Ribfellas

Prosecutors say blood is thicker than barbecue sauce for restaurant owner Frank Galgano

Detectives watched Frank Galgano for years, but they didn't nail him until August 25. That was when Galgano, co-owner of the Bobby Rubino's rib-restaurant chain, was booked into jail. The state Department of Revenue charged him with stealing nearly $250,000 in sales tax. If convicted, the long-time Fort Lauderdale businessman may spend 30 years in prison.

But Galgano's attorney, Fred Haddad, insists the charges are bogus and his client is guilty of nothing but struggling in business. Haddad says Galgano told state officials about the sales tax problem and authorities had an ulterior motive for the arrest.

"Things are going down with the meat business -- people are eating healthy and eating less ribs," Haddad says. "So Frank was having trouble paying his sales taxes, and he cut a deal with the Department of Revenue. He had payment plans. He went to them in good faith to try and work things out, and they charged him with a crime. There was no criminal intent. He makes a great target because of his family."

Haddad is referring to the Gambino family, one of the five main branches of the Italian Mafia. Galgano, a 45-year-old father of two who lives in a relatively modest house in Davie, is the grandson of Ettore Zappi, whom police labeled a caporegime, or captain, of the Gambino crime clan, which was once ruled by John Gotti.

Zappi, who died in 1986 at age 83, specialized in pornography, strip clubs, and apparently ribs. Although his name has never been formally attached to the Bobby Rubino's restaurants, a key federal witness testified in a 1996 trial in West Palm Beach that Zappi controlled the restaurants (the first one opened in 1978 on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale) and regularly skimmed money from their cash registers. During that trial prosecutors alleged the restaurant's eponym had been a bagman for Zappi. Rubino severed all ties with the chain in 1982.

These days Bobby Rubino's, which has dwindled during the past few years from 25 restaurants to only 7, is owned by Galgano and two other descendants of Mafia royalty, Paul and Joe Castellano. The Castellanos' father and clan godfather, Paul Castellano Sr., was slain 15 years ago in New York on Gotti's order. Neither son has a criminal record.

Galgano, too, had a clean criminal record until his recent arrest. "It's typical when they see that someone's name ends in a vowel," Haddad says of the state's motivation for charging Galgano with a crime. "They can't let it die.... Frank Galgano is a wonderful guy, a churchgoing, fishing guy, the nicest guy there is."

Through the years, though, Mob ties and arrests have been commonplace at the restaurant chain:

Anthony Galgano, Frank's brother and a Bobby Rubino's executive, was charged in 1996 and served a year in prison for his role in an international boat-theft ring that originated in a Fort Lauderdale marina.

• Bobby Rubino's manager John DiGiorgio was sentenced in 1998 to ten years in prison for his involvement in a kidnapping and extortion racket. DiGiorgio is Gotti's nephew, which indicates the Castellanos, who declined comment for this article, didn't let their father's murder get in the way of business.

• Another Bobby Rubino's manager, Peter Sabatino, has been described in federal court papers as being a captain in the Colombo crime family.

• Until recently the Bobby Rubino's restaurant in San Francisco was partly owned by Anthony Scotto Jr. Scotto is another son of the Mafia. His father is a convicted felon and reputed Gambino captain, and his great uncle was Mob kingpin Albert Anastasia, founder of the famed hit-man organization Murder Inc.

Associates like these have caused the state to pay special attention to Galgano's tax case. Prosecutors from the Broward state attorney's organized-crime unit rather than the economic crimes unit, are handling the case. But prosecutor Mark Dressler says the charges have nothing to do with Mob affiliation. Dressler confirms Revenue Department officials once reached an arrangement with Galgano to pay the tax, but he contends the deal was nullified when the restaurant owner failed to make required payments.

"There's no denying the [Mafia] associations, but the reality is we don't prosecute people solely on associations," says Dressler. "They have to commit a crime, and this guy took a substantial amount of sales tax."

State revenue officials allege they have tax forms, bank records, and testimony from the restaurant chain's accountants that prove Galgano pocketed tax revenues generated by $4 million in sales over a two-year period. "When investigators compared cash-register tapes and other business records to tax returns, they found that Galgano had been deliberately understating how much tax he had collected," state officials wrote in a press release that flatly called Galgano a "tax thief."

Former Broward sheriff Nick Navarro says Galgano has been a marked man for years because of his Mafia ties. "[They are] something you carry with you," Navarro says. "I won't say it's in your genes, but you cannot be the grandson of Ettore Zappi and not be marked by it. They say you can choose your friends but you can't choose your relatives."

Galgano has more troubles. In the past year, at least three Galgano-owned companies in Broward have been hit with civil judgments totaling more than $1 million for failing to satisfy a lease agreement and stiffing a meat supplier. In fact the Bobby Rubino's chain appears to be struggling. Although spokeswoman Kay Ferrarra wouldn't comment on the company's financial health, several restaurants have closed in the last three years. Two locations associated with Galgano, in Pittsburgh and North Lauderdale have gone bust, and restaurants in Pembroke Park, Boca Raton, and Fort Lauderdale recently went out of business.

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