ROME – Italian authorities took into custody on Saturday a top boss from the Gambino Mafia clan who was deported from the United States after spending more than two decades in jail for drug trafficking.
The 67-year-old Rosario Gambino arrived at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport on a flight from Miami. Wearing a gray jumpsuit and looking frail he sat in a wheelchair as he was escorted out by police officers.
Gambino, an Italian-born New Jersey resident, was considered a top mobster in the New York-based crime family led by his late cousin Carlo Gambino.
In 1984 he was convicted in a multi-million-dollar conspiracy to sell heroin in southern New Jersey and sentenced to 45 years in jail.
Gambino was linked to the "Pizza Connection" probe, which broke a $1.6 billion heroin and cocaine smuggling operation that used pizzerias as fronts from 1975 to 1984.
He was released in 2007 and transferred to an immigrant detention center in Pedro, California, to await expulsion, Italian police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear why the sentence had been reduced.
In Washington, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a part of the nation's Department of Homeland Security, confirmed that Gambino had been turned over to authorities in Rome, but an official said the agency had no information on any reasoning behind Gambino's apparent early release from the center in California.
The official said Gambino had used several U.S. federal appellate courts to try to prevent his deportation but that process had ended recently, leading to his transfer to Rome. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of case and issues still pending in Italy.
Gambino has been wanted in Italy since 1980 on separate drug and Mafia-connected charges, and he is expected to face trial. Calls to a lawyer representing him in Italy were not answered Saturday afternoon.
Before being transferred to a Rome jail, Gambino was served the original 1980 arrest warrant signed by Giovanni Falcone, one of Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutors.
Falcone was killed by the Sicilian mob in a 1992 bomb attack, and Gambino's return coincided with the anniversary of the murder, which was being commemorated across Italy. Salvatore "Toto" Riina, then the Mafia's boss of bosses, was arrested in 1993 and later convicted with others of plotting the hit.