By JOANN LOVIGLIOAssociated Press
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A 13-year FBI probe and subsequent racketeering indictment against seven reputed Philadelphia mobsters was built on unreliable testimony and weak evidence about trivial crimes because investigators came up empty-handed, defense attorneys said Friday.
"They weren't just investigating," Gregory Pagano, representing alleged mob capo Anthony "Ant" Staino Jr., said in his closing argument. "They were waiting for something bigger to come along than video poker machines and sports betting. ... It never did. This is what they got."
With so little to work with to prove their case, Pagano argued, the feds instead instigated a "manhunt" against his client and co-defendants and knowingly painted a picture of them that is completely false.
"The government is hiding evidence, distorting evidence and miscategorizing evidence," he said. "You can't hide from the truth."
Friday marked the second day of closing arguments in the two-month trial of reputed acting mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six other alleged mob members or associates. The jury is expected to start deliberations Tuesday.
The trial revolves around allegations of illegal gambling, extortion and loansharking. The FBI accuses Ligambi, 73, of running the South Philadelphia-based crime family since Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino went to prison in 1999.
According to the indictment, the Ligambi organization controlled illegal gambling machines and sports betting at several South Philadelphia bars and clubs, and threatened violence to collect debts. Ligambi also is charged with defrauding a Teamsters fund by getting health care for himself and his family members through a no-show job at a sanitation company. Ligambi's attorney will give his closing argument Monday, followed by a rebuttal by prosecutors.
Attorney Christopher Warren seized upon U.S. Attorney John Han's assertion during his closing argument Thursday that a series of surreptitious tape recordings of some of the defendants in meetings, among themselves and with other crime families, were the most powerful evidence in the case.
"These tapes were a bunch of geriatric gangsters waxing nostalgic about things that happened long ago," said Warren, whose own client was heard on the tapes. Philadelphia's once-formidable La Cosa Nostra of past decades, run by bosses like Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo and Giovanni "John" Stanfa, no longer exists, Warren said.
"It died," he said. "It is a broke, broke mob."
Warren said prosecutors paraded a procession of witnesses on the stand who told "flat-out lies" in exchange for getting out of their own criminal troubles.
"The message is only as credible as the messenger," he told jurors. "What you've got, folks, is people just up there saying stuff."
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