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FBI arrests 127 'mobsters' in biggest ever crackdown in New York

The FBI on Thursday launched its biggest ever crackdown on the New York area's infamous Cosa Nostra organised crime network, rounding up 127 alleged mafia members and associates in dawn raids.

More than 800 federal and local law enforcement officials seized the suspects in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island in the early hours, targeting New York's five mafia families, one in New Jersey and one in Rhode Island.

Calling the mafia "among the most dangerous criminals in our country", Eric Holder, the Attorney General, said: "Some allegations involve classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals. Others involve senseless murders. In one instance, a victim allegedly was shot and killed during a botched robbery attempt. Two other murder victims allegedly were shot dead in a public bar because of a dispute over a spilled drink."

Other charges related to familiar mob activities such as loan-sharking, arson, drugs, extortion, robbery and trade union racketeering.

The investigation, which lasted several years, relied heavily on informants from within the mob.

Janice Fedarcyk, head of the FBI's New York division, told a press conference in Brooklyn, New York: "The vow of silence, that is part of the oath of 'omerta', is more myth than reality today."

The cases, involving crimes committed up to 30 years ago, also relied on electronic surveillance and dozens of wiretap authorisations which allowed agents to listen in on thousands of recorded conversations.

Mr Holder said the arrests and charges marked an important step towards the Justice Department's ultimate goal of eliminating the criminal activities of the ethnic Italian families that he said spread violence and had leeched off the legitimate economy for decades.

The Cosa Nostra (meaning "our thing") once infiltrated and controlled swathes of the US economy, with a longtime stronghold in and around New York. But they have seen a sharp decline in their fortunes over the last decade as a result of court testimony from insiders.

Despite continuing to loom large in the popular imagination through film and television, they also lost power to Russian, Mexican and Asian gangs.

In 1991, the acting head of the Luchese family, Alphonse D'Arco, agreed to testify against his comrades. Then Salvatore Gravano testified against the Gambino family, leading to the imprisonment of John J. Gotti, previously known as the "Teflon Don" because of his ability to escape prosecution.

However, a marathon effort to convict the son of Gotti, John "Junior" Gotti, in 2009 spectacularly collapsed. The mafia scion walked free after a mistrial that was the fourth time in five years prosecutors failed to pin charges on him.

Among those charged were the leadership of the Colombo family, two high-ranking members of the Gambino family hierarchy, and Luigi Manocchio, the head of the New England family based in Providence, Rhode Island. Most came from the middle and lower ranks of the operations.