US and Italian police crack major mafia drug ring

Twenty-four arrests made after two-year operation by FBI and Italian police into trafficking by Gambino family and Calabrian mafia or ‘Ndrangheta

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 February, 2014, 3:13pm

Police in Italy and the US have carried out a series of arrests in a joint operation aimed at smashing a new trafficking route for drugs and weapons that officials said had brought together the Gambino crime family of New York and the Calabrian mafia, or ‘Ndrangheta.

Raffaele Grassi, an Italian police spokesman, said 24 people had been arrested, with two more still being sought. Seventeen of them had been detained in Italy, he said, and seven in New York by the FBI.

Operation New Bridge dismantled a major criminal plan intended to facilitate the international trade of drugs, weapons and laundered money between Italy, the US, Canada and Latin America, police said.

As a result of the two-year investigation carried out by police on both sides of the Atlantic, investigators said they had thwarted the delivery of hundreds of kilos of cocaine to the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro from Guyana. The drugs were to have arrived hidden in cans of pineapple and coconut, a statement added.

One of the most striking elements of the operation was the “new alliance” between the Gambino family – traditionally linked to the Cosa Nostra, or Sicilian mafia – and the ‘Ndrangheta, said Grassi.

While in 2008 Operation Old Bridge focused on ties between the Cosa Nostra in the US and its counterparts in Palermo, Grassi said, “now we are seeing a different reality”.

“We are seeing that there is a channel of communication still open with the family from New York but that this channel of communication is now run by the ‘Ndrangheta, which has replaced the Cosa Nostra in relations with the Gambino family,” he told reporters.

Hugely powerful and with “expansionist aims”, he said, the Calabrian mafia had “spied an important alliance with the Gambino family because the Gambino family, in turn, has important relations with Mexican drug cartels.”

Agents from both the FBI and the Italian police – some undercover – worked together on the joint operation, officials said.

“We realised the ‘Ndrangheta wanted to create a bridge with the US to move narcotics across the ocean,” US magistrate Marshall Miller was quoted by NBC News as saying. “What the ‘Ndrangheta did not know was that a much stronger bridge existed already between the US and Italy – that of the co-operation between our forces.”