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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Skinny Joey Merlino heading back to Philadelphia

Joey Merlino’s coming back to Philadelphia.

But the erstwhile mob boss isn't happy about it.

Instead of completing plans to open a restaurant in Boca Raton, the 52-year-old former South Philadelphia wiseguy will have to appear in federal court at 6th and Market Streets and explain to a judge why he should not be  sent back to prison for violating the terms of his supervised release. 

According to a violation notice filed last month, Merlino was spotted meeting with mobster John “Johnny Chang” Ciancaglini and two other convicted felons on June 18 at a restaurant and a cigar bar in Boca. While on parole, Merlino is prohibited from meeting with any organized crime figure or felon.

Merlino, Ciancaglini and five other co-defendants were convicted in a highly publicized 2001 racketeering case in Philadelphia. Merlino, the  boss of the crime family at the time, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and three years of supervised release.

Ciancaglini, a mob capo, was sentenced to eight years and three years of supervised release. He has completed his entire sentence. Merlino was about to finish his supervised release term this week after which he would have been free to meet and associate with whomever he liked.

The timing of the violation was seen in underworld circles as an attempt by federal authorities to, in the words of one mob associate, “bust his balls.” 
The alleged meeting with Ciancaglini and the two other felons occurred in June, according to court records, at La Villetta, an Italian restaurant and later at Havana Nights, a cigar bar in Boca Raton. Yet the violation notice was not filed in federal court in Philadelphia until Aug. 25 and Merlino was not notified until Sept. 2. 

Contacted by phone, Merlino declined to comment but said his lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr., was moving to set up a hearing as soon as possible. Merlino said he would offer an explanation in court. The issue will be argued before U.S. District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick.

“It doesn’t make sense,” said one source familiar with Merlino. “Why would he meet in a public place with Johnny Chang? What was so urgent or so important that he would risk his freedom?”

Merlino could be ordered back to prison. Other co-defendants cited for violating the terms of their supervised release have been sentenced to from four to six months in prison. What’s more, the judge could order that Merlino be placed on supervised release again for an extended period of time, thus limiting his ability to meet with individuals and to travel.

Merlino moved to Florida following his release from prison and has said repeatedly that he has no intention of returning to South Philadelphia or to the criminal underworld. His activities in Florida, however, have attracted both law enforcement and media attention. 

The latest publicity has centered on reports that he intends to be involved in the operation of an Italian restaurant in Boca. As a convicted felon, Merlino could not be part of a business that held a liquor license. But he could be involved as a consultant or in some other capacity.

The restaurant, Merlino said in a phone interview, would offer “South Philadelphia-style Italian food.”

“There’s nothing like that down here,” he said, adding that his mother Rita might bring some of her homemade recipes to the kitchen.

Merlino offered few other details, but he has been gathering mementoes, including newspaper headlines and clippings from his days as a Philadelphia mob celebrity. That kind of material, enlarged and framed, could be part of the restaurant décor.

Another Merlino co-defendant, Angelo Lutz, has done exactly that in his highly successful Kitchen Consigliere Café in Collingswood. Lutz, convicted with Merlino and Ciancaglini, has been a restaurateur for four years in the South Jersey food mecca that is Collingswood.

He started in a small, 38-seat establishment on Powell Lane and last year moved to a larger facility that seats close to 100 at the corner of Collings and Haddon Avenues, literally in the center of town. Reservations on weekends are a must at Lutz’s joint and Merlino, with his high profile name recognition, was apparently hoping to duplicate that success in the Sunshine State. 

All of that is now on hold while the parole violation issue is sorted out.  

Federal authorities are offering no explanation about the meeting but court documents indicate that two detectives in Broward County, FL,  had Merlino under surveillance on the night he and Ciancaglini met.

In May, Merlino, 52, had to appear before federal authorities and answer questions about his finances.

Jacobs also represented him at that hearing.

How Merlino has managed to live a relatively comfortable life in Southern Florida with little visible means of income is a question that has been asked in both law enforcement and underworld circles since he opted to move to Florida when he was released from federal prison. 

Despite his denials and claims to have left the mob, there are those who believe  Merlino is still a player in the South Philadelphia underworld and is routinely receiving cash from illegal activities there. Those who believe that scenario see the meeting with Ciancaglini as part of an ongoing operation.

