PHILADELPHIA -- Federal agents and local police here arrested La Cosa Nostra organized crime boss Joseph Ligambi and 10 confederates for running a video poker gambling and extortion ring for more than a decade. | SEE FBI STATEMENT
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said a new 50-count indictment was unsealed on May 23, charging the defendants with various crimes involving racketeering conspiracy, extortion, loan sharking, illegal gambling, witness tampering and threats of violence.
Two of those indicted are already serving federal prison terms for prior convictions; the remaining mob members were arrested May 23.
The FBI said the conspirators allegedly operated illegal electronic gambling devices. Video poker machines and other gambling devices were placed in bars, restaurants, convenience stores, coffeehouses and other locations in Philadelphia and its suburbs, where the plotters collected the illegal gambling proceeds.
Federal agents said they originally seized 34 video pokers in 2001. Mob leaders allegedly responded by taking over the illegal poker business of other local operators, forcing them to sell routes and equipment to La Cosa Nostra, and running the gambling routes themselves.
The arrests and charges "are the largest enforcement action in a decade against La Cosa Nostra in Philadelphia," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
The FBI said each charge of racketeering conspiracy, collection of unlawful debt, collection of extensions of credit through extortionate means, making extortionate extensions of credit, financing extortionate extensions of credit and witness tampering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The illegal gambling charges each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case is being investigated by the FBI, the IRS-Criminal Investigations, the Pennsylvania State Police, the New Jersey State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department. Additional assistance was provided by the New Jersey Department of Corrections. Officials said investigations would continue.
The FBI cautioned that an indictment is merely an accusation and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless he or she is proven guilty.
Pennsylvania's extensive illegal poker market received national publicity two years ago when former Gov. Ed Rendell proposed legalizing pokers to raise funds for public education.
State lawmakers were dismayed to learn that the state's poker market supported an estimated 17,000 unlicensed machines, or more.
As reported by VENDING TIMES, State Rep. Curt Schroder (R-Chester), chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, asked the FBI, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and various Pennsylvania law enforcement and tax agencies to investigate the amusement industry. | SEE STORY