Italian police and FBI say cocaine ring based in New York pizzeria broken up

Theguardian.com ITALIAN POLICE say an operation conducted with US FBI agents has targeted a major cocaine trafficking ring based in a New York City pizza restaurant. Police said three suspects connected with the pizzeria in the city’s Queens borough were detained. Italy’s Central Operations Service (SCO) police and FBI agents also arrested 13 men as they slept in their homes in Italy’s southern Calabria region on suspicion of being part of an international drug trafficking ring.

The year-long investigation, named Operation Columbus, was led by federal investigators in Brooklyn and prosecutors in Calabria, the region that is home to the ndrangheta, a mainland version of the Sicilian Mafia. American agents seized 55kg (121lb) of cocaine hidden in two shipments of fresh cassava from Central America to Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, officials said. Last year, more than 3 tonnes of cocaine were seized in Spain and the Netherlands, all shipped in 40ft (12m) containers of fresh cassava, according to an Italian police official. Investigators suspect the same ring was behind that haul.

A Calabrian-born man who ran the Cucino A Modo Mio (I Cook My Way) pizzeria in the Queens borough of New York was arrested in March along with his wife and son for smuggling cocaine into the US. The Queens man was described by police as associated with New York’s Genovese crime family. More than $100,000 (£66,000) , six pistols and a shotgun were seized during his arrest. The latest operation follows a similar one in February last year in which a Calabrian mafia clan ran a cocaine smuggling operation through New York with members of the Gambino crime family. The recent drug stings show that the ndrangheta, which investigators say is Europe’s biggest cocaine dealer, has replaced Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as the main partner of New York’s traditional Italian crime families in smuggling drugs between North America and Europe.

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