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Strip Club Owner Pleads Guilty in Bribery Case

He takes a plea bargain and agrees to help in the prosecution of three San Diego officials alleged to have taken illegal political donations.

September 09, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The owner of a strip club pleaded guilty Monday to attempting to bribe a police officer and three City Council members and, in a bid for leniency, agreed to provide "substantial assistance" in the prosecution of the council members and a lobbyist for the club.

Michael Galardi, 41, of Las Vegas, owner of Cheetahs Totally Nude club, agreed to a plea bargain offered by federal prosecutors, who were willing to drop a long list of charges against Galardi in exchange for his help.

Galardi agreed to "tell everything" and provide "complete, truthful and accurate information and testimony," according to a plea bargain filed with U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller. Prosecutors agreed to ask for leniency for Galardi if they decide his assistance is helpful.

For pleading guilty to a single charge of wire fraud, Galardi could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is the second person indicted in the case to plead guilty.

A Cheetahs night manager pleaded guilty last week to paying $40,000 of Galardi's money to an undercover police officer in exchange for advance warning of vice squad raids.

Council members Michael Zucchet, Charles Lewis and Ralph Inzunza have pleaded not guilty to charges that they accepted illegal campaign contributions in exchange for a promise to help convince the council to drop the "no touching" ordinance that prohibits nude dancers from touching or getting within six feet of their patrons while seeking gratuities.

Las Vegas lobbyist and former police officer Lance Malone, the alleged middleman between Galardi and the council members in arranging and delivering the alleged bribes, has also pleaded not guilty.

Although Galardi, in his plea bargain, agreed to "tell everything," it is unclear how much he can reveal about the three council members.

The indictment, unsealed Aug. 28 after a three-year investigation, makes no reference to alleged phone calls between Galardi and any council member or any meetings between them. The FBI secretly recorded calls and meetings allegedly involving Galardi and Malone, and Malone and council members.

Lewis' attorney, Frank Ragen said he didn't think Galardi's possible testimony would have any significant effect on Lewis.

"Galardi has never met Charles Lewis, never had a meeting with him," Ragen said. "There is absolutely no contact between the two."

Miller allowed Galardi to remain free on $250,000 bond until sentencing, set tentatively for January.

After the brief court appearance, Galardi and his attorney, Robert Rose, a former federal prosecutor, rushed past reporters, refusing to comment.

"No reaction -- sorry," Galardi said.

Galardi owns strip clubs in Las Vegas and San Diego. With his father, Jack Galardi, 72, the family owns a dozen such clubs across the country. A federal grand jury in Las Vegas is also probing possible attempts by Galardi and his associates to buy political influence in that gambling mecca.

The San Diego plea bargain does not restrict federal prosecutors in Las Vegas or elsewhere in their investigations, according to the document.

Federal prosecutors allege that Galardi and Malone conspired with the three councilmen to funnel thousands of dollars into their campaigns by reimbursing "straw" contributors. Local law limits individual contributions to $500.

In his plea bargain, Galardi said he had paid Lewis' expenses for a trip to Las Vegas, including admission to a performance of the "Blue Man" entertainment group.

"When the facts are known, that statement will be shown to be false," Ragen said.

Malone's Las Vegas attorney, Jerome De Palma, said he doubted that any testimony given by Galardi would prove persuasive to a jury because jurors would know he was seeking to reduce the length of his prison sentence. DePalma said his client was not planning to plead guilty.

Justin Brooks, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy at California Western School of Law in San Diego, said that, although defense attorneys routinely brand as unbelievable any testimony given as part of a plea bargain, it often becomes a question of whose credibility is stronger: that of the witness or that of the defendant.

"I've seen juries believe child molesters and not believe schoolteachers," Brooks said. "You can't tell in advance who a jury will believe."

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