FBI's Greatest Mob Hit? Sweep Nets 127 Arrests

January 20, 2011

NPR Staff and Wires

Federal authorities have indicted 127 people — more than 100 of them taken out of their homes early Thursday morning — in one of the largest mob roundups ever.

At a news conference in New York, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the defendants include high-ranking members of the Gambino and Colombo crime families and the reputed former boss of organized crime in New England. All five of New York's five major crime families were targeted.

"This is one of the largest single-day operations against the Mafia in the FBI's history, both in terms of the number of defendants arrested and charged and the scope of the criminal activity that is alleged," he said.

It's hard to grasp the scale of the mob bust; the indictments alone run hundreds of pages, and when stacked up are 4 inches thick. Some of the nicknames of those indicted: Jack the Whack, Marbles, Skinny, Jonny Pizza, Junior Lollipops, Jimmy Gooch and Baby Fat Larry.

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.

Other charges include alleged corruption among dockworkers who were forced to kick back a portion of their holiday bonuses to the crime families.

Agents taped a man named John Cavallo complaining that he didn't get his kickback and allegedly saying, "I'll go there and I'll kill him. He don't know my name right?"

Anthony Russo is charged with participating in the murder of an underboss, Joseph Scopo, as he got out of a car in Queens. The feds allegedly have Russo on tape laughing about it.

More than 100 of the defendants, one of them a former New York City police officer, were arrested Thursday as some 800 federal agents and police officers made busts in several states. One person was arrested in Italy.

The crimes include two murders dating back 30 years and another as recent as 2002.

The FBI agent in charge of the New York office, Janice Fedarcyk, said the agency finally felt it had enough evidence to go after the defendants. Part of the evidence came from informants, who she says are more common than you might think.

"The vow of silence that is part of the oath of omerta is more myth than reality today," she said.

The FBI was also helped out by dozens of court-authorized wiretaps. "Thousands of conversations were recorded by cooperators," Fedarcyk said.

Luigi Manocchio, the reputed former head of New England's Patriarca crime family, was arrested Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the U.S. attorney's office in Providence, R.I., said. An indictment accused him of collecting protection payments from strip-club owners. Also arrested was Thomas Iafrate, who worked as a bookkeeper for strip clubs and set aside money for Manocchio, prosecutors said.

The takedown was the result of multiple investigations. Federal probes aided by mob turncoats have decimated the families' ranks in recent years and have 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.

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.

Thursday's indictments are a reminder, Holder said, that the mob is still around, still dangerous and still sucking money from businesses.

"I think the mob certainly has been weakened. It is different from what it was once before, but the reality is it is an ongoing threat, a major threat to the economic well-being of this country, in addition to being the violent organization that it is and therefore deserving of our attention," he said.

NPR's Robert Smith contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.