FBI largest mob roundup

Nearly 125 arrested in sweeping mob roundup

The criminal accusations spanned several states and several decades, encompassing figures from seven mob families, and led to the arrest of nearly 125 people on federal charges on Thursday.

There were murders, including a double homicide over a spilled drink in a Queens bar. There were the more run-of-the-mill activities associated with organized crime: racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, money laundering, gambling and the like.

There were even some names from mob lore, including Luigi Manocchio, 83, the former boss of New England's Patriarca crime family, who was said to have dressed in women's clothing to avoid capture decades ago. He was arrested in Florida, accused of another mob standby: shaking down strip clubs, in Providence, R.I.

The charges were included in 16 indictments handed up in federal courts in four jurisdictions. Taken together, they amounted to what federal officials called the "largest mob roundup in F.B.I. history."

The indictments were announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who appeared at a news conference on Thursday morning in Brooklyn.

For the attorney general, it was an opportunity to preside over the kind of law enforcement operation that was once the core mission of the Justice Department, but that has been largely overshadowed during his tenure by far more ambiguous issues inherited from the Bush administration. Mr. Holder spoke of the "unprecedented scope and cooperation" in the investigation, but questions were also raised by the diffuse nature of the indictments, which involved myriad unrelated criminal activity.

The sweep began before dawn, with 800 federal agents and state and local investigators fanning out across the region. The targets, officials said, ran the gamut from what they called small-time bookmakers and shakedown artists to mob middle managers and the entire current leadership of the Colombo crime family, as well as two senior Gambino family figures. Prosecutors said 34 made members of New York's five crime families — Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese — and crime families in New Jersey and New England were among those arrested.

By taking out the leadership of the Colombos and charging large numbers of reputed crime figures from the other families, the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors hoped the case would have a significant impact. But at the same time, officials acknowledged that the mob had shown itself to be remarkably resilient.

"Arresting and convicting the hierarchies of the five families several times over has not eradicated the problem," said Janice K. Fedarcyk, the head of the New York F.B.I. office, calling it a "a myth" that the mob is a thing of the past.

At the news conference, Mr. Holder also announced that the Justice Department was merging its Organized Crime and Racketeering Section with its Gang Unit, a move he said would provide more-experienced prosecutors and increased resources for cases like the one announced on Thursday.

Some federal, state and local law enforcement officials have privately expressed concern about a possible resurgence in some quarters of the influence of organized crime after two decades of decline.

Mr. Holder emphasized several times that organized crime remained one of the department's top priorities because mob members and associates were "among the most dangerous criminals in our country." And he played down the notion of a resurgent mob, saying that while it had been weakened, and "is probably not nationwide in its scope, in its impact, as it once was," it remained a continuing major threat "to the economic well-being of this country."

He said his decision to go to Brooklyn to announce the arrests was meant to underscore the importance of the case to the department. Others at the news conference included the head of the department's Criminal Division, Lanny A. Breuer, and the United States attorneys from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark and Rhode Island: Loretta E. Lynch, Preet Bharara, Paul J. Fishman and Peter F. Neronha, respectively. There were also officials from other agencies, including Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner of New York, and Daniel R. Petrole, the acting inspector general of the federal Labor Department.

Most of the arrests took place before 8 a.m.; by early evening, all but 3 of the 127 men sought had been taken into custody. Most of them were processed at a United States Army base in Brooklyn and arraigned in the borough's federal courthouse.

Most of the defendants whom prosecutors characterized as higher-ranking mob figures were held without bail after pleading not guilty.

A dozen of the indictments, naming more than 80 defendants, were handed up in Brooklyn. Among those charged, according to the indictment, were the Colombo street boss Andrew Russo, the acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo and the consigliere Richard Fusco, and two high-ranking members of the Gambino family hierarchy: the consigliere Joseph Corozzo and the ruling panel member Bartolomeo Vernace.

They were named in a racketeering indictment that also charged four reputed captains and eight soldiers. The alleged crimes spanned two decades and include the 1993 murder of underboss Joseph Scopo, the family's asserted control of Local 6A of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union and the asserted defrauding of the city in connection with an annual feast, La Festa di Santa Rosalia in Bensonhurst.

Two indictments unsealed in Manhattan charged 26 men they identified as Gambino crime family figures, including Mr. Vernace and Mr. Corozzo, with racketeering, extortion, assault, arson and running a large marijuana and cocaine trafficking operation.

The indictment claims that they distributed cocaine and marijuana over 30 years, generating tens of millions of dollars in profit for the crime family. Two other racketeering indictments in Brooklyn name 13 men described as Gambino members and associates, including Mr. Vernace, who is charged in the double murder in the Shamrock Bar in Queens.

Mr. Vernace's lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, said his client was acquitted of the murders in state court in 2002. "These charges will be vigorously contested," he said.

An indictment handed up in Newark charged 14 people, including several current and former union officials who are said to be affiliated with the Genovese family, with racketeering and extortion of Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen's Association and other dockworkers' locals.

The indictment charges a conspiracy over the course of many years to extort union members around Christmastime, when they receive an annual bonus based on the number of containers moving through the port.

The indictment in Rhode Island charged Mr. Manocchio — said to be an enduring figure in the New England mob that was named for its former leader, Raymond L. S. Patriarca Sr. — and Thomas Iafarte, 61, with extorting strip clubs.

Mr. Manocchio, long viewed as the quiet, disciplined power behind the Patriarca family, is a man whose low-key, old-school style has, over the years, reined in a dysfunctional crime operation, officials have said.

(Published by NY Times - January 20, 2011)

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