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Mob Lawyer Found Innocent of Plotting Murder

May 16, 1996

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The attorney for the head of the Philadelphia mob was acquitted Wednesday of helping plot the murders of the boss’s rivals.

Salvatore J. Avena, attorney for John Stanfa, was found innocent of actively engaging in an organized crime enterprise that traded in murder, kidnapping, gambling and extortion.

The jury was hung on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. If convicted on all counts, Avena, 69, could have been sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

The jury deliberated for nine days after an 8 1/2-week federal trial involving Avena and four other defendants.

Giuseppe Gallara, 29, was convicted of several racketeering charges, including one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to murder. Salvatore Brunetti, 44, was convicted of racketeering charges including three counts of attempted murder and one count of conspiracy to murder. Each man faces a sentence of 40 years to life.

Luigi Tripodi, 58, was convicted of one charge of conspiracy to murder. He was acquitted of two counts of obstruction of justice. The jury was hung on nearly a dozen other charges.

Gaeton Lucibello, 43, was acquitted of all charges, including six counts of conspiracy to murder and one count of attempted murder.

Chief prosecutor Joel Friedman said the government would retry Avena and Tripodi on the charges the jury could not agree upon.

Defense attorney Edwin Jacobs was pleased with the verdict for Avena.

``The government theory was that many things Mr. Avena did on behalf of his (mob) clients were illegal,″ Jacobs said. ``But the defense has always said that all he did was his everyday job of a criminal defense attorney.″

Avena and the four other defendants were part of a group of 29 reputed Philadelphia-South New Jersey mob associates who were indicted with Stanfa in 1994.

Stanfa and seven others were convicted last year. Six others pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government. Nine others also pleaded guilty but did not cooperate. One remains a fugitive.

During the trial, jurors heard 130 conversations that the FBI secretly recorded, mostly in Avena’s Camden, N.J., office from 1991 to 1993.

At one point, Avena tells Stanfa in a demonstration of loyalty, ``If you want me to put my brains in the toilet, I’ll put my brains in the toilet.″

Most of the alleged crimes revolved around a bloody battle between Stanfa and young rival Joseph ``Skinny Joey″ Merlino for control of the Philadelphia-South Jersey mob _ a job that Stanfa took after the previous boss, Nicodemo ``Little Nicky″ Scarfo, was sentenced to life in prison for murder in 1989.

Friedman said the government’s work against the mob has paid off.

``We’ve convicted 25 of 28 people including 11 made members of La Costra Nostra, including the boss, underboss and consiglieres, so I think that this is a major accomplishment,″ Friedman said.

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