BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Federal authorities arrested two more people in the continuing fallout related to a high-profile investigation of Italian Organized Crime in Buffalo, a Cheektowaga strip club owner, and a retired DEA agent accused of shielding criminals from detection for bribes.
The criminal complaints for Jessica Leyland, 36, and Andrew Clements, 35, both of Buffalo, were filed under seal on Oct. 26, but recently unsealed as the investigation continues.
Leyland is charged with three counts of witness tampering, and five counts of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute, while Clements is charged with four counts of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute.
Recently unsealed court records state Leyland is a “very loyal” close friend of Peter Gerace, the indicted operator of Pharaoh’s Gentleman’s Club in Cheektowaga.
Gerace is accused of bribing DEA agent Joseph Bongiovanni to shield him and others associated with Italian Organized Crime from being detected by law enforcement. Gerace is also accused of trafficking drugs and women for sex through his strip club.
Prosecutors said Bongiovanni, a retired DEA agent, used his authority to shield criminals from being detected by law enforcement. In exchange for that protection, prosecutors said Bongiovanni pocketed about $250,000 in bribes. Both Gerace and Bongiovanni have pleaded not guilty.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York said Leyland in July 2019 allegedly assaulted and threatened to kill a cooperating witness in the Gerace/Bongiovani case for “talking to the feds.”
In addition, prosecutors said Leyland allegedly “steered possible witnesses” in the Gerace case to talk to Gerace’s defense attorneys in 2021. If potential witnesses did not speak with Gerace’s attorneys, prosecutors said Leyland allegedly spread rumors about them that they were cooperating with police.
And prosecutors said two potential witnesses told them that Leyland had contacted them earlier this year and made them nervous about testifying in the case or cooperating with the government.
“Witness tampering attacks the very heart of our justice system,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer, in the Nov. 1 order of detention for Leyland. “The Court finds that as the Gerace trial (which also involves charges and allegations of witness tampering) nears, there is a serious risk that this defendant will make further attempts to threaten, injure or intimidate prospective witnesses, and that no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure that this won’t happen.”
After several trial delays, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Trippi, the lead prosecutor in the Gerace/Bongiovanni case, expressed concerns for months about the safety of some of the roughly 100 government witnesses.
Trippi has mentioned how two potential government witnesses found dead rats on their property earlier this year, a potential witness died of a drug overdose this summer, and numerous others, including Gerace, have been charged with witness tampering.
In addition, State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski died by suicide at his Amherst home on April 5, 2022, after he attempted suicide in February 2021, when he lied down on tracks as a train approached, badly injuring a knee. Prosecutors have since described Michalski as an uncharged co-conspirator and strip club customer who allegedly helped Gerace with legal matters for favors.
Leyland’s complaint includes counts of conspiring to distribute and possess cocaine on Oct. 13 and the same counts for Oct. 19, and one count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute on Oct 24 filed against Leyland, and Andrew Clements, aka Tiger.
Leyland also faces one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine on Oct. 25.
Court records state that law enforcement investigated Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club for drug and sex trafficking activities on Oct. 31, 2019, which led to an 11-count indictment against Bongiovanni.
The investigation became public on Dec. 12, 2019, while authorities searched Gerace’s home and his strip club.
Law enforcement believe Leyland is a loyal associate to Gerace and a former employee of his strip club, who allegedly distributed cocaine at the club and elsewhere, court records state.
Court documents state a former unidentified strip club dancer who had an intimate relationship with Gerace provided federal officers with information about Gerace and the club after she was arrested for allegedly stealing his watch.
Court records state that in July 2019, Leyland assaulted and threatened to kill the witness at a local bar, where she put her in a headlock.
“The VICTIM could not figure out how, and did not know, how LEYLAND was aware of the fact that victim spoke with federal agents,” court records state.
Court records state Leyland operates a stag company called Extraordinaire Entertainment, and police accuse her of selling cocaine at some parties. Police ran an undercover operation and discussed having a stag party and obtaining drugs with Leyland.
Police said Leyland put an undercover agent in contact with a cocaine supplier, which they identify as Clements, to purchase between 3.5 grams and 8 grams of cocaine on four occasions in October.
Leyland and Clements are the latest to be charged in the high profile case, which includes the mysterious death of a government witness from a drug overdose.
Simon Gogolack, whose Wellsville home is where police found the witness dead, was indicted in August on charges of kidnapping, witness tampering, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, unlawful use of drugs in possession of a firearm, and maintaining drug-involved premises.
Prosecutors have also tried to speak with Howard Hinkle Jr. for the investigation into the drug overdose of the same government witness. But his attorney argued Hinkle is not charged in connection with the death, and the government should not be able to detain him in jail on charges that he allegedly operated a cannabis distribution scheme.
After his indictment, Gerace, himself, was also charged with one count of distributing cocaine and three counts of witness tampering for an alleged incident on Nov. 19, 2019. He is accused of sending intimidating and threatening Facebook messages to a government witness, which Gerace has denied through his former attorney.
Gerace is also charged in a separate case of defrauding the government for $2 million in Covid-19 aid for the strip club that did not qualify for the funds.
The trial is scheduled to start in January 2024.