Mafia gambling figure extradited to stand trial in New Jersey

Frank Cetta

Another clue to Mafia influence in Costa Rica came to light last week with the extradition of Frank Cetta, a trusted member of the New Jersey wing of the Lucchese crime family.

Cetta was the Costa Rican manager of a 20-person wire room that handled as much as $2.2 billion a year for the U.S. Mafia. The so-called New Jersey Gang of the New York-based Lucchese crime family is heavily involved in illegal gambling, extortion, money laundering and loan- sharking.

The Costa Rica connection first became known in 2007 when arrest warrants were issued in Morris County, New Jersey, for 25 Mafia members or associates.

Cetta was named in a May
14, 2010, state grand jury indictment obtained by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice that charged two ruling members of the Lucchese crime family in New York, Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna, as well as 32 other alleged members and associates of the crime family, said the New Jersey Office of The Attorney General. All of the defendants were indicted on first-degree charges of racketeering, conspiracy and money laundering. The indictment stemmed from Operation Heat, an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau.

Cetta, now 73, had a first appearance in court Wednesday morning where bail was set at $350,000. Judge Philip J. Maenza ordered that if Cetta posts bail, he must surrender his U.S. passport, submit to a bail source hearing, and execute a waiver of extradition. Cetta is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday at 9 a.m. before Morris Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan.

Lucchese crime family links to Costa Rica have been known since at least December of 2002 when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York announced the arrests of 27 alleged mobsters, and said that the investigation has turned up a gambling link to Costa Rica in which employees in the United States were channeling bets to Costa Rica via telephones.

The alleged Mafia members arrested then in New York mostly were members of the Lucchese crime family. Earlier the same year in May the personal bookmaker of the Gambino family crime boss John Gotti, Dominick Curra, was arrested here, and he was believed to have maintained some kind of betting operation in the La Sabana Oficentro where he was arrested.

Cetta’s operation focused mainly on sports bettors. But it was not the place where U.S. bettors would call to put money on their favorite team.

Instead it was a wire room, a place where the administrative operations were handled for the U.S.-based bookmakers. Cetta had a low profile in the Mafia administration, but his son, Michael A. Cetta, was a major figure. The younger Cetta is a Bonnano crime family associate but has close ties to the Lucchese family through marriage, according to prosecutors. The Bonnano crime family also is one of the five Mafia gangs in New York.

Frank Cetta appeared in a 2007 affidavit of some 195 pages. Some wiretap transcripts quoted him giving the results of the daily action to Joseph M. Perna, one of the mob’s leaders in New Jersey. The discussion was with code words. Bookmakers who used the Costa Rica wire room were recruited by Perna and others, and each bookmaker had daily bets of at least $50,000 to $60,000. In one telephone exchange, Pern introduces a new bookmaker to Cetta in a three-way conversation.

Cetta was arrested in Costa Rica Dec. 5, but that was not made public then. He fought his extradition on health grounds but was not successful. He had been a fugitive for more than a year.

The Division of Criminal Justice noted that in May 2010 agents arrested and charged another fugitive in the case, Brian Ronald Cohen, 63, of Buffalo, N.Y., who allegedly ran the gambling operation’s Web site and the technical aspects of the Costa Rican wire room.

“Organized crime cannot evade our determined efforts, not even by hiding in Central America,” said New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow. “Frank Cetta is charged with crimes that reached from Costa Rica to New Jersey. We’ve demonstrated that the reach of justice is equally long. We are grateful to the U.S. Marshals Service for their efforts in apprehending this fugitive.”

“Frank Cetta allegedly was responsible for minding the store in Costa Rica for the Lucchese crime family, making sure things ran smoothly at the offshore hub of their multi-billion dollar gambling operation,” said Director Taylor. “With the aid of the U.S. Marshals Service and Costa Rican authorities, we have brought him to New Jersey to face prosecution.”

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