Mobster Vincent "Big Vince" Filipelli wanted to make one thing perfectly clear yesterday after pleading guilty to an extortion-related charge that could keep him behind bars for the next several years.
Signaling to reporters who had shown up in U.S. District Court in Camden to cover his plea hearing, the bulky former professional weight lifter slashed his hand through the air and then said with a smile, "Remember, no cooperation."
Filipelli, 53, wanted to underline what his lawyer had emphasized during the 30-minute session before Judge Noel Hillman - there was no plea agreement and no cooperation deal with federal authorities.
"Vince did what he did," attorney Donald Manno said after the hearing. "He yelled at a guy to collect a debt."
Manno said he would argue the circumstances of the case at an Aug. 17 sentencing hearing, but that neither he nor Filipelli disputes the primary charge.
Filipelli, a twice-convicted mob extortionist, was accused of traveling interstate to make a violent threat in order to collect a gambling debt.
According to a federal indictment and an FBI affidavit, Filipelli traveled from Cherry Hill to Philadelphia on May 25, 2006, to meet with a man who he believed owed money to a mob-linked bookmaker. In fact, the deadbeat gambler was a New Jersey State Police undercover detective who was wearing a body wire.
During the meeting, which took place in the parking lot of the Crazy Horse Too, a South Philadelphia gentlemen's club, Filipelli threatened to put the gambler "in the hospital" if he did not come up with the money he owed.
Later, in another conversation, Filipelli allegedly boasted that he was a "made," or formally initiated, member of the Philadelphia mob.
Those tapes could be played at the sentencing hearing before Hillman in August.
Filipelli, who appeared in court dressed in an olive-green prison jumpsuit, has been held without bail since his arrest in October.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D'Aguanno, the prosecutor in the case, provided more details about the undercover operation yesterday. According to D'Aguanno, Hammonton bookmaker John Bebe introduced Filipelli to two state police undercover detectives who were working a mob-related gambling investigation.
Bebe is a longtime associate of Ron Previte, a former mob member and key FBI witness in the prosecutions of former Philadelphia mob bosses Ralph Natale and Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
Manno said he hoped to call Bebe as a witness at the sentencing hearing. The lawyer said he wanted to demonstrate that Filipelli was "set up" by Bebe and the state police.
Manno said he would not dispute what Filipelli had done, nor that his client - a former Mr. America body-building champion - can appear intimidating.
"I'm sure people take him seriously," Manno said. "He's a serious guy."
But the lawyer said he would point out that no one was injured and that Bebe and the state police induced Filipelli to go to Philadelphia.
Manno said he hoped those circumstances would help persuade the judge to imprison Filipelli for the lower end of the sentencing guidelines in the case, which Manno estimated would be anywhere from 31 to 37 months.
Manno said he expects Filipelli and others to be charged with gambling-related offenses by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office. That case, based on the same investigation, is continuing, according to law enforcement officials.
Filipelli was allegedly working as an enforcer and collector for a Cherry Hill-based bookmaker with ties to the mob.