Mafia 'cocaine smuggling network' is broken up
The international reach of the 'Ndrangheta mafia has been dramatically underlined by the arrests of more than a dozen people in America and Italy suspected of running a cocaine-trafficking operation for the crime syndicate.
Police held 13 people yesterday in the region of Calabria, the crime group's base in Italy. The arrests follow that of a Calabrian-born man who ran the "Cucino A Modo Mio" (I Cook My Way) pizzeria in the Queens borough of New York, together with his wife and son, in March. They were held on suspicion of smuggling cocaine into the US.
Investigators believe the restaurant owner, Gregorio Gigliotti, was 'Ndrangheta's go-between with New York's Genovese crime family.
'Ndrangheta is thought to be seeking to build new ties with American organised crime groups, as well as reviving old ones.
As part of the probe, co-ordinated by Italian prosecutors, 30 people have been placed under investigation.
Investigators say the ring had its operating base in Gigliotti's pizzeria and that it arranged for cocaine to be smuggled out of central America in containers containing tropical fruit and tubers.
More than $100,000, six pistols and a shotgun were seized during Gigliotti's arrest. Gigliotti is said to have pleaded not guilty to importing cocaine.
FBI agents seized two shipments of cocaine totalling 60kg at the east coast ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia in October and December 2014.
Also last year, more than three tonnes of cocaine were seized in Spain and the Netherlands hidden in vegetables, say Italian police. The same smuggling ring was thought to be behind that haul.
Among those detained by police yesterday was Franco Fazio (56), described by investigators as Gigliotti's ambassador and courier.
He travelled extensively between Italy, the US and Costa Rica to set up the drug deals, investigators said.
"The Italian restaurant was the command centre for bringing some drug shipments to New York and sending others to Europe or Calabria," said Andrea Grassi, a member of Italy's elite SCO police, in Rome.