NEW YORK Authorities arrested dozens of people Thursday in a sweeping Mafia takedown aimed at closing the book on decades-old gangland killings and other crimes and knocking out what's left of the once-mighty Gambino family.
A federal indictment in Brooklyn named 62 people, including the three highest-ranking members of the Gambino clan and the brother and nephew of the late John Gotti, the notorious boss who ran the family in its heyday. State prosecutors separately charged 26 others with running a gambling ring that took nearly $10 million in bets on professional and college sports.
The New York raids coincided with an Italian operation, code-named "Old Bridge" and centered on the Sicilian capital of Palermo, targeting Mafia figures who were strengthening contacts between mob groups in Italy and the United States.
Authorities said the investigations, though technically unconnected, signaled an international attempt to disrupt Sicilian ties to the Gambino family, which has been decimated by prosecutions since Gotti's fall.
The U.S. investigation ensnared whatever members of the Gambinos hierarchy were still at liberty and will bring "closure to crimes from the past," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said, including the slaying of a court officer, drug trafficking, robberies, extortion at a failed NASCAR track and other crimes dating to the 1970s.
The probe's scope shows the mob "still exists in the city and the state of New York," said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "We like to think that it's a vestige of the past. It's not."
Most of the suspects were in custody following a series of raids Thursday, including the reputed acting boss of the Gambino family, John "Jackie the Nose" D'Amico, who is accused of playing a lead role in a broad racketeering conspiracy.
Joseph Corozzo, accused of being a high-level Gambino adviser, pleaded not guilty to multiple racketeering counts including cocaine trafficking.
"He's never been involved in drugs," his attorney and son, Joseph Corozzo Jr., said outside court.
Among the 29 people arrested or sought in Italy were members of clans linked to Salvatore Lo Piccolo, the Sicilian Mafia boss arrested in November, Italian officials said.
"We have cut short a dangerous connection that would have been the basis for new illegal trafficking," Palermo Prosecutor Francesco Messineo said.
When Lo Piccolo was arrested, investigators warned that as part of his attempt to become the Cosa Nostra's next "boss of bosses," he had been working to mend ties with U.S.-Italian clans such as the Gambinos and the Inzerillos. Those relations were wrecked during Sicily's internal Mafia war of the 1980s.
Most of the U.S. charges allege crimes from the era when the Gambino family was run by Paul Castellano, who was murdered in 1985. Other charges involve drug dealing, credit fraud conspiracies and theft of union benefits within the past few years.
The federal indictment also alleges that Gambino associates extorted people in the construction industry, embezzled from labor unions and engaged in illegal loansharking and bookmaking.
Three of the seven murders alleged in the indictment involved victims who weren't criminals.
"It's a fallacy to think organized crime murders occur within the closed shop," said Mark Mershon, head of the FBI's New York office.
The federal grand jury accused Charles Carneglia, a reputed Gambino soldier, with involvement in five killings over three decades, including that of Albert Gelb, a state court officer who was gunned down in 1976. Carneglia was jailed without bail after pleading not guilty Thursday.
Prosecutors have long claimed that Gelb was assassinated in retaliation for making an off-duty arrest of Carneglia after he spotted him in a restaurant wearing a gun. Previous attempts to prosecute Gambino associates for the killing, including Carneglia's brother, ended in failure.
At the time, Gelb worked for then-judge Richard Brown, now the Queens district attorney.
Brown said Thursday that the Gambinos' sports book operation substituted "the traditional wire room and street corner bookie who penciled in wagers in a little black book with offshore based Internet Web sites and toll-free numbers through which they were able to manage numerous gambling accounts."
Many of the charges relate to the activities of a Staten Island cement business, whose owner was identified in the indictment only as "John Doe No. 4." Prosecutors allege that mob figures extorted the owner for money and jobs, and interfered with several of his business ventures, including the proposed NASCAR track on Staten Island.
In 2006, the cement business was forced to pay extortion to reputed mobsters to prepare the site for construction, prosecutors maintain. As part of the scheme, authorities contend, mobsters forced John Doe No. 4 to give $9,000 to two workers affiliated with the builder of the race track.
The project was abandoned before the track could be built.
New York's Gambino family has been the subject of a steady stream of government indictments and prosecutions since Gotti, the so-called "Dapper Don," was sentenced to life in prison in 1992. He died in 2002.
One acting boss after another has gone to prison, including John Gotti Jr., who was not named in this most recent indictment. A number of other top Gambino figures mentioned in the new indictment have served prison time in cases that dated to the era when the family was led by Gotti, with some released in just the past few years.