Lawyer: Philly mob case defendants are 'victims'

October 18, 2012 - 6:34 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The racketeering case against the reputed boss of the Philadelphia mob and six co-defendants is based on half-truths and fabrications from cooperating witnesses, a defense attorney said in opening statements Thursday at the federal trial.

The case mostly involves illegal gambling and loansharking in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and there's little violence alleged, other than threats picked up on FBI wiretaps. Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, the 73-year-old alleged leader of Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra, and several co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and plan to fight the charges during the trial, which is expected to last two to three months.

Ligambi's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., said during opening statements there is little of substance to support the government's allegations, saying the case is built on the stories of cooperating witnesses trying to get out of their own problems.

"We're not guilty, we're victims," Jacobs said. "The real charges in this case would never make a single episode of 'The Sopranos.'"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor, however, said in his opening statements that Ligambi and his co-defendants exploited the Philadelphia mob's reputation for violence to make money and to intimidate victims into paying mob shakedowns and tribute payments.

The investigation stretches back to about 1999, when former boss Joey Merlino went to prison. Prosecutors say Ligambi has led Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra since then.

The trial started Thursday after about a week of jury selection. The anonymous jurors are being brought to court from a remote location for security reasons.

The first witness is expected to be called Friday.