At least 24 arrested in mafia drug ring stretching from Italy to NYC: FBI

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NEW YORK (PIX11) – An Italian crime syndicate with a reputation for brutal kidnappings, extortion and other crimes has spent the last few years trying to expand to New York, according to federal agents.  They also say, however, that a string of arrests they made on Tuesday shows that they’ve stopped the mafia organization’s expansion dead in its tracks, at least for now.

Federal prosecutors said that a bust they directed on Tuesday involved organized crime selling narcotics and illegal firearms, as well as engaging in money laundering in Italy and the U.S.

FBI agents arrested accused ringleader Franco Lupoi, 44, an Italian American who is married to the daughter of a major Italian mafia boss, according to prosecutors.  They said his partners in crime represented a diverse patchwork of New York City criminals.

Dominic Ali, 55, was charged along with Charles “Charlie Pepsi” Centaro, 50, and Christos Fasarakis, 42, with laundering at least a half million dollars in drug money from heroin and cocaine smuggling and sales.

Selling those drugs, according to federal undercover agents, were Alexander Chan, 46, and Jose Garcia, 47.  Prosecutors also said that suspect Raffaele Valente, 42, sold an illegal silencer and sawed off shotgun to an undercover agent.

All of the criminal activity that led to the arrests were part of efforts by one of Southern Italy’s biggest crime syndicates, ‘Ndrangheta, to expand to the New York area, according to the U.S. Attorney.

The mafia organization is based in the Calabria region of Italy — the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped map, if you will.  The New York cell is accused of arranging to

ship drugs from South America through Southern Italy to New York and other locations worldwide in legitimate container ship cargoes, but undercover federal agents were able to infiltrate the ring, and bust it.

“‘Ndrangheta’s clan members conspired with members of the Gambino organized crime family in New York in an attempt to infiltrate our area with their illegal activities,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos.  “Little did they know, there was an ongoing collaboration between the FBI and the Italian National Police to investigate and identify their scheme. This international cooperation between our great law enforcement agencies is one that was established at the beginning of our investigation, and it remains in place today. With every arrest made, both here and in Italy, FBI agents and Italian National Police officers closely coordinated their operations and share the success of this operation.” Venizelos said.

In addition to the seven suspects taken into custody in New York on Tuesday, Italian police also arrested 17 people in Italy.  Venizelos said that this is an ongoing investigation and that further arrests are possible.