In an unprecedented assault against seven mob families in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the F.B.I. and local authorities began arresting close to 130 people on Thursday on charges including murder, racketeering and extortion, people briefed on the arrests said.
The sweep began before dawn, and the targets ranged from reputed small-time book makers and crime-family functionaries to six reputed senior mob figures from three crime families, including the entire current leadership of the Colombo crime family, according to several people briefed on the arrests. Among those charged, some of the people said, were roughly 30 made members of New York’s five crime families and the families in New Jersey and New England, along with scores of mob associates and several union officials.
The arrests, including one expected in Italy, were based on 16 unrelated indictments handed up in federal courts in four jurisdictions, several of the people said. Taken together, they amounted to the largest such sweep of organized crime figures conducted in recent history by federal authorities.
“Early this morning, F.B.I. agents along with our law enforcement partners began arresting over 100 organized crime members for various criminal charges,” Diego Rodriguez, the special agent in charge of the criminal division in the F.B.I.’s New York office, said in a brief statement.
Several men — all described as made crime family members — were charged in five murders, including a 1981 double homicide over a spilled drink in the Shamrock Bar in Queens, and the killing of a man and his dog during a home invasion robbery, one of the people said. Others were charged with selections from a full menu of mob crimes: racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking, arson, drug trafficking, money laundering and gambling, as well as labor-racketeering crimes in two sectors that officials say remain under the mob’s sway: the construction industry and the waterfront. Some of the crimes were alleged to occur over decades.
The arrests were expected to be announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at a news conference Thursday morning in Brooklyn, where the charges against roughly two-thirds of the defendants were lodged, the people briefed on the arrests said.
By taking out the leadership of the Colombos and charging large numbers of reputed crime figures from the other families, the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors hoped the case would have a significant impact on organized crime. But one official noted that senior prosecutors and F.B.I. officials have declared victory or sought to write the mob’s epitaph many times in the past. Yet many tenacious and formidable organized crime families have endured, albeit weaker and with less influence, using violence and the threat of violence to amass wealth and influence.
Those who talked about the case did so on the condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made and because some court papers remained sealed. Most of the arrests were completed by 8 a.m. — a mammoth undertaking involving the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies, along with the United States attorneys’ offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Newark and Providence, R.I.
The cases were also investigated by the New York Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States. Labor Department’s Office of Labor Racketeering, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the Secret Service, the United States Marshals Service and several other agencies.
Mr. Holder’s decision to come to Brooklyn to announce the arrests would seem to underscore the importance of the case to the Justice Department.
A dozen of the indictments naming more than 80 defendants were handed up in Brooklyn, one of the people said. They charged members of all five of New York’s crime families — Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, Luchese and Bonanno — along with members of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family.
One racketeering indictment focused on the Colombos, charging the family’s street boss, acting underboss and consigliere, along with four captains and eight soldiers, with crimes spanning two decades, the person said. The accusations cover all the members of the family’s leadership who are not currently incarcerated, the person said, and include the 1993 murder of underboss Joseph Scopo; the family’s control of Local 6A of the Cement and Concrete Workers Union; and defrauding the city in connection with an annual feast, Figi di Santa Rosalia, along 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst.
Two other racketeering indictments in Brooklyn name 13 members and associates of the Gambino family, including a senior crime family figure who is accused in a 1981 double murder in a Queens bar, and charges a conspiracy to extort a number of construction companies, the person said.
An indictment handed up in Newark charges 14 people with racketeering and extortion of Local 1235 of the International Longshoremen’s Association and other dockworkers locals, including several current and former union officials who are said to be affiliated with the Genovese family, according to the person. The indictment alleges a conspiracy over the course of many years to extort union members around Christmas, when they receive an annual bonus based on the number of cargo containers that move through the port, the person said.
The one indictment in Rhode Island charges two people, one of them an 83-year-old man who has been an enduring figure in the New England mob that was named for its former leader, Raymond L. S. Patriarca Sr., several people said. That case centered on a mob staple, the extortion of strip clubs, the people said.
The head of the New York F.B.I. office, Janice K. Fedarcyk, along with the United States attorneys from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark and Rhode Island — Loretta E. Lynch, Preet Bharara, Paul J. Fishman and Peter F. Neronha, respectively — were also expected to attend the news conference, along with officials from other agencies, including Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner of New York, and Daniel R. Petrole, the acting inspector general of the federal Labor Department.
The arrests came at a time when several federal, state and local law enforcement officials have expressed some concern about a possible resurgence of the influence of organized crime in some quarters after two decades of decline.
An impressive string of victories over the mob began in 1991 with the defection of the Luchese family’s acting boss, Alphonse D’Arco, who proved to be a devastating witness. Later that year, Salvatore Gravano, the Gambino family underboss, defected, and his testimony secured the conviction of John J. Gotti.
With the cooperation of those two men, a trickle of significant defections grew into a torrent, weakening the culture of omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, and to some degree, the foundation of organized crime itself.
The subsequent loosening of the mob’s grip on several industries and unions led to regular proclamations about the mob’s deterioration and some refocusing of law enforcement resources. Those resources directed at organized crime were further reduced after the 9/11 attacks.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn and the F.B.I. nonetheless waged a campaign over the last decade that decimated the Bonanno crime family . But the relative health of crime families tends to run in cycles, with some ascendant and some on the decline.
The more-powerful Genovese family, for example, which has found its strength in labor racketeering and construction and some more-sophisticated schemes, remains powerful, as do the Gambino and Luchese families, law enforcement officials have said.
And in recent years, after the period of some declining focus, officials and union monitors say the mob remains stubbornly entrenched in a number of major construction unions — including locals representing carpenters, concrete workers and operating engineers — as well as on the waterfront.