(NEW YORK) -- Two dozen suspected drug traffickers linked to the Gambino and Bonanno crime families and the Italian crime syndicate known as ‘Ndrangheta were arrested Tuesday in New York and Italy during a coordinated American-Italian operation that authorities said disrupted a multi-continent drug pipeline.
The raids targeted a network of drug smuggling that stretched from Guyana to Italy to Malaysia to the United States. There were seven arrests in New York and 17 arrests near the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro, a notorious hub of organized crime.
An undercover agent recorded alleged Gambino associate Franco Lupoi and others plotting to transport 500 kilograms of cocaine hidden in shipments of frozen fish or pineapples, according to court documents. Prosecutors found $7 million worth of cocaine hidden in crates of pineapples and coconut milk.
“American and Italian law enforcement determined that the ‘Ndrangheta aimed to move deadly narcotics across international boundaries, attempting to build a bridge of criminality and corruption to stretch from South America to Italy and back to New York,” said Marshall Miller, a prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York.
Lupoi has close criminal ties to both the Gambino organized crime family and the ‘Ndrangheta, an Italian criminal organization akin to the Mafia in Sicily and the Camorra in Naples, prosecutors said. The ‘Ndrangheta clan is little known outside of Italy, but is headquartered in the southern region of Calabria and has grown to be the most powerful organized crime group in Italy and some believe the most powerful in the world.
In New York, Lupoi is allegedly associated with Pietro “Tall Pete” Inzerillo, reputed to be a soldier in the Gambino crime family, and Frank Cali, allegedly the underboss of the Gambino crime family. In Italy, Lupoi is allegedly connected to the ‘Ndrangheta criminal organization through his father-in-law, Italian defendant Nicola Antonio Simonetta, and his cousin, Italian defendant Francesco Ursino.
“Lupoi exploited these underworld connections to link his criminal associates in New York with those in Calabria, forming conspiracies to traffic heroin and cocaine,” court records said.
In September 2012, Lupoi was recorded explaining to an undercover agent that he had contacts in Guyana who could arrange the shipment of cocaine to his contacts in Italy, court records state. Lupoi said he had “a great connect” who could “pack it [cocaine] into the fish,” and then “freeze it in a block,” according to court records.
Lupoi told the undercover agent that the supplier was a “Mexican with the cartels” who would ship it from Guyana to Italy, and possibly on to Canada where Lupoi had “buyers to buy it up in Canada,” the documents state.
Prosecutors identified those arrested in New York as ‘Ndrangheta member Raffaele Valente, also known as “Lello,” Gambino associate Franco Lupoi, Bonanno associate Charles Centaro, also known as “Charlie Pepsi,” Dominic Ali, Alexander Chan, Christos Fasarakis, and Jose Alfredo Garcia, also known as “Freddy.” They are due in federal court in Brooklyn to face charges related to narcotics trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.
“As alleged, ‘Ndrangheta’s clan members conspired with members of the Gambino organized crime family in New York in an attempt to infiltrate our area with their illegal activities,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos.
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