ROME – The FBI and Italian police said they had broken up a global heroin and cocaine trafficking ring Tuesday after stumbling upon a fledgling alliance between a Calabrian Mafia group and associates of New York’s notorious Gambino crime family.
Twenty-four arrests were made in Italy and the United States after a two-year operation that relied on both wiretaps and an American undercover agent named by investigators as “Jimmy,” who is said to have infiltrated the Gambinos and fooled Italians into believing he was a heroin dealer. Seventeen of the arrests were made in Italy and seven in the United States.
Those arrested in the U.S. were arraigned before a federal magistrate in Brooklyn, N.Y. The men, some of them suspected of being members of the Gambino and Bonanno “families,” were listed as using various street aliases such as “Lello,” “Freddy” and “Charlie Pepsi.”
The coordinated sting halted the planned shipment of more than a ton of cocaine from Latin America to Italy in liquid form, smuggled with help from Mexican cartels in coconut and pineapple cans, law enforcement officials said. They put the street value at $1 billion.
Speaking at a news conference in Rome, U.S. and Italian officials said the mob alliance was also planning to smuggle heroin into the United States, encouraged by the revival of the drug, which now is cheaper than cocaine. Its resurgence was highlighted early this month when Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his New York City apartment, apparently from a heroin overdose.
The reported transatlantic team-up rekindled ties between American and Italian organized crime syndicates, which date to the “Pizza Connection” trafficking of drugs by U.S. mob groups and Sicily’s infamous Mafia families in the 1970s and ’80s.
Three decades on, the Gambino associates forged ties with the rising ‘Ndrangheta crime group in Calabria, in the toe of Italy, which has supplanted the Sicilians in the international drug trade. The group is a trusted partner of South American cartels and is renowned for its tightknit blood ties.
“The international trafficking of drugs is almost monopolized now by the ‘Ndrangheta,’ ” Italian anti-Mafia investigator Raffaele Grassi said Tuesday.