Merlino has been living in a posh condo and is frequently seen at popular bars and restaurants in the Boca Raton area. The alleged violations occurred at two such places, according to a report filed in U.S. District Court which reads in part:

On June 18, 2014, the defendant was observed by detectives from the Broward County Sheriff's Office (Florida) to be in the company of John Ciancaglini, Brad Sirkin, and Frank Fiori, all of whom are convicted felons.

According to the police report, on June 18, 2014, detectives were conducting surveillance of the defendant and observed him leaving his residence located at 67 Hawthrone Place, Boca Raton, Florida and enter a vehicle driven by Don Petullo. They followed the two to La Villetta Restaurant, located in Boca Raton, Florida. Shortly after the defendant arrived at the restaurant, several individuals exited the restaurant and met with the defendant in the parking lot.

Joseph Merlino's vehicle and three other vehicles left the parking lot of the restaurant and headed to the Havana's Nights Cigar Bar located in Boca Raton, Florida. The defendant and the other individuals entered the establishment. Two detectives then entered the Havana's Nights Cigar Bar and observed the defendant in a VIP area within the bar interacting with John Ciancaglini, Brad Sirkin and Frank Fiori. John Ciancaglini is a co-defendant of Merlino in this case and is also known to be a member of the La Cosa Nostra of Philadelphia.

In 2001 along with the defendant, Mr. Ciancaglini was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, aiding and abetting; conspiracy to extort a bookmaking business, aiding and abetting; and illegal sports bookmaking business, aiding and abetting. Mr. Ciancaglini was also convicted in 1989 of Hobbs Act conspiracy, Hobbs Act extortion, and attempted Hobbs Act extortion, aiding and abetting, in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Brad Sirkin was convicted credit card fraud, in 1989 in Anaheim, California; and of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, conspiracy and money laundering in September 1992 in the Southern District of Florida. Frank Fiori was convicted of a felony fraud charge in 1997, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The defendant did not have permission from the probation office to associate with these convicted felons.

“It was a stupid thing to do,” said another underworld source while discussing the meeting.

The source, who has repeatedly scoffed at Merlino’s claim to have left the mob, added, “These guys can’t help themselves. They are who they are and that’s all they know.”

Murder for hire plot outlined during Philadelphia trial

It sounds like the plot from a Shakespearean play, but with a decided South Philadelphia twist.

A father, upset because his daughter is dating a man he neither likes nor trusts, sends two henchmen to kill the unwanted suitor. If Shakespeare had written the story, the assassins would have carried swords or daggers.

Ronald Walker said he used a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

Walker took the stand this afternoon during the opening day of testimony in the murder-for-hire trial of Ronald Galati, a South Philadelphia auto body shop owner with a checkered criminal past that includes alleged organized crime connections.

But neither Galati's past nor his suspected mob ties are expected to figure in the trial. Instead, the case will focus on the allegation that last year Galati, 63, hired three men to kill Andrew Tuono who was dating Galati's daughter Tiffany at the time.

Tuono survived the hit and is listed as a potential witness. So is Tiffany Galati.

"It's a simple case," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson said in his opening statement to the jury of 10 women and two men this morning. "Mr. Galati wanted Mr. Tuono dead." The reason, Richardson said, was also rather mundane. "Mr. Galati didn't like Mr. Tuono."

Testimony and evidence in the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, may provide a more complicated and convoluted explanation for the Nov. 30, 2013, shooting in Atlantic City that left Tuono bleeding from bullet wounds to the stomach, back and hand.

"I shot four times," Walker, a stocky 49-year-old with an extensive criminal record for drug dealing, assault, attempted murder and robbery, told the jury. "They said I only hit him three times."

Asked why he stopped shooting, Walker replied, "Because there weren't no more bullets."

Walker said he was hired by Galati and promised $20,000 for the hit. He said Alvin Matthews, a boyhood friend, was with him during the shooting and that another longtime friend, Jerome Johnson, had set the murder up at Galati's request. Both Matthews and Johnson, like Walker, have pleaded guilty to murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges and are cooperating with the government. They are also expected to testify.

"This is a case about people, family and relationships," Anthony Voci, Galati's defense attorney, told the jury in a comment that hinted at the soap opera like nature of the case. How much the jury hears about Galati's strained relationship with his daughter and the reasons why he allegedly wanted Tuono killed may depend on whether Tiffany Galati is called as a witness.

What the jury won't hear is testimony about Galati's alleged criminal relationships with Johnson, Walker and Matthews. All three are accused of playing similar roles in another murder-for-hire case pending in Common Pleas Court. In that case, Galati is charged with ordering the murders of two rival auto body shop owners, a father and son, who he suspected were cooperating in an insurance fraud investigation that had targeted him.

