Reporting Irene Cornell
NEW YORK (CBS New York/AP) — Thursday was a good day for federal agents and bad day for the mob.
In the morning the FBI made arrests from New England to Florida. In all, 127 mafia members and associates were charged with a wide range of crimes — some going back 30 years, CBS 2’s John Slattery reports.
It was the largest mafia bust in FBI history. The massive operation targeted the country’s most notorious crime families, all part of the network known as La Cosa Nostra. Many of the arrests were in Brooklyn, but they occurred throughout New York City, in New Jersey and New England. One person was arrested in Italy.
Among those arrested in New Jersey were reputed associates of the Genovese crime family, some of whom also served as officials of longshoremen’s unions.
The charges are listed in 16 indictments charging hundreds of made men with murder, racketeering, gambling, narcotics, trafficking and extortion. The charges cover decades worth of offenses, Holder said, including “classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals,” a killing during a botched robbery and a double shooting in a barroom dispute over a spilled drink. Bobby Vernace, of the Gambino leadership, is charged in a 1981 murder in Woodhaven, Queens.
“The reality is that our battle against organized crime enterprises is far from over,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said at a news conference in Brooklyn. “This is an ongoing effort and it must and will remain a top priority for all of us in law enforcement.”
The takedown was another blow to New York’s five Mafia crime families. Federal probes aided by mob turncoats have decimated the families’ ranks and resulted in lengthy prison terms for several leaders.
On 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 underboss 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 cooperator.
In October, Mafia turncoat Salvatore Vitale was sentenced to time served after federal prosecutors praised his total betrayal of his own crime syndicate – and after he apologized 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 organized crime family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres said.
“The Mafia today is weaker because of his cooperation,” Andres said. “Mr. Vitale provided lead after lead. … The results speak for themselves.”
Some of the accused mobsters have colorful nicknames like “Vinny Carwash,” “Tony Bagels,” “Johnny Pizza,” “Lumpy,” “The Bull” and “Meatball.”
But agents also nabbed top members, including the reputed head of New England’s crime family, Luigi Manocchio. He’s accused of collecting protection payments from strip club owners.
High-ranking Gambino and Colombo associates were charged with carrying out hits on members of their own family. Some of the alleged killings were almost casual.
“Two other murder victims allegedly were shot in a public bar because of a dispute over a spilled drink,” Holder said.
Since the death of Gambino crime boss John Gotti, top members of La Cosa Nostra have kept a low profile but stayed active.
Said Janice K. Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Division: “Just as the retirement or resignation of a corporate CEO does not spell the end of the company; neither does the incarceration of a mob boss or key executive mean the dissolution of their family.”
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