Cheetahs strip club owner's roots in Trinidad, Colorado

Michael Galardi pleads guilty to bribing San Diego vice cop, but it is part of pattern

The narrow streets and sidewalks of Trinidad, Colorado, are paved with thousands and thousands of old red bricks, each stamped with the name of the town. In the hot afternoon sun of mid-September, they take on a near-golden hue, making the town look, from afar, more tidy and prosperous than it is. On closer inspection, many of the Victorian houses in the hills above Main Street are empty, dilapidated, or overgrown with weeds, and the downtown is deathly quiet, many of its fine, old commercial buildings vacant or occupied by seedy bars.

In recent years, Trinidad's most famous resident has been Dr. Stanley Biber, a pioneer in sex-change surgery, who for decades conducted a bustling practice in the operating rooms of the local hospital. Today Biber is said to be on the verge of retiring, but his understudy carries on, and her pre-op clients, all male, can be seen strolling in drag along the streets of downtown and browsing the stacks of the town's Carnegie Library.

Because there wasn't much to do in Trinidad, a few years ago a casino was proposed, but state voters shot it down. They were afraid of the organized crime it might encourage. Though Trinidad looks harmless enough, its dusty hills hold many secrets that cast far shadows. Some reach all the way to San Diego and its titty-bar bribery scandal.

Trinidad got its start as a wayside along the Santa Fe Trail in the early 19th Century, but the place really took off after 1890, about the time bituminous coal was discovered nearby. More than 60,000 souls would eventually come to live in "coal towns" with names like Sopris, Starkville, Engleville, and Cokedale, all within a few miles of Trinidad. Many came to be owned and operated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s Colorado Fuel and Iron. Rockefeller ran the mines from his offices in New York by personal fiat and did not look kindly on his workers. Decades of labor strife plagued the mines, and Trinidad became nationally famous when radical Mother Jones came to town on the miners' behalf to give speeches and stage daily marches for a week.

The mining companies drew the bulk of their cheap labor from immigrants who were then pouring into the country from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as an impoverished Japan. Of these, Sicilians were predominant. Italians, notes Rick J. Clyne in Coal People, his book about the region, "were by far the largest single ethnic group in the field, outnumbering 'Austrians,' the second-largest nationality, by a factor of four to one at the outbreak of World War I."

Life was difficult for the miners of Las Animas County. Because they were poor, uneducated, and from diverse cultures, it was easy for the Rockefeller interests to pit one ethnic group against the other, and therefore defeat any attempt at unionization. "Stark cultural differences fueled the fires of racism," observes Clyne, "but the Japanese aroused even more resentment because they often arrived in the southern Colorado fields as strikebreakers, and hard feelings remained long after the strikes ended.

"In Cokedale, the large Japanese work force was kept completely segregated both above and below ground. Japanese workers had their own bathhouse and separate entry into the mine; as one miner put it, 'There was just Jap people working in there and a Jap boss.' "

Among the Europeans it was no different. Even choosing a "checkweighman," who would determine how much each miner would be paid by weighing each worker's coal output, could cause strife. "It is right difficult for these men to agree on a checkweighman," a coal-company owner quoted by Clyne once testified to Congress. "If they agree on an Italian, the Slavs believe he is stealing from them and giving to his Italian friends, and if it's a Slav it is vice versa."

Such conditions tended to reinforce the traditional ties between each ethnic group. Not only did they live in their own ghettos -- Italian miners resided in places with derogatory names like "Cast Town" or "Laredo," blacks in "Coontown," Japanese in "Jap Town" -- they also fell back on their own social societies, borrowed from their ancestral homes. "Many societies existed in Las Animas and Huerfano counties, and their names reveal their strong ethnic bias. Italians had the Dante Alighieri Society, Nueva Italia, Pietro Toselli, and the Legabuchase or League Abrusi, to name a few," Clyne observes, adding that the Italian societies "usually organized a large celebration for Columbus Day and another for St. John's Day, which fell close to the Fourth of July."

Many were legal, traditional, and harmless. Some were not. Among white workers from the American South, the Ku Klux Klan sprang up early in the 1920s, tacitly spurred on by the coal companies to burn crosses on the hills behind Cokedale, where blacks were prohibited from working. Much of the violence that permeated Trinidad and its surrounding coal towns was carried out between factions of the same ethnic groups, remaining largely outside of the established legal system, which often failed to investigate and prosecute worker murders -- a situation sanctioned by the coal bosses for their own ends. As a result, the roots of organized crime became firmly implanted in the local culture.

