October 18, 1993 12:00 PM

OVER THE PAST YEAR, JOEY BUTTAFUOCO has learned—apparently very slowly—what it is to become an object of ridicule. Madonna tore up his picture on Saturday Night Live. He was parodied in both an off-Broadway musical and a comic book. Even Vice President Al Gore joined in the ribbing when, as a guest on David Letterman’s Late Show, he announced that Buttafuoco was his Secret Service code name. Buttafuoco himself seemed so oblivious to the implications of all this that he briefly considered joining in the fun by appearing at a Long Island theater with raunchy comic Andrew Dice Clay.

But last week, in a packed Long Island courtroom, the laughter came to an end. After months of insisting he had shared little more than pizza with Amy Fisher—the Long Island teenager who shot and wounded his wife. Mary Jo, in May 1992—Joey Buttafuoco finally admitted to having sex with Amy when she was under age 17. In legal terms, he pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape, for which he may be sentenced to up to six months in jail, five years probation and a $5,000 fine.

Wearing his trademark snakeskin boots, Buttafuoco, 37, was hardly contrite. “He did what he had to do for his wife and his family,” Buttafuoco’s lawyer, Dominic Barbara, said outside of court, implying that his client was innocent and pleading guilty only to avoid a grueling trial. In front of Judge Jack Mackston, however, Buttafuoco told a different story. “On July 2, 1991, I had sexual relations with Amy Fisher at the Freeport Motel,” he said without equivocation.

“When you say sexual relations, do you mean sexual intercourse?” asked prosecutor Fred Klein.

“Yes, sir,” Joey replied.

His wife, Mary Jo, was not present. Despite being admonished by a woman in the audience of Donahue last January to “Wake up, Mary Jo,” she staunchly maintained her husband’s innocence—even though she eventually began to seek a plea bargain with no jail time. According to Barbara, she spent a tearful night before the hearing. “It’s a sad day for everyone,” he said.

Except perhaps for Amy Fisher, who is serving a 5-to-15-year sentence for the shooting, which she claimed she did with Joey’s encouragement. “You can’t expect a person in a criminal facility to jump for joy,” says Matthew Rosenblum, one of her lawyers. “But Amy has long told what really happened. And the truth came out today.”

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