Expert: Mob Takedown Shines Light on Fading, Aging, 'Pathetic' Mafia

Biggest mob sweep in FBI history nabs 125+ suspects, but who are these guys?

January 20, 2011, 9:02 AM

Jan. 21, 2011 — -- When more than 125 suspected mobsters were rounded up in the biggest anti-mob operation ever by the FBI Thursday, a quick glance at both the names of those arrested -- sporting nicknames like "Meatball" and "Junior Lollipops" -- and the ages of the high-value targets -- none younger than 60 -- give the impression that the once almighty La Cosa Nostra has fallen on hard times.

"[The mob] is not monolithic and I think there are a lot of reasons for that," mob expert and author George Anastasia told ABC News. "Part of it is effective prosecution, which this is an example of... But also, the mob is getting old."

According to the FBI, there were six major players arrested in the 127-man round-up including the former boss of the New England La Cosa Nostra, a street boss for the Colombo family, and two consiglieres – suspected right hand men to mob leaders. Of those six, the average age was 72.

Another reason for the mafia's apparent decline is the death of "omerta" -- the code of silence. Snitches like Sammy "The Bull" Gravano helped bring down big mob figures like John Gotti in the past and Janice Fedarcyk, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York Division, said informants were "integral" to Thursday's massive bust.

Fedarcyk said Thursday the cases were "the cumulative result of years of investigative work, including the development of key cooperating witnesses -- a trend that has definitely been tipping in favor of law enforcement."

"Thirty or 40 years ago, organized crime, La Cosa Nostra, was a major player in the underworld. Their impact was greater, they made more money and the public payed a bigger price for what they were doing... As they've gotten hit again and again and again with indictments and prosecutions and as they've turned on one another, their influence has deteriorated and they don't have the same kind of impact they used to have," Anastasia said. "They just don't have the power."

Former FBI agent and ABC News consultant Brad Garrett said the Italian mafia has been losing turf to more vicious gangs and even terrorist organizations -- leaving the mob a shadow of its former self.

"Unfortunately, they seem to be pathetic, because the world they controlled no longer exists," Garrett said.

Anastasia said the other reason the traditional mob is slowly fading into the background is that any intelligent, skilled would-be members are choosing legitimate jobs in medicine and law, rather than aspiring to be "wise guys."

"The guys in the mob today are the guys who can't make it anywhere and they're not as smart as the guys say 40 or 50 years ago," Anastasia said.

But while diminished, Anastasia said the mob is still dangerous, especially the alleged leaders arrested Thursday.

"In terms of a threat, these guys can order things to happen. I don't think these guys are the ones out there firing the guns or shaking people down, but they're a threat in the sense that as long as Cosa Nostra is structured and people within the organization are following the leaders, yea, these guys are a threat in those terms," he said. "Some of these guys, even though they're old, can be really treacherous and thuggish."

More Than 800 Agents Involved in Biggest FBI Takedown Ever

More than 800 federal, state and local agents arrested over 125 suspected mobsters from New York City to Italy in the single largest operation against the mob in the FBI's history, officials said Thursday.

Of the 127 people who were arrested in the northeast U.S. alone, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said 91 are suspected members or associates of La Cosa Nostra families, including 30 "made men" -- who are "among the most dangerous criminals in the country." The FBI also sent agents overseas to assist the Italian police in the arrest of a single suspect there.

The other 36 defendants were charged for "their roles in alleged associated criminal activity," a statement from the Department of Justice said.

Holder, who traveled to New York to make the arrest announcement, said the operation was an "unprecedented collaboration" between four U.S. attorney offices, the FBI and various federal, state and local authorities. The massive take down was pulled off without a single incident, Fedarcyk said.

"This largest single day operation against La Cosa Nostra sends the message that our fight against traditional organized crime isstrong, and our commitment is unwavering," Holder said in a statement.

In the operation, dubbed "Mafia Takedown" by the FBI, six major players were arrested in addition to more colorfully-named smaller fish like Vincenzo "Vinny Carwash" Frogiero, Frank "Meatball" Ballantoni, Anthino "Hootie" Russo, John "Johnny Bandana" Brancaccio and Michael "Jello" Kutenia were also arrested, according to court documents.

CLICK HERE to see a slideshow of the country's most notorious gangsters.

"We have charged mob bosses and mob associates alike," Holder said Thursday. "Today's successful arrests across multiple cities and involving multiple mafia families sends a clear message that in our fight against organized crime, the Justice Department is targeting federal resources and working with our state and local law enforcement partners like never before..."

"We are committed and we are determined to eradicate these criminal enterprises," he said.

Holder: Charges Include 'Classic Mob Hits'

The charges vary from labor racketeering, narcotics trafficking and extortion to murder. Some of the cases reach back 30 years.

"Their alleged crimes include numerous violent and illegal acts," Holder said. "Some allegations involve classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals. Others involve truly senseless murders."

Holder recounted three of the alleged murders -- one during a botched robbery and two others that resulted from a barroom argument over a spilled drink.

For all the progress made Thursday, Holder said law enforcement's decades-old fight against the mob won't be ending soon.

"Today's arrests mark and important and encouraging step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's operations, but the reality is that our battle against organized crime enterprises is far from over," he said. "This is an ongoing effort. It must be and will remain a top priority for all of us in law enforcement."

Anastasia said that he had never seen an FBI operation so widespread, but said the mob will likely never truly vanish -- perhaps for the better as other ethnic gangs would fight to fill the power void.

"They're all players in the underworld. As the traditional mafia declines, these different groups will fill different vacuums," Anastasia said. "It may be worse that way... because what we may have is disorganized organized crime, which is more violent and more disruptive than organized crime."

ABC News' Dan Harris and Bartley Price contributed to this report.