Dade judge enjoys lavish lifestyle

 

Miami Herald Staff

He lives in a $700,000 Brickell condo for free.

He drives around town in new Jaguars.

He flashes thick rolls of cash, jets to Italy several times a year and is known to the maitre d's at some of Rome's finest restaurants.

Some of his friends appear in FBI reports. Some associates show up in Organized Crime Bureau files.

He is Dade Circuit Judge John Galardi Gale, civil chief of the nation's fourth-busiest circuit court system.

His public salary: $86,000 a year.

A lengthy Miami Herald investigation reveals that Gale -- a judge since 1972, head of the bustling civil division since 1977 -- has doled out lucrative court appointments to friends, issued favorable rulings to select attorneys and declined to remove himself when his impartiality could be questioned. He enjoys a life style well beyond his public salary.

Thousands of pages of public records -- including court files, depositions, appellate reviews, property records and election forms -- disclose:

* Gale is currently a defendant in federal court, where lawyers want him thrown out of his Villa Regina condo for "unlawful possession" and "unjust enrichment" at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

* Gale has awarded two close friends court-approved fees totaling more than $150,000.

* Gale once refused to remove himself from a hearing in a divorce case despite acknowledging that he had dated the defendant.

* He was named in a Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau report in which an individual, who was later arrested for loan- sharking, described him as "our judge."

Gale said that his arrangement to buy the condominium was proper. The special arrangement that he has for his cars is also proper, he said.

"I do not have a life style which exceeds my income, " he said.

The judge said that in court appointments, it is his practice to name someone who is "trustworthy and competent."

He said he decides all court issues strictly "on the merits." Any free travel, he said, is reported to the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

In Florida, as elsewhere, the Code of Judicial Conduct governs judicial behavior. It sets forth ethical guidelines and asks that judges rigorously adhere to them.

Among the guidelines:

"A judge should not allow his personal relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment. . . . A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. He must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny."

Judge Gale, 63, declined to be interviewed for this story.

He did agree to respond to written questions.

THE CONDOMINIUM

Gale lives on the 11th floor of Villa Regina, the rainbow-hued Brickell Avenue condominium.

Gale's condo, according to promotional brochures, has three bedrooms, 4 1/2 baths, 3,060 square feet and an 855-square-foot balcony offering a panoramic sweep of Biscayne Bay. It features his-and-hers walk-in closets, color-coordinated bidets, Roman tubs with Jacuzzi, wall-to-wall bathroom mirrors and a wet bar.

The judge also put out a bid on a smaller, adjoining unit.

This, he said, was "on behalf of my mother, who wishes, at her age, to live near me."

The smaller, adjoining unit has two bedrooms, two baths, 1,795 square feet and a 215-square-foot balcony. It features marble vanity tops, a deluxe GE double-door refrigerator, a Westinghouse washer and dryer and a state-of-the-art computerized security system.

Before moving into the larger condo, Gale installed marble floors. The contractor said the labor and materials were worth about $45,000.

Gale moved in while his purchase contract was pending before lending agencies. He said the developer, Nicholas Morley, urged him to make the early move.

That was more than two years ago. The contract has yet to be approved. Gale has yet to pay for the condominium. "I have waited for approximately two years for the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) to honor my written contract, " Gale said in his written response.

In fact, the FDIC has sued to have Gale evicted. The judge has countersued.

Condo units comparable to Gale's large one currently sell for $690,000, without improvements.

On Dec. 3, 1986, Gale got a purchase contract for the large condo.

The agreed price: $276,800.

At the time, those units were selling for about $500,000.

On Sept. 19, 1989, attorneys for the FDIC filed a lawsuit against Gale in Miami federal court. That suit is pending.

Case No. 89-1980 accuses Gale of unlawfully occupying Unit 1101 of Villa Regina.

Gale has unlawfully possessed the unit for several years without paying rent, condominium fees or real estate taxes, the suit claims. Throughout his wrongful occupation "defendant Gale has benefited and has been unjustly enriched at the expense of the FDIC, " its attorneys claim.

Attorneys further charge that defendant Gale has "wrongly secured benefits" that would be "unconscionable for him to retain."

