U.S. and Italian police announced Tuesday they have broken up a drug trafficking ring involving Italy's 'Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate and New York City's Gambino crime family.
The sting netted 24 arrests, 17 in Italy and seven in New York, officials told The Associated Press.
They are accused of conspiring to transport hundreds of millions of dollars in drugs between South America, Italy, and the U.S.
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"The 'Ndrangheta can and has to be considered one of the most powerful organizations in the world for handling of international drug trafficking," Raffaele Grassi, head of the Italian police's central operative service unit, told the AP. "The 'Ndrangheta has left its territory of origin: Beyond occupying areas of our country and infiltrating itself in northern Italy, the 'Ndrangheta is looking for criminals beyond the borders, invading new markets to make profit."
The investigation illuminates how the 'Ndrangheta had expanded outside of Italy to become one of the most feared drug traffickers in the world, officials said. The Calabria-based organization is also entering territory once ruled by the Sicilian-based Cosa Nostra.
"Operation New Bridge," which began in 2012, followed a cocaine trafficking route from South America to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, which brought together the Gambinos and the 'Ndrangheta, Italian anti-mafia officials told AP. In return, the Italians supplied heroin to the American marketplace.
An undercover agent named "Jimmy" and wiretaps got inside the Gambinos, and a delivery of about 1,000 pounds of cocaine from Guyana in South America to the port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria. Italian investigators estimated the street value was about $1 billion. Supplied by Latin American drug cartels, the plan was to ship the drugs to Italy in canned fruit, according to Reuters.
Agents from the two countries worked together, and jointly held a news conference in Rome.
The 24 people arrested were charged with international drug trafficking, money laundering, and membership in organized crime.
"The 'Ndrangheta determined to move deadly narcotics across international boundaries, attempting to build a bridge of criminality and corruption to stretch from South America to Italy and back to New York," assistant U.S. attorney Marshall Miller said at the news conference.
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