Joseph Bongiovanni, the former DEA agent accused of taking bribes from drug dealers, is without a lawyer.
Noted criminal defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. is withdrawing from the case and blaming his early departure on false conflict of interest claims by the government.
Prosecutors say Cambria once represented one of Bongiovanni's co-conspirators and that one of his law partners currently represents potential witnesses in the case.
"I'm pretty much representing myself," Bongiovanni told U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer during a court hearing Monday.
When the allegations of a conflict first arose, Cambria promised to fight them and dismissed them as an attempt to remove him from the case. “I think it’s part of a strategy to get rid of the more experienced defense attorneys,” Cambria said in December.
On Monday, Cambria echoed those statements but indicated the protracted legal battle over his status was proving to be a distraction for his client.
"He needs to focus his energy on defending himself," Cambria said.
At the root of Bongiovanni's prosecution is the allegation that, for more than a decade, the former Drug Enforcement Administration agent took $250,000 in bribes from drug dealers he believed had ties to the local Mafia.
In return, he provided information on drug investigations and cooperating sources, according to prosecutors. He is also accused of using and selling cocaine.
Bongiovanni, 55, has pleaded not guilty.
Investigated by Homeland Security, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, Bongiovanni is charged with conspiracy to defraud the federal government, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, obstruction of justice, making false statements to a federal agency and taking a bribe as a public official.
The drug conspiracy charge carries a maximum possible sentence of up to life in prison, while the maximum possible sentences for the remaining counts range from five years to 20 years in prison.
Homeland Security agents raided Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga in December as part of their investigation into Bongiovanni, a source familiar with the raid told The News at the time.
The court-ordered search of the Aero Drive strip club came just weeks after Bongiovanni was indicted.