12/09/2006

Mafia takedowns win Italian chief FBI honors

By LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON- The FBI gave one of its highest honors Friday to Italy's national police chief for working a quarter-century with the U.S. to bring down an estimated 1,000 Mafia and other organized crime leaders in both countries.

Prefetto Giovanni "Gianni" De Gennaro, who at times put sandbags on his windows to shield his family from snipers and whose organized crime officers slept at police stations to remain safe, was awarded the FBI Medal for Meritorious Achievement. The ceremony at FBI headquarters marked the first time the honor was given to an official outside of the FBI's ranks.

De Gennaro, chief of the Italian National Police, said he worked so closely with the FBI and federal prosecutors that "sometimes I even woke up wondering if i was in Rome or in New York," he told an auditorium packed with current and former top FBI and Justice Department officials.

He said such international cooperation was valuable to help law enforcement face down threats "whether it appeared as a mobster or as a terrorist."

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who as a federal prosecutor in New York worked closely with De Gennaro on a number of Mafia cases in the 1980s, said that the U.S-Italy investigative bond "has really changed the face of organized crime.

"It has allowed the law enforcement infrastructure in both counties to really dismantle the command and control of the Mafia," Freeh said.

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