The biggest Mafia sweep in American history

The biggest Mafia sweep in American history

Ten years ago, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies executed a massive crackdown on East Coast crime families

A handcuffed Mafia suspect arrested on January 20, 2011, is processed at an Army base in Brooklyn.

The morning of January 20, 2011, was a particularly early one for many in law enforcement. Before dawn, more than 700 federal agents spread out across the Northeast and rounded up 127 mobsters in the largest single-day takedown of organized crime in American history. 

Ten separate agencies (including the FBI, DEA and Secret Service), with assistance from ten others, including the Italian National Police, provided assistance and logistical support. Attorney General Eric Holder said at the time, “Today’s arrests and charges mark an important step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra’s illegal activities.” Those illegal activities were a laundry list of traditional Mob crimes: extortion, loansharking, arson, narcotics, illegal gambling, labor racketeering and murder. 

Mafia Takedown Day was not one overarching indictment, but rather 16 separate indictments, with overlap among some of the cases. The indictments and subsequent arrests targeted all five of the New York crime families: Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo and Bonanno, as well as the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family and the Patriarca family in New England. 

FBI agents move in on a Mafia suspect in Brooklyn in the predawn hours of January 20, 2011. Courtesy of FBI

According to the FBI, 34 of those arrested were made members of the Mafia; the others were associates. High-ranking members who were arrested included Luigi “Baby Shacks” Manocchio, the one-time boss of the Patriarca family; Andy “Mushy” Russo, acting boss of the Colombo family; and Benjamin “The Claw” Catellazzo, acting underboss of the Colombo family.

As with many Mob indictments, the news media played up the colorful nicknames of some of the wiseguys, including Tony Bagels, Frankie Steel, Lumpy, Anthony Firehawk, Marbles, Johnny Pizza, Vinny Carwash, Hootie, Johnny Bandana and Jello. Other observers noted the advanced ages of the suspects, all of whom were at least 60 years old.

The next two years saw a flurry of legal activity as prosecutors geared up for trials. Some of the indictments contained crimes that spanned decades. In one indictment, U.S. v. Corozzo et al, more than 25 members and associates of the Gambino family were engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activity“ that lasted “from at least in or about the late 1980s, up to and including in or about 2010.” 

Another indictment out of New Jersey charged members of the Genovese family with racketeering and extortion related to Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA). The fact that the New Jersey waterfront was still dealing with infiltration by organized crime decades after federal watchdogs took over some of the unions illustrated the Mob’s resilience at the waterfront. Stephen Depiro, one of the Genovese mobsters charged with extorting tribute payments from ILA members, was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released in 2018. Nunzio Lagrasos, another of the Genovese mobsters convicted of waterfront-related crimes, was released in 2017.

One of the top organized crime figures arrested during Mafia Takedown Day was Luigi Manocchio, former boss of the Patriarca crime family.

There also were a couple of indictments centered on murders and murder conspiracies. Longtime Gambino mobster Bartolomeo “Bobby Glasses” Vernace was convicted of the 1981 murder of two bar owners, Richard Godkin and John D’Agnese, over a spilled drink. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2014. He died in 2017.

With the overwhelming amount of evidence investigators were able to obtain, a large number of the Mob figures ended up taking plea deals rather than taking their chances at trial. Many managed to walk away with (relatively) light sentences and were back out on the streets within a few years.

Joseph Corozzo, another high-ranking Gambino mobster, whose brother Nicky was once the family’s acting boss, was sent away for five years on drug charges. He was released in 2016. Gambino capo Alphonse Trucchio, son of imprisoned mobster Ronnie “One Arm” Trucchio, pleaded guilty to a variety of charges, including extortion and loansharking. He was sentenced to 121 months and released in early 2020.

The Colombo family, for the most part, avoided any major sentences. Andy Russo pleaded guilty to racketeering and was rewarded with a relatively short 33-month sentence. He was released in March 2013. Benjamin Castellazzo was released in the summer of 2015.

Baby Shacks Manocchio, now 92 years old, pleaded guilty to extorting strip clubs in Rhode Island and Florida. At his hearing, he told the court, “By virtue of my position, I inherited the deeds of my associates. … I don’t want my family or any of my friends to believe I personally threatened anyone.” Manocchio was sentenced to five and a half years in prison. He was released in early 2015 and was living in Florida as of December 2020.

Mafia Takedown Day was one of the most successful operations in the FBI’s decades-long operations against the Mafia and marked a significant disruption to traditional organized crime. But the Mob has always been a resilient nemesis. And law enforcement continues its efforts.

Scott M. Deitche is an author, mob historian and member of the Mob Museum’s Advisory Council. Scott has written numerous books and articles on organized crime. He has been featured as an organized crime expert for true crime shows on Nat Geo, Discovery Channel, History Channel, Fox Business and A&E, among others.