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US Police Bust Alleged Gambino Crime Family Underboss In Trans-Atlantic Sting

US authorities collaborated with an Italian anti-mafia unit to nab a member of the Gambino mob family for alleged extortion.
December 11, 2014, 8:10pm
Photo by Jin Lee/AP

US authorities arrested a member of New York City's notorious Gambino mafia family overnight on charges of alleged blackmail in Italy, according to Italian officials.

American police, working in sync with authorities in Italy, nabbed Francesco Palmeri, 61, at his Brooklyn apartment Thursday morning. Palmeri was wanted along with seven others for allegedly attempting to extort 1 million euros ($1.23 million) from an Italian businessman over an unpaid 30-year-old debt.


Three of the suspects including Palmeri were arrested in New York and the other five in Italy, according to a statement by Italian police.

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Police in Italy apprehended John Grillo — called the extortion campaign's "main architect" — Thursday in Milan as he was about to board a plane to New York.

Palmeri, an alleged underboss of the Gambino family — one of five of the most powerful organized crime families in New York City — could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of criminal conspiracy to commit international extortion aggravated by mafia membership, according to authorities.

Trans-Atlantic collaboration between New York crime families and Italian crime groups such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Calabria-based 'Ndrangheta organization, has historically been strong, and authorities say those ties are still fostered today.

The extortion charges arose from a separate investigation into drug smuggling and money laundering that involved members of the 'Ndrangheta and Gambino families in Italy and the US.

"This demonstrates the international reach of the 'Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra and their still-strong ties with the historic New York mob families," Andrea Grassi, an Italian anti-mafia police unit investigator, told Reuters.

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The US Attorney's Office in New York issued a warrant Thursday that would allow Palmeri's extradition to Italy to face the charges, Italian authorities said.

The charges against the Sicilian-born mobster include allegations that he traveled to Italy on two occasions in 2013 in an attempt to exact money from a businessman for an unpaid loan made in the 1980s. Gambino's "friends in Brooklyn" also allegedly sent the entrepreneur letters demanding payment, the warrant said.

The arrests come a day after Italian police arrested 61 mobsters with links to the 'Ndranghetain in dawn raids in the picturesque central Italian region of Umbria.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields