127 charged after FBI mafia crackdown

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The Independent US

A total of 127 defendants have been named in 16 indictments in the US after one of the largest Mafia takedowns in FBI history.

Among those arrested in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island were union officials, two former police officers and a suspect in Italy.



High-ranking members of the Gambino and Colombo crime families and the reputed former boss of organised crime in New England also were named in the indictment.



The arrest sheets listed colourful nicknames - Bobby Glasses, Vinny Carwash, Jack the Whack, Johnny Cash, Junior Lollipops - and catalogued murders, extortion, arson, drug dealing and other crimes dating back three decades.



Other charges include corruption among dockworkers in New York and New Jersey who were forced to kick back a portion of their holiday bonuses to the crime families. Members of the Colombo family were also charged with extortion and fraud in their control of a cement and concrete workers union.



Past investigations have resulted in strategic strikes aimed at crippling individual crime families. This time, authorities used a shotgun approach, with 800 federal agents and police officers making scores of simultaneous arrests.



Attorney General Eric Holder called the arrests "an important and encouraging step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's operations", but he also cautioned that the mob, while having lost some of the swagger of the "Dapper Don" John Gotti era, is known for adapting to adversity and finding new ways of making money that still harm the economy and spread fear.



In the past, the FBI has aggressively pursued and imprisoned the leadership of the city's five Italian mob families, only to see ambitious underlings fill the vacancies. However, the FBI has gained a recent advantage by cultivating a crop of mob figures willing to wear wires and testify against gangsters in exchange for leniency in their own cases.



In the latest cases, authorities say turncoats recorded thousands of conversations of suspected mobsters. Investigators also tapped their phones.



In one headline case, federal authorities say reputed gangster Bartolomeo Vernace got away with murder for nearly 30 years.



They say the bloodshed - a double killing at the Shamrock Bar in Queens - was all over a spilled drink.



The case against the 61-year-old stood out in part because of his old-school pedigree. The alleged Gambino captain was a regular at the Ravenite, John Gotti's social club in Little Italy, in the 1980s, prosecutors said in court papers.



Over the years, he had "been observed with other members and associates of the Gambino crime family at 20 weddings and wakes", the papers said. One of the wakes was for Gotti, who died behind bars in 2002.



More recently, Vernace controlled cafes in Queens where mobsters met and federal authorities made secret recordings, the papers said.



The most serious charge goes back to the night of April 11, 1981, when "a dispute arose between a Gambino associate close to Vernace and others in the bar over a spilled drink", court papers say.



The associate left the bar and went to pick up Vernace and a third man; they returned and killed the two owners, shooting one in the face and the other point-blank in the chest, the papers say.



Prosecutors say they have an eye witness who identified Vernace as one of the shooters. They also claim to have incriminating recordings and forensic evidence.



Vernace pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn and was held without bail.

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