77 held in U.S., Italy in Mafia drug-trade raid



NEW YORK  — American and Italian authorities arrested dozens of people Thursday in a takedown of what they called a trans-Atlantic drug trafficking operation run by the Mafia.

The operation, code-named "Old Bridge," was centered on New York and the Sicilian capital of Palermo, targeting Mafia figures who were strengthening contacts between mob groups in Italy and the United States.

A federal grand jury in New York also accused 62 people of ties to the Gambino crime family and offenses including murders, drug trafficking, robberies, extortion, and other crimes dating back to the 1970s.

The sprawling indictment covers gangland killings from the days when the crime family was run by Paul Castellano, who was assassinated in 1985. Some of the charges allege more recent crimes including credit fraud conspiracies and theft of union benefits.

In the 170-page indictment, authorities allege that associates of the crime family extorted people in the construction industry, embezzled from labor unions, engaged in loansharking and bookmaking.

The indictment's targets include a long list of well-known mobsters and people believed to be top leaders in the Gambino clan, some of whom have already served prison time for past offenses. Among those being sought was the reputed acting boss of the Gambino family, John "Jackie the Nose" D'Amico, who is accused of playing a lead role in a broad racketeering conspiracy.

The U.S. attorney in Brooklyn was expected to release more details about the investigation at a news conference Thursday.

As of Thursday morning, the FBI had arrested 54 people in New York City and its northern suburbs, New Jersey and Long Island. Police in Palermo said they hoped to bring in 25 to 30 suspects.

Authorities in Rome said they were targeting alleged members of Mafia families who control drug trafficking between the two sides of the Atlantic.

There has been renewed attention to the Sicilian Mafia's ties to the United States since November, when police in Sicily arrested Salvatore Lo Piccolo, a top mobster on the run for more than a decade who was vying to become Cosa Nostra's next "boss of bosses."

At the time, investigators warned that Lo Piccolo had been working to mend ties with U.S.-Italian clans such as the Gambino and Inzerillo crime families.

Those relations were wrecked during Sicily's internal Mafia war of the 1980s and the rise of the Corleonesi clan, which dominated La Cosa Nostra until the arrests of boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina in 1993 and of his successor Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.

The Gambino crime family has been the subject of a steady stream of government indictments and prosecutions since its late don, John Gotti, was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. One acting boss after another has gone to prison, including Gotti's son, John Gotti Jr., who was not named in this most recent indictment.

In the government's last high-profile attack on the family, the younger Gotti, freed after completing his prison term, was tried three times on charges that he conspired to murder the radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa for insulting his father.

Each trial ended in a hung jury and prosecutors finally gave up the case last year.

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