Galati, his wife, his son and a dozen others, including the son of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi, are also under indictment in Common Pleas court in a multi-million dollar insurance fraud case. Johnson, Matthews and Walker allegedly damaged cars as part of the fraud scheme. Authorities say Walker and Matthews were also involved in arson at Galati's behest.

But Judge Joseph Rodriguez, based on motions filed by Voci, said none of that information can be used in the current trial because it has nothing to do with the attempted murder of Tuono.

Galati, jailed since his arrest in the case, said little as he sat at the defense table next to his lawyer. In his opening statement, Voci told the jury there "was not a shred of physical evidence" tying his client to the case. Voci is expected to argue that there were other reasons why Tuono was targeted, reasons that had nothing to do with Galati.

The government's case, in fact, is built almost entirely on the word of Walker, Matthews and Johnson. Voci is expected to use his cross-examination to challenge the credibility and motivation of those witnesses and to raise questions about their involvement and Tuono's involvement in the drug underworld.

Walker and Matthews were arrested within minutes of the shooting and quickly gave up Johnson and Galati to law enforcement. Johnson eventually opted to cooperate as well. All three are expected to tell basically the same story.

Walker said Galati wanted Tuono dead.

"He said he had a problem with a guy and he needed it taken care of," Walker said, adding that Galati often talked in riddles and that at one point he told the auto body shop owner, "Say what you mean."

"He said he wanted me to kill the guy. He wanted him dead...but he didn't want it come back on him."

Walker said Galati at first suggested that they bury Tuono's body, but Walker balked. He said he eventually agreed to carry out the hit, but not dispose of the body. He said Johnson took him to two different locations in South Philadelphia where Tuono was believed to be staying, but that the target was not there either time.

Finally, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he said was driving in a car with Johnson when a call came in from Galati informing them that Tuono was at the townhouse he owned in Atlantic City. Walker said he had Johnson drive him to a few drug deal deliveries that day and that they stopped at a  Church's Fried Chicken restaurant for lunch before heading down the Shore to carry out the hit.

Prosecutors displayed surveillance camera shots from the fried chicken store that showed both Johnson and Walker placing orders at the counter that day. Matthews, Walker said, joined them for the trip to Atlantic City.

He said Johnson dropped them off near Tuono's Carson Avenue townhouse. They waited on the darkened street and up an alley for several minutes before Tiffany Galati and Tuono walked out the door.

Walker said he had been told by Johnson, "do not touch the girl."

Walker told the jury that Matthews called out to Tuono, "Yo, my man. I wanna talk to you."

"About what?" Tuono replied, according to Walker who said he then walked up to the target, pulled a gun and told him, "Don't run."

Tuono ran, Walker said, and Walker opened fire.

Tiffany Galati showed little emotion, Walker said when questioned by Voci. In fact, he confirmed an earlier statement he had made to police that "She just stood there as if she knew what was going on."

Tuono, lying on the ground bleeding, yelled for her to "call 9-1-1, call the police," Walker said. Instead, he told the jury, she got into a BMW that was parked in front of the townhouse and drove away.

Walker said he and Matthews began to run from the shooting scene, but when they turned a corner they saw a police officer pointing his gun and ordering them to stop. Instead, they kept running. Walker said he tripped and stumbled and that the police officer quickly caught up with him.

Matthews was arrested within minutes a few blocks away.

Both men began cooperating almost immediately. Walker admitted that at first he told authorities that Matthews was the shooter, but he said he later changed his story and admitted he was the one who fired the shots.

Walker said he did not know Tuono's name and did not ask Galati why he wanted him dead.

"It wasn't my business to know why," he said.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Barber arrested for loan sharking operation
The owner and operator of a barber shop in Haverstraw and an alleged long-time associate of mobsters in the Lower Hudson Valley was arrested for loan-sharking on Tuesday
Anthony “Harpo” DePalma, 69, who owns Mr. Tony’s Barber Shop on Railroad Avenue, was charged with first degree criminal usury, a class C felony. According to the Rockland County District Attorney’s office, he made numerous street loans to individuals who feared they were ineligible to receive a loan from their bank.
After entering into agreements with debtors, DePalma charged them up to 200 percent interest, well above the legally-allowable limit. When police searched his shop, they found evidence of the deals, including records of the usurious loans and about $60,000 in cash.
This is not DePalma’s first offense. He was also arrested for enterprise corruption in 2001 and gambling charges in 1973 and 2011. DePalma most recent gambling conviction-which involved his participation in a gambling ring with longtime Pagano crime family associate Frank Fea, resulted in a 60 day county jail sentence.
The arrest is part of a larger crackdown on organized crime operations in the county. DePalma’s arrest came only a month after authorities arrested associate Daniel Pagano of Airmont, the son of the late mobster Joseph Pagano, on racketeering charges together with associate Michael Palazzolo, who was charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit extortion.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Feds seek to send Skinny Joey Merlino back to jail for parole violation

