Latest News

Mobster 'Baby Shanks' arrested in South Florida

In mounting its largest ever effort to crack down on the mob, the FBI focused on South Florida to build at least some parts of its cases against crime families, according to court records made public Thursday.

In 16 separate indictments handed up this month, federal grand juries in four districts charged 127 people, including 91 alleged members and associates of seven crime families based in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island with crimes dating to the 1980s.

Among those accused of murder, racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, loansharking and other offenses are members of the five New York families - the Bonannos, the Colombos, the Gambinos, the Lucheses and the Genoveses - the DeCavalcante family of New Jersey and the New England La Cosa Nostra.

Announcing the charges Thursday morning at a news conference in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Attorney General Eric Holder called the effort "an important and encouraging step forward" in battling the Mafia, but added that crime families have recovered from serious blows before.

"Members and associates of La Cosa Nostra are among the most dangerous criminals in our country," Holder said. "The very oath of allegiance sworn by these Mafia members during their initiation ceremony binds them to a life of crime."

The indictments allege the crimes occurred in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island but also, in cases against the Colombo and DeCavalcante families, in South Florida.

One of the alleged Colombo family members targeted by the FBI was Reynold Maragni, 58, who has owned a modest two-bedroom home in Coconut Creek since 1994 and is listed in corporate records as an officer of several Florida companies.

Between 1997 and 2000, Maragni, then a Colombo family associate, ran credit card and bank fraud schemes, managed loansharking and illegal gambling businesses in South Florida; he also bribed state employees to make fake driver licenses for his crew, a federal grand jury charged in an indictment returned in Florida in 2000.

He was convicted in that racketeering case and sentenced in 2001 to two years in a federal penitentiary.

After he got out of prison, Maragni rose through the Colombo family ranks to become a captain, prosecutors said. While in South Florida, he again bribed a public official - though who he paid, and why, wasn't explained - and extorted a North Carolina business figure, according to an indictment filed last week in New York federal court.

In New York, he laundered money, distributed marijuana, shipped contraband cigarettes, extorted members of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union Local 6A, and, along with a fellow mobster known as "Junior Lollipops," profited from an illegal gambling ring, the indictment charged.

Maragni was charged along with the Colombo family's acting underboss, consigliere and acting street boss. The street boss, Andrew "Mush" Russo, is accused of the 1993 murder of a fellow family member.

The case against the Colombo family was based in large part on hundreds of hours of taped conversations, including recordings of leadership meetings, federal authorities said.

Charged in a separate racketeering case out of New York was Jerry Balzano, an alleged soldier in the DeCavalcante crime family, which is widely cited as an inspiration for The Sopranos television series.

From South Florida in September, Balzano conspired to extort a North Carolina business figure, an indictment charged. It didn't indicate whether the accusation was related to the allegation against Maragni.

In New York, Balzano and a codefendant, Joseph Collina, also possessed contraband cigarettes and received stolen tax refund checks, the indictment alleged.

At the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Wednesday, still another reputed mobster, Luigi "Baby Shacks" Manocchio, 83, was arrested on extortion charges. The reputed head of New England's Patriarca crime family, Manocchio and an alleged associate, Thomas Iafrate, are accused of extorting protection money from strip club owners in Providence.

Attorneys for Maragni, Balzano and Manocchio couldn't be reached Thursday night.

Other indictments unsealed Thursday shed light on crimes based primarily in the Northeast, including a 1981 double murder inside the Shamrock Bar in the Woodhaven neighborhood of New York City. In that case, purported members of the Gambino family shot and killed the men over a spilled drink, prosecutors said.

Taken as a whole, the sweeping crackdown on La Cosa Nostra, which means "our thing," is a sign of the FBI's recent success in turning mob figures into informants, said Janice Fedarcyk, head of the bureau's New York office. "The vow of silence that is part of the oath of omerta," she said, "is more myth than reality today."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Related stories from Miami Herald