Connections to the Russian mafia and a Brooklyn gang. A crystal meth addiction and online hookups with strangers. An art deco painting that could be worth millions — or nothing.
All were disparate threads tugged on by Hudson County investigators exploring the murder of Michael Galdieri, a political operative, onetime Jersey City council candidate and son of a former state senator.
None of those angles, however, pointed to Sean Caddle, the man who ultimately admitted in court to putting a hit out on Galdieri, who in May of 2014 was stabbed to death, with his body left in his burning Jersey City apartment.
More than 100 pages of reports and subpoenas obtained exclusively by NorthJersey.com from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office provide tantalizing clues — but draw no conclusions — as to the motive behind Galdieri’s murder.
Instead, the documents, which include summaries of interviews with close to 20 acquaintances, friends, family members and witnesses conducted through the end of 2014, offer a host of lurid and wild theories investigators followed after the murder.
The documents also included a half-dozen asides, bread crumbs and comments about Caddle, who pleaded guilty in January 2022 to orchestrating the murder-for-hire of Galdieri and is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court at the end of June.
‘He seems like a nice guy’
Early inquiries in the investigation didn’t appear to point in Caddle’s direction.
The day after the killing, detectives asked Michael Galdieri’s brother Richard if Caddle might have been involved.
“We asked about Sean Cattle [sic]; Richard said he doesn’t believe he had anything to do with this; he seems like a nice guy,” according to a report from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.
A document dated two days later suggested Caddle was providing guidance to the Prosecutor’s Office.
“In addition, Mr. Sean Caddle, a close friend of the decedent, stated that there might be security cameras inside of the apartment,” according to the report detailing events from May 25.
Investigators found evidence of a recording device in Galdieri’s office, but wrote “there was no apparent driver/server connected to the camera.”
However, when NorthJersey.com requested interview notes or reports from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office about Caddle, the agency said it had no reports or videos of an interview with Caddle.
“Any reference to such an interview in HCPO investigative reports is believed to be connection [sic] with a possible ‘field’ interview when Caddle approached the investigators as a friend of the deceased,” they said.
The forged painting theory
Each person had a different story about where the painting came from and how much it was worth. Someone said it was a bounty in exchange for drugs. Others said Galdieri inherited it from his father. Someone else said it was a $5 million painting he acquired from a friend who died.
The Galdieri brothers told people it was an authentic painting by Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish artist known for art deco and cubist portraits of the wealthy.
The Galdieris’ 15-by-30-inch canvas titled “Le Modelle” depicted a partially nude woman lying on a couch with a white sheet draped over her stomach, and her forearm covering her face. Richard Galdieri showed investigators the painting the night after his brother was killed, pulling it from a gray guitar case.
Interviewees said Michael collected tens of thousands of dollars from fewer than a dozen friends to purchase the painting, with the chance to make a return on their investments by reselling the artwork.
One person said he saw Michael Galdieri forging authentication documents for the painting. Another person thought the documents appeared legitimate. Another investor thought everything was above board, but knew the investment was risky and figured Michael needed the cash. Someone else said Michael spent the collected money on drugs. Maybe someone killed him because of the value of the painting, a friend mused to investigators.
Frank Marone, a friend of a friend of Richard’s, told NorthJersey.com he invested $30,000 and expected to make 10 times his investment. He was told the painting was worth more than $1 million. Marone said he wasn’t interviewed by investigators, but Richard told the Prosecutor's Office that Marone was one of the investors, according to an interview report.
“Everyone believed he was murdered because of this. I don’t know if there was any proof,” Marone said. “I do think [the painting] is real. The industry itself is probably out of our league. Unless you’re part of that group, that inner circle, I guess it’s hard to get in there.”
Among the Prosecutor’s Office evidence photos is an image of a magazine, “Political Direct Mail Fundraising,” along with a handful of Galdieri’s business cards from Front Porch Consulting — Caddle’s firm — and a printout from Michael to an appraiser about an authentication he paid $400 to have completed in December 2011. Michael Galdieri wrote that a Hoboken authenticator took photos and prepared a report that determined the painting was a copy.
Galdieri disagreed with the assessment. He wrote in the email, “Anyone with half a brain know that to be UN TRUE…one need only perform a cursory review to find out the facts,” and pasted text from a study by conservationist Alexander Katlan. “Wishing you the best.”
Richard Galdieri told Hudson County investigators the painting was authenticated by Curtis Dowling, “who did the paint chip analysis and said it’s real,” according to a report of the interview.
When contacted by NorthJersey.com, Dowling said in an email, “I vaguely remember” Michael Galdieri. “He discontinued our work because he did not want to pay for our service once we started to identify the piece was unlikely to be genuine.
“I think we were so fed up with him we gave him back some cash!” Dowling wrote. “We did hear later he fabricated a report of ours to make it look like we said it was genuine but of course anyone interested in art we work on always checks with us first.”
Nearly 20 interviews, many theories
No clear motive emerged from the nearly 20 interview reports the Prosecutor’s Office provided to NorthJersey.com.
A neighbor of Galdieri’s friend heard that Galdieri owed someone $25,000. He heard through a third party that Galdieri’s life was threatened if he didn’t pay them in the next week.
Another friend guessed he met a “crazy person online.”
Someone else claimed Galdieri testified against someone in a drug case and sent them to prison for years.
Another friend — who met Galdieri a year earlier when Galdieri asked him to fill up his bike tires for him — had a “gut feeling” that someone who Galdieri said was in the Russian mafia had something to do with it.
Someone else said Galdieri had threatened a member of a Brooklyn gang.
Jersey City police received a cryptic piece of mail from an anonymous sender, with two Jersey Journal clippings inside. One article was about Galdieri’s death. The other contained a photo of Pat Desmond, then a campaign worker for Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis. Someone drew an arrow pointing to the photo of Desmond and wrote “Galdieri friend” above it.
