US and Italian agents raid drug syndicate run by New York mafia and ‘Ndrangheta crime clan

Police uncover plan to smuggle cocaine from South America to port in Southern Italy hidden in shipments of coconuts, pineapples and frozen fish

The US and Italian authorities say they have disrupted a major new drug trafficking route between the Americas and Europe, after 26 people were arrested in a joint operation in New York and the Calabria region of Southern Italy.

The operation centred on two mafia syndicates: the Gambino, one of New York’s notorious “five families”; and the ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful Calabrian crime clan. Police uncovered a plan to smuggle cocaine from South America to one of Europe’s busiest ports, Gioia Tauro, hidden in shipments of coconuts, pineapples and frozen fish.

The deliveries, which would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars, also included heroin, marijuana and weapons. Mexican drug cartel members were involved as intermediaries in the trafficking pipeline, at the point where the shipments passed through the port of Georgetown, in Guyana. One such shipment of 500kg of cocaine was to be smuggled in tins of fruit manufactured by a Guyanese firm.

The ‘Ndrangheta were to control import and export to and from Southern Italy with the assistance of a corrupt port official at Gioia Tauro.

Eight people were apprehended in New York, with 18 more arrested in Italy. Though the Gambino family has a long-standing relationship with the Sicilian mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta are now thought to be the most powerful organised crime group in the region. Their role in the global cocaine trade has allowed them to amass greater wealth and influence than rivals such as the Sicilians or the Naples-based Camorra syndicate.

The ‘Ndrangheta are thought to have been behind a mafia-style hit in Calabria in January, in which three people were killed, including three-year-old Nicola Campolongo and his grandfather.

The relationship between the ‘Ndrangheta and the New York family is thought to be new. At a press conference in Rome after the raids, assistant US attorney Marshall Miller said: “What we see here is an attempt by the ‘Ndrangheta to gain a foothold in the New York area. We stand ready to prevent that.”

US and Italian officials told reporters that 40 people were being investigated as part of the police operation, named “New Bridge”. FBI agents travelled to Italy to take part in the raids this week, at the climax of a two-year investigation. Around 150 police officers were involved in making the arrests at some 20 locations around Gioia Tauro.

An aerial view of the Gioia Tauro port, southern Italy (AP) An aerial view of the Gioia Tauro port, southern Italy (AP)
One breakthrough in the case came when shipping containers from Georgetown were seized en route in Malaysia, and found to contain cocaine worth $7m (£4.3m) secreted among pineapples and coconut milk.

The work of one US undercover agent, known as “Jimmy”, was crucial. He travelled to Calabria several times during July and August 2012 to meet members of the ‘Ndrangheta, posing as a prospective drug smuggler.

Calabrian police chief Gennaro Semeraro said: “The ‘Ndrangheta are very diffident and initially they did not want to meet him. But he entered into their confidence.”

Suspected Gambino family member Franco Lupoi and ‘Ndrangheta leader Francesco Ursino allegedly agreed to sell the agent 1.3kg of heroin.

The people arrested in the raid have been charged with a range of crimes including drug trafficking and mafia association. One suspect in New York also faces firearms charges, after he allegedly sold a gun silencer and a sawn-off shotgun to an undercover FBI agent.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Engineers / Senior Electronics Engineers

£25000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in Henley-on-Thames, this...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project