It hasn't been a good year for the Gambinos.
On Wednesday, around 200 police officers and FBI agents arrested or detained at least 19 Mafia suspects in Palermo, Italy, New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, as Reuters reported. The investigation, dubbed "New Connection," according to a statement from Italian law enforcement, was poised to more firmly establish assumed ties between the Inzerillos in Italy—who have reportedly been trying to regain mob control of the Sicilian capital they were forced out of by a rival clan in the 1980s—and their alleged allies, the Gambinos, in the United States.
The crackdown was a coordinated effort, a textbook example of the kind of high-profile Mafia busts Americans saw often in the past, but that became less common as organized crime lost influence over the decades. It also served as a sort of coda to a bizarre and dispiriting stretch for the Gambinos, once considered among the most powerful crime families on the planet.
"This was clearly important enough that both countries thought it affected the broader picture, not just [the one] in southern Italy," said Christian Cipollini, who runs the website Gangland Legends.
This past March, a 24-year-old construction worker, Anthony Comello, allegedly shot and killed Francesco "Frank" Cali, the reputed leader of the Gambinos. For weeks, it felt like the 1980s all over again, with reporters and the public alike breathlessly wondering whether the slaying was a sanctioned mob hit. The episode reached peak absurdity when Comello appeared to flash a QAnon symbol in court, fueling conspiracy theories about his motives. He remains behind bars awaiting trial, while his immediate family members have reportedly been worried about physical retaliation.
Reports about the Mafia tend to lead to unsubstantiated rumors and blind associations, but Cali, who had even been married to an Inzerillo, was said to have been the glue that stuck the two countries—and the two families—together. The aftermath of his slaying hasn't been particularly promising for his alleged associates: During the raid on Wednesday, photos emerged out of an out-of-shape Thomas Gambino, wearing a white T-shirt bearing a cartoon crocodile, looking more like a father you'd find on the sidelines of a Little League game than a key player in the crime family that bears his last name.
The image made for a striking contrast with what Italian police have described as a brutal long-term conflict in Palermo, where the Inzerillos—some of whom have been exiled in the U.S. for close to 30 years—were said to be trying to reposition themselves after Salvatore "Totò" Riina, the boss of their rival Corleonesi (or Corleone) clan, died in prison in 2017, as the Guardian reported. “It's good that the police have arrested them before they started to kill people," Salvatore Lupo, a history professor and Mafia expert at the University of Palermo, told the paper. "We no longer want to see dead bodies in Palermo."
If nothing else, that yet another blow had been struck at the Gambinos suggested police were wasting little time in capitalizing on any power vacuum left in the wake of Cali's killing.
"You know they didn't start planning this yesterday," Cipollini said.
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