by Lorenzo Bodrero

Italian police and the FBI have arrested 17 people in Italy and seven in the United States during an operation that authorities say dismantled a drug-trafficking group. The operation, dubbed New Bridge, involved collaboration between the Italian crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta and the New York- based Gambino family of the Mafia.

Among those arrested Tuesday were Francesco Ursino and Giovanni Morabito, two leading figures of the ‘Ndrangheta, a crime family based in Calabria, which is located in the toe of the Italian boot. Police also arrested Frank Lupoi, an Italian-American they say represented the Gambino family.

Investigators say the two crime groups worked together to move heroin by boat from Italy to the United States and cocaine from South America to Italy.

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Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri told the press agency Ansa that “the investigation demonstrated the power of the ‘Ndrangheta in the Big Apple, as they now hold a position comparable to the Cosa Nostra’s.”

The investigation began in 2012 when representatives of the two organized crime groups met in Brooklyn to set up the collaboration. A second meeting in July was attended by an FBI undercover agent, nicknamed “Jimmy”, who had infiltrated the Gambino family, the daily newspaper  La Repubblica reports.

Italian investigators say the undercover operation disrupted several major drug shipments.  One involved cocaine worth US$ 1.36 million, heading from Guyana to Italy in November 2012. Overall,  authorities seized almost 80 kilograms of drugs from operations extending from the Bahamas to areas in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Authorities believe the criminals planned to set up a legitimate fish-trade business between New York and the Italian port of Gioia Tauro as a means of delivering the drugs.

Operation New Bridge follows the path of 2008’s Operation Old Bridge in which authorities dismantled a drug-trafficking ring led by the Sicilian Mafia in America and Italy by arresting more than 80 people. New Bridge shows how the ‘Ndrangheta has managed to overcome its Sicilian counterparts and establish itself as the leading traffickers of drugs from South America to Italy, Rainews reports.

This article was published by OCCRP on February 13, 2014.