A federal judge said Monday that 73-year-old Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi remains a danger to the community, especially since the jury convicted three others of the central racketeering conspiracy charge.
"The jury found that at least three others were involved in a violent organization," U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno said. "The charge is that he is the head of (it)."
Federal prosecutors believe the quiet, business-focused Ligambi has led La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia since 1999, when flashy young boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino went to prison. Merlino is now out, but he has settled in South Florida.
Authorities said it's not clear if Merlino intends to return to the Philadelphia operation, which, according to the 10-week Ligambi trial, now involves relatively low-level sports betting and loansharking, and the operation of illegal video poker machines in bars and restaurants. State-sanctioned casino gambling in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere has decimated mob profits, organized crime figures said on FBI wiretaps played in court.
With Merlino out of prison, and Ligambi's fate unclear, mob leadership in Philadelphia is in flux, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor told the judge Monday.
"We're really in an evolutionary state. Who's going to be in charge? Who's going to be out?" Labor said. "Somebody's going to run the operation."
Ligambi's wife, adult sons and other supporters had expected Robreno's decision, which mirrored his ruling last week for Ligambi nephew and alleged consigliere George Borgesi. The jury had also deadlocked on whether Borgesi took part in La Cosa Nostra, although he's been in prison since his conviction in the Merlino case.
"Big surprise," Manny Borgesi, his mother, said dryly on Monday. She is also Ligambi's sister.
The retrial is tentatively set for mid-April, but Ligambi lawyer Edwin Jacobs Jr. may not be available until June.
Ligambi, who was nattily dressed for the trial, was brought to court Monday in a green prison jumpsuit, but he smiled and bantered with his relatives as usual.
Both sides have claimed victory of sorts since the Feb. 5 split verdict.
The jury tossed out most of the underlying gambling and extortion counts in the case, prompting Jacobs to call the 13-year investigation a waste of taxpayer money.
But only one of the seven trial defendants - an aging, peripheral mob associate from New Jersey - was acquitted outright.
According to Labor, 10 of 11 people adjudicated in the case so far have been convicted.
"We'll take that rate anytime," he said Monday.
That includes several defendants who pleaded guilty before trial. One of them, bookie Louis Fazzini, 45, of Caldwell, N.J., was sentenced earlier Monday to 55 months in prison.
Ligambi once spent a decade in prison for murder, but the conviction was overturned in 1997. His only other convictions are decades old, for gambling and cigarette tax violations.