A federal judge ordered the reputed boss of the Philadelphia mob and an alleged high-ranking associate held without bail Thursday on racketeering and gambling charges, despite hearing arguments from defense attorneys that the indictment does not accuse them of committing violent acts that would make them a danger to the community.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice denied bail for Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, noting Ligambi's criminal record, evidence that he has a history of intimidating witnesses and his alleged stature as head of Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra. Rice also ordered another reputed mobster, Louis "Bent Finger Louie" Monacello, held without bail, calling him a danger to the community and noting a history of violent threats.
Ligambi, who pleaded not guilty during an initial appearance Monday, and a dozen others are charged in an indictment unsealed this week that alleges the defendants ran illegal gambling operations and engaged in loan sharking, using threats to kill or harm people to recoup business debts. Monacello, 44, pleaded not guilty in court Thursday.
Dressed in a green prison jumpsuit, Ligambi, who prosecutors said is either 71 or 72, smiled and nodded to family and friends in the courtroom before prosecutors attempted to paint him as someone who ran an operation based on fear and threats of violence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David E. Troyer alleged Ligambi was a danger to the community who routinely used "threats of violence" as part of his operation and had also tried to get a civilian not to present documents to a grand jury. He told the judge that Ligambi's stature as alleged head of La Cosa Nostra should be considered in pleading for him not to grant bail.
"Everything goes back to Mr. Ligambi, the defendant in this case," Troyer said
Ligambi's defense attorney, Joseph Santaguida, pressed Rice to grant bail, noting that the 70-page grand jury report did not mention any acts of violence and that friends and family were willing to post more than $1.5 million worth of property as collateral.
"Mr. Ligambi is a very, very well-known person in the community," Santaguida said. Afterward, he said he was disappointed in the judge's decision not to grant bail and vowed to appeal.
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. Merlino is currently serving a six-month term at a Florida halfway house after being released from federal prison in March.
Monacello's defense attorney, Robert Mozenter, also noted that the indictment does not detail any act of violence committed by his client. But prosecutors argued Monacello and other members of La Cosa Nostra were instead using fear as their weapon.
"What they're banking on is fear," U.S. Attorney John S. Han said. "They don't need to commit actual violence."
Alleged underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino had been scheduled to appear for a bail hearing Thursday, but it was postponed. Hearings for several other defendants were held Wednesday, with bail granted for one with no prior criminal convictions after friends and family came forward to post properties as collateral.