was arrested and ordered held without bail in May, his lawyer said.

But, Cinquanto said, he changed his mind about the plea.

"It wasn't an ideal plea and, at the end of the day, he just couldn't do it," she said. "He's not guilty. We look forward to going to trial."

During Tuesday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Han said that as a result of Lucibello's decision, the government would withdraw the plea agreement and move forward toward trial.

"The offer is off the table permanently," Han said.

Lucibello is no stranger to the federal court system. He was tried on racketeering charges in 1996 that included allegations linking him to several gangland murders. In that case, he took the stand in his own defense.

He was found not guilty.

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