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FBI agents escorted a man linked to organized crime after arrests Tuesday.

Ashley Gilbertson • New York Times,

Arrests in New York, Italy linked to organized crime drug probe

  • Article by: Joseph Goldstein
  • New York Times
  • February 11, 2014 - 9:03 PM

– The FBI and the Italian national police arrested two dozen people in New York and Italy as part of an organized-crime investigation into cocaine and heroin trafficking from southern Italy to the United States, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

The investigation is centered on the ’Ndrangheta, the Mafia group from the Calabria region of Italy, which had begun to establish a foothold in New York City, according to officials. The charges included narcotics trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses.

The defendants included a Brooklyn resident, Franco Lupoi, whose father-in-law was described by the authorities as being a member of the ’Ndrangheta.

In 2012, the father-in-law, Nicola Antonio Simonetta, visited Lupoi in Brooklyn to work on plans to ship heroin into the United States, the authorities said. For suppliers, they intended to rely on Mexican drug cartels in Guyana, who would conceal narcotics in frozen food containers aboard ships operated by a Guyanese company.

The scheme included paying off a port official in Calabria whom they expected to look the other way. But the plan got off to a rocky start when $7 million of cocaine originating from the shipping company was seized in Malaysia, authorities said. The drugs were found in containers of pineapples and coconut milk.

At one point in the investigation, Lupoi and another suspected ’Ndrangheta member, Raffaele Valente, sold a sawed-off shotgun to an undercover FBI agent at a Brooklyn bakery, authorities said.

In one conversation, intercepted by an Italian wiretap, Valente said he had a group of well-armed men whose position in New York was as secure as “Fort Knox,” according to a statement by the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta Lynch.

As a result of the case, Lynch said, “the ’Ndrangheta’s efforts to gain a foothold in New York have been dealt a lasting blow.”

Seven men pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

© 2014 Star Tribune