The news had New Jersey’s political world bracing for huge events that appeared all but certain to follow.
In January 2022, Democratic political operative Sean Caddle pleaded guilty in federal court to hiring two career criminals to kill former associate Michael Galdieri. It was a particularly brutal crime that went unsolved for over seven years. The hit men, , stabbed Galdieri to death and set his Jersey City apartment ablaze in an attempted coverup.
But Caddle — known for his work for the powerful and colorful former state Sen. Ray Lesniak and for pioneering the use of super PACs and nonprofits to hide the true source of political donations — remained on home confinement.
Caddle’s own lawyer said he was cooperating with the feds. His sentencing was repeatedly delayed.
Something earth-shattering had to be coming, New Jersey politicos and journalists assumed. Even the most jaded veterans of a political scene notorious for corruption thought so.
But almost a year and a half later, there’s little to show for it.
“It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. I think it’s without precedent. Frankly, I’m totally befuddled by it,” said Bob Torricelli, a former Democratic U.S. Senator who continues to keep a close eye on New Jersey politics.
Caddle’s sentencing is scheduled for June 29 and it’s unlikely to be delayed again. Lee Cortes, an assistant U.S. Attorney, said on a brief court conference call in March that “at this point, Caddle’s cooperation with the government is really at a conclusion.”
The only prosecution that appears linked to Caddle’s cooperation was against Tony Teixeira, Lesniak’s former chief of staff and, later, chief of staff to Senate President Nick Scutari. Teixeira pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud after admitting to skimming money from Caddle’s network of PACs and his nonprofit. They were serious charges, but when taken in context, they more closely resemble what a fictional U.S. Attorney in “The Sopranos” described as a “popcorn fart.”
While it’s possible that something big may come of Caddle’s cooperation, there have been no reports of subpoenas, early morning FBI raids or grand jury testimony. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey declined to comment.
“I’m fairly certain that (if) he’d already promised that all he could provide was a tax evasion prosecution, the government wouldn’t cut that deal,” said John Farmer Jr., a former federal prosecutor and state attorney general.
Farmer said sometimes generous prosecution agreements just don't work out.
“There’s always a risk when you cut these deals that for whatever reason it doesn’t result in a prosecutable case,” he said. “You’re not dealing with choir boys, and sometimes the information they provide doesn’t pan out for whatever reason. It could be perfectly good intelligence that doesn’t result in prosecutions.”
It’s a stark contrast to the potential many believe the case had. The circumstances and timing of Galdieri’s death bore eerie similarities to one of New Jersey’s most notorious politically-connected cold cases: The deaths of John and Joyce Sheridan.
John Sheridan, a well-respected former transportation commissioner who was CEO of Cooper University Hospital in Camden and chair of a Camden nonprofit, was found dead along with his wife in their Somerset County home. They had stab wounds, and a fire had been set in the bedroom where their bodies were found.
Bratsenis, one of Galdieri’s killers, was arrested in Connecticut for bank robbery the day after the Sheridan murders. And in his car, according to reports, was a long-bladed kitchen knife. One of the Sheridans’ sons, Mark, said prosecutors had asked his family about a missing kitchen knife from their home.
Mark Sheridan urged prosecutors to examine similarities between the killings just days after Caddle’s guilty plea. It’s not clear if they did.
“We have not heard any formal response from the (New Jersey) Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney,” Sheridan said in a phone interview. “And we’ve been told by friends of friends that there is no evidence of a connection. But nobody’s ever reached out to affirmatively tell us that.”
Following Caddle’s arrest, reporting shed some more light on his political activities to help Democrats. POLITICO reported how a top attorney for the Elizabeth Board of Education — one of the biggest school districts in New Jersey — raised money for law firms that funded one of Caddle’s dark-money groups, which then paid for ads and canvassing to help the same candidates that would later approve contracts for those firms.
Much of the speculation in the case centered on Lesniak, a 30-year state lawmaker who was one of the top figures in the Union County Democratic machine, because of Caddle’s close ties to him. But Lesniak said prosecutors never subpoenaed or questioned him.
“The whole operation in terms of trying to get Caddle to spill the beans, so to speak, on others involved? It seems like the FBI came up with a big nothing,” Lesniak said in an interview. “Tony Tex is not a nothing, but he’s certainly not a big something … Obviously [prosecutors] had big eyes going into this thinking there must be political corruption involved here, as you guys speculated. And as it turned out, there wasn’t.”
Caddle has been mostly quiet through the scandal. He, his wife and two young children faced eviction from his Sussex County townhouse for failure to pay rent. But through much of it, his wife, Luisa, has been a vocal presence on Twitter, suggesting that prosecutors were ignoring the bigger corruption scandal and calling for New Jersey Legislature to hold public hearings into political dark money.
“Instead of asking for hearings maybe I should have simply asked for someone to acknowledge what was going on with #DarkMoney,” she tweeted in December. “Why is no one willing to speak about this? Could it be they are afraid that if they ask the question something will come out that no one wants spoken about?”
Torricelli, the former senator, is familiar with federal investigations. He had his own brush with federal prosecutors he described as “aggressive” 20 years ago.
“They were at it for two years, disrupted the electoral process and never even did a presentation for a grand jury,” Torricelli said.
But as far as Caddle’s case, Torricelli said that so far, the punishment and the crime just don’t match.
“If there’s high treason against the United States or other violent crimes, I could understand. But when this is over, someone’s going to have to offer explanation,” he said.