Recent photo of former mob boss Joey "Skinny" Merlino.  who was released from prison on Sunday March 13, 2011. Mandatory credit:  WPVI-TV/6abc<br /><br />
Former Philadelphia mob boss Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino could be headed back to prison mere days before his court-ordered supervision is scheduled to end this week if federal authorities have their way.
His probation officers say the 52-year-old ex-don violated the terms of his release in June with a night on the town with one of his former mob captains and two convicted felons in Boca Raton, Fla.
The terms of his probation prohibit Merlino from associating with convicted felons or members of La Cosa Nostra.
For Merlino, who publicly swore off the mob and moved to South Florida after his release from federal custody three years ago, the new allegation could bring an abrupt halt to postprison plans that range from opening a restaurant or bar to launching a late-in-life acting career.
Merlino's lawyer, Edwin Jacobs, did not return calls for comment Saturday.
According to an affidavit filed in a Philadelphia federal court last week, authorities in Broward County, Fla., conducted surveillance on a June 18 dinner between Merlino and the ex-cons at an Old World Italian restaurant in a Boca Raton strip mall.
The foursome later departed for after-dinner drinks in the VIP area of the swank Havana Nights Cigar Bar & Lounge, the document states.
In attendance were John Ciancaglini, a mob captain convicted alongside Merlino in 2001; Brad Sirkin, a convicted fraudster and money launderer; and Frank Fiore, the cigar bar's owner, who has a record of his own.
Though it remains unclear why Florida authorities were surveilling Merlino at the time, he may have simply picked the wrong bar and the wrong drinking companions. A month after the former mob don quaffed drinks at Havana Nights, federal authorities raided the bar and charged Fiore in a conspiracy to sell counterfeit Xanax, Viagra, and steroids.
In a separate violation, probation officers say, Merlino refused in May to answer questions about one of his business transactions, a breach of a requirement that he provide any financial information sought by his monitors.
The new allegations come more than a decade after Merlino was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his conviction in a racketeering conspiracy case.
His sentence included a standard three-year term of postprison probation that is scheduled to end Thursday.
In the same case that sent him to prison, Merlino stood charged with more than half a dozen shootings, including those of a video-poker operator who refused to pay street tax, a rival mob leader, and the brother of a witness in an earlier mob trial.
The mobster denied the allegations, and jurors acquitted him of those counts.
Ever since, federal investigators have kept a close eye on his activities.
In late 2011, they sent a wired mob turncoat to secretly record a conversation with him at a Florida Dunkin' Donuts. They alleged in court filings that he still ran the Philadelphia mob.
In an interview last year with the website, Merlino said he left all that behind the day he left prison and laid out big dreams for his next career move - a list that at the time included opening a Philly cheesesteak restaurant in Florida or cashing in on his colorful past with an acting career.
The Miami Herald's gossip columnist reported last week that Merlino had recently finalized plans to invest in a "high-end, South Philadelphia-style Italian place."
But the probation violation charge could throw all that into doubt.
It will require him to return to Philadelphia at least temporarily. U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick had not yet scheduled a date for a hearing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

As trial nears Philadelphia mob associate may take stand in own defense
Ron Galati has decided to roll the dice and put his future in the hands of a federal jury that will begin hearing testimony later this month in his murder-for-hire case.

What's more, the South Philadelphia auto body shop owner and wannabe wiseguy is considering taking the stand in his own defense, a move that was hinted at in a motion filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson, the prosecutor in the case.

In the same motion, Richardson alleged that Galati has made frequent payments to two prominent South Philadelphia organized crime figures, mob boss Joseph Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi, but offered no explanation of what the payments were for.

Galati, 64, faces from 15 years to life if convicted. His apparent resolve to go to trial and perhaps tell his story in his own words to the jury undercuts speculation and media reports that he might cooperate with authorities.

