Largest-ever Mafia sweep makes nearly 120 arrests

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011; 11:59 PM

Federal and state agents arrested nearly 120 reputed Mafia members from seven East Coast organized crime families Thursday, the largest coordinated arrest in the FBI's decades-long crackdown on La Cosa Nostra, the Justice Department said.

More than 800 law enforcement officers participated in the pre-dawn raids in New York City, New Jersey and New England, arresting defendants charged with crimes including murder, loansharking, extortion and labor racketeering. A total of 127 people have been charged, including alleged high-ranking members of some of the five New York City-based families, officials said.

The sweeping allegations against families with names such as Colombo and Gambino and men with titles such as consigliere and underboss recalled Mafia movies that have lingered in the popular imagination for decades. But authorities emphasized that the government still faces a deadly and resilient foe.

Federal officials said the scope and severity of the charges - which covered several alleged mob hits from the 1980s and 1990s and a 2002 murder in Queens, N.Y. - showed that the Mafia, also called La Cosa Nostra, is unbowed by the law enforcement crackdown.

"The notion that today's mob families are more genteel and less violent than in the past is put to lie by the charges contained in the indictments unsealed today," said Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office. "Even more of a myth is the notion that the mob is a thing of the past, that La Cosa Nostra is a shadow of its former self."

But experts on the Mafia said the FBI's success has severely weakened the traditional organized crime families, whose members have been paraded off to prison in large numbers since the mid-1980s. Thursday's raids were the latest in a series of mass arrests, a tactic that experts said has become increasingly popular in recent years.

"A lot of these people have already been out of business for a very, very long time,'' said Jay Albanese, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who studies organized crime. He said roughly 7,000 to 8,000 organized crime figures have been convicted nationwide since the first major racketeering indictment against the mob in 1985.

Albanese said mass arrests are designed, in part, to reinforce what has been one of the FBI's most successful tactics: recruiting mob turncoats. "You lock them up in different places, and everyone is much more willing to cut a deal because their best buddies have been arrested as well," Albanese said.

It was unclear whether attorneys had been appointed for the defendants, who were to appear in federal courts in four judicial districts.

Recently, the focus has been increasingly on Russian and other international organized crime organizations, which are also the subject of a Justice Department crackdown.

But Thursday's indictments had a certain sense of familiarity.

Some of the 85 defendants charged in federal court in Brooklyn are accused members of the New Jersey-based Decavalcante family, widely viewed as an inspiration for the television show "The Sopranos.''

And some of those charged - such as Andrew Russo, 76, alleged street boss of the Colombo family, and Richard Fusco, 74, reputed consigliere of the Colombo family - had job titles familiar to viewers of "The Godfather" and other Mafia movies stretching back to the 1970s.

Among other alleged high-ranking mob defendants charged are Luigi Manocchio, 83, former boss of the New England La Costa Nostra; Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, acting underboss of the Colombo family; and Joseph Corozzo, 69, consigliere of the Gambino family. In all, officials said, more than 30 official members of La Cosa Nostra, or "made men," face charges.

"A lot of these guys are very heavy hitters,'' said Robert J. Castelli, a Republican New York state assemblyman and former organized crime investigator. He called the arrests "very significant,'' but he added: "Is La Cosa Nostra gone because of this? Absolutely not. These people have the ability to change with the times.''

The crimes covered in the indictments include the 1993 murder of Colombo family underboss Joseph Scopo, who was shot in the passenger seat of a car outside his residence in Ozone Park, Queens, N.Y. Other counts involve the Colombo crime family's alleged long-standing control of a cement and concrete workers union in New York City.

Some of the charges are based in part on hundreds of hours of recorded conversations of members and associates of the Colombo family, authorities said, another common FBI tactic against organized crime.

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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