NEWARK — He robbed banks and jewelry stores, plotted a daring escape and once served time for conspiracy to murder.
Now, at 73, George Bratsenis is due back in court on Thursday to plead for a political murder mystery in New Jersey.
A Connecticut career criminal, Bratsenis has been implicated in court — but not yet publicly charged — as one of two hitmen who killed a Democratic political consultant in 2014.
Prosecutors have revealed very little about what led to the death of consultant Michael Galdieri, who was stabbed to death in his Jersey City apartment, which was later set on fire.
One of Galdieri’s colleagues, fellow political operative Sean Caddle, pleaded guilty in January to hiring two men to carry out the murder, but did not explain why he wanted his former friend dead.
A man who served time in a New Jersey prison with Bratsenis in the early 2000s, Bomani Africa, also pleaded guilty to the January murder. He named Bratsenis as the accomplice who helped stab Galdieri to death.
The revelations rocked political circles in New Jersey, a state notorious for dozens of political corruption convictions over the past three decades as well as shenanigans like the 2013 ‘Bridgegate’ scandal involving traffic jams deliberately created near the bridge. George Washington heavily patronized for political retaliation.
Chief among the questions surrounding the case: why did Caddle set the plot in motion? What connected him to the two ex-convicts who allegedly committed the murder? And why have federal prosecutors said so little about the crime?
Caddle’s plea agreement briefly and opaquely mentioned that he was providing information to investigators, but did not say what. The US Attorney’s office declined to comment, as did Bratsenis’ attorney.
Less mysterious is the extraordinary depth and breadth of Bratsenis’ criminal past.
After serving in the Marines from 1968 to 1974, Bratsenis began racking up convictions in Connecticut and New Jersey for drug, robbery and weapons offenses.
In the summer of 1980, according to Connecticut authorities, Bratsenis conspired with a former Stamford police lieutenant and two other men to murder a reputed drug courier, David Avnayim, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in Redding, west of New Haven. .
Bratsenis was not charged until four years later, but eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder. Former police lieutenant Lawrence Hogan was found guilty of conspiring to buy 2 pounds of heroin from an undercover officer, but his conviction was overturned on appeal and died soon after of causes natural.
Private investigator Vito Colucci, who as a Stamford police officer in the late 1970s wore a wire to help expose rampant corruption in the city’s police department, remembered Bratsenis and people he ran with at the time as being “the kind of guy who would walk down the street and if someone offered them $1,500 to beat up somebody, they’d be like, ‘OK!’ and go do it.”
By the time he was charged with Avnayim’s murder, Bratsenis was already behind bars, following a conviction for robbing a jewelry store in Little Falls, New Jersey, in 1983.
While imprisoned in New Jersey, he plotted an escape attempt in which he planned to hide a bag of drugs in his rectum and detonate it during a court appearance, forcing authorities to take him to a hospital where gunmen hired by his sister would spout him. , according to reports published at the time.
The conspiracy was foiled and Bratsenis eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy. His sister received three years of probation, according to court records.
In the late 2000s, Bratsenis was in Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, after serving more than 25 years behind bars. It was there, according to Connecticut authorities in court documents, that he befriended Africa, a Philadelphian, and the two began planning to rob banks when they were paroled. .
James Caddle, Sean Caddle’s brother, was also housed at the prison during this time, although it is unclear whether he knew Bratsenis or Africa. James Caddle died in 2016, according to an obituary posted online.
After being released from prison, Africa and Bratsenis robbed two banks in Connecticut in 2014, including a week before Galdieri was murdered. Bratsenis was arrested after one of the robberies and has been imprisoned ever since. Both men have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing, with Bratsenis’s scheduled for next month.
Bratsenis is being held in a federal detention center in New York.
Last month, the tall, white-haired Bratsenis showed up at Newark court in a prison uniform and wearing shackles – but proceedings ended abruptly with no explanation given after lawyers met at the firm of the judge.
In court papers in the bank robbery case, Bratsenis’ attorney argued for jail time, noting that his client was diagnosed with cancer and a respiratory illness.
“His time incarcerated, his cancer diagnosis and his age have all caused Mr. Bratsenis to reflect on his long and difficult life, the mistakes he made and how he would like to live out the rest,” the lawyer said. Charles Kurmay. wrote.
The attorney did not mention the ongoing murder investigation in New Jersey.
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