"I don't know anything about anybody," he has reportedly told those close to him. 

Prior to the start of a pre-trial hearing this morning, Galati's defense attorney, Anthony J. Voci Jr., said no decision had been made on whether Galati would testify. Voci spent most of the hearing  attempting to block the introduction of evidence detailing Galati's alleged prior criminal activities. Voci said that evidence would be highly prejudicial and would make it impossible for his client to receive a fair trial. The prosecution says the evidence should be permitted, but has agreed not to introduce evidence alleging mob involvement. 

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Rodriguez said he would rule on the criminal history evidence motion shortly. The trial, in federal court in Camden, is set to begin Sept. 15.

Galati, dressed in a green prison jump suit, was brought to court this morning by two federal marshals. He is currently being housed in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. He has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he hired two hitmen to shoot and kill Andrew "Drew" Tuono last year. At the time, Tuono was dating Galati's daughter Tiffany.

The two hitmen and a third alleged  co-conspirator have all admitted their roles in the murder plot and have agreed to testify. Tuono was shot three times outside his Atlantic City home on Nov. 30, 2013. He survived. Tiffany Galati, who was with Tuono at the time of the shooting, may also be a witness for the government.

Galati, a long-time associate of prominent Philadelphia mob figures, is facing two other criminal cases in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia. In one, he is charged with hiring the same hitmen to kill two rival auto body shop owners who he believed were testifying against him in a major insurance fraud investigation.

In the second case, he, his wife, his son and more than a dozen other co-defendants are named in a multi-million dollar insurance fraud scheme. One of his co-defendants is Ligambi's son.

The prosecution in response to a motion filed by Voci earlier, has said it does not intend to introduce any testimony about Galati's alleged mob ties, but reserved the right to address the topic should Galati's defense "open the door" on that issue.

In a pre-trial motion Richardson wrote that, "Although multiple organized crime and `mob' ties exist and are relevant to this case, the Government does not foresee the introduction of this evidence.
However, the Government reserves the right to introduce references to the mob and/or organized crime associations and/or activity if through argument, questioning, and/or testimony of the defendant `opens the door' or mentions these topics."

Richardson also noted that prison records indicate Galati spoke with Ligambi by phone on at least three occasions while Ligambi was being held in the Federal Detention Center and being tried on racketeering charges. Ligambi, 74, beat most of those charges in two trials. The remainder of the case was abandoned by the government early this year.

Richardson also wrote that, "On January 28, 2014, two days after Ligambi’s release from FDC Philadelphia following an acquittal and a deadlocked jury, law enforcement surveillance observed Ligambi at the defendant’s business, American Collision. Further, throughout the investigation of this case, it was learned that the defendant made frequent payments to Ligambi and his associate, George Borgesi, through a third party and sometimes twice a week through hand-to-hand transactions at American Collision."

Borgesi, 51, was acquitted in the same trial as his uncle.

Richardson's motion did not offer any explanation for why Galanti may have been funneling money to Ligambi and Borgesi. The mob's alleged role in an earlier Galati insurance fraud scheme that led to his 1995 conviction for fraud was alluded to in witness testimony during the Ligambi/Borgesi trials. 

During arguments before Rodriguez today, Voci said the defense would not dispute the prosecution's claim that Tuono was shot by Ronald Walker and Alvin Matthews and that Jerome Johnson, a long-time friend of Galati's, provided the gun and helped set up the hit. All three men are now cooperating witnesses.

But Voci said the reason for the shooting was not what the prosecution claims. Galati, should he take the stand, is expected to deny that he had anything to do with the shooting. Voci also argued that the prosecution should be limited in what additional evidence it can present to the jury about Galati's past criminal activities.

Galati's conviction for insurance fraud in a 1995 case, for example, should not be permitted because rules of evidence prohibit the mention of crimes that are more than 10 years old. Galatai was convicted and sentenced to 37 months in prison in that case which in many ways echoes the new insurance fraud case pending in Common Pleas Court.

Voci also argued that allegations that Walker, Matthews and Johnson were paid by Galati to vandalize cars and set fire to a boat and a tow-truck should not be permitted because those events, even if true, had nothing to do with the murder-for-hire conspiracy that is part of the Tuono case. Finally, he argued that any mention of the murder-for-hire case pending in Philadelphia would be highly prejudicial because the allegations are virtually identical to the allegations in the case now pending in federal court.

