In a massive international crackdown, authorities filed drug-trafficking charges Thursday against 68 persons in the United States and 133 in Italy, including large numbers of the "Sicilian Mafia," one of three major groups believed to dominate the world drug trade.
FBI Director William S. Sessions, heralding the end of a complex, three-year investigation, suggested that it had made "major inroads" into illegal drug operations.
"This investigation penetrated the secrecy that normally surrounds the illegal activities of the drug cartels, because all of the law enforcement agencies involved displayed such superb international cooperation," Sessions said. For example, he said, undercover FBI agents traveled to Italy to discuss drug purchases, while Italian police inspectors worked with U.S. authorities in New York and Philadelphia.
Ring in Restaurants
In San Francisco, charges were lodged against 13 members of a heroin-cocaine ring that operated in at least three Italian restaurants in North Beach, U.S. Atty. Joseph Russoniello announced.
San Francisco Police Chief Frank Jordan said that Sergio Maranghi, 51, was the unknowing connection between undercover agents and the drug ring. The Maranghi ring had "a major impact" on the drug problem in San Francisco, especially in wealthier areas, he said.
Jordan, asserting that "a major source of supply" has been cut off, said Maranghi had "direct ties with the Mafia" and was an associate of New York Mafia kingpin Carlo Gambino.
As suspects and drug caches were seized in eight U.S. and nine Italian cities, an FBI official in New York said heroin had been smuggled into the United States in bottles of wine or in packets taped to the bodies of middle-aged men and women.
Italian authorities said the women, paid $20,000 per trip, wore heavy perfume to keep anti-drug dogs from sniffing the contraband.
Two Gambinos Arrested
Among those arrested in New York were Francesco Gambino, 47, formerly of Torretta, Sicily, and Giuseppe Gambino, 42, of Brooklyn, both key figures in the Gambino organization that runs pizza parlors and fast-food restaurants. But law enforcement sources cautioned that the two men were not linked to the Gambino family that is part of the Mafia.
One of the raids early Thursday broke up dancing at the Cafe Giardino in Brooklyn, the alleged headquarters for a faction of the Gambino family, said James Fox, assistant agent-in-charge of the FBI's New York office.
"Some of the individuals arrested made some attempt to escape," Fox said. "An agent went to the microphone and said, in effect: 'Many of you have had your last dance. You are under arrest.' "
By late Thursday, 59 arrests and numerous drug seizures had been made in San Francisco, Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, Newark, New York, Philadelphia and Rockford, Ill. An additional 20 people were arrested in Italy.
3 Italian Families Involved
All of the Italian suspects allegedly belonged to the Spatola, Gambino and Inzerillo families and were involved in multimillion-dollar narcotics traffic in Sicily and the United States, authorities said.
"Most of these are Sicilian Mafia cases," FBI spokesman Harry Mount said. "They are family-type operations--literally families of fathers, sons and other blood relatives. They are not traditional organized-crime families like the La Cosa Nostra," which have many members not related to each other.
Mount said the Sicilian Mafia and cartels based in Colombia and Mexico are credited with controlling the bulk of the world's illegal drug traffic.
Contrary to some reports, Mount said, the just-ended investigation was not related to an earlier inquiry of heroin trafficking in pizza parlors that led to nationwide arrests.
"This was no simple 'buy-bust' case," Sessions said. "Instead, the FBI used its expertise to develop the kind of long-term, undercover operation that builds strong cases against top leaders."
The investigation involved undercover purchases of heroin and cocaine, court-authorized wiretaps and physical surveillance, he said.
The FBI said the coordinated inquiry began after agents in Buffalo and Philadelphia found links between separate investigations in those cities. Eventually, six FBI field offices, three Italian police agencies, the U.S. Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration joined the effort.
As an offshoot of the main case, the FBI learned that cocaine was being sent from South America to a laboratory in Spain. There the cocaine was processed and sent to Italy, where it was exchanged for heroin that was to be shipped to the United States.
The FBI said it told Spanish and Italian authorities about the exchange and arrests were subsequently made in Spain.