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DEA agent accused of taking $250K in mafia bribes, covering for sex-trafficking strip club, helping HS teacher with marijuana side hustle
RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

DEA agent accused of taking $250K in mafia bribes, covering for sex-trafficking strip club, helping HS teacher with marijuana side hustle

A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent is accused of taking $250,000 in bribes from the mafia, covering for a strip club allegedly involved in sex trafficking, and helping a high school English teacher with his marijuana side hustle.

The federal trial in upstate New York has begun for Joseph Bongiovanni – the former DEA agent accused of providing the Buffalo Mafia with an "umbrella of protection" in exchange for massive bribes.

The Associated Press reported, "Bongiovanni was raised in a tight-knit Italian American community in North Buffalo and known as a 'door kicker' in the DEA, defense attorney Parker MacKay said, 'not the type to sit in front of a computer.'"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tripi told the jurors on Thursday that Bongiovanni turned to help the mafia after he encountered financial issues stemming from a costly divorce and his fondness for luxury trips.

Tripi claimed Bongiovanni had an admiration for those associated with "Italian organized crime."

Bongiovanni, 59, is accused of being a "double agent" who betrayed his badge to take $250,000 in bribes from the mafia to help the organized crime syndicate from getting caught by the feds.

The former DEA agent allegedly would tip off the mafia as to when they were "all clear" and law enforcement was not hot on their tail. Bongiovanni is said to have leaked intelligence to the mafia and opened fictitious cases to make it appear that he was investigating certain mafia members or to claim them as informants. Since Bongiovanni pretended to investigate the Buffalo Mafia, he would receive notice of any time another agency began investigating the criminal organization.

Bongiovanni allegedly encouraged his law enforcement colleagues to spend less time investigating Italians and focus on blacks and Hispanics, "n****** and s****" he purportedly said.

According to the AP, "Bongiovanni also is accused of vouching for criminals, filing bogus reports and swiping a sensitive DEA case file on organized crime that he stored in his basement after his abrupt retirement."

Prosecutors allege Bongiovanni went out of his way to protect the Pharoah's Gentlemen’s Club – a strip club in Cheektowaga that reportedly featured illegal drug use and sex trafficking.

The strip club's owner, Peter Gerace Jr, was childhood friends with Bongiovanni and is the grandson of Joseph Todaro – the "reputed leader of the Buffalo Mafia."

Tripi accused Gerace of providing "cocaine and women to high-end clientele."

Prosecutors said Gerace sought Bongiovanni's assistance in covering up the overdose of a stripper.

Gerace reportedly was heard on voicemail asking the former DEA agent about tracing a drug dealer's cellphone, "Is there a way to ping it like police do? I just want to know if you could do that or not."

Gerace's attorney, Mark Foti, said his client "denies all charges and looks forward to confronting the government’s evidence at his trial."

Prosecutors expect to call a public high school English teacher to the stand, who admitted to running a marijuana-growing operation while receiving confidential information from Bongiovanni.

Tripi said of Bongiovanni, "He did just enough legitimate work to avoid detection. He almost got away with it."

Tripi told jurors, "Sometimes the DEA doesn’t get it right. He was able to manipulate everyone because, in law enforcement, there’s a certain amount of trust that’s inherent. He did it under the watch of supervisors who under-supervised him.”

Bongiovanni has denied the counts of bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice that could put him in federal prison for the rest of his life.

Bongiovanni's attorneys argue that he never took any bribes and that the government's case against him is built on the questionable testimony from individuals holding grudges against him and others who are seeking sweet deals from the Department of Justice for their testimony against him.

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