Philly mob jury at 'impasse' but sent back to work

Pictured: Joseph Ligambi

February 2, 2013 11:32:21 AM PST
A jury weighing racketeering charges against reputed leaders of the Philadelphia mob say they're at an impasse but were sent back to work Saturday.

The jury worked this weekend to try to reach a verdict in the fourth week of deliberations. But they've endured setbacks when two jurors left because of illness or conflicts.

It's not clear whether jurors have resolved some of the approximately 50 counts against seven defendants, including reputed boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and underboss Joseph "Moussie" Massimino.

The group is accused of sports betting, loansharking, operating illegal video poker machines and threatening debtors. The evidence includes years of FBI wiretaps and undercover work. But there's no violence alleged, other than threats heard on the profanity-laced recordings as the defendants allegedly try to collect.

About two dozen supporters were at the federal courthouse Saturday awaiting the verdict. Five of the defendants are in custody, and two are out on bail.

The jury has frequently asked to rehear the wiretaps but reported for the first time Saturday being at an impasse.

U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno did not ask for details. He gently advised them to keep trying to reach consensus. And he declined a prosecution request to give the jury a copy of the long indictment, which defense lawyer Christopher Warren called "a novella which sets out the government's version of the case."

Federal authorities believe Ligambi, 73, has quietly controlled the mob in Philadelphia and southern New Jersey for more than a decade, since flamboyant young boss Joey Merlino went to prison in 1999. Merlino was paroled last year and has settled in south Florida. His father died in prison in October, and his mother occasionally attended the Ligambi trial.

Given the violent history of La Cosa Nostra, the jury has been seated anonymously and is brought to court each day from a remote location. Defense lawyers, though, frequently note that there have been no mob killings or shootings in Philadelphia in the past decade. One dubbed the latest attempt to thwart organized crime in the city "Mob Lite."

The long period of relative peace within the Philadelphia mob seemed to end, though, hours after the government rested its case Dec. 12, when a suspected informant was gunned down in broad daylight. Anthony Nicodemo, a minor gambling figure mentioned at Ligambi's trial, was charged with murdering convicted drug dealer Gino DiPietro outside his South Philadelphia home.

The Ligambi trial started in October, and deliberations began Jan. 8.