FDIC attorneys want Gale evicted from the property. They also want compensatory damages and a court order forcing Gale to pay all back taxes, rents, condominium fees, interest, court costs and attorney fees.

Gale argues that his contract is valid, it met with the developer's approval and he has every right to occupy the unit.

How Gale came to possess the condo is at the heart of the federal civil suit.

The suit indicates that Gale got the condo at a bargain- basement price. Records also show that his contract on the condo came four months after developer Morley defaulted on the construction loan.

That loan came from the ill-fated Continental Illinois National Bank. When Continental went belly-up and Morely defaulted, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. moved in.

The FDIC uses public tax money to insure bank deposits. When a bank fails, as in the Continental Illinois case, the FDIC steps in to seize assets and help with damage control. This is done to minimize the amount of bank losses that taxpayers have to absorb.

So, in effect, it was up to the FDIC to try to recoup the bankrupt bank's $34 million loan -- plus interest.

FDIC attorneys argue that Gale's contract isn't any good because neither Continental Illinois nor the FDIC ever approved it.

To save taxpayers' money, FDIC attorneys wanted the judge to pay fair-market value for his condo.

So last May, FDIC attorneys offered Gale a deal: Pay $500,000 for the large unit, give up any claim to the smaller one, and we won't go to court.

Gale declined. The FDIC filed a lien.

THE CARS

One day recently, Gale drove away from the Dade County Courthouse in a 1989 midnight-blue Jaguar XJ6. The tag on the car had expired. A day later, he arrived at a social function in an all-white 1989 Jaguar XJ6. That car had the same expired tag: MAC-17G.

Not long ago, Gale was driving a white Jaguar with a new license plate: MDM-76C.

Both license plates -- the expired and the new -- are from cars registered to The Collection, the luxury auto emporium with several Miami outlets.

Those Jaguars range in price from $25,000 to $37,000.

The Collection's president is Joseph DeMaria. He is a close personal friend of Judge Gale.

In a recent interview, DeMaria said Gale has been almost like a father to him.

DeMaria, 49, said he and his family used to provide Gale with a free new car every year because "he was like family." That practice stopped -- at Gale's insistence -- when he became a judge, DeMaria said.

The Collection still provides Gale with newer-model cars every year, said DeMaria, but the judge sends a check each month for "about $300" to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

He described the arrangement as similar to a lease agreement but said there was no contract formalizing it.

Asked why Gale didn't buy the Jaguars, DeMaria replied: "Why would you go out and buy one if you had someone in your family supplying you with one?"

In his written response, Gale described DeMaria as "a longtime close personal friend. He is considered part of my family, and I am considered part of his."

He said he has driven cars from The Collection for about 25 years.

"I pay monthly for the car that I drive and always have since becoming a judge, " he said. He didn't say how much.

At the Villa Regina condominium, seven floors below the judge, lives Salvatore P. Ingrassia.

Ingrassia, 62, is the president of Vesta Technology, a Fort Lauderdale waste-collection and disposal company.

Ingrassia and the judge are close personal friends. Fourteen years ago, Gale started The Italian Foundation, a local organization dedicated to celebrating Italian culture. Ingrassia is a member of the group's board of trustees.

On May 15, 1987, Gale married Ingrassia and his bride at the courthouse.

Ingrassia also shows up in the judge's courtroom for other reasons.

On Sept. 16, 1985, Gale named Ingrassia the court-appointed receiver in a foreclosure suit against the Ankara Motel, 2360 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.

A receiver is an officer of the court appointed in foreclosures to manage assets, do book work and file financial reports.

For his work in the Ankara Motel case, Ingrassia earned about $1,250 a week, court records indicate. He received a total of about $80,000 for his work. On Aug. 7, 1986, Gale signed another order appointing Ingrassia as the receiver in a foreclosure suit. This time, there were problems.

"You simply can't walk into court and say, 'Judge, I want a receiver, ' " Alec Ross, an attorney for the defendants, said recently. "You have to demonstrate there is a need by filing the proper papers." Ross' clients appealed. On June 30, 1987, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed Gale's court order.

