Surprise guilty pleas entered in 'sniper van' case

Published: Jan. 31, 2015 at 1:43 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2015 at 2:20 AM CST
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Left to right: Gullo, Gagliano
Left to right: Gullo, Gagliano

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - New details emerged Friday in the case of two men who now face up to 10 years in jail after pleading guilty in a case that stunned residents of Old Metairie.

The case involved weapons found in a van that some said looked like it was rigged to kill. On a warm may night last year, Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies arrested two men driving on Metairie Road in a van with makeshift windows, sawed-off chairs, a semi-automatic rifle, a silencer and a stolen license plate.

"This is a classic unsophisticated vehicle that can be used for assassination," said former FBI special agent Jim Bernazzani in July.

The van was spotted by a parish camera on the lookout for stolen vehicles. One of the men, Joseph Gagliano, had alleged ties to organized crime. He was convicted in 1992 in Operation Hard Crust, a case that involved known mafia operatives from New York and New Orleans trying to monopolize Louisiana's then-fledgling video gaming industry. It was a case handled by Mandeville Police Chief Rick Richard, who at the time worked for the FBI.

"They were gonna skim profits off bar operators and try and muscle their way in," said Richard.

Gagliano was a passenger in the van driven by Dominick Gullo. And today, in something of a surprise move, they both pleaded guilty to federal charges. Gagliano now admits to being a felon in possession of a firearm, and both men pleaded guilty to being in possession of a silencer.

Gagliano attorney Patrick Fanning said, "Our belief that we had a strong case fell apart after the feds came forward with new evidence." That new evidence flew in the face of earlier claims that Gullo had purchased the van for $300 earlier that day from a woman in a Metairie coffee shop.

New court documents released Friday revealed that "In the weeks prior to the May 7th, 2014 stop, Joseph F. Gagliano sought to have the Ford van repaired and modified, leading to the small residential windows being installed."

The U.S. attorney's office wouldn't comment on whether there was an intended victim. Richard said he never suspected Gagliano was violent.

"Every once in a while they would say they would break somebody's leg, but it was all false bravado," said Richard.

Both men now face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Federal Judge Eldon Fallon will sentence Gagliano and Gullo on May 14. Both men will remain on home detention until then.

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