In both murder-for-hire cases, authorities allege Galati offered to pay Walker and Matthews and used Johnson as the go-between to set up the hits. The shootings in Philadelphia never occurred, authorities said, because the targets, Joseph Rao Sr. and his son Joe Jr., had closed their autobody shop before Walker and Matthews could make a move on them.

The prosecution argues that evidence about Galati's criminal relationships with the Walker, Matthews and Johnson help explain why the three would agree to commit murder for Galati and for that reason should be presented as evidence.

Richardson, in his motion, said evidence of Galati's relationship with the three men could also be used to counter any testimony that Galati might offer. The prosecutor suggested that Galati planned to take the stand and argue that "he had no association, especially criminal, with his co-conspirators and that the shooting of the victim was unrelated to the defendant’s relationship with him. Moreover, the Government anticipates the defendant will testify that the motive behind the Victim being shot was due to the Victim `owing people money,' `constantly getting in to fights' or his drug use/dealing."

Bits and pieces of the prosecution case have already been outlined in pre-trial motions. Among other things, authorities allege that Galati had threatened Tuono at a restaurant in Northfield in June 2013. The restaurant, identified today by Richardson as Salvo Kitchen, was owned by associates of Bogesi's, according to law enforcement sources. Those same sources said Galati "liked to hold court" while dining at the restaurant and frequently alluded to his mob connections.

While authorities have never clearly indicated why Galati wanted to harm Tuono, Richardson's motion contends that at one point Galati said he would kill Tuono himself.

"Galati told Michael Otterson [a potential witness in the case] in sum and substance that Galati would `kill him myself, I will strangle him, I will poke his eyes out' and `I am going to stab him right in the forehead with this thing,' referring to an ice pick type device," Richardson wrote. "In June 2013, Galati, members of Galati’s family and associates, including his cousin Anthony Valenti, had dinner with Tuono and Tiffany Galati at a restaurant in Northfield, New Jersey. During dinner, Galati took Tuono into the kitchen and threatened to kill him. Thereafter, Johnson and Mathews advised Tuono that if Galati was to instruct them to kill Tuono, they would follow through with the request."

Another document indicates that on the night of the shooting, Matthews and Walker were told that if there was a girl with Tuono, she should not be harmed. Tiffany Galati, who is expected to be called as a witness, was standing next to Tuono as three bullets were pumped into his body.

She was not hit.

Now estranged from her father, she has given a statement to authorities and both she and Tuono have been interviewed in detail. They are no longer a couple, according to sources, but both may be used by the prosecution to build its case against Galati.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Man sentenced for robbing Gambino associate's home

A Connecticut man who prosecutors say claimed he had ties to the Patriarca crime family, was sentenced Wednesday for his role in a brazen home invasion on the home of a known mob associate.
Gennaro Miele, 62, of Niantic, Conn., was sentenced in Providence federal court to 41 months for the March 2010 robbery.
Court documents show the victim was 78-year-old Nicola Melia of Stamford, Conn., who prosecutors identified as “associate of the Gambino crime family.”
Miele pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy. U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., also ordered him to serve one year supervised release.
According to court documents Miele and two other men – Napoleon Andrade of Central Falls and Stephen Conti of Swansea, Mass. – drove to Melia’s home and posed as deliverymen. Andrade “football tackled” Melia who was then bound and blindfolded, according to court documents. The trio made off with roughly $216,000 in jewerly and cash.
Investigators said the men targeted Melia because of an ongoing dispute over a loan-sharking debt.
Prosecutors said as the home invasion was coming to an end “oddly, Melia related that he asked the robbers to leave him a few dollars so he could get a Starbucks coffee and they did so.”
It took three years and an unrelated drug case by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to snare the men for the home invasion.
Andrade was picked up in a wiretapped conversation telling an informant: “Oh look, look, so I went with the Italians the other day, I did two home invasions, for 400 grand, right?”
“Yo the last dude I tied up a 77 year old man,” Andrade said on the wiretap. “I felt like [expletive] after.”
After their arrests, prosecutor said Miele attempted to intimidate one of his cohorts, accusing Conti of cooperating with investigators.
Conti was, and had a hidden recording device on him at the time.
“You’re not even supposed to talk to God, nobody … that’s the way you’re supposed to do it.” Miele said in the recording according to court documents. “That’s it … You understand? So we stay on the same page, that’s, that’s why, talk about rats.”
Investigators said Miele boasted he was an associate of the Patriarca crime family but that the claim appeared to be “overstated.”
One of his co-defendants said Miele was chosen for the job because of the ties he claimed to organized crime.
Federal prosecutor Gerard Sullivan from the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s office handled the case against Miele.
In 2011 Andrade was sentenced to 10 years for an unrelated drug trafficking case, which was enhanced by 63 months for the home invasion.
Conti has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for the home invasion and will be sentenced on September 26.
Melia – the victim of the home invasion – is currently serving five years in prison for extortion and possession of a firearm.

