The reputed underboss of New York's Gambino crime family was arrested today in Brooklyn.
Francesco Palmeri is wanted in Italy for extortion. About 30 FBI agents and Italian authorities raided his apartment and arrested him as part of a larger crackdown on the mafia in Milan, Matera and New York, Italian police said.
Palmeri was among eight people arrested, including five in Italy and three in the United States, and charged in a blackmail conspiracy. Italian police said the group tried to extort the owner of a climate control systems company in Basilicata in southern Italy out of more than $1 million.
Another man, John Grillo, described by authorities as a "key figure" in the case, was arrested at the airport in Milan just before he boarded a flight to New York on a one-way ticket.
Palmeri is known as Ciccio l’americano, the chubby American.
Italy has formally requested extradition for Palmeri who court records said is wanted in Potenza, Italy, for the crimes of “formal complicity, extortion and robbery.”
Italian prosecutors said Palmeri participated in the attempted extortion of Italian entrepreneur Lorenzo Marsilio, the managing director of Sudelettra S.r.l., a major electric company in Italy.
According to court records, in July 2013 the Gambino family sent Palmeri to Italy where he allegedly told Marsilio’s secretary he has “a message from America…he is going to understand.”
Palmeri, who was born in Sicily and became a naturalized U.S. citizen this past May, is expected in Manhattan federal court on Dec. 22 for a bail hearing.
Italian police linked today’s arrests to an investigation that began over a year ago as a follow up to an operation known as "New Bridge." That case closed last February with the arrest of 26 purported mobsters who operated a drug trafficking route between Calabria, Italy, and the United States.
Italian police says the investigation proves once again the existence of a consolidated criminal axis between US and Italian Calabrian and Sicilian crime groups.
The Gambino crime family is the best known of the five New York mob families. It gained much of its notoriety during the reign of John Gotti, known as the Dapper Don and the Tefon Don for his flamboyant lifestyle and his repeated ability to avoid convictions in court. Gotti was eventually convicted of murder and racketeering and died in prison of throat cancer in 2002.