Sometimes reality can read like an episode of The Sopranos.
Just ask Luke Hoffman, the street-wise exotic massage parlor owner in the working-class town of Lodi, New Jersey, who tells ABCNEWS' Downtown a remarkable story of alleged mobsters and corruption.
"I like women and I like to make money," says Hoffman, who runs his all-nude Ultima Spa just across town from the location where the fictional "Bada Bing" strip club of Tony Soprano's underworld is filmed. But since opening his massage parlor, he claims he has discovered the workings of the world of organized crime.
Attractive Business Opportunity
"Unfortunately this type of business attracts people of this nature … crooked politicians, dirty cops," says Hoffman. "They prey on businesses like this."
With large amounts of cash being exchanged behind closed doors for massage sessions with nude women, Hoffman says wiseguys from all over New Jersey were looking for a piece of the action.
Hoffman says his problems started seven years ago, when he was opening his first massage parlor in Lodi. Hoffman says he was approached by "John John" Giaquinto, an alleged associate of the Genovese crime family. Hoffman says Giaquinto extorted thousands of dollars from him, offering protection from local police and officials.
Hoffman even claims that on some occasions Giaquinto enlisted a Lodi police officer to come and get his payments. "A couple of times he sent this one particular police officer that was a friend of his, and he would just collect it for him," Hoffman says.
Giaquinto's attorney denies the allegation.
Offer He Couldn't Refuse
Hoffman says that when he refused to pay, there were three fires in his massage parlor in a single month. The last of the fires destroyed his business and the cause was determined to be arson.
"I was ready to move on, because I figured there was no way I could win," says Hoffman.
At this point, Hoffman says an investigator approached him from a task force formed by the FBI and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.
Hoffman says that as a cooperating victim, the task force encouraged him to reopen his business in another spot in Lodi. "They wanted to basically see how the whole corruption thing worked," Hoffman recalls.
"I'm no altar boy," admits Hoffman, who says the main reason he agreed to help the police was to save his lucrative, adult entertainment business. The new Ultima Spa opened in a Lodi mini-mall in September 1996 and before long, business was booming.
Hoffman Sings Soprano
Through the spa, Hoffman says the task force was able to construct a virtual who's-who of New Jersey gangsters. Hoffman even says he agreed to wear a wire to dozens of secret meetings outside of the spa, in order to gather additional incriminating information against alleged criminals.
Eighteen months after teaming up with the task force, Hoffman's work paid off for investigators. In April of 1998, 13 alleged members of the Genovese crime family were arrested, including John Giaquinto.
Though Giaquinto later pleaded guilty to extortion charges not involving Hoffman, his attorney denies Giaquinto extorted money from Hoffman.
Federal prosecutors tell Downtown that Hoffman played an important part in building cases against several of the alleged mob figures.
But Hoffman found out it was one thing to blow the whistle on the mob, and quite another to try and bust cops he believed to be corrupt.
"I fingered who they were, because I was interested in catching them," says Hoffman, "because you can't have a wiseguy without the cops or politicians to support him."
In February 1998, prior to the April arrests, the Lodi police raided the Ultima Spa and one officer, Lt. Vincent Caruso attacked and threatened Hoffman. Caruso was suspended from the force, and Hoffman claims he had connections to Giaquinto.
Caruso's attorney acknowledges that his client did grab Hoffman during the raid, but vehemently denies any mob connection.
Hard Time for Hoffman?
The next month, on March 29, Hoffman's club was raided again, this time by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. Hoffman was charged with promoting prostitution and money laundering. Nearly a half million dollars was seized from his bank accounts.
Shortly after the raid, Bergen County prosecutor, William Schmidt, made a motion to have all charges against Caruso dismissed. Caruso was reinstated and promoted to deputy chief, and he currently runs the day-to-day operations of the Lodi Police Department and will collect a reported $200,000 in back pay.
But Hoffman could face up to 15 years in prison. He feels betrayed and says that some of the same investigators he helped catch mobsters, later sold him out.
In a letter to Downtown, Schmidt stated that his office did not "set Luke Hoffman up in business or aid or assist him in conducting illegal activity at the Ultima Spa." The letter also claims that "Hoffman was never an agent or an informant" of the prosecutor's office.
If prosecutors pursue the case, Hoffman says he will go to court to prove his innocence. Despite all of his trouble, he is determined to once again open the Ultima Spa. Hoffman says, "The only way I'm going away is if they kill me."