"Vendetta killings, particularly among Italians, occurred in Las Animas County," writes Colorado Metro State College professor Stephen Leonard in his book Lynching in Colorado, 1859-1919. "Although they had aspects of lynchings, they belonged at least as much, if not more to old-world customs than to the American tradition of lynching. Hence they have not been included among the lynchings in this book. If they had been, the number of lynchings would increase substantially, for more than 20 vendetta homicides took place in Las Animas County alone between 1880 and 1920."

According to local lore, Chicago gangster Al Capone once hid out with relatives in the small nearby town of Aguilar.

Trinidad's coal business began a long decline in the 1930s, as energy uses shifted and the demand for coal to make steel declined. In the years following World War II, says Clyne, "The towns of Trinidad and Walsenburg went into long-term hibernation, subsisting on the relatively meager returns from ranching and small scale tourism." Yet some enterprises with a relation to the region's agricultural economy seemed to thrive remarkably well. One was the Colorado Cheese Company, which according to an August 1980 account in the New York Times, had a big connection back East: Joe Bonanno, who at the time headed one of New York's five major Mafia crime families.

"Mr. Bonanno formed Colorado Cheese Ltd. in Trinidad, Colo., in the 1940s," said the Times, which cited congressional sources and the Philadelphia Crime Commission as its source for a lengthy exposé of the American Mafia's infiltration of the nation's cheese and pizza businesses.

"Further evidence of influence of organized crime on the industry was developed in a New York State Department of Agriculture hearing on an application by Utica Cheese Incorporated of Oriskany for a license to manufacture mozzarella, which is a major ingredient of pizza. The hearing received testimony that Utica's owner, Saputo Cheese in Montreal, was in turn partly owned by Joseph Bonanno of Tucson, Ariz., head of the Bonanno organized-crime group of New York.

"Last month, Charles D. Breitel, former chief judge of the Court of Appeals of New York and special hearing officer for the license application, recommended that the department deny the Saputo request because of what he found to be the company's clandestine but continuing association with Mr. Bonanno.

"The department had introduced evidence to show that Mr. Bonanno had a hidden interest in the Saputo cheese business, and Mr. Breitel said a denial by Emanuele Saputo, the president, 'strains credibility.' The application was rejected on August 1 by J. Roger Barber, Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

"The Pennsylvania study listed 23 cheese companies it said had ties to organized crime, many to the Gambino and Bonanno groups, and it traced in particular ties between one of the 23, Grande Cheese of Brownsville, Wis., and Roma Food Enterprises of New Jersey."

But no matter how lucrative to the mob, all the mozzarella in the world would not be enough to support Trinidad. During the climax of the town's great coal collapse of the mid-1950s, coal towns like Cokedale were shuttered and the houses sold off to private buyers. By the early 1960s, the coal business that had so fundamentally shaped Trinidad and its frontier culture was essentially dead. Over the years, many townspeople left town to find their fortunes in more lucrative places, like Los Angeles, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Yet they retained close ties to their birthplace.

Among them was the family of Angel Jerrold Galardi, whose father Angelo also went by the name of Gagliardi. (Gagliardi is pronounced the same as Galardi.)

Born September 25, 1936, Angel went to Trinidad High and was a member of the airplane club before graduating and moving to L.A. He died in Orange County on July 2, 1995, at the age of 58. Among his survivors, according to an obituary in the Orange County Register, was his brother, Jack Galardi of Las Vegas, the same Jack Galardi whose son, Mike Galardi, the name owner of San Diego's Cheetahs strip club, copped a guilty plea earlier this month to bribing three members of the San Diego City Council.

Jack Galardi is reported to own a large chain of strip clubs in the South and at one time reportedly had an interest in San Diego's Cheetahs with his son. Angel and his brother Jack were sentenced to federal prison terms in 1972 for a postal money-order theft in Los Angeles. Jack reportedly has denied any involvement in the San Diego case and has not been charged. His lawyer has also denied that Galardi has any connection to organized crime.

Another resident of Trinidad with connections to Jack Galardi is Gene H. Gagliardi. Born in 1926, an entry in the city directory shows he once was principal of Cokedale Elementary School and later became a U.S. history teacher and line coach of the football team -- the Miners -- at Trinidad High. But he abruptly left town in the late 1960s, says Cosette Henritze, a writer for the Trinidad Chronicle-News, who has lived her entire life in the town. "He went to Las Vegas to get into the gambling business or something," she recalls. "The thought was he might have inherited some funds. He drove a big black sedan and wore some pretty big rings." In the years since, Gagliardi, now 77, has frequently returned to Trinidad and has made generous contributions to the high school's athletic program, Henritze recounts. Yearbooks in the high school's collection also bear a notice saying they were donated by Gagliardi.

