IMAGE: VICENZO LICCIARDI
Franco Castano  /  AP
Vincenzo Licciardi, second from right, is escorted Thursday by Italian police after his arrest in Naples. The arrest was part of a massive anti-Mafia sweep in Italy and the United States.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/7/2008 7:48:56 PM ET 2008-02-08T00:48:56

U.S. authorities arrested 54 organized crime suspects on Thursday, including what they considered three high-ranking members of the Gambino crime family in an operation in New York and Italy, officials said.

A number of arrests had also been made in Sicily, judicial sources in Italy said.

In New York, charges were being filed against 62 people, including the street boss, the under boss and the consigliere of the Gambino family — the three highest-ranking members not already in prison, a U.S. law enforcement source said.

The 54 suspects were arrested on accusations of murder, racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking and labor violations including pension fund embezzlement, the source said.

The U.S. source, who had direct knowledge of the operation, asked not to be identified because the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn was due to announce the arrests in a news conference later on Thursday.

The Italian Interior Ministry was also due to hold a news conference about a "large operation against organized crime" on Thursday afternoon, without giving details.

Earlier on Thursday, judicial sources in Sicily said a large anti-Mafia operation code-named "Old Bridge" involved arrests warrants issued on both sides of the Atlantic.

Strengthening ties
The operation was being carried out by police in Italy — mostly in Sicily — and the FBI in the United States — mostly in the New York area, the Italian sources said. Police targeted Mafia figures who were strengthening contacts between mob groups in Italy and the United States.

There has been renewed attention to the Sicilian Mafia's ties to the United States since November, when police in Sicily arrested Salvatore Lo Piccolo, a top mobster on the run for more than a decade who was vying to become Cosa Nostra's next "boss of bosses."

At the time, investigators warned that Lo Piccolo had been working to mend ties with U.S.-Italian clans such as the Gambino and Inzerillo crime families.

Those relations were wrecked during Sicily's internal Mafia war of the 1980s and the rise of the Corleonesi clan, which dominated Cosa Nostra until the arrests of boss Salvatore "Toto" Riina in 1993 and of his successor Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.

In what appeared to be a separate operation in Naples, police arrested a suspected leading figure of that southern city's criminal underworld on Thursday.

Vincenzo Licciardi, 42, purportedly a boss of the Camorra crime group, was arrested in a Naples suburb. He had been on the run since 2004 and was one of Italy's 30 most wanted criminals, police said.

He is linked to the Secondigliano clan, part of the fragmented Camorra whose criminal activities include illegal waste disposal, one of the causes of an emergency in Naples where refuse collection has all but collapsed.

The Camorra is thought to be much less unified in structure that the Sicilian Mafia, made up of rival clans that often clash violently in turf wars.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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