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Gym-Mogul-Turned-Gunman Sentenced to Life in Prison for 3 Murders

By Alan Neuhauser | April 25, 2013 9:41am
 The FBI announced that Christian Tarantino, 46, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for his role in three murders committed between 1994 and 2003.
The FBI announced that Christian Tarantino, 46, was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for his role in three murders committed between 1994 and 2003.
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Chip Somodevilla

MIDTOWN — A muscle-bound gym mogul-turned-bank-robber won a free gym membership at federal penitentiaries for the rest of his life for his role in the murder of a security guard and two accomplices, the FBI announced.

Christian Tarantino, 46, former owner of Synergy Fitness clubs in New York City and Long Island, was sentenced to three terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole Wednesday for his role in the three killings, which occurred between 1994 and 2003.

Federal prosecutors called him a "one-man crime spree."

The first murder took place June 23, 1994, the FBI says, when Tarantino and three others ambushed an armored car and its two guards as it delivered cash to a business in Syosset. As Tarantino and two of the bandits handcuffed one guard, another of the robbers, Louis Dorval, shot and killed the second guard in the back of the head as he lay face-down on the pavement, the bureau added.

All four men fled in a car and escaped.

Six weeks later, however, the FBI began closing in on Dorval for an unrelated racketeering indictment. Tarantino, learning of the pending arrest, "lured Dorval to his own death," according to the feds.

"With the help of others, [Tarantino] stuffed Dorval's body in a plastic tool trunk that he then dumped at sea," the statement reads. "A U.S. Coast Guard vessel pulled Dorval's body out of the Atlantic several days later, but the investigations into both killings remained open."

In 2000, law enforcement began collecting "DNA evidence from several individuals," which turned up a match between Tarantino and a hair fragment recovered six years earlier from the getaway car in the Syosset heist, which had been abandoned near the scene, FBI officials said.

One of Tarantino's longtime confidants, Vincent Gargiulo, learned of the DNA evidence, and he secretly tape-recorded a September 2000 conversation with Tarantino in an "apparent effort to secure evidence that would prevent Tarantino or others from falsely implicating Gargiulo" in the killing of the security guard or Dorval, according to the FBI.

The ploy worked — for a time. Tarantino implicated himself in both the security guard's murder and the disposal of Dorval's body. But three years later, Gargiulo pushed his luck too far.

"In 2003, Gargiulo revealed the existence of the recording to Tarantino and threatened to make the tape available to the FBI if he was not compensated for business losses," the statement says. "Thereafter, Gargiulo wrote the FBI a letter offering to produce a tape that would prove Tarantino's guilt in the two 1994 killings."

Gargiulo never got the chance. That summer, Tarantino turned a gym employee into a hitman, paying him $35,000 to take out Gargiulo.

"On the morning of Aug. 18, 2003, as Gargiulo walked to work at a construction site [in] Manhattan, that employee approached his victim and fired a single shot from a .22-caliber target pistol into the bridge of Gargiulo's nose. Gargiulo was pronounced dead a short time later in Bellevue hospital," the FBI statement reads.

Months later, an anonymous tipster mailed Gargiulo's tape-recording to NYPD homicide detectives. The FBI's forensic audio lab in Quantico, Va., confirmed the tape's authenticity, and prosecutors subsequently presented it at Tarantino's trials.

In May 2011, a jury found Tarantino guilty of participating in the murders of the security guard and Dorval, but failed to reach a verdict on the Gargiulo murder charge. At a retrial the following year, a second jury convicted Tarantino of conspiracy to murder Gargiulo to obstruct justice.

Each count carried mandatory life sentences.

"For almost a decade, Christian Tarantino was a one-man crime spree, engaging in armed robbery, murder and murder conspiracy to cover his tracks," Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a statement. "He controlled his confederates the old-fashioned way — by murdering them…. Tarantino thought that human life was his to take. He will now spend the rest of his life contemplating the just results of his actions."