THE PHILADELPHIA Mafia has a reputation for a lot of things. Gambling, loan-sharking, extortion, the occasional mob hit.

Impeccable timing is not one of them.

A year after a highly publicized murder in South Philadelphia disrupted the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his top lieutenants, another reputed mob associate has been charged with soliciting murder - in the middle of the retrial for Ligambi and his nephew George Borgesi.

Ronald Galati, an auto-body-shop operator with ties to Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and the Borgesi family, was quietly arrested on Friday. He was charged with attempted murder, solicitation of murder, and retaliation and intimidation of a witness or victim, according to court documents.

Details of Galati's arrest were scarce yesterday. Sources said the case involves a grand jury, which prohibits authorities from releasing much information. Public records say that Galati is being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

"We were involved in his arrest. Beyond that, we have no comment," said Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams. Jamerson would not confirm whether a grand jury has been convened.

Galati, 63, a popular figure in South Philly who once employed Merlino and his associates at a shop near 12th and Washington streets, was sentenced in 1995 to three years in prison on racketeering charges. Galati also had been accused of threatening to kill a postal inspector involved in an insurance-fraud probe, but his friends say he wouldn't hurt a fly.

Former mob boss John Stanfa allegedly plotted to kill Galati during the 1993 Stanfa-Merlino mob war. At the time, Stanfa believed that Galati was involved with cutting gun ports into a van that was used for a rush-hour shooting on the Schuylkill Expressway that wounded Stanfa's son. Galati has always denied involvement in the attempted Stanfa hit.

No one answered the door last night at Galati's home on Garnet Street near Porter. A phone number in his name was full of voice mails and was not accepting new ones.

Galati's arrest comes almost exactly a year after reputed mob soldier Anthony Nicodemo allegedly gunned down Gino DiPietro in broad daylight outside DiPietro's home on Iseminger Street.

DiPietro, 50, a reformed drug dealer who had proposed to his girlfriend the day before he was killed, had served as a confidential informant in a case against a mob associate, sources told the Daily News. Nicodemo, 42, is awaiting trial on first-degree-murder and related charges.

The DiPietro slaying threw a wrench into the first Ligambi trial, undermining defense attorneys' arguments that the Philadelphia mob - what's left of it - is not violent. U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno had to call each juror into his chambers to ask if he or she could render an impartial verdict in light of the news. One juror was dismissed.

That trial ended in a mixed verdict for Ligambi, Borgesi and five associates. The retrial of Ligambi and Borgesi began last month.

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