Jurors to begin deliberating in case against former DEA agent accused of taking bribes from Mafia

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Seven weeks of testimony that featured more than 70 witnesses left no doubt that a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent accepted cash bribes to shield childhood friends and suspects with ties to organized crime from law enforcement, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday, wrapping up a case that could send the ex-agent to prison for life.

Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday in the corruption trial of Joseph Bongiovanni, 59. The former agent is charged with taking more than $250,000 in bribes from the Buffalo Mafia to derail drug investigations and to protect a strip club owned by a childhood friend that was described by prosecutors as a haven for drug use and sex trafficking.

“He chose loyalty to criminal friends over duty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tripi said during a four-hour summation of the government's case.

Bongiovanni's attorney, Robert Singer, said prosecutors failed to prove the charges of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Singer disputed prosecutors’ allegations that Bongiovanni was driven by financial pressures wrought in part by a divorce.

Bongiovanni and his current wife, Lindsay, lived paycheck to paycheck and relied on credit cards to support their lifestyle, something that wouldn’t be necessary with the influx of cash prosecutors described, Singer said.

“Mr. Bongiovanni did his job, he did it faithfully ... and he did it without deceit, without dishonesty,” Singer said.

Bongiovanni sat between his lawyers at the defense table during the proceedings in U.S. District Court, occasionally swiveling around in his chair and smiling at his wife and other relatives seated in the courtroom's front row. He did not testify at his trial.

Prosecutors contend that Bongiovanni pocketed more than $250,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes over a decade and threw his colleagues off in part by opening bogus case files. He retired when authorities finally exposed the alleged wrongdoing in 2019.