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Friday, Feb. 29, 2014: Operation New Bridge: The New York and Calabria nexus

Scott M. Deitche is the author of five books on organized crime including Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld and The Silent Don: The World of Santo Trafficante Jr. He also has written dozens of articles on organized crime for national magazines and newspapers. Dietche has been featured on The Discovery Channel, The History Channel, A&E, C-SPAN and national news and radio shows. Dietche will be writing blogs for The Mob Museum on a regular basis.

Over the past couple weeks I was thinking of writing a blog post questioning whether the Mafia should still be a priority for the FBI to investigate. It was inspired in part by the arrest of Bonanno capo Vincent Asaro and some Bonnano cohorts for a variety of crimes, many of which were pretty penny-ante. I was going to postulate that maybe state and local authorities should take the lead on traditional organized crime allowing the FBI’s organized crime division to focus solely on emerging organized crime threats and gangs.

Well, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t publish the post, because news came down last week of a massive joint operation between Italian authorities and the FBI targeting both members of the Bonnano and Gambino crime families as well as the Calabrian ‘ndrangheta a Mafia-type criminal organization in southern Italy. The Calabrians have surpassed the Sicilian Cosa Nostra as the largest and most invasive of the four major Italian organized crime groups. Operation New Bridge, as it was called, was sort of a follow up to a 2008 investigation, Operation Old Bridge, which focused on the Gambinos and the Sicilian Mafia.

Among those arrested in New York City were Gambino and ‘ndrangheta associate Franco Lupoi; Charles “Charlie Pepsi” Centaro, former driver for Bonnano bigwig Vinny “TV” Badalamenti; Raffaele Valente, a ‘ndrangheta member who was amassing a Calabrian crew based in New York; and two links to Mexican and South American drug cartels, Jose Alfredo Garcia and Alexander Chan.

Chan and Garcia (known affectionately by the Calabrians as the “Mexican with the cartels” and “the Chinese guy”) were working with the mobsters on the Guyana-Italy shipping route for narcotics. The vessels for the drugs included pineapples and coconut milk. But the FBI and Italian authorities were on to the scheme from the beginning and sent in an undercover officer to meet with the New York members. Those recorded conversations were a big part of the undercover operation’s success.

As a side note, the mobsters met at a variety of bakeries and coffee shops, including Lupoi’s Royal Crown Bakery in Brooklyn. But chief among the meeting spots was a Manhattan Dunkin Donuts. You’d think with all the artisanal coffee in the Big Apple, the mobsters would have chosen a better place. Then again, Dunkin Donuts does makes some tasty coffee for today’s busy, on-the-go gangster.