Video: FBI arrests 130 suspects in massive mob round-up

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/20/2011 8:05:27 PM ET 2011-01-21T01:05:27

Federal authorities orchestrated one of the biggest Mafia takedowns in FBI history Thursday, charging 127 suspected mobsters and associates in the Northeast with murders, extortion and other crimes spanning decades.

Past investigations have resulted in strategic strikes aimed at crippling individual crime families. This time, authorities used a shotgun approach, with some 800 federal agents and police officers making scores of simultaneous arrests stemming from different mob investigations in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

They also used fanfare: Attorney General Eric Holder made a trip to New York to announce the operation at a news conference with the city's top law enforcement officials.

As of late Thursday, 125 had been arrested, including four who were already behind bars.

Video: Holder: More than 100 alleged mobsters arrested (on this page)

Holder said a total of 127 people had been charged in newly unsealed indictments related to the sweep, which he said was "one of the largest single-day operations against the mafia in the FBI's history." One person was arrested in Italy, he added.

He said the operation was "an important step forward in our nation's ongoing fight against the organized crime families of La Cosa Nostra, the mafia."

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He said members of "numerous" mafia groups had been arrested including New York's Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno and Colombo families.

Holder said they were accused of numerous violent and illegal acts, including murder, extortion, illegal gambling, narcotics trafficking, loan-sharking and labor racketeering.

He said some of the murders were "classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals" but others were "truly senseless" killings for reasons as trivial as a spilled drink in a bar.

'Willingness to kill'
He said despite the operation, the mafia remained a real threat.

"The reality is that our battle against organized crime enterprises is far from over," Holder said.

Organized crime members were "among the most dangerous criminals in our country," he added, whose oath of allegiance "binds them to a life of crime."

"Many of them are lethal. Time and again they have shown a willingness to kill," he said.

Holder added he was "grateful and proud" of the law enforcement officers who had taken part in "today's take-downs."

Among those arrested was the reputed head of New England's Patriarca crime family, Luigi Manocchio, who was detained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.A newly unsealed indictment accuses Manocchio of collecting protection payments from owners of strip clubs.

Also arrested was Thomas Iafrate, who worked as a bookkeeper for Providence strip clubs. Prosecutors allege he set aside money for Manocchio. Iafrate was expected to appear in U.S. District Court in Providence later on Thursday.

The indictments listed colorful nicknames — Bobby Glasses, Vinny Carwash, Jack the Whack, Johnny Cash, Junior Lollipops — and catalogued murders, extortion, arson and other crimes dating back 30 years.

One of the indictments charges a reputed Gambino boss, Bartolomeo Vernace, in a double murder in the Shamrock Bar in Queens in a dispute over a spilled drink. Another charges an alleged Colombo captain, Anthony Russo, in the 1993 hit on an underboss during the family's bloody civil war.

Other charges include corruption among dockworkers in New York and New Jersey who were forced to kick back a portion of their holiday bonuses to the crime families. Members of the Colombo family also were charged with extortion and fraud in connection with their control of a cement and concrete workers union.

More than 800 FBI officials, NYPD officers, state police and U.S. marshals were involved in the operation.

The FBI said most of the arrests were made throughout New York City, in New Jersey and New England

.

"Early this morning FBI agents along with our law enforcement partners began arresting over 100 organized crime members for various criminal charges," said Diego Rodriguez, the FBI's special agent in charge in New York shortly before Holder spoke.

Citing sources who had been briefed on the arrests, the New York Times reported that those taken into custody "ranged from small-time book makers and crime-family functionaries to a number of senior mob figures and several corrupt union officials."

More than two dozen "made" mobsters were arrested, according to the Times.

The murder charges were incidents dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, the newspaper reported.

Video: More than 100 suspected mobsters rounded up (on this page)

Federal probes aided by mob turncoats have decimated the ranks of New York's five Mafia crime families and resulted in lengthy prison terms for several leaders.

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On Friday, a federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced John "Sonny" Franzese, 93, to eight years in prison for extorting Manhattan strip clubs and a pizzeria on Long Island.

Federal prosecutors had sought at least 12 years behind bars for the underboss of the Colombo crime family — in effect, a life term.

To bolster their argument, they had an FBI agent testify that Franzese bragged about killing 60 people over the years and once contemplated putting out a hit on his own son for becoming a government cooperator.

