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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power