Under the old code of La Cosa Nostra, prostitution was prohibited activity, recalled former FBI supervisory agent Bruce Mouw, who in 1990 arrested the late Gambino crime boss John J. Gotti.
But the indictment Tuesday of reputed Gambino crime family members and associates alleged that a number of them took part in sex trafficking, a new kind of crime dealing with coerced prostitution.
The prostitution allegations, which usually are leveled against Russian, Chinese and Mexican gangs, appear to be the first against a Cosa Nostra group in decades for running a sex ring.
"I have been here in the New York office for 20 years and this is first instance I can recall," said FBI agent Dave Shafer, chief of the organized crime branch here.
The last major prostitution case against a mob figure came in the 1930s when Charles "Lucky" Luciano was imprisoned on numerous counts of prostitution. Luciano was freed in 1946 and deported to Italy, where he died in 1962.
The Gambino indictment uses the term "sex trafficking" to describe the alleged inducement and coercion of young women, ages 15 to 19, to engage in prostitution. The law invoked is the Mann Act, which deals with prostitution in interstate commerce, not the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 now used in trafficking cases.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office did not respond to a request for comment.