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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Software Team Leader - C++

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor