By Patrick Walters
PHILADELPHIA – The reputed boss of the Philadelphia mob, his alleged lieutenant and 11 others were hit with federal racketeering and gambling charges in an indictment unsealed Monday that federal authorities said shows that violent organized crime remains a real-life menace.
Alleged mob leader Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, reputed underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and the others ran illegal gambling operations and engaged in loan sharking, according to the 70-page indictment that described a "Godfather"-like world in which reputed mobsters used threats to kill or harm people to recoup business debts.
Eleven people, including Ligambi, were arrested Monday. The other two defendants were already in federal custody.
Ligambi, 72, pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance. His attorney, Joseph Santaguida, said the case against his client isn't strong and that he should be granted bail at a hearing later this week.
Massimino, 61, said in court that he didn't yet have an attorney. He has a bail hearing scheduled for Thursday. A judge also scheduled bail hearings for many of the other defendants this week.
The arrests were the largest action taken against Philadelphia's crime family in a decade.
"They used violence and the threat of violence to exert control over others," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at a news conference, noting that organized crime in Philadelphia had shown "a remarkable ability to reorganize and reinvent itself."
Ligambi, Massimino and the others provided video poker machines and other illegal gambling devices to bars, restaurants and convenience stores in and around Philadelphia, prosecutors said.
Ligambi, Massimino and another defendant tried to make the business appear legitimate to hide the money from the federal government, prosecutors said. Ligambi, Massimino and other defendants also "approved, supervised, and otherwise participated in extortions" to generate income for the enterprise and its members, the indictment said.
In one instance, between about 2002 and 2006, Massimino and another defendant extorted a bookmaker by demanding that the bookmaker provide "yearly tribute payments" to the Philadelphia La Casa Nostra in order to "avoid personal harm" and the disruption of business, the indictment said.
The indictment is also riddled with allegations of defendants threatening to kill or harm people who haven't paid their debts, including alleged threats to "put a bullet in your head" and to "chop him up." Massimino allegedly told one victim that he wouldn't "be able to hide anywhere in the U.S.," prosecutors allege.
"The defendants also used express and implied threats of physical violence and economic harm to instill fear in their victims and to preserve and sustain the enterprise," the indictment said.
U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger said the arrests should serve as a warning that law enforcement hasn't forgotten about the Mafia.
"Today, we make clear that such activity will not be tolerated by my office and that La Cosa Nostra remains a priority for the Department of Justice," Memeger said.
Ligambi took over the Philadelphia mob after former boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was convicted of racketeering in 2001, according to investigators. Merlino was later acquitted of a murder charge in 2004.
Ligambi was convicted in the 1985 gangland slaying of Frank "Frankie Flowers" D'Alfonso and spent 10 years in prison before he was acquitted on retrial in 1997.
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Merlino is currently serving a six-month term at a Florida halfway house after being released from federal prison in March.