Judge sentences son of Vinny Gorgeous to over three years in federal prison

Stephen Basciano was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for his role in a marijuana ring.
He said he didn’t want to “walk down the same path” as his father, but the son of mob boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano is now following him to federal prison.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge Richard Sullivan sentenced Stephen Basciano, 30, to three and a half years in a federal lockup on Friday for his role in operating a large-scale marijuana ring.
“This went on for years,” Sullivan said of the criminal enterprise. “This wasn’t just one shot.”
Basciano had pleaded for mercy from the judge in a handwritten letter earlier this week, assuring him that he’d learned from his mistakes, and saying he wanted to marry his girlfriend and move on with his life.
Basciano’s father once ran the Bonanno family, and is now serving two life sentences at the Supermax prison in Colorado. His son insisted he wasn’t a chip off the old block.
“Your Honor, I’m a good kid with a big heart that made a horrible decision, and this is not what I want for my life,” he wrote.
Vincent Basciano, a former Bonanno family boss, is serving two life-sentences in a federal prison.  
Vincent Basciano, a former Bonanno family boss, is serving two life-sentences in a federal prison.
In a courtroom packed with friends and family on Friday, he told the judge, “I just want to let you know this will never happen again. I’ll never risk my freedom again,” he said. “I’ve learned my lesson.”
Basciano’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, had urged Sullivan to give his client less than the 37-to-46-month sentence called for by federal sentencing guidelines, but the judge said he would not, given the seriousness of the crime.
He instead sentenced him to 42 months, and urged Basciano to make good on his words about walking the straight and narrow. “This is no way to live,” Sullivan said.
Two of Basciano’s brothers were also arrested in the drug scheme. One, Joseph, who was less involved, was sentenced to six months in jail last month. The other, Vincent Jr., is expected to be sentenced later this year.

Government hopes Philadelphia mob associate starts cooperating

Andrew Tuono's new girlfriend came with a warning.

Dating Tiffany Galati, daughter of an auto mechanic with long-held ties to the Philadelphia mob, would one day get him killed, friends advised.

That prediction nearly proved prescient last year, with an attack that left Tuono alive, but with three bullets in his gut - and his girlfriend's father accused of ordering the hit.

Now, the details of that attempt on Tuono's life, sketched in government court filings this month, offer the latest account of one facet of Ronald Galati's deepening legal morass. As additional allegations ranging from witness intimidation to insurance fraud have piled up against him, a portrait of the 63-year-old auto-shop owner has emerged.

Friends and law enforcement sources describe Galati as a mob hanger-on, eager to cozy up to Mafia dons and trade quips from Goodfellas, his favorite film.

Court documents suggest that visitors to his South Philadelphia garage were as likely to find him welcoming mobsters back from prison with jobs as they were to discover him staging bogus car-wreck scenes to defraud insurance companies - complete with deer, duck, and dog carcasses he kept stored in a back room.

And though no "made man" himself, Galati's recent legal problems have authorities salivating. Longtime friendships with current and former Philadelphia mob bosses like Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and Joseph Ligambi make Galati a valuable target to turn.

Now that he faces three separate cases - the Tuono charges in Camden and counts related to insurance fraud and witness intimidation in Philadelphia - officials wonder whether Galati finally has incentive to cooperate.

Federal prosecutors in Camden have not specified what drove Galati's desire to see Tuono dead. But, they say, he made little effort to hide his animosity.

"I will kill him myself. I will strangle him. I will poke his eyes out," Galati is quoted in recent court filings as once telling an employee. "I am going to stab him right in the forehead with this thing." He was wielding an ice pick at the time.

Galati has denied any involvement in the Nov. 30 hit. His daughter, 33, and Tuono, 35, did not return calls for comment.

Court filings suggest Galati's attorney, Anthony Voci, will argue at trial that Tuono was in over his head with gambling debts and drugs - vices that brought the attackers to his doorstep.

Voci did not return multiple e-mails or calls for comment. But he has previously said his client had no interest in snitching.

"My client is not cooperating with city, state, or federal law enforcement agencies," Voci said in May. "He has not considered it."

