Members of the powerful Gambino and Bonanno crime families were among 24 people arrested Tuesday in New York and several cities in Italy in a major anti-mafia raid, authorities said.
The FBI and Italian police carried out the raid as part of operation "New Bridge," which targeted more than 40 people for international drug trafficking and organized crime in connection with the 'Ndrangheta mafia, officials added.
Italian police arrested 17 suspects, anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti told reporters at a news conference in Rome.
The FBI arrested seven people in New York in a coordinated raid, he added, including members of the Gambino and Bonanno families.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of New York named these seven suspects as 'Ndrangheta member Raffaele Valente, also known as "Lello," Gambino associate Franco Lupoi, Bonanno associate Charles Centaro, also known as "Charlie Pepsi," Dominic Ali, Alexander Chan, Christos Fasarakis, and Jose Alfredo Garcia, also known as "Freddy."
The defendants are charged with drug trafficking, money laundering and firearms offenses, "based, in part, on their participation in a transnational heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracy involving the 'Ndrangheta, one of Italy's most powerful organized crime syndicates," it said.
All seven pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the various charges in a federal court in Brooklyn.
Afterward, four of the men -- Valente, Lupoi, Chan and Garcia -- were held without bail, though bail could become an option later. In addition to the drug and money laundering charges, Valente and Lupoi are also charged with selling an unregistered firearm silencer.
Meanwhile, Centaro, Fasarakis and Ali all were free on bail. In addition to surrendering their passports, their travel within the United States is limited as well. Ali's bond was $1.4 million bond, and bond was $1 million for the other two.
Investigators speaking at the news conference in Rome said the money found in the raids amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The operations in Italy were carried out in the southern region of Calabria, home of the 'Ndrangheta syndicate, and in the cities of Naples, Caserta, Torino, Benevento and Catanzaro. The Italian mafia family involved in the alliance, or "bridge," with the Gambino family, is called Ursino Ionica.
Tuesday's operation was the first ever jointly run by U.S. and Italian police targeting the ties between the two countries' 'Ndrangheta mafia families, investigators said.
Anti-mafia prosecutors in Calabria have been carrying out an investigation over the past two years, and Italian police compiled a 2,000-page report detailing what was learned, including information from phone wiretaps.
U.S. Attorney: 'Lasting blow'
The Italian national anti-mafia body, which coordinated the investigation and operation, alleges that the 'Ndrangheta is behind a ring of drug trafficking between South and Central America, Canada, the United States and Italy.
U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said the operation had "dealt a lasting blow" to the 'Ndrangheta's efforts to gain a foothold in New York.
"The 'Ndrangheta is an exceptionally dangerous, sophisticated and insidious criminal organization, with tentacles stretching from Italy to countries around the world," she said.
"The defendant Lupoi sought to use his connections with both 'Ndrangheta and the Gambino crime family to extend his own criminal reach literally around the globe."
Together, the accused sought to move cocaine and heroin into the United States under the guise of legitimate shipping operations, with the help of a corrupt official at the port of Gioia Tauro, in Calabria, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Lupoi, from Brooklyn, has lived in Calabria and used his connections with both the Gambino organized crime family and the 'Ndrangheta to pursue international criminal activity, it said.
Among those arrested in Italy are his father-in-law, Antonio Simonetta, and his cousin, Francesco Ursino, it said.
During two joint FBI-Italian operations in Italy, Lupoi and Ursino sold more than 1.3 kilograms of heroin to an FBI undercover agent for what they believed was eventual distribution in the United States, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
In New York, Lupoi, Chan and Garcia sold the undercover agent more than a kilogram of heroin, it added.
Cocaine found in canned fruit shipment
Lupoi, 44, is also accused of plotting to smuggle 500 kilograms of cocaine, concealed in frozen food, in shipping containers from Guyana, in South America, to Calabria, thanks to connections with Mexican drug cartels operating in Guyana.