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Federal investigation of Buffalo mob resurgence heats up with new indictment

Cheektowaga strip club owner arrested
Posted at 11:33 AM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 11:35:29-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The owner of a Cheektowaga strip club stands accused by federal prosecutors who for more than a year have been looking into the possible resurgence of the Buffalo Mafia.

Peter G. Gerace Jr., owner of Pharaoh’s Gentleman’s Club, was indicted this week for allegedly paying bribes to a former federal agent to avoid criminal investigations and prosecution.

The Buffalo News first reported that Gerace, 53, of Clarence, was arrested late Sunday night in Florida and charged with conspiracy; bribery of a public official, maintaining a drug involved premises; conspiracy to distribute drugs and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale on Monday, The News reported. His attorney, Joel Daniels, did not immediately respond to a phone message from 7 Eyewitness News.

The indictment stated that Gerace paid “cash bribes on a recurring basis to protect the defendant and [his] business, Pharaoh’s Gentleman’s Club from federal narcotics investigations.”

Gerace is the nephew of Joseph A. Todaro, who the FBI has accused of running the Buffalo mob (Todaro and his late father, Joseph E. Todaro, have always denied the charges, which have never been proven in court).

Gerace’s recent indictment is the latest development in a criminal case that has been in the works for more than a year and has been highlighted by multiple prosecutions by U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy.

It also comes days after The News published a series of front-page stories questioning whether the Mafia has seen a resurgence in Western New York.

In November 2019, 7 Eyewitness News broke the news of a Mafia-related investigation the same day that federal prosecutors unsealed the indictment of former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Joseph Bongiovanni, who the government accuses of taking bribes to protect his criminal friends who are allegedly in the mob.

From 2008 to 2017, the DEA agent “provided information about investigations, including the status of specific investigative techniques, potential witnesses, and confidential sources during routine recurring meetings with drug traffickers who were paying him bribes,” stated the indictment.

The indictment stated that Bongiovanni protected his drug-dealing friends from federal investigations as they distributed 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and cocaine on the streets of Western New York.

Bongiovanni’s friends, the indictment stated, included “individuals he believed to be members of, connected to, or associated with Italian Organized Crime (IOC) in the Western District of New York and elsewhere.”

His attorney told The Buffalo News recently that prosecutors have no evidence that Bongiovanni took bribes and he has accused the government of “selective prosecution.”

In December 2019, the feds followed up with a raid at Pharaoh’s on Aero Drive. Attorney Joel Daniels, who represents Gerace, said at the time that “there are no mafia ties” to his client.

In June 2020, prosecutors for the first time publicly linked Bongiovanni’s case with that of Michael Masecchia, a former Buffalo school teacher arrested in August 2019 on federal drug charges after police found a cache of guns and explosives in his home.

Prosecutors said Masecchia “had been a target or subject of several DEA cases” during Bongiovanni’s time as an agent, but was never arrested or charged because Bongiovanni “did not investigate his friends and associates and used his position as a DEA [special agent] in shield his friends and associates.”

Nicholas A. Romano, the attorney representing Masecchia, said his client "has been a well-respected English teacher with Buffalo Public Schools for nearly 30 years" and pleaded not guilty to all charges.