Reporting from New York — In a mob bust described as the largest in FBI history, law enforcement officials Thursday said they had charged 127 members of the nation's leading Mafia groups with crimes such as murder and drug trafficking and had arrested 110 of them in early-morning sweeps in three states and Italy.
DOCUMENTS: Read the unsealed indictments
Some of the crimes linked to the suspects date back 30 years, including a barroom quarrel over a spilled drink that led to a double murder. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder, flanked by local, state and federal officials, said more than 800 law enforcement agents were involved in the arrests, which began as many suspects were sleeping in their homes in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. One suspect was arrested in Italy. A total of 16 indictments encompassing hundreds of charges were unsealed.
Holder described some of the crimes as "classic mob hits" to get rid of perceived rivals, and standard mob activities such as racketeering and illegal gambling. "Others involve truly senseless murders," Holder said, referring to the 1981 shooting at the Shamrock Bar in Queens as an example. The U.S. Attorney's office said that two men were killed after getting into an argument with a Gambino associate over a spilled drink.
"Our goal is to eradicate these folks as menaces to this nation," said Holder, who said the mob's ability to undermine local economies through loan-sharking and extortion of legitimate business owners was as much a threat as its use of violence. "It is an ongoing threat, a major threat, to the economic well-being of our nation," he said.
"We used every tool in our toolbox" during the investigation, Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York division, said, describing wiretaps and the use of informants as key to the cases. "The vow of silence is more myth than reality today," she said of the insiders who turned on their mob associates in violation of the cardinal rule of loyalty in organized crime.
By early Thursday, TV stations showed some of the suspects — mainly middle-aged or older men — being brought in for processing, their wrists handcuffed, bellies bulging over loose jeans and sweatpants. Many had nicknames that read like a Hollywood script: "Lumpy," "Johnny Pizza," "The Bull," "Baby Fat," "Mush," "Jello," and "Meatball" among them.
Despite the scope of the arrests, Holder said the mob remains a threat and that its extinction is still a goal of the FBI. "How much time that's going to take, I can't predict, but that is certainly the goal," he said.
But Leonard Levitt, a former longtime police reporter who has written extensively on the mob, said the fact that none of the suspects is well-known outside of mob circles may be a sign "the mob is not what it used to be. "
"The mob keeps coming back despite all these arrests. Yet at the same time nobody knows who these guys are," he said, comparing them to past figures such as Carlo Gambino and John Gotti, whose names were known to the general public.
Levitt attributed that in part to competition from new crops of organized crime gangs from Asia, Mexico and elsewhere who have nudged the Italian families aside. "They just don't have the same monopoly," he said of the Italian mobster families who once dominated organized crime.
Times staff writer Geraldine Baum in New York contributed to this report.