FBI officials in New York Tuesday announced a transatlantic roundup of 24 men accused of trying to orchestrate a heroin and cocaine smuggling alliance between the U.S. mob and the 'Ndrangheta, one of Italy's and the world's most feared criminal syndicates.
The arrests, in an operation with the Italian National Police, scooped up associates of the Gambino and Bonanno crime families in Brooklyn as well as 17 'Ndrangheta members in Calabria at the southeastern tip of Italy, and stymied its efforts to get a U.S. foothold, officials said.
"The 'Ndrangheta is an exceptionally dangerous, sophisticated and insidious criminal organization with tentacles stretching from Italy to countries around the world," said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. "Today . . . the 'Ndrangheta's efforts to gain a foothold in New York have been dealt a lasting blow."
The defendants, officials said, planned to ship South American and Mexican narcotics from Guyana embedded in blocks of frozen fish or secreted among pineapples to a port in Calabria, where a corrupt port official would provide protection.
They sold 2.3 kilograms, or about 5 pounds, of heroin to an undercover FBI agent intended for U.S. distribution and planned to use connections at the port, Gioia Tauro, to establish a safe, long-term shipping operation to bring in the drugs there and then export them to the United States.
Reputed Gambino associate Franco Lupoi, 44, of Brooklyn, the owner of a Bensonhurst bakery who had relatives in the 'Ndrangheta's Ursino clan, allegedly used his criminal ties to set up the operation. Charles "Charlie Pepsi" Centaro, 50, of Brooklyn, a reputed Bonanno associate, allegedly helped run a money laundering shop.
Raffaele Valente, 42, of Brooklyn, was charged with selling a silencer and shotgun to an undercover agent and allegedly bragged on wiretaps that he had assembled a group of well-armed men in New York to make the base of operations as secure as "Fort Knox."
Lynch said the 'Ndrangheta, a criminal organization separate from the Sicilian Mafia, has a "very violent" history as "prolific kidnappers," but branched out into the narcotics trade years ago and was especially dangerous because of its partnering with other criminal groups to establish a global presence.
"What we are seeing in organized crime is an increasing focus on spanning the continents," she said. "This is a trend."
The defendants pleaded not guilty in Brooklyn federal court. Five, including Lupoi and Valente, were detained without bail. Two, including Centaro, were released on bond.