Arrests in New York and Italy Thwart Mob Drug Scheme, Authorities Say


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Arrests in New York and Italy Thwart Mob Drug Scheme, Authorities Say

The mobsters, from the Calabria region of Italy, wanted a foothold in the underworld of New York City and thought their success smuggling drugs into Europe would serve them well on this side of the Atlantic.

Their methods were known to be precise.

“They put a hundred grams, two hundred grams in each fish” and “it takes a day to defrost and then it takes a day to take out,” Franco Lupoi said, according to prosecutors who say the conversation was recorded by investigators.

On Tuesday, federal authorities announced the arrests of Mr. Lupoi, the owner of a Brooklyn bakery, and six other people in New York on charges that included narcotics trafficking and money laundering and that were the culmination of a two-year undercover F.B.I. investigation. In Italy, the police announced the arrests of 17 people in connection with the investigation.

What made the case remarkable were not the charges but the defendants’ links to the ’Ndrangheta, the organized crime group based in Calabria that is notorious for kidnappings and for its success importing cocaine into Europe.

Prosecutors said the actions of Mr. Lupoi and the other local defendants suggested that ’Ndrangheta (pronounced n-DRANG-gay-tah) was seeking to expand to New York, an effort the authorities said they had not seen until this investigation. “We put an end to the ’Ndrangheta’s attempts to gain a foothold in New York,” Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said on Tuesday.

Central to that plan was Mr. Lupoi, 44, owner of the Royal Crown Bakery on 14th Avenue in Bensonhurst, who prosecutors said was linked to the Gambino crime family. Mr. Lupoi’s father-in-law is a member of the ’Ndrangheta, prosecutors wrote, and Mr. Lupoi “exploited those underworld connections to link his criminal associates in New York with those in Calabria, forming conspiracies to traffic heroin and cocaine.”

In 2012, Mr. Lupoi’s Italian father-in-law, Nicola Antonio Simonetta, visited Brooklyn and the two men began plans to ship heroin into the United States and expand cocaine shipments to Europe, the authorities said. The scheme included paying off a port official in Calabria whom they expected to look the other way. The cocaine would come from Mexican drug cartels in Guyana, which would conceal narcotics in frozen fish aboard ships operated by a Guyanese company, the authorities said.

But the shipping company they intended to use had trouble in Malaysia: $7 million worth of cocaine hidden among pineapples and coconut milk was seized there, prosecutors said.

Court papers suggest that in recent days the enterprise was quite active. On Jan. 31, one of the defendants, Raffaele Valente, 42, sold an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent a handgun and silencer at the bakery owned by Mr. Lupoi, prosecutors said. And Mr. Valente was planning to unload $1 million in counterfeit American currency in the coming days, prosecutors said.

Joseph Mure, a lawyer for Charles Centaro, another suspect, said he was a deliveryman. Calls and emails to the other suspects’ lawyers were not immediately answered. The seven suspects arrested in the New York area all pleaded not guilty in federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Mr. Mure said of his client, “It appears as though he does not have any involvement with these drugs or guns.

“Does he know these guys in Italy? I don’t think he had any dealing with any of them. When you live in a neighborhood such as Brooklyn, you sometimes know certain people. You know people who get picked up in a case, but you may not necessarily be involved.”

Michael Schwirtz contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on February 12, 2014, on page A19 of the New York edition with the headline: Arrests in New York and Italy Thwart Mob Drug Scheme, Authorities Say. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe