Thursday, December 11, 2014
Ron Galati's broke.
The South Philadelphia auto body shop owner accused to orchestrating a $5 million insurance scam told a judge this morning that he does not have the money to pay for a lawyer in either of the two pending criminal trials he is facing in Common Pleas Court.
"Exactly right," Galati said when Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked if he could not afford to hire an attorney for either the insurance fraud conspiracy case or a murder-for-hire case in which he is a defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Dawn Holtz said her office believes Galati has the financial ability to retain private counsel.
"He may not be able to afford the best attorney in the land," Holtz said during a brief hearing before Minehart. But she said her office believes Galati has assets and that "the City of Philadelphia and the taxpayers of Philadelphia should not be paying" his legal bills.
Minehart set a Jan. 8 hearing date on the financial question. Holtz said her office would offer evidence showing that Galati can afford an attorney.
That hearing will come one day after Galati is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Camden for his conviction earlier this year in a separate murder-for-hire case. He is facing from 30 years to life. Galati's lawyer in that case, Anthony Voci, has withdrawn as counsel in the pending cases, citing Galati's inability to pay.
Galati, 63, has been held without bail since his arrest over a year ago. Currently an inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, he appeared in court today dressed in a green-and-white checked shirt and baggy slacks.
"It looks like something they got off the bottom of the clothes pile," Galati's son, Ron Jr., said as his father was led into the courtroom by an armed court marshal.
The younger Galati, who owns the body shop that authorities say was the nerve center for the insurance fraud scheme, said his father does not have any money and that the District Attorney's Office was continuing to target him by raising the financial issue.
"What do they want him to do, represent himself?" Galati Jr. asked before today's hearing began. "That would be a show."
Later, he said, "There's no money. There's no cash hidden under the floor boards. He's entitled to a lawyer. That's all he's asking for."
"We need to delve into his income and assets," Holtz said in brief comments to Minehart before the judge set the hearing date.
Galati told the judge he has a monthly Social Security stipend of $1,100 and that he also collects about $1,000-a-month rent on a vacant lot that he owns in South Philadelphia. Authorities have alleged that Galati cashed checks for more than $1 million while orchestrating the insurance scam.
The case involves nearly three dozen defendants, including Galati's wife and his son, Ron Jr.
"There is no money," Galati Jr. said again as he left the 11th floor courtroom. "Family members and friends lent us money for the last trial."
That trial ended with a federal jury finding Galati Sr. guilty of hiring two hit men to murder the then boyfriend of his estranged daughter Tiffany. The boyfriend, Andrew Tuono, survived the shooting which occurred outside his Atlantic City home last December.
Tuono, Tiffany Galati, the two hit men and a third conspirator testified for the prosecution in that case.
The hit men and their co-conspirator, all of whom have cut cooperating deals with the government and have pled guilty, are also witnesses in the murder-for-hire case now pending in Common Pleas Court.
In that case, Galati is charged with offering the shooters $20,000 to gun down two rival auto body shop operators -- a father and son -- whom he believed were cooperating with authorities in the insurance fraud investigation.
The potential targets closed their business before the hits could be carried out, according to authorities. Both were, in fact, cooperating against Galati in the insurance fraud case.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@bigtrial.net.