The Last Mouthpiece

The old bosses have been sent to the big house, and Skinny Joey’s most serious (recent) charge is ... drunk driving. For Joe Santaguida, defending “alleged” mobsters isn’t what it used to be

But his legal efforts on behalf of the dealers aren’t why you and I are interested in Joe Santaguida.

Growing up where he did and spending so much time in the barbershop naturally brought him into close and friendly quarters with many badfellas. He met Raymond Martorano the elder, for instance, when Martorano was sitting in the babrber chair. "And I knew Frank Sindone personally," he says, naming one of the (now deceased) legends of the Bruno era. "I knew Chickie Narducci. I knew Mike Marrone. Charlie White and I, we used to take our kids down the Shore together. I was still living in South Philly back then [he lives in Cherry Hill now], and you don’t live in a vacuum-you go to certain places, and you meet people the way you meet people. And if somebody had a friend or a relative who was in trouble, they’d recommend you. It seemed to me that everybody I knew from South Philly, instead of them being jealous or resentful when I became a lawyer, all seemed proud of me and went out of their way to help me and support me and send cases my way, to trust their loved ones with me.

" He defended quite a few of those loved ones, too, including Salvatore Grande, the accused shooter in the Salvatore Testa murder (acquitted); Prank Narducci, the accused driver in the Prank "Frankie Flowers" D’Alfonso murder (acquitted in a second trial); and Vincent Isabella, the accused provider of the gun in the Frank Monte murder (convicted of reduced charges). But lots of lawyers represent mob clients; even ex-white hats like former District Attorney F. Emmett Fitzpatrick and several former Assistant U.S. Attorneys have done so without earning the tag "mob lawyer." In fact, if you ask lawyers whom they would choose to represent them if they themselves were mobsters facing racketeering charges, most name Edwin Jacobs Jr. of New Jersey. He won a notable victory in 1996 when his client, Salvatore Avena-charged with being a lawyer-cum-racketeer was acquitted by a jury despite many disadvantageous wiretaps.

"But I don’t think of myself as a mob lawyer," Santaguida says. "I think of myself as a lawyer. Believe me, if I only handled mob cases, I’d have maybe six clients. All the mobsters are dead! Or in jail. I know the government would disagree with me, but with all the constant surveillance, they haven’t charged anybody with being a mobster since John Stanfa, and that was, what, five years in my opinion, organized crime is finished in Philadelphia.

" Actually, law enforcement officials agree, to a certain extent. Still, Santaguida is unique among Philadelphia attorneys for his close and friendly relations with bad guys and their loved ones. One testimonial came during a recess in young Martorano’s drug trial, when Adeline Narducci offered to go on the record for Santaguida. She knows what she’s talking about when it comes to lawyers she is the widow of Frank "Chickie" Narducci, a Bruno lieutenant who was killed in 1982, and the mother of Frank Jr. and Philip, both of whom are serving long sentences (35 and 40 years, respectively) for mob-related crimes.

"I love Joe as a person and as a lawyer," she said, smiling broadly. But why? "Oh, because he’s compassionate, and he thinks of people." Could she give a specific example? "I don’t want to have to get into it all," she said, waving away the notion. "What more can I say? I’ve known him 30 years! And I know his wife, too. As a lawyer he was fantastic, and I’ll never forget him!"