Trial begins for La Cosa Nostra, alleged mob boss Joseph Ligambi

Opening arguments began today in the racketeering conspiracy trial of alleged mob boss Joseph Ligambi and six associates of the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra.

Prosecutors claim Ligambi, alleged underboss Joseph Massimino, George Borgesi, Anthony Staino, Damion Canalichio, Gary Battaglini and Joseph Licata engaged in several crimes to further their criminal enterprise, including loansharking, sports bookmaking, extortion and operating an illegal video poker machine business.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor told jurors that although no violence is alleged in the charges, the defendants used the mob’s reputation of violence to intimidate those who were in debt.

“I love you like a brother, but don’t eff with me,” Labor said, allegedly quoting Staino during a recorded conversation with an undercover FBI agent. “You know what’s gonna happen. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

The case will also show the Philadelphia mob’s link to crime syndicates in New York, Chicago and Miami, Labor said. In one meeting recorded between Ligambi’s crew and the New York mob, Labor said, members even talk about convicted mobster Joey Merlino and what would happen when he got out of prison.

But defense attorneys claim the government targeted the group because they are Italian-Americans and exaggerated the charges.

“You’re looking at seven innocent people who shouldn’t be here,” Ligambi’s attorney, Edwin Jacobs, said in his opening. “We’re not villains, we’re victims in this case.”

Jacobs also said the government’s case is built on dramatized mob movies and unreliable testimony from criminals.

“Nobody got his hair pulled in this case … Tony Soprano and Don Corleon would laugh at us,” he stated.

The case is expected to last several weeks. Four members or associates of La Cosa Nostra have already admitted their roles and pleaded guilty. Gaeton Lucibello, Martin Angelia and Louis Barretta received sentencing ranging from two and a half to five years. Louis Fazzini is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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