In an unusual move, feds subpoena wedding photos of reputed mobster

Picture this: Reputed mob boss Joe Ligambi is dressed in a tuxedo. He's rubbing elbows with alleged members and associates of the Philadelphia underworld at a swank wedding reception, holding court at a table near the front of the room, stopping occasionally to pose for pictures.

It sounds like a scene out of The Godfather.

But the possibility of such a scenario has whetted the appetite of federal investigators.

In a highly unusual move, the feds have subpoenaed the work of a private photographer hired to take shots at the recent reception of Anthony Staino, the reputed number-two man in the South Philadelphia mob, according to law enforcement sources.

Staino, 55, and his wife celebrated their marriage with an expensive gathering at the Curtis Center in Philadelphia in September. The couple, who live in Woolwich Township, Gloucester County, were wed earlier, but marked the occasion with the Sept. 11 affair.

Ligambi, 71, and several other reputed mob members and associates were among about 300 family members and friends who attended. Another special guest was the groom's 78-year-old uncle, legendary South Philadelphia mobster Ralph "Junior" Staino.

Both the Philadelphia Police Department and FBI had surveillance teams outside, taking pictures of guests as they arrived, according to a police officer who worked that day.

But now, investigators hope to use photos commissioned by the newlyweds to get a peek inside the private party.

"I would think they would have better things to investigate than a man's wedding," said Gregory Pagano, Staino's lawyer.

"It's a case of the government going on a fishing expedition," Pagano said, pointing out that his client has no criminal record.

Pagano, one of several high-profile defense lawyers among the guests, said that he had no idea what the feds were looking for, but that he thought the action was "appalling."

The subpoena has been filed under seal and is not part of the public record.

Dave Fritchey, head of the Organized Crime Unit in the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

Fritchey's unit is involved in a racketeering investigation into the Ligambi organization that has been in the works for at least three years. The probe is believed to focus on gambling, extortion, and loan-sharking, but also could include three unsolved gangland murders.

Pictures of mobsters associating with one another at social events often are used as evidence to establish relationships. But in most cases, they are provided by cooperating witnesses or generated through law enforcement surveillance.

Pictures from the Staino affair would offer a jury a one-of-a-kind backdrop. The reception took place in the Atrium at the Curtis Center. The historic building's website touts the location's amenities, including "a stunning circa-1916 Tiffany glass mosaic, a bubbling fountain, and the domed skylight atop the sweeping 12-story atrium."

Prices start at $150 per person for wedding receptions and similar events, according to the site.

With 300 guests, the minimum price for the Staino affair would have been $45,000.

According to one attendee, food was served buffet-style and included shrimp, lobster tail, veal, filet, sushi, and an array of Chinese dishes. There was an open bar and music.

Ligambi spent most of the night sitting at a table socializing, according to the guest, who asked not to be identified.

Authorities also have subpoenaed the catering records, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The photographer's name has not been revealed. The caterer did not respond to calls from The Inquirer.

Pagano said neither Staino nor his wife wished to say anything publicly. It was clear from the lawyer's comments, however, that the couple considered the subpoena of their photos an invasion of privacy.

"The feeling is, the feds crossed the line when they did this," said one underworld source.

But a law enforcement investigator said it was just business.

"Did they ever watch The Godfather?" he asked.

The classic movie opens with a series of scenes from the wedding reception of mob boss Don Corleone's daughter. Throughout the celebration, the proud father is conducting underworld business.

Pagano said it was preposterous to think that the affair at the Curtis Center was anything other than what it was.

"Sometimes, a wedding is just a wedding," he said. "This was a happy, joyous occasion."

And now, he said, federal authorities are trying to turn it into fodder for a grand jury.

 


Contact staff writer George Anastasia at 856-779-3846 or ganastasia@phillynews.com.