Galati's garage - American Collision & Auto Center, near 20th and McKean Streets - first attracted law enforcement attention in the '90s as a way station for wiseguys looking for jobs on their way out of lockup.

Merlino briefly worked there after his release from prison in 1992. And at various points, investigators say, Ligambi's wife, son, and nephews have all held jobs there.

When Ligambi himself was locked up in 2011 facing federal racketeering conspiracy charges, Galati sent money to his prison-commissary account through handoffs to mob associates outside the garage. And when the mob boss was finally released after a mistrial in January, American Collision was one of his first stops, according to court filings.

Friends describe Galati as infatuated with the gangster lifestyle.

"He saw Goodfellas too many times," said one. "Him and some of the guys used to sit around the shop quoting lines to each other."

As his pals pursued loan-sharking and gambling rackets, Galati developed a lucrative scam of his own.

In 1995, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison on federal racketeering and fraud charges. Prosecutors alleged at the time that he ran his auto-body shop as a criminal enterprise, ordering workers to steal and vandalize cars - sometimes of his own customers - to generate more business and increase insurance claims.

Testifying at Ligambi's trial last year, mob turncoat Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello described work he and Ligambi's nephew, George Borgesi, did for Galati as kids.

Galati would copy his customers' car keys and hand them off to Borgesi, so that he could later steal the cars off city streets and wreck them, Monacello said.

"People would take their cars back to Ron," he testified. "Ron Galati would give [Borgesi] a cut in cash."

Even back then, Galati withstood attempts by federal investigators to entice him to rat on his friends.

Investigators have long believed that a van used in a 1993 rush-hour ambush of mob boss John Stanfa on the Schuylkill Expressway had been altered at Galati's shop prior to the attack.

Police later found the vehicle abandoned with two makeshift portholes cut in its side, used by gunmen to strafe Stanfa's car. The attack came at the height of Stanfa's war with Merlino for control of the Philadelphia mob.

Some saw Galati's '90s insurance-fraud prosecution as an attempt to persuade him to give up those behind the Schuylkill Expressway attack. But if he knew anything, the mechanic kept his mouth shut. No one was ever charged with the ambush.

After his release from prison, Galati appeared to go legitimate and transferred the garage into his son's name. The shop even landed a city contract worth $1.2 million over three years to repair police vehicles.

But Philadelphia prosecutors now say Galati quickly returned to old habits.

In May, District Attorney Seth Williams unveiled a 69-count indictment accusing him and 40 others, including Ligambi's son, in a "staggering amount of insurance fraud" that cost the insurance companies about $2.3 million over the last four years.

Prosecutors say Galati staged dozens of bogus car wrecks using all manner of props, including frozen deer, geese, and dog carcasses stored in American Collision's back offices, weeds pulled from the river banks at Penrose Avenue, and chunks of metal and concrete. Photos of the bloody tableaux he allegedly created were sent to at least three insurance firms to beef up his clients' claims.

"I live my life to cheat insurance companies. My high every day is to cheat insurance companies," Galati would often say, according to one of the grand jury witnesses quoted in the presentment against him.

It was through that scheme, federal investigators say, that Galati met Jerome Johnson, Alvin Matthews, and Ronald Walker and managed to turn a potential decade-or-less insurance-fraud sentence into the string of attempted-murder allegations he now faces.

Philadelphia police arrested Galati in December for allegedly hiring the trio to kill rival auto-body shop owner Joseph Rao Sr. and his son, Joseph Jr., who he believed were testifying against him.

The would-be assassins are now cooperating with authorities. They told investigators they went so far as to scope out their targets' garage and obtain a weapon to use in the planned attack, before Galati called it off in favor of a new target - Tuono.

Prosecutors say Galati gave Johnson, Walker, and Matthews several addresses for properties owned by his daughter's boyfriend and sent them to a house near Broad and Snyder Streets in November while they searched for their prey.

Walker and Matthews eventually caught up with Tuono days after Thanksgiving outside a house in Atlantic City.

Three shots rang out. Tuono fell. Tiffany Galati was by his side, but was unhurt.

Prosecutors say her father had given his hitmen one specific instruction before they set out: If there was a woman with Tuono, she was not to be harmed.

But now it appears Tiffany Galati may not share her father's ability to stay quiet. According to recent court filings, she is talking to the FBI.

Once the subject of the warning to Tuono, she now could become a key government witness in the case against her father.

He is set for trial in Camden later this year.