PHILADELPHIA A Philadelphia judge denied bail Tuesday for a reputed mob associate charged with attempting to have three people killed, including a grand jury witness.
The alleged crimes of Ronald Galati strike at the "heart of the justice system" and leave witnesses fearing for their lives, said Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Ehrlich. He sent Galati back to prison to await trial on charges of attempted murder, solicitation of murder, witness intimidation, and retaliation.
"This case will be decided in the courtroom and not on the streets," the judge said.
Galati, 63, a South Philadelphia auto-body man, was arrested last month after allegedly hiring two gunmen to kill a rival shop owner who had testified against him in an ongoing insurance fraud investigation. He also stands accused of hiring hit men to kill the man's son. And he is charged with ordering a hit on his daughter's boyfriend.
While the hits on the witness and his son were never attempted, Galati's daughter's boyfriend, Andrew Tuono, was shot and wounded outside his Atlantic City home in November. Galati's daughter was with Tuono at the time, but was not injured.
A onetime associate of former mob boss Joey Merlino, Galati agreed to pay two hit men $20,000 each for killing the father and son, according to court documents.
Galati has pleaded not guilty. Through his lawyer, Anthony Voci, he has said he committed no crimes.
In statements to police, the Atlantic City gunmen said Galati hired them to carry out the hits on the three men - and was planning hits on four more people whose identities they did not know.
"These could be other witnesses or law enforcement," said prosecutor Dawn Holtz at Tuesday's hearing.
At the hearing, Holtz said Galati has "close personal relationships" with reputed mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and his alleged consigliere, George Borgesi - both codefendants in an ongoing federal racketeering retrial.
Prison logs show that Galati has visited Ligambi and Borgesi in jail and put money in their prison bank accounts, Holtz said. Galati also hired Ligambi's wife to work at an auto-body repair shop owned by his son, she said.
Though bail is almost always granted in cases that do not involve murder, the prosecutor said Galati's case was different because it left witnesses fearing for their safety.
"The fear is real," Holtz said, noting that Galati had "put everything in place" for the hit on the witness and his son. And if the men who shot Tuono had used a higher caliber weapon as Galati had suggested, she said, Tuono would be dead.
"He is cold-blooded," she said. "He has the money, the intent, and he has recently made statements that he knows he is going to prison for a long time. . . . This is a desperate man."
About a dozen of Galati's friends and family attended the hearing. They were outnumbered by investigators who crowded the courtroom.
Voci, Galati's lawyer, said Galati worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, at the auto-body shop.
"The picture they are painting of him doesn't make sense," he said.
He argued that it would be easier for police to monitor Galati at his South Philadelphia home than in jail, given the prevalence of prison cellphones.
Holtz scoffed at that idea, arguing that visitors could come and go if Galati were permitted to return home - and he would have access to bank accounts and cash.
"From his home, he can be a puppeteer," she said. "The Wizard of Oz behind a curtain, and we wouldn't be able to control it."
Investigators have said the case against Galati is not directly tied to the retrial of Ligambi and Borgesi. But his name has surfaced repeatedly during the ongoing trial.
Star government witness Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello has said that he and Borgesi used to vandalize cars in a racket devised by Galati.
He said the mechanic would copy the keys of his garage's customers and give them to Borgesi. For a cut of the proceeds, Borgesi and Monacello would later find the vehicles on the street, vandalize them, and wait for the customers to bring them back to Galati's garage for more repair work.
"People would give their cars back to Ron," Monacello said. "Ron Galati would give [Borgesi] a cut in cash."