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April 23, 2014

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Feds drop case against reputed Philly mob boss

Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 | 3:33 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Federal prosecutors abandoned their pursuit of a reputed Philadelphia mob boss on Monday after he twice beat charges in a gambling and racketeering case.

Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi could have faced a third trial after jurors acquitted him last week of witness tampering while deadlocking on three other charges. But prosecutors filed a motion seeking to dismiss the remaining counts — a rare setback in their decades-long campaign against the Philadelphia mob.

Ligambi's attorney, Ed Jacobs, praised the decision and said he expects his client to be released from a federal detention center Tuesday. A judge still has to sign off.

"They have properly exercised their discretion," Jacobs said. "They have failed twice in their efforts to convict Joe, and I don't think they think the third time's the charm."

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger declined comment.

The Ligambi case largely involved the collection of small gambling debts and loans, and the operation of video poker machines at neighborhood bars.

Prosecutors won convictions against Ligambi's reputed underboss and enforcer — who were sentenced to 15 years and 11 years in prison respectively — and several associates. But two juries deadlocked on the main racketeering charge against Ligambi, 74, and he was acquitted of six of nine counts overall.

Authorities say Ligambi took over a weakened La Cosa Nostra after his predecessor, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, was convicted and sent to prison in 2001.

An indictment unsealed in 2011 said Ligambi and other reputed mobsters remained dangerous, using threats to kill or harm people who hadn't paid their debts to the Mafia.

Ligambi has spent nearly three years in prison following his arrest.

Jacobs, who has called the case a witch hunt, said Monday the government should "put all this time and effort and money to better use chasing somebody else."