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Authorities question judge's friendship with federally charged strip club owner

Posted at 7:06 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-11 19:07:58-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — State Supreme Court Judge John Michalski remains at Erie County Medical Center, more than a week after he was involved in an incident with a CSX train in the Village of Depew. Michalski suffered a dislocated knee cap, according to his attorney Anthony Lana.

"He's doing well. I expect a full recovery," said Lana.

Few details were revealed about the February 28th incident, but new information about Michalski's friendship with a recently-indicted strip club owner has put Michalski's case into the spotlight.

As first reported in The Buffalo News, about two weeks before the train incident, federal authorities called Michalski, probing his decades-long friendship with Peter Gerace, owner of Pharaoh's Gentlemen's Club in Cheektowaga.

"Twenty years ago he represented him, when he was in private practice, in some real estate transactions and business dealings," said Lana. "Based on the attorney client relationship they became friends."

Gerace says Michalski incorporated Pharaoh's Gentlemen's Club.

On the same day as Michalski's incident on the Depew train tracks, federal agents arrested Gerace in Florida on federal charges related to drugs, bribery, and sex trafficking.

"I'm not guilty, that's all I can say," said Gerace in a phone conversation with 7 Eyewitness News.

Also named in the indictment is former DEA agent Joseph Bongiovanni, who is accused of protecting his drug-dealing friends with ties to the Buffalo mafia.

"I have never ever ever been a member of any organized crime or any mafia," said Gerace. "That is absolutely ridiculous."

In 2019, federal agents raided Pharaoh's Gentlemen's Club as part of an investigation into Bongiovanni.

Lana says Judge Michalski has done nothing wrong, and says the connection between his client and Gerace is being overblown.

"There's no smoking gun. There's no shoe that's going to drop. It's becoming something much larger than it should be," said Lana.

The Depew Police Department has remained tight-lipped on the incident on the train tracks. Shortly after the investigation began, officers reached out to the Erie County District Attorney's Office, asking it to review the case. Ultimately, the DA's Office determined no criminal conduct occurred.