Las Animas County records show that Gagliardi still owns the old family home on East Seventh Street in Trinidad. It has three bedrooms and one bath and is covered in turquoise and white asbestos shingles, which were popular in the 1940s. The house has a partial view of the vast Colorado prairie that sprawls to the horizon on the east side of town. Today weeds lick around the sides of the house, giving the 100-year-old dwelling an unlived-in appearance.

For the past several years, Gagliardi's mailing address on property tax records has been listed as an office in Las Vegas, an address that is also used by Jack Galardi, his son Mike Galardi, and many of their enterprises. A deed to a piece of Trinidad property signed by Gagliardi in 1998 shows that it was signed by him in Las Vegas and notarized by Emelita P. Sy, who is listed as an officer in Nevada corporate papers filed by many of Jack Galardi's entities.

Several families named Gagliardi have long and deep roots in Trinidad. One of the longest living patriarchs was Pete Gagliardi, Sr., an auto mechanic. His death certificate records he was born in the nearby coal town Engleville on July 18, 1903, to Pietro Gagliardi and Maria Nucci and got as far as the eighth grade in school. Pete Sr. died on September 8, 1991, at the age of 88. His bride Josephine Naccarato preceded him in death, but he was survived by his son, Pete Jr., among many other family members.

On August 21, 1943, according to a property transfer record at the small Trinidad courthouse, "Pietro Gagliardi, also known as Pete Gagliardi," deeded the family's house on the hill behind the town to "his proper son Sam Gilardi." According to the deed, Pietro "reserves to himself the right of habitation for and during his natural life, to habitate in the dwelling house situated on the lots described above." Eighteen years later, on August 17, 1961, Sam Gilardi, "also known as Sam Gagliardi," deeded the same property to Gene Gagliardi.

An idea of how extensive the Gagliardi family tree has been in Trinidad can be gleaned from a court decree filed in March 1952 dividing up the real estate of Muntera Nucci, who died without a will almost 20 years before, on September 2, 1930. "Her sole and only heirs," according to the decree, were Angelina Niccoli, Louisa DeLuca, and Maria Teresa Gagliardi, "also known as Mary Gagliardi," Pietro's wife. She had died in Trinidad without leaving a will on April 1, 1943.

Pietro himself passed away less than five years later, on January 18, 1948, and by 1952, Mary's one-third share of the property she had inherited from her family was divvied up by the court to ten remaining Gagliardi survivors: Joe, Angel, Pete, Jake, Louis, Sam, Charles, John, Lucy, and Frank.

City directories from before World War II indicate that most of the early members of the Gagliardi family worked as laborers, mechanics, miners, or painters for the railroad. Many of the Gagliardi women were employed in positions such as store clerks and telephone operators.

Gene Gagliardi, according to Nevada records, has long been involved in the bar and gaming industry in Las Vegas. The center of his business interests in Las Vegas, records indicate, is a company called Gaggy's, Inc.

In February 2001, according to the agenda of the Las Vegas City Council, Gene Gagliardi came before the council that month to request that the name of his bar on South Main, then known as Kooter's Klub, be changed to Gino's II. Gagliardi was listed as president, secretary, and treasurer of the venture, owned by Gagliardi's holding company, Gaggy, Inc., which, according to the agenda, holds a tavern liquor license and a restricted gaming license for 15 slot machines at the bar. In addition to the bar, Nevada property records show Gagliardi and Teri G. Galardi, Jack's daughter, who has also operated a bar in Las Vegas, own a piece of Las Vegas real estate together.

A man who answered the telephone last week at Gino's II said that "Gino" Gagliardi seldom came into the establishment and referred the caller to Emilita Sy at Galardi Enterprises. "I just know that Gino's name is on the paperwork, but he pretty much lets the [Galardi] office handle the business. He comes in once in a blue moon. He's Jack Galardi's brother or cousin, something like that. I heard Gino was once a school principal somewhere. People talk. That's pretty much all I know. I just work here. Hear no evil, see no evil, you know?" He declined to give his name.

In the years after they left Colorado and ended up in Los Angeles, the lives of brothers Jack and Angel Galardi came to be filled with crime and controversy. In 1971 they were indicted by a federal grand jury in L.A. and ultimately convicted of "various charges relating to robbery of post offices and transportation of stolen postal money orders," according to an account of the brothers' crimes contained in a 1973 appellate court ruling rendered in the case against them and co-defendant Peter Michael Lafkas.

