Justice official to compare notes with Italians on organized crime

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010; 1:44 PM

The 1992 assassination of Judge Giovanni Falcone, Italy's leading Mafia investigator, galvanized the fight against international organized crime and made him a hero to prosecutors and FBI agents in the United States.

This weekend, a top U.S. Justice Department official will be in Italy to speak at an annual ceremony commemorating Falcone's life -- and to compare notes with Italian prosecutors who are leading today's fight against organized crime.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, who oversees the department's Criminal Division, said he was making the trip because Falcone -- who was killed in a car bombing on a highway outside Palermo, Sicily -- "clearly was a great hero."

"He was a man who was unbelievably courageous and was willing, for love of his country, to stand up to entrenched organized crime in a way that almost never had been done before," Breuer said in an interview. "On a personal level, it is incredibly gratifying to be going."

As it happens, the trip has a business purpose as well. The Justice Department has been cracking down on an explosion of international organized crime targeting cyberspace, financial institutions and energy markets. Federal prosecutors have brought cases ranging from human smuggling involving Uzbekistan nationals in Kansas and Missouri to Balkan drug rings operating in New Jersey and New York.

In March, three Florida men were arrested on charges including obstruction of justice and money laundering as part of a joint U.S. and Italian enforcement action. The same day, prosecutors in Palermo charged one of the men and 19 co-defendants with extortion, drug trafficking, attempted homicide and other crimes arising from their alleged affiliation with a Sicilian mafia family.

More such cases can be expected, according to Justice Department officials, and Breuer said his meetings with Italian prosecutors this weekend will help coordinate the fight. "These organizations are able to transcend boundaries," he said. "What we need to do is figure out new strategies and create alliances, and that is why it's important to link up with prosecutors and law enforcement around the world."

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