The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office spoke with Desmond and his attorney Joe DeMarco on the phone in May 2014. Desmond said he heard a rumor that Galdieri’s death was drug-related, and he hadn’t spoken with Galdieri in more than two years.
Galdieri was arrested on drug charges in 2005, found with enough drugs to be consistent with “intent to distribute as opposed to personal consumption,” police said at the time. Galdieri admitted in court papers that he possessed ecstasy, methamphetamines and cocaine when arrested. He was sentenced to five years in prison, according to court records, and was arrested again on drug possession charges in 2009.
Cold case. Then a tip from prison
Leads were drying up. The case had turned cold. Then George Bratsenis came into the picture.
The “beefy ex-Marine” from Stamford, Connecticut, was known for smash-and-grabs, a leader of a jewelry heist ring that had stolen more than $1 million worth of merchandise. In 1984, he was sentenced to 30 years for two armed robberies and a 1980 Connecticut murder.
The following year, Bratsenis came up with a plan to break free from the Passaic County Jail, where he was transferred to stand trial for jewelry heists. He plotted to sicken himself with a drug he’d stashed in his rectum, and on the way to the hospital an armed ambush would liberate him.
His plot was thwarted by a jailhouse snitch in whom Bratsenis had confided, and Bratsenis was sentenced to 50 years in state prison for the heists. He served a fraction of the time and was released from prison in 2010.
By 2014, he found himself back behind bars for a string of armed bank robberies he committed in Connecticut with Bomani Africa.
Africa suffered through a traumatic childhood in Paterson. His father beat his mother, so she ran away with Africa and his sister when Africa was 5 to the “worst of the worst areas, high crime and drug areas,” he wrote in court documents. He joined a gang as a youth and spent nearly three decades in prison for a string of robberies.
Sometime in 2016, Bratsenis — presumably trying to get a lower sentence — offered up an answer to Galdieri’s death, federal prosecutor Lee Cortes said in court.
The story Bratsenis relayed was that he and Africa were paid to murder Galdieri by Caddle, Galdieri’s longtime friend who had grown up in the same Jersey City neighborhood.
The reason Caddle wanted Galdieri dead? Galdieri owed Caddle a sum of money — it’s not clear how much — so Caddle paid Bratsenis and Africa a combined $15,000 to kill him, U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez said in court.
Caddle pleaded guilty to a federal charge — “conspiring to travel in interstate commerce and using an interstate facility with the intent to commit murder-for-hire” — in January 2022 and has been confined in his Sussex County home wearing a court-mandated ankle monitor ever since. The admission shocked those who knew both men.
The first documented mention that suggests Caddle was a person of interest in Galdieri’s murder occurred in January 2019 on a federal search warrant.
Agents raided Caddle’s house searching for “evidence and instrumentalities of murder for hire, interstate travel to commit arson,” contacts between Caddle, Galdieri, Bratsenis and Africa, and “information relating to the death of Michael Galdieri.”
Nearly two years later, the men signed plea agreements: Africa in December 2020, Bratsenis in August 2021 and Caddle in November 2021.
Brastenis and Africa declined requests for an interview with NorthJersey.com.
On Jan. 25, 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Caddle had pleaded guilty to his role in the eight-year-old murder.
Richard Galdieri, who declined to comment when reached by NorthJersey.com, posted on Facebook the day the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Caddle’s guilty plea, “You hugged me and cried with me and my family.. the whole time it was you. May karma deal to you in prison exactly what you dealt my brother.”
But there was another mysterious layer: Caddle’s attorney said in the plea hearing, “As recently as today, [Caddle] has been working, collaborating, with the FBI in developing an important investigation.” He said Caddle offered information to the feds during a September 2021 proffer session, a meeting where a suspect offers up proof.
It’s unclear what his cooperation involved. It appears that only one man, Tony Teixeira, the former chief of staff to the Senate president, has faced charges linked to Caddle. In November 2022, Teixeira pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion.
The day of the murder
The prosecutor’s documents acquired by NorthJersey.com shed some light on what Galdieri’s final day may have looked like.
A man told investigators he dropped off a gram of crystal meth at Galdieri's apartment between 4 and 5 p.m. and told investigators he didn’t see anyone else with Galdieri.
At 6:30 p.m., Galdieri cashed a $650 check a block from home at Bailey’s, a pawn shop. Galdieri was alone, according to a man who worked there.
Galdieri texted a friend that evening, asking him to come over and get high, according to the friend’s text messages and what the friend told investigators. The man said he didn’t go because he was at another friend’s house.
Around 9 p.m., Galdieri called his meth supplier, asking for another gram. The man told investigators he found the request for a second batch unusual. He told law enforcement he heard at least one voice in the background during the call.
About a half-hour later, a man heard a loud crack as he sat on a nearby porch, and noticed that 158 Mallory Ave. across the way was on fire. The windows were shattering from the heat, so he called 911. He told investigators he saw two men of medium height who appeared to be trotting away from the blazing building, without turning to look at the scene.
A handful of surveillance cameras in the neighborhood caught images of the two men.
Firefighters arrived at the scene at 9:39 p.m. on the rainy night. They broke down two doors to reach the fire, according to the incident report of the two-alarm fire.
The flames — which started in the living room of the second-floor apartment — blew out the left side window and ignited vinyl siding. First responders set up portable lights to illuminate the scene.
By 10 p.m., the fire was under control. Now first responders had to deal with the body they found in the office.
The man, lying on his back on top of a pair of dentures, had stab wounds in his neck and torso. Every surface of the apartment was covered in black soot. The floor around him was stained with blood.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ murder for hire case linked to Russian mob, forged art