A Connecticut man today admitted his role in New Jersey’s biggest political scandal in years, the murder-for-hire scheme in which former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak’s principal political consultant, Sean Caddle, paid two hitmen to kill a longtime associate, 52-year-old Michael Galdieri, the son of late former State Senator James Galdieri.
Appearing by videoconference from a jail in New York — where he is awaiting sentencing on a bank robbery in Connecticut — 73-year-old George Bratsenis pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to an information charging him with one count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
A man who served time in a New Jersey prison with Bratsenis in the early 2000s, Bomani Africa, named Bratsenis as the accomplice who helped kill Galdieri when he pleaded guilty in the killing in January.
Caddle also pleaded guilty to orchestrating the murder scheme and he has been cooperating with authorities but officials have not revealed what probes they are conducting or who the possible targets may be.
“Eight years ago, these three individuals – Caddle, Bratsenis, and Africa – conspired to brutally murder the victim,” said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger. “At Caddle’s direction, Bratsenis and Africa stabbed the victim to death in the victim’s apartment, and then set it ablaze.”
“These guilty pleas bring a measure of justice to the victim’s memory and for his family,” said Sellinger. “I commend the efforts of the FBI, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and my Office for their determination over many years to bring this matter to resolution.”
For many years, Caddle worked with former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, supervising almost all of the Elizabeth power broker’s campaign operations, from running various super PACs to managing his vanity quest for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2017.
The super PACs have been the subject of criminal investigations because they make it possible for dark money donors to keep secret their involvement in political campaigns that otherwise would require financial disclosures.
Details about a corruption probe by the state Attorney General’s Office that came to light after his guilty plea revealed that the investigation into Lesniak’s super PACs and nonprofits associated with Caddle lasted far longer than was previously known.
State investigators were examining a dozen payments totaling $46,000 Caddle’s firm, Arkady, allegedly made to Elizabeth Democratic Party chairman Antonio Teixeira and his late wife, Marlenes, between May 2015 and September 2017.
Teixeira —widely known as ‘Tony Tex’—is currently the chief of staff to New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari, the Union County’s political boss who has long been under investigation for what Linden Mayor Derek Armstead said was using his position as municipal prosecutor as a no-show job.
Since he admitted his role in the Galdieri murder on January 25, Caddle has been under home detention on a $1 million unsecured bond at his Sussex County residence in Hamburg, New Jersey.
At the time of the murder, Caddle and Galdieri were working together to help Lesniak’s preferred candidate win an election for Mayor of Bayonne and the former state senator told journalists that he has hired Caddle again to boost the prospects of Mayor Jimmy Davis.
Lesniak founded a super PAC to influence the Bayonne mayoral race that paid Caddle $2500 in December, according to campaign finance reports.
There were only four donors to Government for the People, according to campaign finance reports. Wasseem Boraie, vice president of Boraie Development, donated $25,000 while three others each gave $10,000.
They were Lesniak’s former law partner, Paul Weiner, Weiner’s current law partner, Rinaldo M. D’Argenio, and Eric Bergstol, the owner of Empire Golf Management which developed Bayonne Golf Club.
D’Argenio is general counsel for both the Bayonne Golf Club and Empire Golf Management, according to the bio on his law firm’s website.
“This defendant conspired in the ultimate crime – murder for money,” said FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. “Those who devalue life – whether out of greed or animus – need to know that the FBI is dedicated to keeping our citizens safe, and nothing will stop us from accomplishing that mission. When you break the law, you will be brought to justice no matter how long it takes.”
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Caddle solicited Bratsenis in April of 2014, to commit a murder on Caddle’s behalf in exchange for thousands of dollars.
Bratsenis recruited Africa, a longtime accomplice from Philadelphia, to join the plot.
After Bratsenis confirmed his and Africa’s interest in the job, Caddle told Bratsenis that the target was a longtime associate who had worked for Caddle on various political campaigns.
On May 22, 2014, Bratsenis and Africa traveled from out of state to the victim’s apartment in Jersey City. After entering the apartment, Bratsenis and Africa stabbed the victim to death and then set fire to the victim’s apartment.
After Caddle learned that the victim had been murdered, the following day, he met Bratsenis in the parking lot of a diner in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Caddle paid Bratsenis thousands of dollars in exchange for the murder, and Bratsenis shared a portion of those proceeds with Africa.
Documents in the case show that Bratsenis signed a plea bargain in August 2021, which states that he faces a maximum potential penalty of life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 2, 2022.
Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Crouch in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea. He also thanked the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for its assistance.