The reason: Gale "erroneously appointed a receiver without testimony, sworn pleadings or an affidavit demonstrating" the need for one.

Gale discharged Ingrassia, but not before awarding him $1,000 for his work in the case.

In his written response, Gale described Ingrassia as "an astute and successful businessman." He said he has appointed him in five or six cases during his 18 years on the bench.

When parties in a dispute can't agree, judges appoint "someone who is known to the Court and who is known to be qualified . . . someone known to me to be trustworthy and competent, " said Gale.

On March 21, 1988, Gale again appointed Ingrassia as receiver in Southeast Bank vs. The Dade Development Corp.

This time, Ingrassia received $92,838.

But Ingrassia didn't get all the money. He had to pay an attorney for fees and costs. And he had to share some of the money with his assistant in the case: Jack Giacalone.

Jack W. Giacalone also is a friend of Judge Gale's.

At the Italian Foundation's annual banquet Jan. 13 at The Omni, Giacalone served as dinner chairman of the lavish event. Like Ingrassia, he, too, is a member of the foundation's board of trustees. Gale is chairman.

Giacalone, identified in the banquet program as president of a company called Sunnybrook Farms, is a member of the Detroit Giacalone family.

In the past, Detroit police and federal authorities have identified his father, Anthony "Tony Jacks" Giacalone, and his uncle, Vito, as high-ranking members of the Detroit Mafia.

Anthony Giacalone is reputed to be the man who set up a luncheon appointment for Jimmy Hoffa on July 30, 1975 -- the day the former Teamsters president disappeared from the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Township, never to be seen again.

The elder Giacalone has denied any involvement in Hoffa's disappearance and said no such lunch meeting was ever planned.

Jack W. Giacalone has never been identified as a member of the Mafia. A longtime South Florida home builder, he has had some brushes with the law.

In November 1965, Giacalone was convicted of assaulting an Internal Revenue Service agent during a raid on his Uncle Vito's home. He was fined $500 and placed on two years' probation.

Giacalone once was suspended from the Builders Association of South Florida because he had failed to register as a felon in Dade County. He was later reinstated.

Giacalone did not return several phone calls.

Said Gale: "I have never been made aware of anything in Mr. Giacalone's background, regarding any legal problems he may have had."

IN THE COURTROOM

In the courtroom, Gale sometimes hears cases in which attorneys question his judicial obligation to remain impartial.

Most recently, those questions arose in a long-simmering contract dispute between the City of Miami Beach and Carner- Mason Associates, former developers of the South Beach Marina.

Gale ruled against the city on all major issues of liability last October. A jury awarded the developers $20.6 million in damages a month later. In December, the city appealed.

Last month, The Herald reported that Gale failed to disclose a number of potential conflicts before taking the case:

He once dated Anna Carner, the plaintiff's ex-wife. He once represented the plaintiff in private practice. He later removed himself from hearing a divorce matter involving the plaintiff. One of the plaintiff's business partners is a good friend of Gale's.

Gale said he made all the necessary disclosures, and the case was handled properly.

Nevertheless, city attorneys recently filed a motion asking the Third District Court of Appeal to temporarily suspend its review of the entire case. The reason: They want Gale to consider removing himself -- retroactively.

On Feb. 10, 1986, Gale issued an order in the divorce case of McKay vs. McKay. He did not rule on the merits of the case. As chief administrative judge, Gale transferred the case from one judge to another. Attorneys for the husband objected.

The reason: Gale once dated the defendant. Gale said he thought he was following the law. But the Third District Court of Appeal disagreed.

Judge Gale, "because he is an admitted former social companion of Pamela McKay, should have disqualified himself from acting administratively or otherwise in this case, " the appellate court said in a May 20, 1986, ruling. The court then quashed Gale's order.

THE ATTORNEYS

Attorneys who frequently practice in the civil division say they try to avoid cases before Gale when they suspect their opponent is a friend of the judge's.

Attorney Harris Buchbinder -- with the firm of Buchbinder & Elegant -- acknowledges that he has both a professional and social relationship with Gale. He said he has known the judge for about 20 years, played tennis with him, been at the same social functions, visited his condo and represented his son.

