Gregorio and Eleonora Gigliotti’s rustic little corner pizzeria in New York was known for its margherita pizza and the attention the husband and wife owners paid to their customers.
But Cucino a Modo Mio — Italian for “I cook it my way” — in the borough of Queens was the base of an international, mob-connected cocaine trafficking operation with tentacles in Costa Rica and Italy, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
The restaurant was one of several businesses the couple owned and used to facilitate the drug-smuggling network, according to the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Kilograms of cocaine were hidden in cardboard boxes of cassava shipped to the United States from Costa Rica, prosecutors said.
An indictment unsealed this week charged Gregorio Gigliotti, 59, Eleonora Gigliotti, 54, their son Angelo, 34, and a relative from Italy, Franco Fazio, 56, with conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, importation of cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine. The four are bring held without bail.
In Italy, authorities arrested 13 people in connection with the smuggling operation that also operated in Calabria, officials said. The 13 face drug charges stemming from the exportation and distribution of cocaine in Italy.
Raymond Granger, attorney for Gregorio Gigliotti, and Richard Levitt, who represents Eleonora Gigliotti, said their clients intend to plead not guilty. They declined further comment. It’s unclear who represents Fazio.
Gerald McMahon, attorney for Angelo Gigliotti, said his client operated a construction company and was not involved with the family restaurant.
“I would characterize it as tissue-thin, a Charmin of a case,” he said of the charges against his client.
James McGovern, chief of the Eastern District’s criminal division, said at a new conference in Italy that the defendants are known associates of the Genovese organized crime family.
Italian prosecutors said the ring also worked with the local Mafia in Calabria, known as the Ndrangheta.
U.S. prosecutors said law enforcement officers in October 2014 intercepted a cassava shipment that contained about 40 kilograms of cocaine bound for another business owned by the Gigliottis.
Through wiretaps and surveillance, federal agents learned that Eleonora Gigliotti had earlier traveled to Costa Rica with about $400,000 in cash for the cocaine suppliers, the statement said. In September 2014, officials said, Fazio traveled from Italy to New York and then Costa Rica to deliver an additional $170,000 in cash.
In December 2014, agents intercepted another cassava shipment with about 15 kilograms of cocaine, prosecutors said.
“Using their family’s businesses in New York as a front for a narcotics trafficking operation, the defendants, as alleged, sought to establish a global cocaine ring,” Diego Rodriguez, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI New York office, said in a statement.
The Gigliottis also were charged with unlawful use and possession of firearms after multiple weapons were seized in the restaurants as well as their homes, prosecutors said. Authorities also seized more than $100,000 in cash from the two locations.
The family is accused of operating the trafficking ring from July 2014 to March 2015.
If convicted, the Gigliottis face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.