The operation began just after 3 a.m. local time and involved 100 Italian police, along with FBI and Homeland Security agents. CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey watched the raids play out in Italy.
The targets were members of the N’Drangheta, considered one of the most powerful crime organizations in the world.
The N’Drangheta are so closely knit and so feared that they are almost impossible to infiltrate. That’s why they have to be hit in the dead of night, under conditions of absolute secrecy — and fast.
The principal focus was a modest apartment; an unlikely end point, says Pizzey, for a drug ring that involved hand-carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Central America to pay drug lords.
The pivot point was a pizza parlor in Queens, New York. The father, mother and son who ran it are now in custody.
Working with the notorious Gambino crime family, they imported cocaine in shipments of yucca plants from Costa Rica. The goods went from ports near Philadelphia to warehouses in the Bronx, where the cocaine was separated and sent on to the N’Drangheta for sale in Europe.
The prime catch in the Italian raid was Franco Fazio, but he seemed almost amused.
“Ah, so the TVs are here, too?” he said. “Now the Naples mafia will see me.”
Fazio is known as “The Ambassador” because of his role in the smuggling chain. And in spite of the N’Drangheta’s reputation for violence, the raid went off without a gun drawn.
The senior FBI case agent, who cannot be identified, said Fazio is in for a surprise — he’s facing up to 10 years in jail in the U.S.
“In his mind, he thinks he’s innocent and he can prove that. I don’t think knows the overwhelming evidence that we have in this case,” the FBI case agent said.
Last February, Italian police and FBI agents in Italy conducted a major joint operation that robbed the N’Drangheta crime syndicate and the U.S. Sicilian Mafia of a new drug smuggling route from Latin America into Europe.
U.S. officials told CBS News FBI agents arrested seven people in the New York area raids in connection with that operation.
Cooperation between Italian police, the FBI and Homeland Security won high praise from the Italian officer in overall charge of the latest operation.
“This is only one of the success of this cooperation,” he told Pizzey. In the past, he said, there have been “lots of success.”
They hope, he said, it will be an ongoing process.
Both the Italians and Americans say the operation was a serious blow to the N’Drangheta, but by no means a knockout punch. As long as there is demand, the senior FBI agent said, they’ll try to supply it.