The details on the big Gambino sex-trafficking bust last month are starting to come in, and - no real surprise here - the picture emerging is not nearly as neat and tidy as the 'Feds to the Rescue' scenario initially offered up by law enforcement.
For one thing, Gang Land has learned that the key informant in the case was Jude Buoneto, a 32-year-old Brooklyn low-life who was intimately involved with the stable of young hookers in the case.
For another, in order to get the goods on the Gambino gangsters, the feds agreed to a cooperation deal with Buoneto, who has an old sex assault charge on his rap sheet, and allowed the prostitution ring to run for at least ten months. That was even after FBI agents and prosecutors learned - or should have learned - that teenage girls, including a 15-year-old, were being supplied to gamblers and other clients in New York and New Jersey.
It is unclear exactly when the sex-trafficking began, or how long it lasted.
What is clear, say knowledgeable sources on both sides of the case, is that in October 2008, the feds wired up Buoneto, and sent him out to tape record his cohorts, using a stable of young prostitutes as important props.
Defense sources say Buoneto was the young prostitute's pimp, and - as is the norm with pimps - he had sexual relations with his hookers, including the 15-year-old runaway. Law enforcement sources emphatically deny that. The prostitutes allegedly serviced customers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey, for between 10 and 12 months.
Law enforcement sources reiterate what prosecutors Elie Honig and Steve Kwok have said in court and in the detention memo they filed: that Gambino soldier Thomas Orefice was the leader and driving force behind the sex-trafficking caper, and that the 150 to 200 hours of tape recorded conversation they have will back that up.
"We can't comment on whether or not there was a cooperator in the case," said FBI spokesman Jim Margolin, "but rest assured that this office would not - and did not - approve of any criminal activity involving a minor, much less the sexual exploitation of a minor."
The U.S. Attorney's office would not comment, declining to discuss whether their witness pleaded guilty to statutory rape charges before he began cooperating.
Said one former federal prosecutor: "There was a screwup here. I do not believe that agents and prosecutors would knowingly allow prostitution involving a minor to go on. But since they had a cooperator in the middle of the action, they sure as hell should have known about it."
Several defense lawyers, as well as one law enforcement source, have fingered Buoneto as the stool pigeon in the sex-trafficking aspect of the multi-count racketeering indictment.
"I am confident," said Orefice's lawyer, Seth Ginsberg, "that the evidence will show that it was the cooperating witness who orchestrated and carried out the sex trafficking that is charged in the indictment. The government's claims to the contrary are belied by the fact that nowhere in the detention memo or at the bail hearing do they make a specific reference to anything in the recorded conversations that implicate my client in these crimes."
Buoneto was charged with felony sexual assault charges involving a minor back in 1997 but later copped a no-jail plea to misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child. Earlier this year he suddenly disappeared from his usual Bensonhurst, Brooklyn haunts.
He left just as the feds were getting ready to scoop up six men and one woman, a 43-year-old single mom named Suzanne Porcelli, on sex trafficking charges involving a minor. Attorney Vincent Romano, who represents Porcelli hopes that Buoneto recorded the intense discussion that he had with his client in August, on the last day of what the lawyer described as a tumultuous and terrifying two-week ordeal for Porcelli, who has a 19-year-long history of anxiety and depression, according to the attorney.
The ordeal began when Buoneto, who knew Porcelli from the neighborhood, rang her bell and told her he had fired his personal assistant in his construction company and wanted to hire her on a tryout basis, gave her a mobile phone, and instructed her to "make and set up appointments for his customers," said Romano.
"A couple of days later, she realizes this is not for her and she calls him up and says, 'Come pick up your phone,' but he refuses," said Romano. The attorney declined to cite specific reasons for Porcelli's quitting, or to say whether or not she was handling customers seeking carpentry work or hookers. But over the next few days, says Romano, his client "called Jude repeatedly to come get his phone." Buoneto didn't respond, said Romano, so "she just stopped answering the phone. Then he calls her up (on her phone) threatening her and screaming at her for not answering the phone."
Following several screaming telephone sessions in which "Jude tells her she's ruining his business and has got to answer the phone, it comes to a head." Buoneto arrives at Porcelli's home, forces her into the back seat of his car, a gray BMW, and proceeds to terrify her during a scream-filled hour-long ride through the streets of Bensonhurst, according to Romano.
"He threatens her using very colorful, terrible language," said Romano. "She was terrified. He was driving at high speeds, stopping short, swerving, yelling and screaming at her, doing everything he can do to frighten her. She still refuses, gives him the phone back."
The hellacious ride took a surreal turn, said Romano, when "the phone started ringing and she wouldn't answer it. Jude answers the phone, disguising his voice like a female, with a high pitched voice. He makes the appointment, and then takes Suzanne home."
Romano said that during the two weeks in question, his client, who has been receiving regular psychiatric counseling at a mental health clinic for more than two years, never accepted any money from Buoneto.
"My client has been unfairly portrayed in the newspapers, on television and on the internet. She has been villainized as a madam," said Romano. "The bottom line is that because of her mental condition she was manipulated, used and victimized by a sexual predator who is now a cooperating witness. When all the facts are known, I am sure she will be exonerated."
Buoneto was a few days short of his 20th birthday when he was charged with sexually abusing a young girl at a local swimming pool in Bensonhurst. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to three years probation on May 7, 1988, according to court records in Brooklyn Supreme Court.