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Sex trafficking charges in Gambino case

The Justice Department charges 14 reputed members and associates of the Gambino crime family on counts ranging from sex trafficking to murder and racketeering.
Federal agents escort Suzanne Porcelli, a reputed member of the Gambino organized crime family, from New York City's Federal Plaza on TuesdayJin Lee / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A reputed boss of the Gambino organized crime family and 13 other people were charged on Tuesday with an array of crimes, including what prosecutors called new territory for the mob: sex trafficking of a minor.

Papers filed in federal court in Manhattan allege that Gambino soldiers and associates recruited prostitutes at strip clubs, including a 15-year-old, and advertised their services online.

Twelve of the 14 were arrested early Tuesday, one was arrested last week and another is on the run, the Justice Department said. One of those charged, Suzanne Porcelli, is a woman.

Prosecutors said the mobsters drove the prostitutes to appointments in Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn and New Jersey, splitting their earnings with them. The defendants also “made the young women available for sex to the players at the regular high-stakes poker games” hosted by the family, the court papers said.

At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the sex trafficking ring both a “new low” and an apparent “first for the mob.”

An indictment also charged Daniel Marino, an alleged member of the Gambino ruling panel, with ordering a hit from prison on his own nephew because the nephew was cooperating with the FBI. Gunmen lured the victim, Frank Hyell, to a Staten Island nightspot in 1998, where they shot him three times in the face and back.

Marino, 69, was charged in a second murder of a gangland rival in 1989, extorting construction firms and running an illegal gambling operation. The income “sustained Marino’s own lavish lifestyle,” the court papers said.

The case marked the latest in a series indictments and prosecutions that have crippled the Gambino family since notorious boss John Gotti, the so-called Dapper Don, was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. He died in 2002.

Federal authorities said Tuesday that though the Gambinos now maintain a lower profile, they still are 200 strong and are always exploring new ways to stay in business.

“It’s still about making money,” said George Venizelos, head of the New York FBI office.

Marino was detained after pleading not guilty on Tuesday. Afterward, his lawyer, Charles Carnesi, said his client had just been released Monday from a New York hospital, where he had been since Friday.

“It could be heart-related, stroke-related,” Carnesi said. Otherwise, the lawyer added, “He’s in remarkably good health.”

The charges included racketeering, murder, sex trafficking, sex trafficking of a minor, jury tampering, extortion, assault, narcotics trafficking, wire fraud, loansharking and illegal gambling.

The extortion victims were beaten, sometimes with baseball bats, the U.S. Attorney's office added. "The defendants targeted businesses in the home heating oil industry and the financial services industry, as well as various individuals in and around New York City."

"As today's case demonstrates, the mafia is not dead," Bharara said in a statement. "It is alive and kicking. Modern mobsters may be less colorful, less flamboyant, and less glamorous than some of their predecessors, but they are still terrorizing businesses, using baseball bats, and putting people in the hospital."