FBI's biggest-ever mob bust shows where Mafia still holds sway

FBI and local law enforcement arrests 127 people allegedly connected to the Mafia, mostly in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Officials say the mob is still 'entrenched' in certain industries and has a 'pervasive' influence at ports.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
US Attorney General Eric Holder (r.) and US Attorney for New York's Southern District Preet Bharara confer at a news conference on Thursday in New York. Law-enforcement officials said more than 120 organized-crime associates face charges including murder, extortion, and narcotics trafficking in the largest Mafia crackdown in FBI history.

Even by New York mafia prosecution standards, the haul of alleged mobsters arrested on Thursday morning by law-enforcement officials was eye-popping.

A gigantic dragnet of 800 police or FBI officials arrested 127 individuals who were either "made members" of La Cosa Nostra or associated with it, according to federal indictments. To avoid clogging the courts, the accused mobsters were processed at an Army base. The FBI calls it one of the biggest single day operations in its history and the largest ever against the Mafia.

Those pulled in included Bartolomeo Vernace, who reportedly sits on organized crime’s “Ruling Panel,” that arbitrates interfamily spats. The haul also included the head of the Colombo Family and 34 members of the Gambino Family. Those arrested included “consiglieres” as well as captains, soldiers and associates.

Altogether, the arrests encompassed six crime families, plus the New England Cosa Nostra which operates in Boston and Providence.

“Today’s arrests and charges mark an important step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra’s illegal activities,” said Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, in a press conference in New York.

Mob remains 'resilient and persistent'

The scale of the arrests may come as a surprise to many people. But law-enforcement officials as well as organized crime experts say it shows that organized crime continues to be a blight on society. And even though former law enforcement officials, such as Rudolph Giuliani, former attorney general for the southern district of New York, made inroads in the crime families, the families remain active.

“The mob has shown itself to be resilient and persistent,” said Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York division. “Arresting and convicting the hierarchy of the five families several times over has not eradicated the problem.”

The scope of the mob’s continuing crime activities, as detailed in a two-inch-thick stack of legal documents, included murder, loan-sharking, arson, narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery, illegal gambling, and labor racketeering.

According to the indictments, the Colombo Family has long had control of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union Local 6A.

“The La Cosa Nostra is entrenched in certain industries, especially time-sensitive industries where they can control the timing and flow of goods and the labor force has an ability to impose extortionate demands,” says Randy Mastro, a former US Attorney who prosecuted organized crime figures in the 1980s.

The indictments also indicate the Mafia is continuing to operate on the piers. According to the indictments, the Genovese Family extorted members of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) to force the men to give a portion of their annual Christmas royalty payments to the mob as a sort of tax.

' "On the Waterfront" stuff'

Paul Fishman, the US attorney for the district of New Jersey, said the indictments showed that organized crime’s corrupt influence in the ports was “pervasive.”

“The idea that people have to pay to work at the ports, and their union leaders are not representing them is not justifiable at all,” said Mr. Fishman.

“This is ‘On the Waterfront’ stuff,” says Mr. Mastro, referring to the classic 1954 movie with Marlon Brando as an ex-prize fighter who tries to stand up to his corrupt union bosses. “Unfortunately, there is still criminal influence on the piers 60 years later.”

Mastro, now with the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in New York, says the reason organized crime continues to operate is because they continue to recruit new members in what is almost a military type of organization. “It is not just about one figure or one head of a family, it is an organized structure with dons and capos and a quasi-military structure,” he says.

If the cases go to trial, jurors will probably be listening to hours of wire tapped conversations and testimony from informants.

“We used every tool in our toolbox,” said Ms. Fedarcyk of the FBI.

The charges brought against the individuals carry a variety of maximum penalties up to as much as life in prison.

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