US arrests scores in NY 'mob sweep'

FBI arrests more than 100 suspected mafia members in a major crackdown on organised crime in New York city area.

    The crackdown was said to be a major blow to the region's five mafia families

    Federal agents have arrested more than 100 alleged mafia members throughout New York and the northeast United States, on charges including murder, extortion and narcotics trafficking 

    The FBI said most of the arrests were made on Thursday morning. Many were in New York's Brooklyn district, but they also took place elsewhere in the city and in New Jersey and New England.

    "We have charged mob associates and mob bosses alike including the former boss of La Cosa Nostra operations in New England," Eric Holder, the US attorney, said.

    "Some allegations involve classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals.

    "Others involve truly senseless murders. In one instance a victim was allegedly shot and killed during a bodged robbery attempt and two other murder victims allegedly were shot in a public bar in a dispute over a spilled drink."

    'Five families'

    The arrests were described as a major blow to the region's mafia families. The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources, called it "the largest such sweep of organised crime figures ever conducted by federal authorities."

    The suspects included minor associates, "soldiers," "captains" and a host of high-ranking bosses, wiping out much of the leadership of the Colombo and Gambino families - two of the historic "Five Families" in New York.

    Among those charged in New York were the Colombo street boss Andrew Russo, 76, acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, and consigliere Richard Fusco, 74, authorities said.

    Two of the Gambinos charged included consigliere Joseph Corozzo, 69, and ruling panel member Bartolomeo Vernace, 61. In Rhode Island, the New England boss Luigi Manocchio, 83, was arrested.

    "These allegations are right out of a Hollywood movie," Al Jazeera's Kristen Saloomey, reporting from New York, said. 

    "But what is really interesting about these arrests is that they show the continued presence, the stranglehold some would say, of organised crimes in certain industries in the northeastern United States - construction, the running of the ports in New York and New Jersey, and also labour unions."

    Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York division, told reporters that the investigation was aided by court-sanctioned wiretaps and co-operation from former mobsters, "a trend that has definitely been tilting in law enforcement's favour".

    "The vow of silence that is part of the oath of 'omerta' is more myth than reality today," she said.

    'Mafia decimated'

    Federal investigations, aided by mob turncoats, have decimated the families' ranks in recent years and
    have resulted in lengthy prison terms for several leaders.

    Last Friday, a federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced John "Sonny" Franzese, 93, to eight years in prison for extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on Long Island.

    Federal prosecutors had sought at least 12 years behind bars for the under-boss of the Colombo crime family - in effect, a life term. To bolster their argument, they had an FBI agent testify that Franzese bragged about killing 60 people over the years and once contemplated putting out a hit on his own son for becoming a government co-operator.

    In October, Mafia turncoat Salvatore Vitale was sentenced to time served for murders and other crimes after federal prosecutors praised his total betrayal of his own crime syndicate - and after he apologised to the families of his victims.

    Authorities said he had a hand in at least 11 murders, including that of a fellow gangster in the fallout from the infamous Donnie Brasco case.

    The evidence provided after his arrest in 2003 helped decimate the once-fearsome Bonanno organised crime family, Greg Andres, assistant US attorney, said.

    "The mafia today is weaker because of his co-operation,'' Andres said.

    "Mr Vitale provided lead after lead. ... The results speak for themselves.''

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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