But he said any social relationship ends at the courthouse door. He also said he doesn't have a lot of cases in front of Gale.

"I think I've probably done as well or better in other divisions than before Gale, " said Buchbinder.

The law firm of Buchbinder & Elegant once represented Anna Carner. Gale once dated Carner.

Attorney Buchbinder once represented Anna's twin sister, Mary Forte, in her divorce. Gale and Forte have been social companions.

Buchbinder represented Pamela McKay in her divorce. Gale once dated McKay.

On Sept. 26, 1985, Gale granted a request from his friend, Salvatore Ingrassia. Ten days earlier, Gale had made Ingrassia the court-appointed receiver for the Ankara Motel. Ingrassia wanted to hire a law firm to help with the motel foreclosure.

Gale agreed. He signed an order appointing the law firm of Buchbinder & Elegant.

According to records, Buchbinder & Elegant made $12,120 for its work -- or about $200 an hour.

In the banquet program for The Italian Foundation's annual dinner this year, the law firm took out a full-page ad. "Sempre Avanti (Always Forward) from your friends -- Buchbinder & Elegant, " it said.

The law firm also provides rental space in its office for a young Miami attorney.

His name: Dino Galardi.

He is Judge Gale's son.

In a long interview Friday, Buchbinder said no objective person could believe that he or his law firm have any influence with Gale. He said cases before Gale are decided on the merits and nothing else.

"It's the easiest thing in the world to say, 'I lost because of the relationship, ' " said Buchbinder.

If he ever believed he was hired because of some alleged influence with the judge, Buchbinder said, he would refuse to take the case.

He called the ad in the Italian banquet program "innocuous . . . I don't see anything wrong with it."

As for Dino Galardi, the judge's son, he is a tenant who rents space from the firm -- like many other young lawyers have done, said Buchbinder. Galardi is not on the law firm's payroll, he said.

Gale, in his written response to The Herald, said he has known Buchbinder and Elegant, along with numerous other attorneys and judges, for years.

Any perception that they seldom lose in his courtroom, he said, is "erroneous."

"I decide cases on the merits, not upon who the respective attorneys are, " said Gale.

The last time lawyers for that firm had a case in his courtroom, they lost, he said.

Judge Gale is a frequent traveler to Italy, where he dines at some of Rome's best restaurants, according to sources.

As part of his work with The Italian Foundation, Gale arranges package tours to Italy. If he signs up enough people, the judge gets a complimentary airline ticket.

Gale said he travels to Italy yearly and pays his own expenses "except for occasional airline tickets given to me by Alitalia Airlines, which I have reported to the Judicial Qualifications Commission."

Gale favors expensive, tailored suits and Italian leather shoes. He's also known to pull out thick rolls of cash from time to time, sources said.

In his most recent public disclosure form -- dated Jan. 1, 1988 -- Gale listed his net worth at $447,731.

Among his listed assets: a paid-for home with furnishings on Old Cutler Road valued at $285,000, a checking account of $85,000, Monroe County property worth $30,000 and about $50,000 in various funds.

Ten years earlier -- in a Dec. 31, 1977, disclosure form -- Gale put his net worth at $77,987.

He says that most of the difference is in the appreciated value of the Old Cutler residence, which he said he sold to finance the planned purchase of his condo.

Questioned about his life style, Gale said: "I do not have a life style which exceeds my income."

The Italian Foundation that Gale founded 14 years ago is a nonprofit corporation with an enviable list of charitable causes.

Among the recipients of its fund-raising are: Mercy Hospital, the University of Miami Medical School, the Florida Children's Genetic Disease Foundation, Mary Beth Weiss Cancer Research, the Boys Town of Italy and the Italian Earthquake Relief program.

Although he is fiercely proud of being Italian, Gale once told an interviewer that he also believes his heritage has deprived him of what he wants most: a federal judgeship.

"You always hear the talk. Everyone who is Italian hears it, " Gale said in a 1979 interview with The Miami News. "You joke about it until it hurts.

