Two men caught in Jefferson Parish last year driving a van that appeared to be outfitted for an assassin were sentenced to federal prison Thursday on weapons charges, ending a bizarre case that raised a host of questions and invoked the specter of organized crime.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon sentenced Joseph F. Gagliano, a convicted racketeer whose father was the reputed underboss of the Marcello crime family, to 28 months for possessing an unregistered silencer and for being a felon in possession of a .22-caliber rifle the authorities found secreted in the van’s cargo area.
The driver of the so-called “sniper van,” Dominick Gullo, 73, was sentenced to five months on the unregistered silencer charge, a violation of the National Firearms Act.
Gullo, who had no previous criminal history, was credited with about four months he spent behind bars awaiting trial, meaning he has only about one month left to serve, said his attorney, Patrick Hand.
“I think he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, to a great extent,” Fallon said.
The judge said he took Gullo’s failing health into account in determining his sentence.
After several months of arguing that the federal government had no case, Gullo and Gagliano both pleaded guilty in January rather than stand trial.
If federal authorities ever determined why the men were driving the suspicious van — in which Gagliano, 55, had installed custom windows resembling gun ports — they have not made that information public. Investigators apparently were unable to link the rifle, which had a scope attached to it, to any other crimes.
“The government is of the firm belief that there was something else afoot that night,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Quinlan said.
The Ford E-250 might have gone unnoticed but for an automatic license plate reader, mounted near Orpheum Avenue and Metairie Road in Old Metairie, that flagged the vehicle’s stolen license plate in May 2014. It had been reported stolen from a woman’s car in the parking lot of an unidentified hospital, according to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The license-plate reader alert prompted a patrolling deputy to stop the van as Gullo pulled into his driveway on East William David Parkway shortly before midnight. Gagliano got out of the van from the passenger side but later claimed he’d never been in the vehicle. Meanwhile, Gullo reached into the glove box, seemingly searching for insurance and registration documents, before admitting to the deputy that he did not have any paperwork for the vehicle, according to court records.
Gullo then told a story about having just bought the van for $300 from a woman he met in a coffee shop on Metairie Road. He claimed he planned to meet the woman the next day to receive the vehicle’s paperwork.
As authorities were preparing to tow the van, they discovered a suspicious setup inside that prompted them to notify the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Agents found the loaded rifle under a folded piece of carpet, an 8-foot length of cannon fuse and the silencer stowed in a side compartment. Sawed-off dining room chairs had been mounted to the van’s interior in front of the apparent gun ports.
“But for the fortuitous stop of this van that night, there was other criminal activity that was afoot,” Quinlan said. “Other violence was averted because of that traffic stop.”
Gullo and Gagliano initially professed ignorance about the contents of the van. But in pleading guilty, they acknowledged Gagliano had ordered custom work on the van weeks before.
Gagliano’s defense attorney, Pat Fanning, disputed Quinlan’s claim that violence had been planned the night the van was pulled over. He said his client apparently had been in possession of the van for several months.
“I’m not sure there was any reason to believe that May 7 was the day something was going to happen, or that anything was ever going to happen,” Fanning said.
Gagliano has well-documented ties to the Marcello organized crime family, which was active in the city for decades before apparently fading into obscurity in the mid-1990s. In 1996, Gagliano pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy involving video poker machines and was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison.
Prosecutors in that case said Gagliano and others — including his late father, known as “Fat Frank,” and Anthony Carollo, the boss of the organization at the time — had used companies that functioned as Mafia fronts in an effort to infiltrate Louisiana’s budding video poker industry. The scheme, which involved a partnership among the Gambino and Genovese crime families of New York and the Marcello family of New Orleans, defrauded Bally Gaming, a supplier of video poker machines.
“The cases against traditional organized crime members that were brought in this district during most of the ’90s involved white-collar crime, as far as I can recall,” said Eddie Jordan, a former U.S. attorney in New Orleans. “Violent, neighborhood-based drug organizations that were allied with rogue elements of the police force posed a far more serious threat to public safety.”
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