Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009 | Former Cheetahs strip club owner Michael Galardi was released from house arrest in San Diego yesterday after serving 18 months for fraud and racketeering — a year less than his original sentence.

Galardi, 47, who admitted to bribing San Diego city councilmen and Las Vegas politicians and then testified against them, was freed early because of his participation in an alcohol treatment program.

“He got a reduction of his sentence by participating in a residential substance abuse program and good time credits,” said his lawyer, Robert Rose.

Galardi spent a year of his term in a federal prison in Englewood, Colo., and was transferred to a San Diego halfway house in July, Rose said. He worked during the day at a job Rose declined to describe, and was required to pay 25 percent of his salary to the halfway house. In November, he was permitted to live in his San Diego home, still under detention.

“It was a difficult period of time to be away from his children,” Rose said. Before he was taken into custody, Galardi was the primary caregiver for his children, then ages 8 and 10. “He’s very relieved to be a free man.”

Galardi’s early release is not unusual for someone who managed to get into the Bureau of Prison’s Residential Drug Abuse Program, legal experts said.

“It doesn’t sound like he got any special treatment,” said former San Diego U.S. Attorney Charles LaBella. “Everyone who goes to prison now becomes an alcoholic or drug addict because they want to participate in the program and get a significant amount of time off for doing so.”

It’s tough to get into the program, and inmates are clamoring to do so, LaBella said. The program has been applauded for resulting in less recidivism and criticized for giving non-abusers a get-out-of-jail free card.

Congress passed a law in 1994 offering sentence reductions of up to 12 months for nonviolent offenders who complete the program. About 6,000 inmates are in the rehab program, with 7,000 on the waiting list, said Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley.

Rose confirmed that Galardi is living somewhere in San Diego, but declined to discuss his client’s future plans. He will remain on probation for three years and is barred him from owning or operating strip clubs in California for that period.

Galardi was at the center of a dual-city effort to woo politicians with money, gifts and campaign contributions in exchange for favorable treatment for his adult cabarets in both cities. In San Diego, he wanted the rule banning touching between strippers and patrons abolished.

Galardi was indicted in 2003 and pleaded guilty soon after. He testified in both the San Diego and Las Vegas trials and was sentenced to 15 months in the San Diego case, and 30 months in the Las Vegas case. The terms were to be served concurrently. According to terms of his 2003 plea deals in both jurisdictions, Galardi pleaded guilty in San Diego to a count of conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and to a count of racketeering in Las Vegas.

Also indicted in the San Diego case along with Galardi on fraud, extortion and conspiracy charges were Las Vegas lobbyist, Lance Malone and then-San Diego Councilmen Ralph Inzunza, Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis.

A jury convicted Malone, Inzunza and Zucchet in July 2005, but U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller overturned Zucchet’s conviction. Prosecutors are appealing that ruling. Lewis died before the trial began.

Inzunza is free on bond, pending appeal of his conviction. Malone was sentenced to three years in the San Diego case and six years in the Las Vegas case.

Meanwhile, the case drags on for Inzunza and Zucchet. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in June and has yet to issue an opinion.

Rose said Galardi declined to comment for this story. Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the San Diego and Las Vegas cases could not be reached for comment.

At the time of his sentencing, Galardi told reporters he was anxious to finish the prison term. He said when he gets out, he wanted to get out of the adult entertainment business.

“For me it’s been four years of pure hell,” Galardi said. “I’m just glad it’s behind me. I just want to get (prison time) over with.”

Kelly Thornton is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Please contact her directly at kellythornton7407@yahoo.com with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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