Archive for Sunday, March 14, 2004

U.S. Mafia turning to Italy to fill ranks

March 14, 2004

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— Ratted on by fellow wiseguys and hounded by police, struggling American Mafiosi are recruiting Sicilian mobsters, believing the island's hardheaded gangsters are more likely to keep their mouths shut, U.S. and Italian organized-crime officials say.

Authorities worry that the Sicilian Mafia -- known in the past for gunning down police and blowing up judges -- might also send this approach to the United States.

Top FBI officials discussed these developments with the Italian parliament's anti-mob commission at a recent briefing in Washington. Elements of the talks were revealed this week to The Associated Press.

A top Sicilian Mafia turncoat recently told Italian police that U.S.-based mob families were looking to Sicily to recruit members, Italy's anti-Mafia commission chief Sen. Roberto Centaro said in an interview with the AP.

The claims were confirmed in U.S. and Italian wiretaps, said Centaro, whose Italian delegation met this month with top U.S. law enforcement officials in New York and Washington.

"This type of phenomenon was born when the American authorities' actions became much stronger and more effective, which in recent years reached a crescendo in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York," Centaro said.

U.S. mobsters have begun facing serious setbacks as the federal government has applied new racketeering laws and the number of turncoats has increased.

Matthew Heron, assistant special agent in charge of the organized-crime branch in the FBI's New York office, said the combination of convictions and turncoats had led to "a leadership vacuum" in some crime gangs, such as the Bonannos.

In January, FBI agents and U.S. police officers arrested dozens of suspected mobsters linked to the Bonannos after a high-ranking member of the New York City crime family wore a wire.

"(U.S. mobsters) have reached out toward Sicily to bring some people over to fill some gaps, with part of that rationale being the thought that the Sicilians are much more inclined to maintain the sacred vow of silence," Heron said in a phone interview from New York.

Heron said authorities were just beginning to see the Sicilian mobsters in the United States.

"It would not be accurate to say they have assumed leadership roles within the family. But by virtue of the fact that they are here, they are establishing themselves," he said. "In the foreseeable future, it's safe to say we expect to see them assuming leadership."

Heron noted that La Cosa Nostra in America has always avoided going after U.S. law enforcement to keep out of the public eye, but "that's not necessarily the case with the Sicilians."

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