The Rhode Island State Police on Monday arrested 18 people allegedly connected to Mafia rings and used a backhoe to dig through an East Providence lot searching for the victim of a three-decade-old mob hit.
The dig for the body was called off around dark and was expected to resume Tuesday.
Some of those arrested allegedly had ties to the Patriarca crime family, which for years controlled organized crime in Providence and Boston. One alleged long-time Patriarca figure arrested Monday was Nicholas Pari, 71, of North Providence.
Investigators said he took counterfeit handbags and sneakers from undercover federal agents who infiltrated the ring, allegedly based out of the Valley Street Flea Market in Providence. In return, the agents got guns and drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and Vicodin, said State Police Lt. Col. Steven O'Donnell.
Pari previously was sentenced to seven years in prison for manslaughter in the 1978 killing of Joseph "Joe Onions" Scanlon, whose body was never found.
State Police officials said they were digging at an East Providence apartment complex for a victim killed by the mob about 30 years ago. Authorities would not say whether Scanlon was the victim they were seeking.
Pari was charged with racketeering, firearms violations and drug offenses. Pari did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. It was unclear Monday whether he had an attorney.
Detectives also arrested Gerald Tillinghast, 62, on drug and gambling charges. Tillinghast, released last year from prison for a mob-related killing, is accused of operating an illegal gambling and drug sales business. Tillinghast was ordered held without bail after a court hearing Monday afternoon, his attorney Paul DiMaio said. He was not asked to enter a plea.
"I just don't believe that he was involved," DiMaio said. "He's been trying to do the right thing. I know he was trying to find a job, find a chauffeur's license."
Other suspects are accused of fencing stolen goods, selling stolen jewelry and setting up heists and sales of catalytic converters, police said. All 18 men were being arraigned in Providence District Court on Monday.
Police said more arrests are on the way and that the sting would make it harder for older reputed mobsters to recruit younger would-be criminals.
"This I think will serve as a devastating blow to some of the older generation that have really been such a problem," Attorney General Patrick Lynch said at a news conference announcing the arrests.
Thanks to Hillary Russ
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