NEW YORK – American and Italian authorities arrested dozens of people Thursday in a takedown of the remnants of New York's Gambino crime family also meant to cripple a trans-Atlantic drug trafficking operation run by the Mafia.
As part of one of law enforcement's biggest moves against the mob in recent memory, a federal grand jury in New York accused 62 people of ties to the Gambinos and murders, drug trafficking, robberies, extortion, and other crimes dating back to the 1970s.
"Today we are able to bring closure to crimes from the past," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said. "Today we seek justice for those men and their families and we make clear that those crimes and those victims are not forgotten."
The international law enforcement operation, code-named "Old Bridge," was centered on New York and the Sicilian capital of Palermo, targeting Mafia figures who were strengthening contacts between mob groups in Italy and the United States.
"It's a fallacy to think organized crime murders occur within the closed shop," said Mike Mershon, head of the FBI's New York office.
The sprawling U.S. indictment covers gangland killings from the days when the Gambino family was run by Paul Castellano, who was murdered in 1985. Some of the charges allege more recent crimes including credit fraud conspiracies and theft of union benefits.
In the 170-page indictment, authorities allege that associates of the crime family extorted people in the construction industry, embezzled from labor unions and engaged in loansharking and bookmaking. The massive investigation also includes charges brought in state court.
The federal indictment's targets include a list of well-known mobsters and people believed to be top leaders in the Gambino clan, some of whom have already served prison time. Among those sought was the reputed acting boss of the Gambino family, John "Jackie the Nose" D'Amico, who is accused of playing a lead role in a broad racketeering conspiracy.
"Organized crime still exists in the city and the state of New York," state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said. "We like to think that it's a vestige of the past. It's not."
The investigation and arrests had ensnared whatever members of the Gambino crime hierarchy were still at liberty, Campbell said. Many of the charges relate to the activities of a Staten Island cement business, whose owner was identified in the indictment only as "John Doe No. 4." Prosecutors allege that mob figures extorted the owner for money and jobs, and interfered with several of his business ventures.
The indictment charges reputed Gambino soldier Charles Carneglia with five killings over three decades, including that of Albert Gelb, a state court officer who was gunned down on March 11, 1976.
Prosecutors have long claimed that Gelb was murdered in retaliation for making an off-duty arrest of Carneglia after he spotted him in a restaurant wearing a gun. Previous attempts to prosecute Gambino associates for the killing, including Carneglia's brother, ended in failure.
As of Thursday morning, the FBI had arrested 54 people in New York City and its northern suburbs, New Jersey and Long Island. Among the 29 people sought in Italy were members of clans linked to Salvatore Lo Piccolo, the Sicilian Mafia boss arrested in November, Italian officials said.
When Lo Piccolo was arrested, investigators warned that as part of his attempt to become the Cosa Nostra's next "boss of bosses," he had been working to mend ties with U.S.-Italian clans such as the Gambinos and the Inzerillos.
Those relations were wrecked during Sicily's internal Mafia war of the 1980s and the rise of the Corleonesi clan, which dominated the Cosa Nostra until the arrests of boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina in 1993 and his successor Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.
Named in arrest warrants issued by U.S. authorities were Gambino associates including Domenico Cefalu and Frank Cali, described as the main contact between the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the United States.
The Gambino crime family has been the subject of a steady stream of government indictments and prosecutions since its late don, John Gotti, was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. One acting boss after another has gone to prison, including Gotti's son, John Gotti Jr., who was not named in this most recent indictment.
In the government's last high-profile attack on the family, the younger Gotti, freed after completing his prison term, was tried three times on charges that he conspired to murder the radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa for insulting his father.
Each trial ended in a hung jury and prosecutors finally gave up the case last year.