February 8, 2008 / 7:59 PM / 12 years ago

Mass arrests show Mafia down but never out

NEW YORK (Reuters) - When U.S. authorities arrested suspected Mafia figures with nicknames like Jackie Nose and Tommy Sneakers, it sounded like a crime tale from a bygone era.

Law enforcement officers escort people to be arraigned after the indictment of over 80 members of organized crime families on charges related to racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, theft, illegal gambling, loan-sharking and embezzlement in New York February 7, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

But experts said on Friday the crackdown is evidence the Mafia never was eradicated and that it would live on, even if prosecutors were successful in convicting the 61 suspects who were arrested.

Thursday’s U.S. roundup focused on the Gambino crime operation, one of the five historic Italian-American Mafia families in New York. Meanwhile Italian police detained 19 people, seeking to stop the Sicilian Mafia from re-establishing itself in the U.S. drug trafficking and money laundering trade.

“It’s sort of like what Mark Twain said. Reports of the death of the mob were greatly exaggerated,” said Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor and an ex-deputy mayor of New York who specialized in attacking the Mafia.

“La Cosa Nostra is like a rat infestation. Just when you think you have them eradicated, they reproduce and come back,” he said.

A U.S. grand jury indicted 62 people, one of whom remains a fugitive, alleging that organized crime maintains a grip on construction-related industries in New York, extracting business through violence and extortion.

Charges included murder, loan sharking, gambling and cocaine and marijuana distribution.

The probe went back five years, aided by an informant who secretly taped conversations with mob suspects, and involved three years of cooperation with Italian police.

MORE LEEWAY FOR FBI

The bust followed a long period of relative silence that came after the successful prosecution of Mafia bosses in 1980s and 1990s that broke up mob control over the private trash disposal or “carting” business and the former Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan.

“The bureau (FBI) has been tied up for years with terrorism. Now they’ve got some leeway and they are bringing in some of the other (state and local) agencies,” said Joe King, a former Customs agent and Homeland Security official who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

While the five families focused on the corruption of industries and labor unions related to construction, rivals from Russia, Eastern Europe and Latin America stepped into gambling, prostitution and drugs, the experts said.

Ralph Blumenthal, a New York Times reporter and author of the book “Last Days of the Sicilians,” said law enforcement officers always believed it would be difficult to eradicate the Mafia even with the demise of the leaders of previous generations.

“Little by little, they are watering down the mob,” Blumenthal said. “You do have a lesser group now that’s not as gifted. They are not able to bring about the fear or control that they used to.

“Of course it’s not the last (major blow to the Mafia), but each one takes away an experienced mobster and puts in place a less experienced group that is more vulnerable to arrest.”

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