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Second hitman admits guilt in murder-for-hire scheme tied to N.J. political consultant

NJ.com 3/26/2022 Ted Sherman, nj.com
The body of Michael Galdieri (r.) was found in his burning Jersey City apartment in May 2014, where he was stabbed to death in a contract murder that went unsolved for years. © nj.com/TNS The body of Michael Galdieri (r.) was found in his burning Jersey City apartment in May 2014, where he was stabbed to death in a contract murder that went unsolved for years.

George Bratsenis, a 73-year-old former Marine with a penchant for violent crime that included drug dealing, armed robbery, and murder, returned to federal court Thursday to plead guilty to the contract killing of a Hudson County political operative more than seven years ago.

But his admission brought no further clarity to the still mysterious murder-for-hire of Michael Galdieri that was paid for in cash by Democratic consultant Sean Caddle, who has already pleaded guilty.

No new information was revealed during the videoconference pleading before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez in Newark, other than the fact that Bratsenis had actually entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in August. Appearing from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn where he is being held on unrelated charges, Bratsenis had repeatedly been identified by prosecutors in connection with his involvement in the 2014 murder.

It was his second round before Vazquez. Bratsenis had appeared briefly in person before the judge in February in what had been expected to be a formal plea hearing. But before the proceedings began, his attorney, Charles L. Kurmay, met with federal prosecutors behind closed doors. Observers in the courtroom could hear shouting before the defendant finally walked in, shackled, and the matter was adjourned without any explanation.

Bratsenis this time was seated in front of an institutional sink and white cinder block walls, with noises of the prison in the background as he answered questions from the judge. Looking less like a tough guy than a tired old man — with a grey-and-white beard, a fringe of white hair, and clad in a loose white T-shirt — he said he took medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

During the hearing, he mostly looked down, occasionally wringing his hands, or removing his glasses to wipe his eyes. He answered most questions with: “Yes, your Honor.”

Appearing sad through most of the proceedings, he laughed briefly when questioned if he had any alcohol to drink before the hearing. Asked if he had ever been treated for mental illness, he responded, “I saw a couple of shrinks, but I haven’t been treated for no mental illness. Not that I’m aware of.”

And he ended the short hearing by saying: “You all have a nice day. Take it easy.”

No details were offered during the plea hearing beyond what was already known in the case, as Bratsenis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to travel across state lines to commit the murder of Galdieri.

He is due to be sentenced in August, when he faces life in prison.

The scheme came to light earlier this year when Caddle, who worked as a consultant to former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak and was deeply involved in a number of so-called “dark money” Super PAC political action committees in New Jersey, made a surprise court appearance in January and admitted that he hired Bratsenis and a second man to kill Galdieri.

Currently free on bail, Caddle has been working with the FBI in an ongoing investigation that has yet to be made public, raising questions about just what he might be able to tell authorities that would warrant keeping him out of custody.

The body of Galdieri, 52, was found in his burning Jersey City second-floor apartment, where he had been stabbed multiple times. The son of a former state senator, he had been an on-and-off associate of Caddle. Those who knew him said he had worked on the campaigns of former Hudson County Democratic Assemblyman Lou Manzo, as well as Bret Schundler’s campaign for Jersey City mayor in 1993.

But he had his own legal problems, court records show, pleading guilty in 2006 to charges linked to possession of methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy.

According to prosecutors, the murder had its origins in April of 2014. They said Caddle contacted Bratsenis, a career criminal, offering him “several thousand dollars” to kill Galdieri.

The U.S. Attorney’s office has not said how Caddle may have known Bratsenis. However, public records obtained by NJ Advance Media revealed that Caddle’s older brother, James Caddle Jr., who died in 2016, served time in Northern State Prison in Newark with Bratsenis for more than three years, from January 2007 through April 2010.

Prosecutors said Bratsenis recruited Bomani Africa, described as a “longtime accomplice,” to commit the murder. The two served time together in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, records show.

Africa pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in January in another videoconference before Vazquez.

Bratsenis, in his plea hearing, acknowledged that he and Africa made their way to Galdieri’s apartment on Mallory Avenue in Jersey City on the night of May 22, 2014, where they killed him and set his apartment ablaze.

He admitted that he met with Caddle the following day and where he was paid off in the parking lot of an Elizabeth diner. Some of the money was split with Africa, he admitted.

The murder remained unsolved until Caddle pleaded guilty.

Bratsenis and Africa have also pleaded guilty in an unconnected armed robbery case in Connecticut, but their sentencing dates have been put on hold for years — a sign that perhaps they may also be cooperating with authorities.

Africa’s plea in the Galdieri murder had been negotiated more than a year before he appeared in court. Records show he reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty back in November 2020.

Following his own guilty plea in January, Caddle — who according to court fillings had entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors in October and had remained free since then — was immediately released on $1 million unsecured bond. His attorney disclosed in court that his client had met with the FBI that very morning “in developing an important investigation.”

Although the attorney, Edwin J. Jacobs of Atlantic City, would not say more, court filings also showed that prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 ½ to 25 years, based on Caddle’s cooperation, indicating a bigger case was likely on the table involving more than the three men who have already pleaded guilty. He had been facing life in prison.

What is known is that Caddle was subpoenaed at least two years ago in connection with an apparently unrelated state criminal investigation into his operation of several Super PACs that funneled tens of thousands of dollars into his consulting firm, NJ Advance Media reported in February.

Jacobs confirmed the state had indeed sought information from the consultant, but declined to comment on the substance of the matter.

“There were state subpoenas to which we responded,” he said, adding that he had viewed Caddle as a “subpoenaed witness” and not necessarily as a target of the New Jersey investigation.

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Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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