Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Government Accused Of Misconduct In Gambino Case

Don Carlo GambinoImage via Wikipedia When federal authorities charged recently that the Gambino crime family had been involved in sex trafficking with girls as young as 15, one prosecutor suggested that the activity might represent “a new low for the Gambino family.”
But now a defense lawyer in the case contends that the government helped promote that same kind of illegal activity.
The lawyer, Gerald J. McMahon, said in newly filed court papers that one of the men running the trafficking ring was a convicted sex abuser who had a cooperation agreement as a federal witness.
“A reasonable person might wonder,” Mr. McMahon wrote, “whether the government — in its zeal to make a racketeering case against the Gambino family — allowed a 15-year-old girl to be shamefully and criminally exploited.”
The witness began cooperating with the government in 2008, court papers show, while the sex trafficking occurred in 2009. While he was a witness, he acted as the 15-year-old girl’s pimp, Mr. McMahon said.
The lawyer, who represents 1 of 14 defendants in the case, has asked a judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, to dismiss the indictment on grounds of “outrageous government misconduct,” legal papers show.
Federal prosecutors, who have not yet responded to the motion, declined comment.
James Margolin, an F.B.I. spokesman in New York, also would not discuss the case, but said, “This office would not — and did not — approve of any criminal activity involving a minor, much less the sexual exploitation of a minor.”
The court filings do not detail the witness’s activity in the prostitution ring. But because the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan does not permit cooperators to engage in illegal activity that is not part of an authorized investigation, the witness’s role in the trafficking ring — except for the use of an underage prostitute — was most likely approved, and his activity known to the authorities.
The government originally charged that the ring operated from 2008 to 2009, but last week prosecutors told the judge there was an error in the indictment, and that the ring had lasted for three months in the summer of 2009.
Either way, Mr. McMahon said by phone, the government should not have allowed the witness to be involved, and then should have supervised him better. “They let this thing get away from them a little bit,” he said.
The decision by the government to enlist a cooperator can be fraught with peril; such witnesses, particularly in Mafia cases, often have unsavory pasts and may have been deeply involved in the crimes being investigated. If the government plans to use them in continued illegal activity as part of an undercover operation, they must be tightly monitored.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan typically require cooperating witnesses to admit to all previous crimes — even those the government is unaware of — and to stop committing them. If witnesses violate those provisions, the office may rip up the agreement and even prosecute them, said Anthony S. Barkow, a former prosecutor who runs a center on criminal law at New York University School of Law.
“The Justice Department takes very seriously the obligation of a cooperator to cease misconduct,” Mr. Barkow said. “They are supposed to turn the page, and because they’re working with the government, they need to live life by the rules.”
Mr. McMahon, in his court papers, identified the witness as Jude Buoneto, who he said raped one girl and sexually abused another in the 1990s. Mr. Buoneto once also ran a brothel with his mother in Brooklyn, Mr. McMahon wrote.
Prosecutors have described the Gambino witness only as CW-1 in court papers. They say he pleaded guilty in the 1990s at age 19 to misdemeanor offenses of acting in a manner to injure a child under 17, and sexual abuse in the third degree. They say CW-1 will be called to testify at trial, and have indicated that he has knowledge of Gambino crimes that go beyond the trafficking ring.
The Gambino indictment, announced in April, charged the 14 defendants with years of criminality, including traditional Mafia crimes like extortion, gambling and loan sharking. But it was the alleged involvement of some defendants in sex trafficking, apparently a first in a Mafia case, officials said, that drew the most attention.
The women who worked as prostitutes were all under 20, and were recruited in New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. The defendants advertised on Web sites like Craigslist, drove the women to their appointments and kept about half of their fees, the government said.
Questions about the witness’s role also arose at an early bail hearing for another defendant, whom prosecutors had accused of helping to come up with the idea of the prostitution ring.
That man’s lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, told Judge Kaplan that he was troubled by the fact that the government apparently had knowledge of the ring and that its “cooperating witness was engaged in sex trafficking with a minor.”
Judge Kaplan replied that “the government has to make a judgment in many cases about where the greater good lies.”
He cited Winston Churchill’s decision in World War II to allow the German bombing of Coventry, England, because to interfere would have revealed the Allies had broken German codes and there would have been even greater damage to the Allied war effort.
“No comfort to the people of Coventry,” Judge Kaplan said, “but the decision the government has to make in a case like this is not unlike that.”
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