Wednesday, September 17, 2008

200 Mafia Suspects Arrested in International Operation that Spanned Italy, the U.S., Mexico, Panama, and Guatemala

More than 200 mafia suspects were arrested Wednesday in an international operation conducted by authorities in Italy, the United States, Mexico, Panama and Guatemala, Italy's anti-mafia department said.

The bust included the arrests - six in the US and 10 in Italy's southern Calabria region - of 16 alleged members of a notorious crime family of the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian version of the mafia, the Rome-based National Anti-Mafia Directorate said in a statement.

Authorities also seized more than 15 tons of cocaine and 57 million dollars in cash, the statement said.

The operation was led by the Italy's Carabinieri paramilitary police's special anti-organized crime unit ROS with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

US authorities in Washington said 175 of the arrests were of individual suspected of participating in the drug smuggling ring, including three alleged leaders of the Gulf Cartel. The three men, Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Heriberto Lazcano and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, have been charged with conspiring to ship drugs into the United States from Mexico, the Justice Department said.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni congratulated the Carabinieri for their work saying the operation also 'shows the excellent co-operation' that exists between the Italian law enforcement agencies and those of other countries.

Authorities believe that Aquino-Colluccio 'Ndrangheta crime family members, based in Italy, the United States and Latin America, controlled a large cocaine-smuggling ring together with the so- called Cartel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel), a Mexican drug trafficking organization.

A major breakthrough in the investigation came when 'Ndrangheta boss Giuseppe Coluccio - one of Italy's top 30 most-wanted criminals - was arrested in Toronto and extradited to Italy in August. Coluccio is suspected of drug-trafficking, blackmail and establishing a criminal alliance involving the 'Ndrangheta and the Sicilian Cosa Nostra mafia.

Far less known than the notorious Cosa Nostra, the 'Ndrangheta has grown in recent years to expand its activities beyond its heartland in Calabria, the 'toe' of boot-shaped Italy.

The August 2007 killing of six Italians in Duisburg, Germany, believed to be part of a feud between to 'Ndrangheta crime families, made international headlines.

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