A file photo of Christian Tarantino leaving FBI Headquarters in...

A file photo of Christian Tarantino leaving FBI Headquarters in Melville to be arraigned. (Sept. 24, 2008) Credit: Howard Schnapp

In the years before he was shot between the eyes on a Manhattan street in 2003, Vincent Gargiulo thought he had a plan to protect and enrich himself, his best friend testified Wednesday in federal court.

The plan, said Robert Gerrato, was to use a tape Gargiulo said he'd made of their friend, Christian Tarantino, admitting to taking part in a botched 1994 armored car robbery in Muttontown in which a guard was killed. Gargiulo, 34 of Sunnyside, wanted $500,000 from Tarantino in return for the tape recording, Gerrato said Wednesday during Tarantino's murder trial before Judge Joanna Seybert.

"He said he was going to the FBI," Gerrato said during questioning by prosecutor Carrie Capwell, describing a conversation they had while returning from a Twisted Sister concert at Great Adventure in New Jersey. The rock band's lead singer, Dee Snider, was Gargiulo's brother-in-law and a courtroom spectator Wednesday in Central Islip.

"I said he was crazy," Gerrato said he told Gargiulo.

Besides the shooting death of Gargiulo, Tarantino, a Dix Hills businessman, is charged with murders of the armored car guard, Julius Baumgardt, 47, of Lindenhurst, and Louis Dorval, 30, of Elmont and East Meadow, who also allegedly took part in the robbery. Prosecutors say Tarantino had Dorval and Gargiulo killed because he feared they were about to go to authorities.

Tarantino was aware that Gargiulo might be trying to trap him, Gerrato said. Before Christmas in 2001 or 2002, Gerrato said he ran into Tarantino at a Merrick pet store.

Tarantino said Gargiulo was "dry ratting" him. Gerrato said he later learned that meant Gargiulo was trying to trick Tarantino into saying something incriminating.

During questioning by defense attorney James Froccaro, Gerrato conceded that no one else heard Gargiulo talking about wanting to blackmail Tarantino. He also acknowledged that Gargiulo struggled with mental illness, and was delusional and paranoid at times.

Later, Lt. James West, commander of the New York Police Department's Midtown South detective squad, said he got a tape in the mail about eight months after Gargiulo's death.

As they have before, Tarantino's attorneys tried to keep the tape out of evidence, but Seybert allowed it in.

On the tape, which may be played later in the trial, a voice the prosecution says is Tarantino is heard discussing his role in the robbery with an attorney.

"This recording was made illegally for the purposes of extortion," defense attorney Michael Rosen said. "Robert Gerrato's testimony makes that clear."

But prosecutor James Miskiewicz said the tape was probably made in 2000, when Gargiulo and Tarantino were still on good terms.

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