PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A mob insider riveted jurors in a Philadelphia mob case Tuesday and raised eyebrows when he said the accused La Cosa Nostra boss on trial once threatened to kill oldies disc jockey Jerry Blavat.
Loan shark Lou "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello has regaled a federal courtroom for days with tales of the mob's bravado and business endeavors.
The unusual testimony from a mob turncoat comes in the racketeering trial of accused Philadelphia boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, alleged underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and five others. The case mainly involves loansharking and sports betting in the Philadelphia region.
Prosecutors argue that Ligambi has mostly used threats — some recorded by the FBI — to run the mob since former boss Joey Merlino went to prison in 1999.
On the stand Tuesday, Monacello said Ligambi had threatened to kill Blavat over the DJ's suspected help with a 2009 Philadelphia Magazine article. The 72-year-old Blavat owns a bar in Margate that the witness called a mob hangout.
"If I were Jerry Blavat, I'd be nervous," Monacello testified.
Blavat, known as "the Geator with the Heater," later said he's never been aware of any beef with Ligambi.
"I know Joe Ligambi and his entire family. We grew up together in South Philadelphia," Blavat said. "Here it is 2012, and I'm still alive."
Monacello testified in some detail Tuesday about his work as a loan shark for La Cosa Nostra. With money fronted by Ligambi, he said, he lent money to mob underlings at 20 percent interest before they loaned it out at a usurious 30 percent rate. Monacello sometimes had $100,000 or more in loans on the street, he said.
On cross-examination from Ligambi lawyer Edwin Jacobs, Monacello admitted that he had enjoyed a successful 16-year run as a loan shark. He also owned a restaurant and several fitness businesses.
It all came crashing down when a Pennsylvania state trooper approached him at a Florida airport in 2008 to warn him about his pending arrest in a state case and urge him to cooperate. He instead pleaded guilty. But he thought better of the government's offer as the federal charges loomed in 2011. At the time, Ligambi was upset with him for crossing a "made" family member. He'd been hearing that close friend George Borgesi, Ligambi's nephew, planned to come after him on Ligambi's behalf when he left prison.
"In his eyes," he said of Ligambi, "I broke the rules."
Fearing for his life, he agreed to roll.
"There's a fine line between me sitting here and there," Monacello said, staring down his former friends as they bristled.
Monacello has pleaded guilty to two counts among the string of charges he once faced, racketeering conspiracy and extortion, and is likely to get far less than the six to eight years he once feared. Seven other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case but aren't cooperating.
La Cosa Nostra loyalists in the courtroom didn't buy Monacello's testimony, chuckling over both his claims and his newly chiseled appearance.
Monacello sported a sleek hairstyle and sharply cut suit, in contrast to the baggy sweat pants and shaggy hair seen in the 2009 video.
"You see his face? He got plastic surgery on his face!" Borgesi said to a friend in the galley during a break.
"He's still ugly," the friend shouted back.
The wife of a co-defendant from an earlier mob case gushed over the defendants, reassuring them they'd be home for Christmas.
"It's all right. It is what it is," said Borgesi, who was serving his 14-year sentence in the far bloodier Merlino case when he was charged in 2009 with helping Ligambi from prison.
Leaning toward another friend Tuesday, Borgesi said, "Sonny, how's your brother?"