Seven suspects with links to the Gambino crime family were arrested in New York City overnight in a joint U.S.-Italian anti-Mafia blitz targeting a trans-Atlantic cocaine trafficking route, officials say.
Italian and U.S. authorities said the "New Bridge" operation targeted the new drug-running route from South America to the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro that united the U.S. branch of the Sicilian Mafia with the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate.
An undercover agent who befriended one of the suspects arrested in New York City is at the center of the operation, U.S. prosecutors tell NBC News. The agent later gained trust of both the Gambino family and 'Ndrangheta.
Documents in federal court in New York say one defendant, a Brooklyn resident, used his ties to both the Gambino organized crime family in the U.S. and the 'Ndrangheta in Italy to form international heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracies.
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The court papers also say conversations between him and other defendants were recorded by an undercover FBI agent during which they discussed a plot to transport 500 kilograms of cocaine, concealed in frozen fish and pineapples, in shipping containers from Guyana to Calabria.
The defendants were also recorded discussing their connections to Mexican drug cartels operating in Guyana and South America.
"This was a joint operation," said William Nardini, a U.S. magistrate. "With no other country is our cooperation so strong."
Seventeen Italian suspects were also taken into custody in the bust, which authorities said was "unprecedented in scale."
'Ndrangheta members operate mostly in the Calabria region of Italy and are estimated to include thousands of members from more than a hundred loosely affiliated groups. Experts said each group controls a different town in southern Italy, and in some Italian towns, nearly every adult male is a suspected member. Members allegedly control a large percentage of cocaine trafficking in Europe.
--Jonathan Dienst and Joe Valiquette contributed to this report