Salvatore J. Avena, 87, of Cinnaminson, the Camden lawyer whose association with ex-Philadelphia mob boss John Stanfa led to his own indictment - and acquittal - on racketeering charges, died Monday, Feb. 3.
Edwin Jacobs Jr., an Atlantic County criminal defense lawyer who worked for and won Mr. Avena's acquittal in federal court in Philadelphia in 1996, on Tuesday night confirmed Mr. Avena's death at his home after a long illness.
"There was only one Sal," Jacobs said. "He was bigger than life; a hard-hitting, tough, old-time lawyer who gave as good as he got."
Jacobs said Mr. Avena maintained his Camden law practice long after the 1996 federal trial, closing it only last year: "He still represented some old clients. He just never gave it up."
In tapes played at Mr. Avena's 1996 trial, he was heard telling reputed mobster Anthony "Tony Buck" Piccolo: "There's gonna come a day when I'm gonna ask for the badge." Prosecutors said that reflected Mr. Avena's desire to be a formally initiated mob member.
In his heyday, Mr. Avena was sometimes referred to as the "godfather of lawyers" - the son of an alleged mob boss who had represented reputed Mafia figures for decades.
But in the mid-1990s, Mr. Avena himself became a defendant in the racketeering case involving the Stanfa organized crime family.
After a 10-week trial, the Philadelphia jury acquitted Mr. Avena of events that included the attempted murder of mobster Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino.
Stanfa, now 73, is serving a life term at a federal prison in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Mr. Avena told reporters that he was "more determined than ever to stand up for people's rights."
Jacobs said that although Mr. Avena maintained his law practice and kept up with old friends, his last years were marked by ill health and the deaths of his wife and one of his sons.
"He had a pretty tough last few years," Jacobs said.
Funeral arrangements were pending.