MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A Westchester County Court judge has once again dismissed witness-tampering and bribery charges against the attorney who represented Lani “Ariano” Zaimi—a Mahopac restaurateur—in two separate sexual assault cases involving Zaimi’s employees.
Judge David Zuckerman had originally dismissed the charges against Westchester County attorney George Galgano back in January citing lack of corroboration of witness testimony and procedural misconduct on behalf of the prosecution. However, Zuckerman left the door open for District Attorney Adam Levy to refile the charges should more evidence come to light, which Levy did earlier this year.
However, Zuckerman wrote that nearly the same problems existed with the prosecution’s case the second time around and once again dismissed all of the charges, which included fifth-degree conspiracy (bribing a witness) and sixth-degree conspiracy (tampering with a witness).
Galgano’s secretary, Stefanie Capolongo, who had been charged with criminal impersonation, saw her charge dismissed as well.
"Surprisingly, some of [improprieties] are the identical grounds which compelled this court to dismiss the first indictment,” Zuckerman wrote in his decision, dated Monday, Oct. 26. “The cumulative effect of numerous evidentiary and other errors which occurred during the grand jury presentment also compels the court to dismiss the indictment.”
The charges against Galgano and Capolongo stem from the second assault case in which a woman claimed that Zaimi had assaulted her while she was in his employ. Prosecutors contended that while investigating that case, Galgano and Capolongo tried to dissuade the victim from testifying against Zaimi.
Galgano claimed he was merely looking for evidence to help exonerate Zaimi. He said Capolongo approached the victim's sister, Lia LoRosso, and her boyfriend Quincy McQuaid, about taping a conversation with the victim in effort to prove she was lying about Zaimi assaulting her. Lia LoRusso and McQuaid were later arrested on drug charges, at which time, Galgano says, they told police he had attempted to bribe the victim to not testify against Zaimi.
Zaimi was found guilty of forcibly touching, a misdemeanor, in June and is still awaiting sentencing.
In a written statement to the New York Law Journal, Levy said he planned to appeal Zuckerman’s ruling in the Galgano case, arguing that the judge’s two decisions contradict each other and that sufficient evidence was indeed presented during the first grand jury and new evidence was presented during the second grand jury but ignored by the court.
“Judge Zuckerman’s decision…contradicted his original decision on Jan. 28,” Levy wrote. “Inexplicably in this case, where the court already held that sufficient evidence was presented, the court now holds the evidence is insufficient. This decision was reached despite the same evidence being presented, and additional corroborative physical evidence of Galgano’s guilt being added. This additional evidence appears to have been wholly overlooked by the court. The indictments were written in exactly the same way, which was not criticized by the court in the first decision, but once again, represents an about face assessment by the court.”
However, in Zuckerman’s decision, he writes that the district attorney introduced inadmissible hearsay as well as inadmissible opinion testimony of non-expert witnesses.
"A review of the minutes reveals that the evidence presented, viewed in the light most favorable to the people, does not establish every element of any of the offenses charged. In addition, the presentation was defective due to a lack of corroboration for the accomplice testimony,” the judge wrote. “In any event, there is also an absence of proof that George Galgano was a co-conspirator or in any way involved in any wrongdoing.”
The judge also ruled that text messages sent by the defendants that were presented as evidence "suggest not only that [Galgano] was not the genesis of the conspiracy to tamper with and/or bribe [the victim], and that…he not only did not support [efforts to tamper], but affirmatively directed that any misunderstanding of those acts be corrected immediately. “
Zuckerman ruled that the evidence presented to the grand jury suggests that Galgano merely participated in what was arguably proper conduct for a criminal defense attorney.
"There is simply no evidence that Galgano was involved in the conspiracy…” the judge wrote.
After Lia LoRusso and McQuaid told police Galgano attempted to bribe the victim to not testify, police issued search warrants for Galgano’s home and office and allegedly discovered a cache of illegal prescription drugs. As a result, Galgano was also slapped with several drug charges in Westchester County. Those charges are still pending and Galgano said he would not comment on them at this time other than to say he expects to be exonerated in those cases as well.
Regarding the witness-tampering case, Galgano said he was happy with the judge’s recent decision to dismiss the charges yet again.
“The judge actually found no evidence that anyone was guilty,” Galgano told Mahopac News. “But [Levy] is not accustomed to not getting what he wants. My life has been turned upside down and my law practice has been destroyed. I never would have taken the Zaimi case if I knew what would happen. I have done nothing wrong. There is absolutely no evidence of any wrong-doing. [Levy] doesn’t have any proof.”
However, Levy wrote in his statement that the evidence presented to the grand jury was clear.
“It was the collective belief of the 23 Putnam County grand jurors who heard all of the testimony, saw all the evidence, read all the text messages, assessed the credibility of the witnesses and found sufficient evidence to indict George Galgano, [and codefendant Stephanie Capalongo],” he wrote. “We are appealing this decision. Judge Zuckerman had his opportunity to give his opinion. We are seeking the opinion of the Appellate Division Second Department. We will not allow this decision to declare open season on our victims. We will fight to protect them, and to protect the public from the dangerous precedent that this decision threatens.”