First Juror Picked for Philly Mafia Trial; Dead Informant's Recordings to Debut

"Uncle Joe" is acting boss of the Philly mob, a rat's
wiretaps reveal; Merlino is still the boss.

REVISED, UPDATED: The first anonymous juror --  a former Teamsters member who was a crime victim in her teens -- was selected for the big upcoming Philadelphia mob trial  resulting from an extensive FBI investigation involving alleged mob activity that occurred after boss Joey Merlino went to prison in 1999.

Prosecutors say acting boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, an old-school Mafioso known for being a peaceful, reasonable man less prone to violence, has led Philadelphia's La Cosa Nostra since then. Bolstering the prosecution's case will be tape recordings made of Ligambi by an informant who has since died by his own hand. These recordings also convinced the Feds that Merlino was still top dog, and that Ligambi was serving as boss on an "acting" basis.

[Editor's Note: The Philly mob is set for the trial of its very  life just as word hit last week that the reality show "Mob Wives" has chosen Philly -- as well as Miami -- as the next venues for extensions of the show, though it is not known if one or both cities will start filming, or when filming will begin.]

According to Philly mob expert George Anastasia, writing on "Unlike his predecessor, the flamboyant Joseph 'Skinny Joey' Merlino, Ligambi, 73, seldom spoke to the media, avoided public displays of bravado, and preferred to spend his nights at home rather than in bars and nightclubs.
Nicky Skins shot himself dead.

"But secretly recorded conversations from a mob meeting at a New Jersey restaurant two years ago offer a rare opportunity to listen in as Ligambi breaks bread in a gossip-filled gabfest with several other mobsters."

Anastasia continued: "A federal judge ruled last week that most of those conversations can be used as evidence in the racketeering trial of Ligambi and seven others scheduled for October.

"A federal prosecutor has likened the restaurant session [at La Griglia] to a meeting of the board of directors of organized crime..."

Overall the case mostly involves illegal gambling and loansharking in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and there's little violence alleged.

The 73-year-old Ligambi and several co-defendants have pleaded not guilty, while others have pleaded guilty but don't have to testify against their associates.

Ligambi is also accused of defrauding the Teamsters by getting health benefits through a no-show job.

Jurors will remain anonymous and be brought to court from a remote location to enhance their security.

Joseph Anthony "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (born August 9, 1939) is known to have a more "old school" management approach, especially compared to his predecessor, Joseph Merlino, who preferred the flamboyant, Gotti-esque style.

As we noted in another post, Ligambi is credited with quietly stabilizing the formerly troubled Philadelphia-South Jersey branch of La Cosa Nostra.

The New York Mafia families are pleased with Ligambi, who successfully brought the Philadelphia borgata back from near extinction.

Known as "a quietly powerful group," the Philly Mafia crews reportedly consist of about 60 made men

Ligambi's laid back manner may owe something to the deadly volatility he faced back when he was an up-and-comer in the Philly mob.

Ligambi was inducted into the Philadelphia crime family in 1986 at the age of 47. The diminutive, but powerful and violent Nicodemo Scarfo was boss around that time after seizing the reins following the killing of longtime don Angelo Bruno.

Ligambi in those days was an associate of the Merlino brothers, who were close friends of Scarfo.

The damning taped evidence against Ligambi and other Philly mobsters was made in May 2010 by then-cooperating witness Nicholas "Nicky Skins" Stefanelli. Ligambi and several associates lunched that afternoon with high-ranking members of the Gambino family, authorities allege.

Stefanelli committed suicide earlier this year, as we reported; a guilt-ridden man, he decided to eat a bullet instead of testifying for the Feds; however, the North Jersey mobster had already done the damage: he had begun cooperating in 2009 and had recorded dozens of conversations along the East Coast for about two years, Anastasia reported. 

Back at the Philly-Gambinos lunch while Ligambi was letting his hair down, the informant was wearing a body wire for the FBI recording every word.

The Ligambi trial will be the first at which Stefanelli tapes will be introduced as evidence. The tapes include conversations from the mob lunch meeting with the Gambinos and from another meeting.

Merlino was a major topic of discussion at the lunch meeting; at the time he was in jail finishing a 14-year sentence.

"Authorities now contend that based on these secretly recorded conversations, Merlino is still the boss of the Philadelphia mob, even though he has settled in Florida," Anastasia reported.

This makes Ligambi acting boss.