Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Wannabe wiseguy Ron Galati was convicted of murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges today in a case that offered a look into a bizarre and twisted South Philadelphia family dynamic.
A federal jury deliberated for about five hours over two days before returning guilty verdicts on all four charges Galati faced. No date has been set for sentencing, but the 64-year-old auto body shop owner is looking at 20 years or more at the top end of federal sentencing guidelines.
With a prior conviction for insurance fraud and with two other cases pending in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, Galati could very well spend the rest of his life in prison.
"We're not surprised, but we're disappointed," said Anthony Voci Jr., Galati's defense attorney. Voci said Galati took the verdict well. But members of his family were "devastated," according to Galati's twin sister Renee.
"I can't believe it," she said through tears. "This is something my brother is not capable of."
The jury of 10 women and two men, after hearing five days of testimony, thought otherwise. The verdict was an endorsement of the prosecution case presented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Richardson and a clear rejection of an alternative motive offered by Voci during an impassioned defense and closing argument.
Galati was convicted of hiring hitmen to kill the boyfriend of his estranged daughter Tiffany.
The boyfriend, Andrew Tuono, 35, was shot as he and Tiffany left their Atlantic City townhouse on Nov. 30 of last year. Tuono survived the assault. He was one of several witnesses called by the prosecution.
While Galati liked to play the role of The Godfather and frequently quoted lines from famous gangster movies, the plot he was convicted of setting in motion was strictly a grade-B operation.
Ronald Walker, the admitted shooter, was arrested within minutes of the assault. Alvin Matthews, his accomplice, was picked up a few minutes later. Both quickly told authorities Galati had hired them to kill Tuono. Walker said he was promised $20,000.
A third conspirator, Galati's long-time friend Jerome Johnson, began cooperating in July after he was indicted along with Galati on the murder-for-hire, conspiracy and weapons offenses.
Johnson, Walker and Matthews all testified for the prosecution.
Galati wanted Tuono dead, they said. The motive? Tiffany Galati had moved in with Tuono, a one-time friend of Galati's.
Galati was described by Richardson as an overly possessive father who sometimes called his grown daughter a dozen times a day. He was said to detest Tuono who he believed had taken his daughter away from the family.
Both Tiffany Galati and Tuono testified for the government, laying bare details of the estrangement and the internal bickering and backbiting that sounded like a bitter and bloody version of Family Feud.
Voci portrayed Tiffany as a spoiled and spiteful South Philadelphia princess who chose her drug-dealing boyfriend over her family. But Voci also argued that Tiffanylater conspired to have Tuono killed. The story offered another level of drama to the soap opera-like case, but apparently carried little weight with the jury.
The defense attorney told the jury there was no physical evidence tying his client to the crime and that the prosecution's case was built around the "say so" of convicted criminals (Johnson, Matthews and Walker) who lied on the stand.
"We had an uphill battle," Voci said after the verdicts were announced. "Any time you have a conspiracy case and three of the alleged conspirators are testifying against you, you have problems."
Voci said he and Galati were heartened when the jury sent a note to Judge Joseph Rodriguez late this morning, after about three total hours of deliberation, announcing that it was deadlocked. Rodriguez urged the panel to continue, and shortly after 1 p.m. another note was sent out announcing the panel had a verdict.
The supposition, Voci said, was that one or two members of the jury had at first held out, but were later convinced to vote for convictions.
Voci declined to discuss the cases pending against Galati in Philadelphia. Galati is charged in a second murder-for-hire case involving the same three hitmen. And he is also facing insurance fraud charges along with his wife, son and 30 other co-defendants.
There are those who believe Galati will throw in the towel on those cases and try to work out plea deals so that he can served concurrent sentences and do his time in a federal prison. They also speculate that part of a plea would involve leniency for his wife and son.
Rumors that Galati might try to cut a deal and cooperate appear to be based on idle speculation.
While Galati has been an associate of several major mob figures, including crime bosses Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and Joe Ligambi, sources say he doesn't know enough to implicate them in any serious criminal activity.
One of Ligambi's sons has been charged in the insurance fraud case and authorities have said that Galati routinely made payments to Ligambi and his nephew, mobster George Borgesi. But there has been no evidence to back up those allegations and sources familiar with the situation say federal authorities were unlikely to bring another case against Merlino, Ligambi or Borgesi unless the case involved murder charges.
There are three unsolved gangland murders, the slayings of Raymond "Long John" Martorano, John "Johnny Gongs" Casasanto and Ronnie Turchi, that federal authorities would like to lay on the doorsteps of Ligambi and Merlino, but to date, there has not been enough evidence to make a case in any of those hits.
The attempt on Tuono was not mob-related, but a personal matter, according to the testimony and evidence. In fact, the prosecution was barred from making any reference to organized crime and Galati's suspected mob ties.
As it turned out, those connections weren't necessary to win a conviction.
Members of Galati family say they are at a loss to understand the jury's decision.
"There were so many discrepancies," said Galati's twin sister Renee in a telephone interview this afternoon. "We thought there was reasonable doubt."
"I'm in a fog," she added. "This is my twin. I feel like I lost a limb."
She said the entire family was devastated by the jury verdict, noting that Galati and his wife Vicky marked their 40th wedding anniversary today.
"Vicky's lost a husband and she's lost a daughter," Renee said. "I know in my heart my brother didn't do this. It's just so twisted."
Tiffany Galati, she said, drifted away from the family when she began dating Tuono who Galati and his family believed was a drug dealer. Tuono was "40 miles of bad road," she said. "But Tiffany didn't see it. She alienated everybody in the family."
And ultimately, based on the jury verdict announced today, she helped the prosecution send her father to prison for what could amount to the rest of his life.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.