About 800 law enforcement members from the FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Labor Department, and state and local law enforcement today arrested 121 people who were named in 16 indictments filed in different jurisdictions. Four others were already in custody, and one member of the Colombo family was arrested in Italy.
The indictments were aimed at all five New York crime families -- the Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno and Luchese families -- along with the New England Patriarca family and the New Jersey Decavalcante family.
"Today's arrests mark an important and encouraging step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra operations," Attorney General Eric Holder said at a press conference this morning in Brooklyn, N.Y. "But the reality is that our battle against organized-crime enterprises is far from over."
Authorities said the indictments resulted from years of investigations, including the use of wiretaps and cooperating informants.
"These cases are the cumulative results of years of investigative work, including the development of key cooperating witnesses, a trend that has definitely been tilting in law enforcement's favor," said Janice Fedarcyk, head of the New York FBI. "The vow of silence that is part of the oath Omerta is more myth than reality today."
In all, authorities said 91 members and associates of seven crime families were indicted, along with 36 others who were charged with "associated criminal activity." More than 30 were "made men."
The higher-profile mob figures indicted included Luigi Manocchio, 83, the former boss of New England's Patriarca crime family; Andrew Russo, street boss of the Colombo family; Benjamin Castellazzo, 73, acting underboss of the Colombo family; Richard Fusco, 74, consigliere of the Colombo family; Joseph Corozzo, 69, the consigliere of the Gambino family; and Bartolomeo Vernace, 61, a member of the Gambino family administration.
"Some of the allegations involve classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals," Holder said. "Others involve truly senseless murders. In one instance, a victim was allegedly shot and killed during a botched robbery attempt. And two other murder victims allegedly were shot in a public bar because of a dispute over a spilled drink."
But not all are convinced the case is what the government says it is.
Stuart P. Slotnick, a New York defense attorney with the firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney and a former prosecutor in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, is skeptical, saying: "With regard to organized crime, there may be loose affiliations with people who know each other, but it's not really a mob as portrayed by the Department of Justice and the media."
He facetiously added that he thought he had heard the Justice Department say before that it had eliminated the Mafia.
And he went on to say that the cases can be tough to win when the government relies on informants, who are career criminals who "don't know the difference between the truth and a lie and they'll say anything that the U.S. Attorney's Office wants them to say, including making up stories of being in the mob, only to save themselves from a significant jail sentence."
Fedarcyk conceded at the press conference that getting rid of the mob for good has been no easy task.
"The FBI has waged a largely successful campaign against the mob over the last three decades, but the mob has shown itself to be resilient and persistent," she said. "Arresting and convicting the hierarchy of the five families several times over has not eradicated the problem."
Whatever the case, the feds today unsealed hundreds of pages of indictments in four jurisdictions that included the classic mob allegations: extortion, running gambling operations and illegal card games, murder, shakedowns of unions and union members, and extortion of businesses for protection.
In Newark, an indictment charged 14 people with racketeering and extortion of Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen's Association and other dockworkers locals. Some defendants are former and current union officials with alleged ties to the Genovese family, authorities charged.
Included in the indictment were allegations that the mobsters extorted money from longshoremen around Christmastime when they received a portion of royalty payments made by shipping companies using the ports of New York and New Jersey.
Then there were the allegations of murder.
Authorities alleged that Colombo street boss Russo was involved in the 1993 death of Colombo family underboss Joseph Scopo, who was shot in the passenger seat of a car outside his home in Ozone Park in Queens, N.Y.
In a much earlier case dating back to 1981, authorities alleged that Vernace, a member of the current Gambino family administration, was involved in the double murder of bar owners Richard Godkin and John D'Agnese inside the Shamrock Bar in the Woodhaven neighborhood of Queens. The incident reportedly stemmed from a spilled drink.
Authorities said that D'Agnese died from a single gunshot to the face, and Godkin was struck with a point-blank gunshot to the chest.
Authorities alleged that the mobsters went to great lengths to conceal their activities and "proceeds from those activities" and in particular said of the Gambino crime family:
In New England, authorities alleged that mobsters used intimidation and threats of violence to get monthly cash protection payments from adult bookstores and strip clubs in Providence, R.I.
FBI director Robert S. Mueller III said in a statement: "Some believe organized crime is a thing of the past; unfortunately, there are still people who extort, intimidate, and victimize innocent Americans. The costs legitimate businesses are forced to pay are ultimately borne by American consumers nationwide."