FBI arrests 110 Mafia suspects in 'biggest roundup'

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The Independent US

Authorities arrested 110 organized crime suspects in the northeastern United States and one in Italy today in what the FBI called the largest single-day operation against the Mafia in history.

The roundup, conducted with the helped of former mobsters turned informants, demonstrates not only that the Mafia remains a threat despite decades of crackdowns that have sent its hierarchies to prison, but also that its famed "omerta" code of silence is now largely a myth, officials said.

More than 800 federal and local law-enforcement officials detained suspects in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island in the early-morning hours, targeting New York's five Mafia "families," one in New Jersey and one in New England.

Sixteen grand jury indictments charged 127 suspects with murder, drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling, arson, loan-sharking and other crimes, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference in New York.

Seventeen suspects remained at large.

The Italian-American Mafia, also known as La Cosa Nostra with its roots in Sicily, maintains a hold on American popular culture thanks to decades of movies and television shows including "The Godfather" in 1972.

Holder called the Mafia "among the most dangerous criminals in our country."

"Some allegations involve classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals. Others involve senseless murders. In one instance, a victim allegedly was shot and killed during a botched robbery attempt. And two other murder victims allegedly were shot dead in a public bar because of a dispute over a spilled drink," Holder said.

The FBI said it worked with the Italian National Police to apprehend and charge one suspect in Italy.

Among those charged in New York were leaders of the Colombo and Gambino families including the Colombo street boss Andrew Russo, 76, acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, and consigliere Richard Fusco, 74, authorities said.

Two of the Gambinos charged included consigliere Joseph Corozzo, 69, and ruling panel member Bartolomeo Vernace, 61. In Rhode Island, the New England boss Luigi Manocchio, 83, was arrested.

More than 30 "made men," official members of the La Cosa Nostra, were charged, they said.

Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York division, told reporters the years-long investigation was aided by court-sanctioned wiretaps and cooperation from former mobsters, "a trend that has definitely been tilting in law enforcement's favor."

"The vow of silence that is part of the oath of 'omerta' is more myth than reality today," she said.

Fedarcyk also sought to dispel the notion that the Mafia had been debilitated or was less violent than in the past.

"The mob has shown itself to be resilient and persistent. Arresting and convicting the hierarchies of the five families several times over has not eradicated the problem," Fedarcyk said. "Even after serving lengthy prison terms surviving mobsters are not necessarily rehabilitated mobsters."