Joseph Anthony "Uncle Joe" Ligambi (born August 9, 1939) is a retired American mobster and former acting boss of the Philadelphia crime family. Ligambi is known among law enforcement circles to have a more "old school" approach, in sharp contrast to boss Joseph Merlino's, flamboyant, high-profile style. Ligambi is credited by the Philadelphia Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Unit to be "quietly bringing stability back to the troubled Philadelphia-South Jersey branch of the American Mafia" during the 2000s (decade). The New York Mafia families have been pleased with Ligambi and his approach, as well as his ability to turn the Philadelphia crime family back into a stable group.
Ligambi was one of four children born in the South Philadelphia to strict "old world" parents. His father was a cab driver. He attended South Philadelphia High School before dropping out his junior year to join the United States Air Force, where he eventually earned his high school diploma. He stands at 5' 8" and weighs 185 pounds with black-gray hair and brown eyes. Ligambi got married when he was 26 and had two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce. Ligambi later remarried and has 3 sons with his current wife Olivia. He can often be seen with his closest sibling, Philip Ligambi (an alleged member of the Philadelphia crime family himself). They are the uncles of Philadelphia mobster George Borgesi.
Early criminal career
Unlike many other gangsters who started their careers in crime as teenagers or young adults, Ligambi didn't have a criminal record before age 32 when he was arrested for cigarette smuggling. In the 1970s, he started to associate himself with mobster brothers "Yogi" and Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino and worked as a bartender and at a frequent mobster hangout. Ligambi would become a protege of Merlino who in turn was close to powerful crime family member Nicodemo Scarfo. During this time, Ligambi started making money helping run illegal book making operations for the Merlino crew. He earned a reputation as an expert in sports handicapping, particularly for football. By 1981, the Philadelphia crime family was being led by Scarfo, with Merlino serving as his underboss.
In 1985, Scarfo ordered the murder of Mafia associate Frank "Frankie Flowers" D'Alfonso for refusing to pay tribute to him. When Philadelphia mobsters Thomas DelGiorno and Eugene Milano became government witnesses, they testified in court that on July 23, Ligambi and Philip Narducci were the triggermen in the board daylight hit and Frank Narducci (Philip's brother) was the driver. DelGiorno, Milano, Merlino and Francis "Faffy" Iannarella helped plan the murder. Ligambi became a made man in the Philadelphia crime family in 1986, at the age of 47.
Murder conviction and acquittal
In 1987, Ligambi was arrested alongside Scarfo and others for the D'Alfonso murder. On April 5, 1989, Ligambi, Chuckie Merlino, Nicodemo Scarfo Sr, Francis Iannarella, Frank Narducci and Phil Narducci were convicted of the murder and were all given life sentences. In 1992, an appellate court panel overturned the murder convictions, citing prosecutorial misconduct and trial-court error. At the retrial in 1997, Ligambi and his fellow defendants were acquitted of the murder. Ligambi was the only one immediately released since the other defendants still had to serve time for prior racketeering convictions. Scarfo died of natural causes in 2017 while serving an effective life sentence, Merlino died of natural causes in 2012 while serving his sentence, the Narducci brothers were released in the 2010s and Innarella was released in 2016. Ligambi was convicted of an illegal gambling charge, but was credited for the time served on the murder conviction. Upon his return to South Philadelphia, Ligambi was viewed as one of the few soldiers left from the Scarfo era, an era which saw the Philadelphia family gain enormous power and wealth, despite its violent tendencies.
Ligambi returned to a Mafia family that was very different from the one he last saw 10 years earlier. Most of the mobsters he worked under were dead or in prison and the FBI was able to greatly weaken the crime family with racketeering and murder convictions. The family was now being run by Joey Merlino, the son of Ligambi's mentor Salvatore. While Ligambi was in prison, Merlino led a crew of young mobsters who fought a war and took over the Philadelphia crime family. One of these young mobsters was George Borgesi, who is Ligambi's nephew and one of Merlino's closest friends. After the arrest of Merlino, Borgesi and several others in 1999, Ligambi was chosen to take over as acting boss of the family. In 2001, Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Since taking over Ligambi remained in the shadows, rarely being mentioned in the media, while taking a much less "trigger-happy" approach to running a Mafia family. There are three unsolved murders that law enforcement believe were ordered or approved by Ligambi during his tenure.
Ligambi was able to operate as a free man for 11 years which is seen as an amazing accomplishment for a present time Cosa Nostra boss. He has done so well that the New York families have taken notice, and it was speculated that he had taken over the crime family permanently. Ligambi had a no-show job with Top Job Carpeting run by fellow Philadelphia crime family member, Mauro Goffredo.
On May 23, 2011, Ligambi was arrested and held without bail on racketeering, loan sharking and gambling related charges in an FBI sweep. On February 6, 2013, Ligambi was found not guilty on four charges and the jury was undecided on four. Later the same year, he went back on trial for the four charges the jury was undecided on. In January 2014, Ligambi was acquitted on one count of witness intimidation while a jury was deadlocked on two gambling charges and one racketeering charge. Prosecutors dropped the remaining charges and Ligambi was released from prison on January 28, 2014. Since his release, Ligambi is believed to be in semi-retirement.