A suspected Sicilian Mafia chieftain, described by authorities as one of the most-wanted drugs traffickers in the United States, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that he headed a $1.6 billion heroin smuggling ring known as the "Pizza Connection."
Gaetano (Uncle Tano) Badalamenti, 61, was extradited to New York from Cadiz, Spain, late Thursday under tight security for fear rival Mafia factions might try to kill him.
Badalamenti declined to appeal the Spanish extradition order, which followed months of legal maneuverings. Italy, which listed Badalamenti as its most-wanted fugitive, also filed an extradition request but the court rejected it grounds that most of the ring's activities took place in the United States.
Extradited and arraigned with him was his nephew, Pietro Alfano, 51, who also pleaded not guilty. Alfano is charged with coordinating the distribution of heroin through pizza parlors in Midwest towns.
Badalamenti is in custody without bail and Alfano was held on $10 million bail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Martin outside court said that from 1973 to 1978, Badalamenti was head of the Sicilian Commission, which oversees the 39 Sicilian Mafia families. Prosecutors said he also waged a bloody Sicilian Mafia power struggle that claimed hundreds of lives starting in 1981 before the Corleone family emerged the victors.