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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Family feud details surface during Philadelphia murder for hire trial

The father sat at the defense table facing a murder-for-hire charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

The daughter sat on the witness stand, offering testimony that could help the government put him there.

Ron Galati, the 64-year-old South Philadelphia auto body shop owner, and his daughter, Tiffany, 31,  squared off in federal court in Camden today in a bloody and twisted version of family feud.

Galati is charged with hiring hitmen to kill Tiffany's boyfriend Andrew Tuono back in November. But her testimony, which included her eyewitness account of the shooting, covered a dysfunctional family dynamic that stretched back several years and that Tiffany Galati said shattered her relationship with her father, her mother Vicky and brother Ron Jr.

The shooting of Tuono, she said, was a violent and extreme extension of her father's overly protective and authoritarian approach to parenting. Her father always came between her and whomever she was dating, she explained. He wanted her to break up with Tuono with whom she had begun living. When she refused to end the relationship, she implied, her father decided to end it for her.

"There were bullets flying," she said of the night when she and Tuono were confronted by two gunmen allegedly sent by her father. "I had never been shot at before."

Dressed in black slacks and a long gray sweater over a black shirt, her dark hair parted in the middle and flowing over both shoulders, Tiffany Galati appeared both angry and determined as she testified for the government.

Her father sat quietly at the defense table, showing little emotion but occasionally whispering in the ear of his defense lawyer. Galati, who has two other cases -- including another murder-for-hire charge -- pending in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, has been held without bail since his arrest late last year. He had pleaded not guilty and his lawyer has implied that Tuono was shot for reasons that had nothing to do with Galati.

That Tiffany Galati believed her father had orchestrated the attempt -- Tuono survived -- was clear from her direct testimony and from several asides she voluntarily offered in response to questions from both Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson, the prosecutor in the case, and from defense attorney Anthony Voci Jr.

When Voci questioned her about a custody dispute she had with another boyfriend who is the father of her six-year-old son Jeffrey, Tiffany Galati conceded that her son lived with his father. But that, she said, was only because her father refused her request for money to hire a lawyer to fight the issue.

"I asked him for money to help me get custody because I was living in New Jersey," she said. "He said he couldn't help me...but he had twenty thousand for the shooter."

Ronald Walker, who testified that he was one of the men Galati hired to kill Tuono, said Galati promised to pay him $20,000 for the hit.

Testimony in the trial, which began last week, is expected to conclude tomorrow. Closing arguments could come Thursday or Monday (there is no trial session on Friday). It appears that Galati will not take the stand in his own defense. Voci told Judge Joseph Rodriguez his case would take less than a day. Galati's testimony and cross-examination, were he to take the stand, would extend the defense case beyond one day.  

The Galati family riff, detailed in Tiffany's testimony, included confrontations and angry text and email exchanges surrounding occasional attempts to mend fences. Tuono, who took the stand this afternoon, acknowledged that he frequently clashed with Ron Galati and sometimes with Galati's wife and with Ron Jr.

They had all been friends at one time, he said, but once he started dating Tiffany, the relationship deteriorated. He admitted that he left phone messages in which he called Vicky Galati "a piece of shit."

"Those types of arguments happened frequently before I got shot," he said. But he denied making an angry phone call to Vicky Galati in May of this year, even after Voci confronted him with a taped recording of the expletive-laden message from May 4.

Tuono had told the jury he made the call in an attempt to "make peace" between Tiffany and her mother. The taped phone message, however, did not sound like a peace offering.

"Tiffany was constantly crying," he said of his then girlfriend's relationship with her family.

"They were fighting so bad it was unbearable," he said at another point.

Tiffany Galati admitted under cross by Voci that in August 2013 she sent a graphic text photo first to her brother and later to her parents. The photo, not shown to the jury but described by Voci, was a picture of the residue of a miscarriage Tiffany Galati said she suffered.

The photo was of a partially developed fetus in a toilet.

Tiffany Galati said she blamed her father for her miscarriage because of the stress he had put her under.

The jury also was read the email message Ron Galati Jr. sent his sister in reply.

In part, it read, "Do me a favor Tiff, don't text me shit that has to do with you and Drew...You want to know how I feel about it? I think it's the best thing that could happen to you."

Tiffany Galati responded via text, telling her brother, "Consider me dead. Lose my number."

In reply, Ron Galati Jr. wrote, "Tell me this. What was your intention?...Do you want sympathy. You don't talk to anyone...A picture of a dead fetus. It's sick."

Tiffany Galati said the photo, texts and messages were indicative of how badly her relationship with her brother had become. She said they were once very close, "best friends," but that her father had turned her brother against her and Tuono.

Tiffany Galati and Tuono are no longer a couple, but they were a tandem today. Tuono, 35, took the stand immediately after Tiffany Galati stepped down and provided another account of the night of the shooting. The jury has heard from the two hitmen, Tiffany Galati and Tuono. All have told basically the same story.

Tuono said he and Tiffany were on their way to dinner that Saturday night. They walked out of his townhouse on Carson Avenue in Atlantic City and were confronted by two men. Tuono said he told Tiffany to keep walking and to get to their car. He said he turned and was shot in the hand. He then began to run away from Tiffany to draw the gunman's fire. He said he heard a shot, then felt a burning sensation in his hip and then another in his back.

Tiffany got in their BMW and drove away. The gunman and his accomplice fled on foot and were arrested almost immediately. They quickly agreed to cooperate and told authorities Galati had hired them to kill Tuono.

Tuono testified that as he lay bleeding in front of his home, he told the first police office on the scene that Galati was responsible. But in a bizarre twist, Tuono said immediately after he was shot and as he lay bleeding, he called two close friends on his cell phone and left each the same message: "I just got shot. If I don't make it, I'll be looking over you."

Tuono was rushed to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery that night.

Tiffany Galati said she also called friends from her cell phone as she drove away from the shooting scene. She admitted that when she was later questioned by police, she gave somewhat conflicting information, at one point saying she believed "cops had shot Drew (Tuono)."

"I was very confused," she said when Voci raised those points during cross-examination. "I was scared and nervous. I'd never been shot at before...I don't know what I said. I was shaken up."

When Voci suggested that no one was actually shooting at her -- Walker had testified earleir that he was told "not to hurt the girl" -- Tiffany Galanti just shook her head, and from the witness stand, looked at her father.

"There were bullets flying," she said. "Who's to say one wouldn't ricochet and hit me?"



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