"The Galardis actively participated in the robbery of two United States Post Offices in California during the summer of 1968. Stolen in the robberies were blank United States Postal money orders with a potential value in excess of $200,000," the ruling said.

"The Galardis hid the money orders on the premises of a bar and warehouse that they owned in Long Beach. Subsequently, they entered into an agreement with Lafkas to transport the money orders to Vietnam, where Lafkas would cash them on the black money market.

"Following through on this arrangement, over 1600 of the stolen money orders were cashed in the Far East for more than $160,000. The money orders were recovered and received in evidence during the course of the trial. On a substantial number of the orders were the fingerprints of the appellants.

"The basic facts are simple," the court concluded. "The money orders were 'in blank' when stolen. The Galardis, with stolen equipment, filled in the value on each bond at $110,000." Convicted of six counts each and sentenced to five years on each count, to be served concurrently, the brothers appealed, attacking the credibility of government witnesses against them and the alleged delay by prosecutors in bringing charges. The appellate court ruled in the Galardis' favor on one count each, holding that one of the laws used by the government to charge them didn't apply. Angel Galardi died at the age of 56 on July 2, 1995, of what the local newspaper reported to be "natural causes." He was living in Lake Forest, an Orange County suburb near the old El Toro Marine base, and had earlier resided in other California cities, including Carlsbad. Jack Galardi, who over the years since leaving Colorado has maintained addresses in Las Vegas; Atlanta, Georgia; and a string of Florida beach cities, turned 72 this April.

Today, in the glare of the Cheetahs scandal, the extended family of Jack Edward Galardi has gone to ground.

Contacted by phone at Galardi Enterprises in Las Vegas this week, Sy said she would take messages for both Gene Gagliardi and Jack Galardi and pass them on to the men, but that she did not expect either to return phone calls. Of Jack she said, "He never has talked, and he never will talk."

Jack Galardi's South Carolina-based attorney has told reporters that Jack had nothing to do with the crimes of his 41-year-old son Michael, who was reportedly adopted sometime during Jack's former marriage to an unidentified woman.

In 1999, investigators with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department told Clark County Commissioners that Jack Galardi was linked to organized crime but presented few details other than to hint he was connected to the Gambino family of New York. His attorneys denied the allegations, but he subsequently bowed out of an effort to obtain a Clark County license for a new strip club, letting his son step into the deal. Las Vegas police later raised questions about whether Jack had continued to hold a secret interest in the venture.

In light of Michael Galardi's San Diego guilty plea -- which includes the admission that he paid various bribes to a San Diego vice cop who turned out to be an undercover officer working on behalf of the feds, along with three members of the city council -- it has been reported that Jack may try to take over the liquor and cabaret licenses of Michael's multimillion-dollar Vegas strip emporiums, Cheetahs, Jaguars, and the Leopard Lounge. Jack reportedly owns 60 percent of the Cheetahs in Vegas and his son the remaining 40 percent. Michael is said to hold all of Jaguars and Leopard Lounge in his own name.

"He would be eligible for consideration because he was not turned down [previously]," Clark County counsel Mary-Anne Miller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal two weeks ago. "I would be surprised if it [the new applicant] wasn't Jack Galardi because he's in business with his son in the city, and he has similar businesses around the country."

Meanwhile, back in tiny Trinidad, the dark, dusty bars are far removed from the flashy Vegas and San Diego strip joints of the Galardi clan. Even before noon, the bar patrons of Trinidad, mostly down-and-out-looking middle-aged men, make their way down the hills to Main Street and begin to file through the swinging doors of places like Mantelli's. No tits and ass here, thank you. Only an ESPN announcer droning out scores on a flickering color TV and a barmaid serving up watery drinks.

The town is doing better, the customers say, looking up from their beers. Retirees from the East are building fancy Santa Fe-style houses in the hills, though they rarely get past the Wal-Mart out on the freeway. Energy companies are drilling for natural gas in the coal seams near the old coal towns like Cokedale and Engleville, where the Sicilian immigrants got their first introduction to America. There's new talk about bringing in slot machines.

Meantime, the next major entertainment event is next month at Lu Ju's Pub: Great White, the '80s heavy metal band whose explosive pyrotechnics started the fire at a Rhode Island nightclub that killed 97 last February, is coming through on tour. Offers a window poster promoting the band: "Proceeds to benefit survivors and families of our friends lost in the Station Nightclub fire, West Warwick, Rhode Island."

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