Hitman sentenced to 16 years in prison for 2014 murder-for-hire plot
George Bratsenis is one of two hitmen sentenced to prison for their role in the murder of Michael Galdieri in 2014. (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)
A 74-year-old hitman who admitted his involvement in the 2014 killing of a New Jersey political operative was sentenced to 16 years in prison Wednesday by U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez in Newark.
Vazquez called George Bratsenis “a dangerous man” despite his many ailments, including prostate cancer and an enlarged heart requiring open heart surgery. The sentence went beyond what prosecutors asked for, and still, Vazquez said, the sentence felt too light.
“Mr. Bratsenis helped take the victim’s life, a ‘real nice guy’s’ life, in a brutal fashion, for a paltry sum of money,” said Vazquez, quoting Bratsenis’ own words about the victim.
Bratsenis faced life imprisonment for the murder of Michael Galdieri, a 52-year-old Jersey City man who Bratsenis and an accomplice admit murdering before setting his apartment ablaze.
Galdieri’s murder has captivated New Jersey’s political world because of the involvement of Sean Caddle, 45, a political operative who once had ties to Democratic ex-state Sen. Ray Lesniak. Caddle has admitted to orchestrating the killing.
Caddle has said he approached Bratsenis and told him he knew of a 1984 murder Bratsenis committed and asked if he knew anyone who would be willing to commit murder for $15,000. Bratsenis recruited his accomplice, Bomani Africa, and the two were subsequently hired and paid by Caddle.
Galdieri’s murder was a cold case, and Bratsenis and Africa likely would have gotten away with it if they didn’t go on to commit robberies together in Connecticut, Vazquez said. But once they were caught and Bratsenis admitted to the murder-for-hire, he “blew the case open,” Vazquez said.
That contributed to the lighter sentence, the judge said.
Africa, 62, was sentenced by Vazquez last month to 20 years for his role in the murder.
Bratsenis, who used a brown cane to shuffle into the courtroom Wednesday while shackled and in a khaki jumpsuit, apologized to Galdieri and his family for the pain he’s caused them. Bratsenis said the two men had worked together on a 2013 Senate campaign. He called Galdieri a “really nice guy.”
“I got caught between two people I thought were friends and everything, and one turned against the other, and disaster struck. Most heinous crime I ever saw in my life. I still have nightmares from it,” he said. “If there were some way or chance I could change spaces with Michael right now, I would do it. I would fall on the sword, I would do whatever I had to do, because it’s a shame what happened to Michael.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes Jr. said Bratsenis’ extensive and detailed cooperation with prosecutors brought closure to Galdieri’s family and helped authorities “solve what was effectively a cold case.” He recommended 12 and a half to 15 years in prison, noting Bratsenis’ health issues.
Vazquez accepted that Bratsenis was “significant and useful” to solving the case, saying he helped the U.S. Attorney’s Office secure cell phone records and other information they otherwise would not have been able to obtain. By cooperating with authorities, including by making phone calls from prison, Bratsenis “effectively knocked seven years” off his sentence, Vazquez said.
Still, Vazquez said, Bratsenis only admitted his role in the murder once his accomplice, Africa, turned him in on the Connecticut robberies. Bratsenis also had an extensive criminal history dating back to the 1970s, the judge noted. He was in prison when he met Caddle’s brother, which is how he met Caddle.
This was “one of the most heinous crimes” Vazquez said he has encountered during his time as a judge. Prosecutors described how the pair staked out Galdieri’s apartment, purchased knives, had an entrance and exit plan, and obtained a gas can to douse the apartment before setting it on fire.
On May 22, 2014, Bratsenis drove from Connecticut to a Newark bus station to pick up Africa, who rode in from Pennsylvania. They visited Galdieri, who let them into his apartment, and then the two stabbed him to death. There was such a frenzy that Africa was also stabbed, Vazquez said.
Bratsenis has lived his life with “no regard for others,” Vazquez said.
“I have trouble coming up with words to describe how vile this crime is. Depraved, debased, done for an amount of money that was not going to change Mr. Africa or Mr. Bratsenis’ life in any meaningful way,” he said.
Bratsenis’ sentence will be retroactive to March 24, when he pleaded guilty to the murder. Vazquez recommended he be housed at a federal medical facility in Devens, Massachusetts, for health treatments. His sentence will run concurrently with the sentence he received last April for the robberies in Connecticut, which is almost fully served.
Bratsenis must also pay a $100 fine and will face five years of supervised release after his release.
Caddle, who is on home confinement while wearing an ankle monitor, is scheduled to be sentenced in June.
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