When top-ranking members of the Gambino crime family were indicted for a host of crimes in April, one charge stood out in particular: sex trafficking with girls as young as 15, something one prosecutor called “a new low for the Gambino family.” But a Gambino defense attorney is now accusing the government of complicity allowing the sex trafficking to occur.
The lawyer, Gerald J. McMahon, says that one of the men running the trafficking ring was a convicted sex offender, as well as a federal witness with a cooperation agreement. According to McMahon, the witness was Jude Buoneto, who he said raped one girl and sexually abused another in the 1990s, and once ran a brothel with his mother in Brooklyn. McMahon wrote in court papers, “A reasonable person might wonder 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.”
Buoneto has been a cooperating witness with the government since 2008; the sex trafficking occurred in the summer of 2009, and McMahon is accusing Buoneto of being the 15-year-old girls pimp during that time. Defense lawyers have said that Buoneto had sex with the girl himself, as is common for a pimp. One former federal prosecutor said, “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.” The government is still accusing Thomas Orefice of being the leader and driving force behind the sex trafficking.
According to the NY Times, because the US attorney's office does not permit cooperators to engage in illegal activity that is not part of an authorized investigation, and because of the unsavory backgrounds to many of the cooperating witnesses in such trials, "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." These questions about the Buoneto first came to light during bail hearings for a different defendant; Judge Kaplan replied that “the government has to make a judgment in many cases about where the greater good lies.”