FBI, Italian police arrest 24 drug trafficking suspects

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

Brooklyn, NY, United States (4E) – FBI agents and Italian police jointly arrested and charged 24 Mafia members in New York and Calabria, Italy Tuesday for allegedly smuggling drugs between the two countries.

In the FBI’s raids in and around New York City, seven members of the Gambino and Bonnano crime families were arrested. In coordinated nighttime raids conducted with Italian national police in and around the southern Italian town of Goia Tauro, 17 members and associates of the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate were arrested and detained.

Those arrested in the U.S. were charged Tuesday with drug trafficking, money laundering and arms possession, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York said. They are ‘Ndrangheta member Raffaele Valente, also known as “Lello”; Gambino associate Franco Lupoi; Bonanno associate Charles Centaro, also known as “Charlie Pepsi”; Dominic Ali; Alexander Chan; Christos Fasarakis; and Jose Alfredo Garcia, also known as “Freddy.”

Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said ‘Ndrangheta’s clan members conspired with members of the Gambino organized crime family in New York to ship cocaine and heroin between the United States and Italy. Lupoi, a Brooklyn resident who has lived in Calabria, is the go-between, Lynch said.

The smuggling operation was discovered in 2012 by undercover FBI agents who recorded conversations of Lupoi and his father-in-law and Italian defendant Nicola Antonio Simonetta, a member of the Ursino clan of the ‘Ndrangheta, about ‘Ndrangheta associates at the Goia Tauro port guaranteeing the safe arrival of container ships containing contraband.

The two syndicates planned to transport 1,100 pounds of cocaine, concealed in frozen food, in shipping containers from Guyana to Calabria with a corrupt port official in Gioia Tauro facilitating the passage of unlimited containers of contraband in exchange for $273,000.

An undercover FBI agent also recorded Lupoi, Chan and Garcia discussing their connections to Mexican drug cartels operating in Guyana, South America, and a plot to transport cocaine hidden in shipments of frozen fish or pineapples. Ursino and his co-conspirators planned to use a fish importation company to receive the shipment in Italy. Italian court documents say the shipping containers originating from a Guyanese shipping company were seized in Malaysia and found to contain more than $7 million worth of cocaine hidden in pineapples and coconut milk.

FBI undercover agents also bought heroin from Lupoi and Italian defendant and ‘Ndrangheta leader Francesco Ursino in Italy. In New York, Lupoi, Chan, and Garcia sold the undercover agent more than a kilogram of heroin.

Valente and Lupoi are charged with conspiracy to transfer a firearm, and Valente is charged with two counts of illegal possession of a silencer. Valente sold an illegal silencer and sawed-off shotgun to an FBI undercover agent at the Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn.

Valente is also charged in Italy with the crime of mafia association based on his role in establishing an ‘Ndrangheta cell in New York.

Lupoi, Ali, Centaro and Fasarakis, an employee of Alma Bank in Brooklyn, allegedly laundered more than $500,000 in funds that they believed were the proceeds of narcotics and illegal weapons trafficking. Centaro was recorded describing his access to bank accounts with millions of dollars through which he could launder and conceal criminal proceeds.

If convicted, Lupoi, Chan, and Garcia face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; Ali, Centaro, and Fasarakis face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment on each money laundering charge; and Valente faces a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on each firearms charge, according to the FBI.

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