"Because I'm Italian I've gotten letters from losers in cases saying, 'You're nothing but a member of the Mafia.' "

Several months before the interview, a hit man with the Meyer Lansky crime syndicate told a startled U.S. Senate subcommittee that mobsters had once stopped him from beating up Gale in a dispute over a car sale.

The hit man, Gary Bowdach, a confessed killer and loan shark, testified that Gale, then in private practice, agreed to buy his 1969 Cadillac El Dorado in a deal arranged by a used-car dealer. At the time, Gale was married to the ex-wife of the car dealer.

Bowdach said he received a $5,000 bank draft for the car. When he went to a bank to cash it, however, Bowdach said he was told that Gale had stopped payment.

He beat up the car dealer and was planning the same for Gale but was ordered not to by other mobsters at a "sit down" in Miami Beach, Bowdach testified at the Senate hearing Aug. 2, 1978.

At the mob meeting, Frank "The Wop" Gagliardi -- identified as a member of the Carlo Gambino crime family of New York -- warned Bowdach "not to bother Gale (because) he's with us, " Bowdach told the subcommittee.

The next day, Gale vigorously denied that he had any mob ties.

"I am not one of them, I was never one of them. I am emotionally and ethically incapable of being one of them or even being linked to them, " he said in a prepared statement.

Gale admitted that he once considered buying Bowdach's car but said he dealt only with the dealer and had never "met, seen, nor talked with Gary Bowdach."

Gale also said he had never met, seen or ever heard of Frank Gagliardi.

Gagliardi, in a story that had received wide coverage six months earlier, had been indicted by a Florida grand jury on loan-sharking and extortion counts. He eventually pleaded guilty to seven counts and got a five-year prison term.

One of Gagliardi's attorneys at the time was current Dade Circuit Judge Alfonso Sepe, then in private practice. Sepe is a friend of Gale's.

Another friend of Gale's is Anthony "Buffy Dee" DeSantolo.

DeSantolo is the former owner of a club called The Alley, a Coral Gables bar and restaurant at 3875 Shipping Ave.

Once, when The Alley had financial troubles, Gale appointed another friend, car dealer DeMaria, as receiver.

DeMaria said he did it for free -- as a favor to friends.

DeSantolo's name appears in a Metro-Dade Organized Crime Bureau report obtained by The Herald. The two-page, single- spaced report details a 1983 crime bureau investigation into possible loan-sharking, extortion and gambling operations. The report focuses on several individuals who met to discuss their activities at, among other places, The Alley.

From Page 2 of the crime bureau report: "Rick Martin and (Norman) Rothman have also discussed 'our judge' at 'The Alley, ' 3875 Shipping Avenue, Coral Gables. Judge Gale is the ex-law partner and friend of 'Buffy Dee, ' owner/manager of 'The Alley' and hangs out at 'The Alley.' "

DeSantolo said Gale once rented space from him but was never his partner. He said he was unaware of any investigation at The Alley.

The crime bureau report, said Gale, "regarding some vague conversation at The Alley has, insofar as I know, nothing whatsoever to do with me."

That crime bureau report also identifies a car-leasing venture involving Martin, Rothman and others. It identifies several customers as drug dealers and states that no tax from the operation was paid to the state.

The car-leasing business, according to the report, was headed by Rick Martin. Martin's real name is Harry Raynor.

In August 1983, Metro-Dade police arrested Raynor, 57, on loan-sharking charges. At the time, he was on parole for federal income tax evasion.

Police described his car-leasing business as a front for loan-sharking, gambling, drugs and fencing. Police described the business as a gathering place for "numerous organized crime associates" who dabbled in stolen diamonds, cocaine, bookmaking and high-interest loans.

Gale said he did "some minor" legal work for Raynor early in his legal career, "long before I became a judge." He said he may have been involved in helping Raynor form a corporation, but if he did, he had no "active role in the business."

Corporate records show that Rick-Martin Motors Inc. was formed on Sept. 13, 1967.

Its president was Harry Raynor. The vice president was Nicholas Dalesio.

Its secretary: John Gale.

Miami free-lance writer Paul Einstein contributed to this report.

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