A Wagner College graduate who tried to fix an NCAA basketball game in a mob-linked scheme on Thursday received a sentence of one year probation — and a tongue-lashing from the judge.
Benjamin Bifalco, 25, pleaded guilty last year to attempted sports bribery involving a game between two Division I schools — and faced up to six months in jail.
During the hour-long hearing in Brooklyn federal court, which was conducted virtually, Judge I. Leo Glasser scolded Bifalco for letting his ego get the better of him and for his evasive responses. “I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from you with respect to any question that I have asked,” the judge sniped.
But Bifalco expressed remorse for his conduct, admitting that he was driven by a desire to impress a mobbed-up pal — before expressing gratitude to the judge.
“Your Honor, you saved my life, I can’t thank you enough,” he said. “You’ll never have to see my face again, I promise you that.”
Despite the verbal scolding, the judge ultimately let Bifalco off with a slap on the wrist sentence.
The contest in question was between the Wagner Seahawks and the heavily favored St. John’s University Red Storm Dec. 16, 2018, at the Carnesecca Arena in Queens.
Four days before the game, Bifalco was caught on a wiretap telling his childhood pal, Colombo mob family associate Joseph Amato Jr., that he had dreamed of fixing a basketball game since he was a college freshman.
The feds ended up hearing Bifulco’s absurd boasts while listening in on Amato, whose father, Joseph Amato, is a powerful captain in the Colombo crime family.
The father and son were charged in 2019 — along with 18 others — in an unrelated loansharking, racketeering and extortion case.
During the call with the younger Amato, Bifalco said he’d already paid $7,500 to three Seahawks starters who had promised to lose the game and would pay them more afterward.
The college student, who had majored in finance, said he planned to bet $50,000 on the game.
“St. John’s is home, so this is why it’s gonna work,” he said. “They’re gonna have the refs on their side already. Wagner’s team sucks. They honestly suck. So, if we can have three people that impact the game the most, miss free throws, bring the shot clock down to one [second] before every shot, control the pace of the game, so it’s not high scoring.”
But it turned out the student was all talk. He never paid the players or wagered any money on the game, which turned out to be a lucky stroke for him. St. John’s won 73-58.
The crime cost him his job. Out of college, Bifalco landed a gig working for then-Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, but was fired the day he was indicted. Malliotakis is now a congresswoman representing Staten Island.
“My potential future loss has been great but it still does not equal the harm my actions have caused others,” Bifalco said in court.
His lawyer, Vincent Martinelli, added that his client now plans to attend law school.