Ron Galati decided this afternoon to fold his cards rather than fight murder-for-hire and insurance fraud charges in Commons Pleas Court
Already serving a 22-year federal sentence for a conviction in a different murder conspiracy case, the 65-year-old South Philadelphia auto body shop owner pleaded no contest to a series of charges tied to two separate indictments pending against him.
Galati implied that he was not guilty, but said he opted to take a deal offered by the District Attorney's Office in order to "put this away and move on."
"This is the best decision," he told Judge Daniel Anders during a protracted hearing that began shortly before 10 a.m. and did not conclude until 12:45.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Galati's sentence in the two Common Pleas Court cases will run concurrently with the federal sentence he is currently serving. In addition, the District Attorney's Office agreed to drop insurance fraud charges against Galati's wife, Vicki.
Galati's son, Ron Jr., entered a guilty plea at a separate hearing to bid rigging and fraud charges tied to what authorities said was a multi-million dollar insurance fraud scam run out of Galati's American Collision body shop in South Philadelphia.
Both Galatis are to be sentenced on Dec. 9.
Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz laid out the cases against Galati during today's hearing. The plea deals were announced as jury selection was about to begin in the murder-for-hire case. But it took nearly two hours, including a closed door meeting between Galati and his attorney Trevan Borum, to finalize the agreement.
Galati was accused to hiring two hitmen, Ronald Walker and Alvin Matthews, to murder a rival auto body shop owner and his son. Authorities said Galati believed -- correctly as it turned out -- that Joseph Rao and his son Joseph Jr. were testifying before a grand jury in an insurance fraud probe that had targeted Galati.
Holtz said today that testimony would indicate that Galati agreed to pay Walker and Matthews $20,000 each to carry out the murders and that he wanted the two men "shot in the head."
Galati interrupted the presentation and told Anders he had never offered to pay $20,000 to have the Raos killed, adding that Joseph Rao Sr. "was the best friend you could ever have." Nevertheless, after some questioning by Anders and consultation with his lawyer, Galati agreed to the no contest plea.
He had originally offered to plead guilty, but backed away from that during the hearing.
Walker, Matthews, another Galati associate, Jerome Johnson, and the Raos were all expected to testify for the prosecution had the case gone to trial. The would have offered the story that Holtz described in her presentation, the assistant DA said.
The two hitmen and Johnson had all testified for the government in the federal prosecution of Galati in Camden two years ago. In that case, he was convicted of hiring the same hitmen to kill his then estranged daughter Tiffany's boyfriend, Andrew Tuono.
Tuono survived a shooting outside his Atlantic City home in November 2013.
At that point, authorities said, the hit on the Raos had been put on hold because their auto body shop had been closed.
Tiffany Galati, who testified for the government in the Tuono case, sat with her mother and brother during today's hearing. The young South Philadelphia row house princess has apparently reconciled with her family. She ended her relationship with Tuono shortly after the shooting.
The insurance fraud case involved more than two million dollars in what authorities said were reimbursements paid by insurance companies in a scheme devised by Galati that included fake or staged accidents and false or inflated repair bills.
The case also involved bid rigging and doctoring repair costs for city vehicles.
In all, the District Attorney's Office said, insurance companies "issued $2.3 million in connection with fraudulent claims" and Galati's company also received "over $1.8 million from the city of Philadelphia" for vehicle repair work for which his shop was not qualified.
The insurance fraud scam included staged photos taken by Galati designed to demonstrate that vehicles had been damaged.
"Galati favored deer hits, vandalism and vehicular damage from trajectory objects because each could be categorized as a non-fault accident for which the insured would not be held liable," authorities said in announcement the indictment against Galati and dozens of others in May 2014.
Many of his co-defendants were customers who went along with the scheme. Most have pleaded guilty to related charges. Among other things, authorities said witnesses told them that
Galati "stored deer blood, hair and carcasses in the back of his shop" and would stage fake photos using those items to support insurance claims.
"I live my life to cheat insurance companies," witness said Galati would exclaim, calling that his "mantra."
The fraud and murder-for-hire cases were investigated by Det. Robert DiFrancesco of the DA's Office and Pennsylvania State Trooper Michael Romano of the Organized Crime Division of Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Galati has long been identified as an associate of South Philadelphia mob leaders Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino, George Borgesi and Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi. Authorities believe, but have never been able to prove, that Galati's autobody shop was used in 1993 to outfit a stolen van used in a notorious attempted hit on the Schuykill Expressway. Then mob boss John Stanfa was targeted in that rush hour ambush in which two men fired on Stanfa's car from portholes that had been cut into the side of a van that pulled up alongside Stanfa's vehicle.
Stanfa's son Joseph was wounded in that shooting which escalated a bloody war between factions headed by Stanfa and Merlino.
Galati has a prior insurance fraud conviction for which he served about 38 months. He was convicted of federal murder-for-hire charges in the fall of 2014.