The FBI and Italian police say they have arrested two dozen suspects in connection with a transnational heroin- and cocaine-trafficking conspiracy linking Italy's 'ndrangheta syndicate with the notorious Gambino and Bonanno crime families in the United States.
Nighttime raids carried out in southern Italy, the United States and Canada early Tuesday netted 24 people — including seven in New York: 'ndrangheta member Raffaele Valente, also known as “Lello”; Gambino associate Franco Lupoi; Bonanno associate Charles Centaro, also known as “Charlie Pepsi”; Dominic Ali; Alexander Chan; Christos Fasarakis; and Jose Alfredo Garcia, also known as “Freddy."
“The ‘Ndrangheta is an exceptionally dangerous, sophisticated, and insidious criminal organization with tentacles stretching from Italy to countries around the world,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “The defendant Lupoi sought to use his connections with both ‘Ndrangheta and the Gambino crime family to extend his own criminal reach literally around the globe. Today, thanks to the vigilance and sustained cooperation of the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners in Italy, the ‘Ndrangheta’s efforts to gain a foothold in New York have been dealt a lasting blow.”
Using wiretaps and an undercover agent named "Jimmy," the FBI said it was able to infiltrate the Brooklyn-based mob and stop "a plot to transport 500 kilograms of cocaine, concealed in frozen food, in shipping containers from Guyana to Calabria."
Investigators estimated the street value of the cocaine after cutting would have been about 750 million euros, or $1 billion.
In Italy, 17 others were arrested in connection with the alleged drug ring. The massive joint operation targeted the breakup of a new trafficking route into the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
According to CBS News, which was invited to witness the predawn Italian raids, more than 150 anti-mafia police participated in the operation, dubbed "New Bridge."
"Five carloads of police arrived at one location so fast, that the target only appeared to realize what was going on moments before he was placed under arrest — when the officer in charge knocked politely on his door, and said good morning," CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey wrote.
The 'ndrangheta was "determined to move deadly narcotics across international boundaries, attempting to build a bridge of criminality and corruption to stretch from South America to Italy and back to New York," U.S. Attorney Marshall Miller told reporters at a press conference in Rome. "What we see here is 'Ndrangheta attempting to gain a foothold in the New York area and the United States. We also see efforts to forge cooperation between the 'Ndrangheta and the Cosa Nostra."
Hundreds of thousands of dollars laundered through U.S. banks were seized during the operation, officials said.
Raffaele Grassi, head of the Italian police's central operative service unit, said it's clear that the 'ndrangheta "has left its territory of origin: beyond occupying areas of our country and infiltrating itself in northern Italy, the 'ndrangheta is looking for criminals beyond the borders, invading new markets to make profit."
Miller added: "This operation strikes at the heart of international organized crime."