In October, Mafia turncoat Salvatore Vitale was sentenced to time served after federal prosecutors praised his total betrayal of his own crime syndicate — and after he apologized to the families of his victims.

Authorities said he had a hand in at least 11 murders, including that of a fellow gangster in the fallout from the infamous Donnie Brasco case.

The evidence provided after his arrest in 2003 helped decimate the once-fearsome Bonanno organized crime family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres said.

"The Mafia today is weaker because of his cooperation," Andres said. "Mr. Vitale provided lead after lead. ... The results speak for themselves."

In 2008, more than 80 suspected members of organized crime gangs were charged.

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Among those targeted in that raid were John "Jackie the Nose" D'Amico and other reputed leaders of the Gambino crime family. Italian authorities conducted simultaneous raids on Mafia groups there.

The Associated Press, NBC News' Jonathan Dienst, Reuters and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

Timeline: Biggest mob busts

Photos: 9 who ruled the U.S. underworld

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  1. Vincent "The Chin" Gigante (1928-2005) was dubbed the "Oddfather" for feigning mental illness for decades to camouflage his position as one of the nation's most influential and dangerous Mafia leaders. He was accused of heading the Genovese family. He is shown behind bars Aug. 20, 1957, after he allegedly tried to kill family boss Frank Costello, whose head was only grazed by a bullet during an attack in an elevator. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. John Gotti (1940-2002), "The Dapper Don," stands on a New York City street corner Jan. 20, 1987. He led the Carlo Gambino family and also became known as the Teflon Don after winning three acquittals on federal racketeering charges. Gotti was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992 and died of cancer in prison in 2002. (Yvonne Hemsey / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Meyer Lansky (1902-1983) visits Mount Olive, Israel, in August 1971. The reputed financial genius of the underworld, he teamed early with Lucky Luciano, who failed to beat him up in a protection scheme. Russian-born Lansky fled to Israel in 1970 to avoid charges of tax evasion, but he was later captured. He died of cancer in Miami. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Al Capone (1899-1947), shown playing cards on a train during his transport to prison to serve a sentence for tax evasion in October 1931, was head of the Chicago mafia. His men were responsible for the St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929. He was released from prison in 1939 and died of a stroke and pneumonia in 1947. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Charles "Lucky" Luciano (1897-1962), was born Salvatore Luciania in Sicily, Italy. He immigrated to America in 1906 and became pals with Meyer Lansky after failing to beat him up. A friend of Bugsy Siegel, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello, he became "The Boss" in New York after surviving attacks on himself and orchestrating hits on other mob bosses. He reportedly helped U.S. military intelligence prevent Nazi sabotage on New York docks. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mob boss Carlo Gambino (1902-1976), the "Boss of Bosses," is shown after his March 23, 1970, arrest by the FBI. He was head of the crime family that bears his name. Decades after teaming with Lucky Luciano, he seized control of La Cosa Nostra in 1957. He was known for being low-key and secretive. (Jack Manning / New York Times via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Albert Anastasia (1902-1957), shown in 1955, was nicknamed "Mad Hatter and "Lord High Executioner." He ran a gang of contract killers known as Murder Inc. and was head of one of New York City's five crime families from 1951 to 1957. He was under a hot towel during a shave in a barber shop at a Manhattan hotel when two gunmen burst in and killed him. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Frank Costello (1891-1973), shown at Kefauver Senate Crime Investigating Committee hearings in 1951, started as part of Lucky Luciano's crew and rose to become a powerful Mafia boss. He was nicknamed "Prime Minister" of the underworld for his connections to judges, police and politicians. He was acting mafia leader in the late '30s and early '40s while Luciano ran affairs from jail. He survived an attempt on his life, allegedly by Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, in an elevator in his apartment building. (Alfred Eisenstaedt / Time Life Pictures via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno (1905-2002), shown walking through a group of reporters in New York City in 1966, created a criminal empire in Brooklyn that ultimately extended to California, Arizona and Canada. The Sicilian-born Bonanno ruled his family as one of New York's five organized crime syndicates from 1931 to the mid-1960s. He was one of the original members of the ''Commission,'' the select group of mob chiefs who intervened in family disputes. (New York Times Co. / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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