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Drug Trade: What About the Big Guys?

Maxi-Blitz in Italia e negli USA,” reads one of the many headlines in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica heralding the collaboration between the two nations in capturing and arresting a bunch of drug mobsters. Twenty-six mobsters in all—and all of them, even those who belong to New York mafia families, harbor close business ties to a much feared crime organization based in Calabria.

In Italy the organization is known as ’Ndrangheta, and it’s the kind of immensely wealthy, potent, and fearsome outfit that can on occasion put the mafia to shame, specializing as it does in both kidnapping and the exportation of heroin and cocaine. It certainly isn’t hobbled by a lot of the kind of sentimentality you see in The Godfather. To give you a small idea of what it’s like: last month the ’Ndrangheta kidnapped and murdered an entire Italian family, including a three-year-old and his grandfather. In November, Italian police discovered that some of its members had thrown a bludgeoned rival boss into a pigsty, where he was devoured alive: “Mamma mia, how he squealed,” was how one of their number described the scene, after his arrest.

You could argue, and I suppose it’s fair, that in one way this kind of collaboration between Italian and US law enforcement is heartening: so encouraging to watch on the evening news an alleged mafioso who owns a Brooklyn bakery clapped in cuffs. It’s always interesting, too, to discover the inventiveness deployed by experts in the drug export and import field to try to avoid discovery: in this latest case, by packing heroin shipments in frozen fish and also cans of pineapple.

But here’s the big problem: none of the guys apprehended, either in Italy or New York, is big-time. Yes, Franco Lupoi, the baker who is supposed to be a Gambino family member as well as the son-in-law of an ’Ndrangheta member, was apprehended after he told undercover agents how well frozen fish worked as a container for exporting narcotics (“It takes a day to defrost and then it takes a day to take out,” were his words). And maybe his arrest will lead to the apprehension of someone a lot more important in both organizations.

But maybe not. Famished pigs, cocaine, wads of cash: all of these are useful in procuring the silence of subordinates in courtrooms across the world.

Just look at Wall Street—home, you might say, of the famished pig. 

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