New York police arrest 17 Mafia racketeers

Authorities in New York said yesterday they had arrested 17 members of the feared Gambino family, including some of its top dons, charging them with racketeering and extortion on the city's waterfront.

The surprise sweep, which evoked memories of the 1954 classic film, On the Waterfront starring Marlon Brando, is the latest attempt by the city to crack down on all the large Mafia clans and end their influence on daily life.

Among those taken into custody was Peter Gotti, brother of John Gotti, the former head of the Gambino family who is now doing time in a New York prison. Prosecutors said acting boss Peter Gotti was at the pinnacle of a Mafia network working the city's piers. Also arrested was a second brother, Richard Gotti, and his son Richard G Gotti.

"Since the 1950s organised crime has tried to control businesses that work on the waterfront," said US attorney, Alan Vinegrad. "This is a historic effort to try to root out mob corruption by trying to incapacitate not only the members who do it at street level, but their supervisors and bosses, too."

The attorney's office said it has issued a 68-count federal indictment that included charges of racketeering, extortion, money-laundering and witness tampering. It accuses the Mafia members of infiltrating the unions that operate the piers, accepting freighters and tugs in New York harbour.

A similar round-up was made on members of the Genovese family in December, when authorities arrested 75 of its members, charging them with an assortment of crimes from extortion and racketeering and grand theft. Mr Vinegrad said prosecutors were trying to target and disable the Genovese and Gambino families at the same time. The former head of the Gambino clan, John Gotti, also known as the "Dapper Don", was convicted in 1992 after dodging previous attempts by prosecutors to nail him. His demise was aided by his former underboss, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, who testified against him and then vanished to Arizona in a federal witness protection programme.

Mr Gravano, however, now awaits sentencing after being convicted last year of violating the terms of his release and running a network distributing the club drug, ecstacy.

On the Waterfront, which won the Best Film Oscar in 1954, told the story of Terry Malloy, played by Brando, a longshoreman who struggles with his conscience when he learns of corruption among his union leaders.

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