By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities arrested dozens of suspected Mafia members on Thursday, charging them with extortion, loan sharking, smuggling, arson, gun trafficking and other crimes.
A federal indictment unsealed in New York tied 46 suspects to four of the city’s five major Mafia outfits - the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese and Bonanno families. Other suspects were part of the main Philadelphia family, the indictment said.
Most of the suspects were arrested in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida early on Thursday. Three remain at large, according to U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan.
The multi-year investigation included a mobster-turned-witness who wore a recording device and a federal agent who posed as a member of the conspiracy.
Prosecutors attributed an array of schemes, including gambling rings, untaxed cigarettes sales and fake credit cards, to the suspects.
Those arrested ranged in age from 24 to 80, had nicknames such as “Tony the Cripple” and “Mustache Pat,” and used violence to intimidate their victims, according to authorities.
In a second indictment unsealed in Massachusetts on Thursday, two people were accused of working for the Genovese family in a separate extortion scheme, along with three other members of the family.
In a case unrelated to the federal sweep, the grandson of former New York mob boss John Gotti, also named John, was charged on Thursday by New York City prosecutors with dealing oxycodone and other drugs. The elder John Gotti died in prison of cancer in 2002.
The federal case is one of the largest mob-related busts in recent years, as the pace of such prosecutions has slowed since the mafia’s heyday decades ago. Although the mafia is not as powerful as it once was, prosecutors said the investigation shows it is still a potent force.
“Today’s charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
In one instance, Pasquale Parrello, known as “Patsy,” instructed several underlings to confront someone who refused to pay off a gambling debt, authorities said.
“You get Buddy and let Buddy go there and choke him,” Parrello said, referring to another suspect, according to prosecutors.
Parrello, 72, was one of the leaders of the conspiracy, along with Eugene “Rooster” O'Nofrio, 74, and Joseph Merlino, 54, prosecutors said. Merlino is believed to be the head of the Philadelphia crime family.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)