A Rockland restaurateur was arrested Aug. 6 and accused of bookmaking and extorting a client to collect gambling debts.
Federal prosecutors accused John Ciofalo of transmission of wagering information and extortionate debt collection, in a criminal complaint unsealed last week in U.S. District Court in White Plains.
Ciofalo entered a plea of not guilty on Aug. 7 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy.
The complaint does not name his restaurant, but news accounts of La Terrazza Restaurant Bar & Catering, New City, identify him as a partner.
Law enforcement agents in Rockland County have been investigating illegal gambling operations since 2018, according to the complaint filed by FBI Agent Karen Altieri.
In March 2019, a confidential informant who purportedly owed money to Ciofalo began working with investigators.
The informant had been convicted on gambling and sex abuse charges, according to the complaint. He was not paid for his assistance but he was given $3,000 to partially pay a gambling debt when he met Ciofalo, while under surveillance.
The government contends that Ciofalo runs a bookmaking operation through betvegas365.com, a website based in Costa Rica, and that he set up the informant’s account.
The informant did not have to put up money when he placed bets, but if he lost, the complaint states, he owed Ciofalo.
He lost thousands of dollars, according to the complaint.
Investigators intercepted numerous text messages between Ciofalo’s cellular phone and the informant, from February to June 2019, allegedly concerning gambling debts.
Among the messages, including typographical errors and sanitized expletives, are these increasingly menacing examples.
“I need 5417,” Ciofalo texted on March 9.
“You really put me in a bad spot,” a March 15 message stated. “Get it man. This is not good.”
By mid-March the informant owed $15,127.
“Now your voice mail is full,” a March 17 message stated. “NOT GOOD. … TELL ME WHERE TO MEET YOU.”
“I told people to come and pick up the money you owe,” Ciofalo texted on April 19. “They sent 4 thugs to the restaurant last night. Pushed me all around the f—ing restaurant. If you don’t get me this money I’m going to take action. And I mean action.”
“Where the f—k are you,” Ciofalo texted April 27. “These mother f—ers just walked into my restaurant in the middle of dinner ina Saturday night. … you better bring me my f—ing money tonight or it’s coming down on you like something who have never seen. … Watch your back you mother f—er.”
The next day, Ciofalo allegedly demanded $6,000 and threatened to send the thugs “who pushed me around the restaurant” to the informant’s home.
“Bring me my f—ing money,” Ciofalo texted. “And it better not be $1,000.”
“I’m going to give them your number if I don’t have the money by Thursday,” he continued. “It’s gonna be your choice of what happens. I’ve never been around people like this. They would cut you up rather than say hello. Never knew people existed like this except in the movies. SO ITS YOUR CHOICE THURSDAY BRING ME MY MONEY OR THEY WILL FIND YOU THRU YOUR PHONE.”
Investigators gave the informant $1,000 on May 2, equipped him with a recording device and watched from outside as he met Ciofalo.
“What is this?” Ciofalo asked when handed $1,000. “I told you don’t bring me this. These guys are coming after you mother f—er.”
Four days later, “3 f—ing goons just walked in and are walking through the dining rooms asking customers if they are enjoying their food,” he texted. “They just came over to me and said that they are going to do this until pay them there money. You need to get this done I’m at the end of my rope with this.”
The informant allegedly went back to the restaurant the same day, while under surveillance and wearing a recording device, and handed Ciofalo $2,000.
A month later, Ciofalo texted, “Please get me the $3800. So I can give to these thugs that are torturing me.”
Five days later, June 20, he messages the informant, “You need to bring me the money. These mother f—ers are ready to cause real trouble here.”
The criminal complaint ends there. There is no indication of what became of the informant in the subsequent 14 months, whether the thugs invoked by Ciofalo were real or whether he also was a victim of extortion, or if anyone else is under investigation.
Ciofalo posted a $40,000 appearance bond and was released from custody.
He is represented by White Plains attorney Michael K. Burke. Assistant prosecutor James A. Lightenberg is handling the case for the government.