JP deputy testifies about van apparently 'rigged to kill'

Van (Source: JPSO)
Van (Source: JPSO)

A Jefferson Parish deputy described under oath Thursday how he came across a van that some say was "rigged to kill."

The case unfolded in Old Metairie in May. A stripped-out vehicle was found rigged with custom sliding windows and sawed-off kitchen chairs. Deputies found a rifle, a silencer and an 8-foot-long piece of cannon fuse.

Police arrested the driver, 72-year-old Dominic Gullo and his passenger, 55-year-old Joseph Gagliano.

Gullo's attorney argues that the search was illegal.

At an evidentiary hearing Thursday in federal court, Deputy Lamar Hooks detailed what led to the search.

Hooks told the court he responded to an alert from a license plate reading camera about a stolen plate on a white van. Hooks said when he tried to pull the van over,  the driver pulled into his own driveway on East William David.

With no proof of insurance or registration, Gullo was arrested for those violations and for possession of stolen property. Before towing the vehicle, Hooks said he conducted a standard inventory search to document any valuable items inside.

He told the judge when he saw the way the van was rigged, he knew something wasn't right and thought it had been involved in rim and tire thefts in the area, so he called in the crime lab.

Defense attorneys argue the deputy's suspicion was never documented. But former FBI Agent Jim Bernazzani has praised the officer's actions.

"The officer on the street did a heck of a job," Bernazzani said. "I know there are allegations of ties to organized crime - certainly there's physical evidence, relative to the van, the window and the weapon and the silencer. They're not deer hunting. This is a classic unsophisticated vehicle that can be used for assassination."

Gagliano is a twice-convicted felon and is facing weapons charges in connection with the stop. Both he and Gullo have pleaded not guilty.

Judge Eldon Fallon hasn't ruled on whether the evidence should be thrown out. Trial is set for Nov. 3.

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