Rome (AFP) – Italy and the United States arrested dozens of people and broke up a fledgling alliance between New York’s Gambino family and the ‘Ndrangheta mafia on Tuesday, mainly thanks to a U.S. undercover agent who infiltrated the secretive Italian organised crime group.
Italian and U.S. prosecutors and police gave details of the joint operation at a press conference in Rome, saying they issued 26 arrest warrants and placed 40 people under investigation in a two-year investigation.
They said they had disrupted planned shipments of cocaine via a new drug route from South America to Italy and of heroin from Italy to the U.S. worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
One cocaine shipment would have been for 500 kilos (1,000 pounds) of pure cocaine and the drugs were to be smuggled in liquid form in tins of fruit by a Guyana-based firm with a Mexican drug cartel acting as an intermediary.
“What we see here is an attempt by the ‘Ndrangheta to gain a foothold in the New York area. We stand ready to prevent the ‘Ndrangheta from gaining that foothold,” said Marshall Miller, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Officials said the investigation confirmed the ‘Ndrangheta’s lynchpin role in international drug trafficking and its bid for a wider global reach.
The charges against those arrested include drug trafficking, mafia association and an illegal firearms charge against one U.S. suspect who sold a gun silencer and claimed to have a “Fort Knox” arsenal of weapons.
While the ‘Ndrangheta already had contacts with the New York Cosa Nostra’s traditional “five families” dating back to the 1980s, officials said the links had previously always been through the Sicilian Cosa Nostra.
The direct link was something new and officers named their operation “New Bridge” — a reference to a previous operation in the 1990s called “Old Bridge” into ties between the Italian and U.S. Cosa Nostra.
Miller said the “bridge of criminality and corruption” had come across the “much stronger bridge” of police cooperation between Italy and the United States.
“This operation strikes at the heart of international organised crime,” he said, adding that hundreds of thousands of dollars in mafia money being laundered through U.S. banks had also been seized in the U.S.