Raids in U.S., Italy target new Mafia drug trafficking route linking New York's Gambino family to ndrangheta crime syndicate

Cbsnews.com REGGIO CALABRIA – A major joint ope­ra­tion by Ita­lian poli­ce and FBI agen­ts in Ita­ly has rob­bed two of the world's most noto­rious orga­ni­zed cri­me ope­ra­tions of a new drug smug­gling rou­te from Latin Ame­ri­ca into Euro­pe. CBS News cor­re­spon­dent Allen Piz­zey was invi­ted to wit­ness the night­ti­me raids in Ita­ly, and reports the ope­ra­tion was focu­sed on brea­king up the new rou­te into the sou­thern Ita­lian port of Goia Tau­ro. The traf­fic­king rou­te con­nec­ted the Ita­lian Mafia's ndran­ghe­ta cri­me syn­di­ca­te with the U.S. Sici­lian Mafia. Raids were also car­ried out in the U.S. and Cana­da. U.S. offi­cials told CBS News that seven peo­ple were arre­sted by the FBI in the New York area raids. 

Tue­sday mor­ning, the U.S. Attor­ney for the Eastern District of New York said the seven arre­sted in the New York raids were to appear later in the day in fede­ral court for arrai­gn­ment. Accor­ding to the sta­te­ment, they face char­ges of "nar­co­tics traf­fic­king, money laun­de­ring and firearms offen­ses based, in part, on their par­ti­ci­pa­tion in a trans­na­tio­nal heroin and cocai­ne traf­fic­king con­spi­ra­cy invol­ving the ndran­ghe­ta, one of Italy’s most power­ful orga­ni­zed cri­me syn­di­ca­tes."

The Attorney's offi­ce iden­ti­fied the U.S. suspec­ts as Raf­fae­le Valen­te, aka “Lel­lo,” of the ndran­ghe­ta syn­di­ca­te, Gam­bi­no fami­ly asso­cia­te Fran­co Lupoi, Bonan­no asso­cia­te Char­les Cen­ta­ro, aka “Char­lie Pep­si,” Domi­nic Ali, Ale­xan­der Chan, Chri­stos Fasa­ra­kis, and Jose Alfre­do Gar­cia, also kno­wn as “Fred­dy.” In Ita­ly, poli­ce and FBI agen­ts arre­sted 17 mem­bers and asso­cia­tes of the ndran­ghe­ta syn­di­ca­te, accor­ding to the sta­te­ment. The U.S. Attorney's offi­ce said the inve­sti­ga­tion “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," U.S. Attor­ney Loret­ta Lynch said in the sta­te­ment. “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.” Piz­zey reports that the Ita­lian raids were code-named “New Brid­ge,” and invol­ved near­ly 150 poli­ce offi­cers swoo­ping in on as many as 20 loca­tions in the suburbs and vil­la­ges around Goia Tau­ro, which is one of the lar­ge­st ship­ping ports in Euro­pe.

The ope­ra­tion took pla­ce in the dead of night under con­di­tions of abso­lu­te secre­cy. Piz­zey says the area is so infe­sted with local Mafia, that they lite­ral­ly have eyes and ears eve­ry­whe­re. The FBI and Ita­lian poli­ce were after as many as 26 suspec­ts, inclu­ding a mem­ber of the noto­rious New York-based Gam­bi­no cri­me fami­ly who offi­cials say nego­tia­ted the new smug­gling rou­te. FBI spe­cial agen­ts, who CBS News is not iden­ti­fy­ing due to the natu­re of their work, were on hand for the raids in Ita­ly, and Ita­lian poli­ce took part in the ope­ra­tions in New York. 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.

The head of the sur­pri­sin­gly mode­st hou­se­hold is an alle­ged mem­ber of the 'ndran­ghe­ta syn­di­ca­te, the tightly knit, vio­lent orga­ni­za­tion that is a major player in inter­na­tio­nal heroin and cocai­ne smug­gling and money laun­de­ring, and has ties to the power­ful Gam­bi­no fami­ly in New York. Poli­ce offi­cers with dogs sear­ched the hou­se, but only a cou­ple of offi­cers outsi­de drew guns – as a pre­cau­tio­na­ry mea­su­re. One of the FBI agen­ts on the sce­ne told CBS News the suspec­ts tar­ge­ted in the­se raids see get­ting caught and doing time in pri­son as part of the pri­ce of doing busi­ness. One of the men taken into custo­dy was escor­ted out of the hou­se car­ry­ing a blue bag, and went so wil­lin­gly he wasn’t even put in han­d­cuffs. Asked what it was like to take part in the raids that the FBI and its inter­na­tio­nal part­ners spent two years buil­ding up to, one of the FBI spe­cial agen­ts in Ita­ly told CBS News it was "good to get to this point, to ful­ly deve­lop the evi­den­ce that we can use to indict indi­vi­duals who enga­ge in cri­mi­nal acti­vi­ty." The arrests won't put an end to the Italian-U.S. drug con­nec­tion, but as an FBI agent told Piz­zey in Ita­ly, "they'll cer­tain­ly have a signi­fi­cant impact."

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