The presence of the Italian Mafia here extends much further than the silent ownership of a few sportsbooks.
And it appears that the traditional Sicilian Mafia is overshadowed by a much more powerful and pervasive criminal organization based across the Strait of Messina in Calabria on the Italian mainland.
While much of the cocaine smuggling operations that takes place in Costa Rica have been attributed to the so-called Mexican mafia or Colombian Marxist rebels, the full extent of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mostly is hidden from view.
The Calabrian organization is among the most powerful and richest criminal groups in the world, but its interest did not turn to international drug smuggling until the early 1990. Costa Rica seems to be a transit point for cocaine eventually destined for Europe.
In October Costa Rican agents with the assistance of Italian police, detained seven persons involved with two produce shipping companies. The companies were sending cocaine to Europe hidden in containers of fresh vegetables.
Prosecutors linked the operation to the ‘Ndrangheta, in part because of another Costa Rica connection disclosed the previous May. That case involved a family that operated an Italian restaurant and pizzeria in Corona, Queens, New York. Two of the family members are on trial this week in Brooklyn federal court.
Among the allegations are orchestrating two shipments of cocaine packed in Costa Rica into containers holding cassava, known as yuca here.
On trial are Gregorio Gigliotti and his son, Angelo, who operated the Cucino a Modo Mio restaurant. Gregorio’s wife and Angelo’s mother, Eleanora, has been separated from the case over claims of mental illness.
She has been characterized as a vicious mob mom in the New York media due to conversations federal agents recorded. Federal prosecutors also linked the family to the ‘Ndrangheta. Both husband and wife are immigrants from Calabria.
Other crime sources say the operation also
involved the Bonnano and Genovese crime families, two of the five Sicilian Mafia families in the New York metro area.
“The arrival of ‘Ndrangheta in Costa Rica points to the increasing sophistication of the country’s homegrown criminal networks, and their burgeoning role in the transnational drug trade,” said the InSight Crime site in reporting the October arrests.
The Calabria crime organization has the resources, and at least one of those submarines that were constructed in Colombia to move drugs was financed by the ‘Ndrangheta.
In the Queens restaurant case, prosecutors allege that much of the cocaine shipped there from Costa Rica was to be repackaged and shipped on to Italy.
Mrs. Gigliotti was accused of bringing $400,000 in cash to Costa Rica to pay for the drugs. She made a second trip, also in 2014, to deliver an additional $170,000, prosecutors have alleged.
The October arrests in Costa Rica followed the confiscation of cocaine shipments at several ports in Europe.
Although linking Italian criminals to pizza restaurant may seem like something out of the movies, there was a similar New York case in the 1980s that also involved drug shipments to Italy. During the height of the Mafia wars in the eastern United States in the early 1970s, would-be gangsters were smuggled in through Canada and given jobs in New Jersey, New York and Philadelpia pizza restaurants.
That way mobsters had a continual source of individuals without identities and criminal records to perform contract murders. After doing so, the aspiring gangsters would themselves be murdered leaving an unidentifiable body for the police.
The ‘Ndrangheta has strong presence in Canada and is believed to have orchestrated some of this human smuggling.