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Feds hope wiseguy-wannabe Ronald Galati is ready to turn

Andrew Tuono's new girlfriend came with a warning. Dating Tiffany Galati, daughter of an auto mechanic with long-held ties to the Philadelphia mob, would one day get him killed, friends advised.

Friends describe Ronald Galati as infatuated with the gangster lifestyle. His garage in So. Phila. first attracted officials' attention as a place where wiseguys could get jobs after prison.
Friends describe Ronald Galati as infatuated with the gangster lifestyle. His garage in So. Phila. first attracted officials' attention as a place where wiseguys could get jobs after prison.Read moreDavid Swanson/Staff/American Collision photo

Andrew Tuono's new girlfriend came with a warning.

Dating Tiffany Galati, daughter of an auto mechanic with long-held ties to the Philadelphia mob, would one day get him killed, friends advised.

That prediction nearly proved prescient last year, with an attack that left Tuono alive, but with three bullets in his gut - and his girlfriend's father accused of ordering the hit.

Now, the details of that attempt on Tuono's life, sketched in government court filings this month, offer the latest account of one facet of Ronald Galati's deepening legal morass. As additional allegations ranging from witness intimidation to insurance fraud have piled up against him, a portrait of the 63-year-old auto-shop owner has emerged.

Friends and law enforcement sources describe Galati as a mob hanger-on, eager to cozy up to Mafia dons and trade quips from Goodfellas, his favorite film.

Court documents suggest that visitors to his South Philadelphia garage were as likely to find him welcoming mobsters back from prison with jobs as they were to discover him staging bogus car-wreck scenes to defraud insurance companies - complete with deer, duck, and dog carcasses he kept stored in a back room.

And though no "made man" himself, Galati's recent legal problems have authorities salivating. Longtime friendships with current and former Philadelphia mob bosses like Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino and Joseph Ligambi make Galati a valuable target to turn.

Now that he faces three separate cases - the Tuono charges in Camden and counts related to insurance fraud and witness intimidation in Philadelphia - officials wonder whether Galati finally has incentive to cooperate.

Federal prosecutors in Camden have not specified what drove Galati's desire to see Tuono dead. But, they say, he made little effort to hide his animosity.

"I will kill him myself. I will strangle him. I will poke his eyes out," Galati is quoted in recent court filings as once telling an employee. "I am going to stab him right in the forehead with this thing." He was wielding an ice pick at the time.

Galati has denied any involvement in the Nov. 30 hit. His daughter, 33, and Tuono, 35, did not return calls for comment.

Court filings suggest Galati's attorney, Anthony Voci, will argue at trial that Tuono was in over his head with gambling debts and drugs - vices that brought the attackers to his doorstep.

Voci did not return multiple e-mails or calls for comment. But he has previously said his client had no interest in snitching.

"My client is not cooperating with city, state, or federal law enforcement agencies," Voci said in May. "He has not considered it."

Galati's garage - American Collision & Auto Center, near 20th and McKean Streets - first attracted law enforcement attention in the '90s as a way station for wiseguys looking for jobs on their way out of lockup.

Merlino briefly worked there after his release from prison in 1992. And at various points, investigators say, Ligambi's wife, son, and nephews have all held jobs there.

When Ligambi himself was locked up in 2011 facing federal racketeering conspiracy charges, Galati sent money to his prison-commissary account through handoffs to mob associates outside the garage. And when the mob boss was finally released after a mistrial in January, American Collision was one of his first stops, according to court filings.

Friends describe Galati as infatuated with the gangster lifestyle.

"He saw Goodfellas too many times," said one. "Him and some of the guys used to sit around the shop quoting lines to each other."

As his pals pursued loan-sharking and gambling rackets, Galati developed a lucrative scam of his own.

In 1995, he was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison on federal racketeering and fraud charges. Prosecutors alleged at the time that he ran his auto-body shop as a criminal enterprise, ordering workers to steal and vandalize cars - sometimes of his own customers - to generate more business and increase insurance claims.

Testifying at Ligambi's trial last year, mob turncoat Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello described work he and Ligambi's nephew, George Borgesi, did for Galati as kids.

Galati would copy his customers' car keys and hand them off to Borgesi, so that he could later steal the cars off city streets and wreck them, Monacello said.

"People would take their cars back to Ron," he testified. "Ron Galati would give [Borgesi] a cut in cash."

Even back then, Galati withstood attempts by federal investigators to entice him to rat on his friends.

Investigators have long believed that a van used in a 1993 rush-hour ambush of mob boss John Stanfa on the Schuylkill Expressway had been altered at Galati's shop prior to the attack.

Police later found the vehicle abandoned with two makeshift portholes cut in its side, used by gunmen to strafe Stanfa's car. The attack came at the height of Stanfa's war with Merlino for control of the Philadelphia mob.

Some saw Galati's '90s insurance-fraud prosecution as an attempt to persuade him to give up those behind the Schuylkill Expressway attack. But if he knew anything, the mechanic kept his mouth shut. No one was ever charged with the ambush.

After his release from prison, Galati appeared to go legitimate and transferred the garage into his son's name. The shop even landed a city contract worth $1.2 million over three years to repair police vehicles.

But Philadelphia prosecutors now say Galati quickly returned to old habits.

In May, District Attorney Seth Williams unveiled a 69-count indictment accusing him and 40 others, including Ligambi's son, in a "staggering amount of insurance fraud" that cost the insurance companies about $2.3 million over the last four years.

Prosecutors say Galati staged dozens of bogus car wrecks using all manner of props, including frozen deer, geese, and dog carcasses stored in American Collision's back offices, weeds pulled from the river banks at Penrose Avenue, and chunks of metal and concrete. Photos of the bloody tableaux he allegedly created were sent to at least three insurance firms to beef up his clients' claims.

"I live my life to cheat insurance companies. My high every day is to cheat insurance companies," Galati would often say, according to one of the grand jury witnesses quoted in the presentment against him.

It was through that scheme, federal investigators say, that Galati met Jerome Johnson, Alvin Matthews, and Ronald Walker and managed to turn a potential decade-or-less insurance-fraud sentence into the string of attempted-murder allegations he now faces.

Philadelphia police arrested Galati in December for allegedly hiring the trio to kill rival auto-body shop owner Joseph Rao Sr. and his son, Joseph Jr., who he believed were testifying against him.

The would-be assassins are now cooperating with authorities. They told investigators they went so far as to scope out their targets' garage and obtain a weapon to use in the planned attack, before Galati called it off in favor of a new target - Tuono.

Prosecutors say Galati gave Johnson, Walker, and Matthews several addresses for properties owned by his daughter's boyfriend and sent them to a house near Broad and Snyder Streets in November while they searched for their prey.

Walker and Matthews eventually caught up with Tuono days after Thanksgiving outside a house in Atlantic City.

Three shots rang out. Tuono fell. Tiffany Galati was by his side, but was unhurt.

Prosecutors say her father had given his hitmen one specific instruction before they set out: If there was a woman with Tuono, she was not to be harmed.

But now it appears Tiffany Galati may not share her father's ability to stay quiet. According to recent court filings, she is talking to the FBI.

Once the subject of the warning to Tuono, she now could become a key government witness in the case against her father.

He is set for trial in Camden later this year.