Trafficker who helped globalize the drug trade arrestedA renowned Italian Mafia drug trafficker who helped revolutionize the world's drug trade by applying modern economic principles was arrested in New York City last week after spending time in Canada, where long-time underworld friends and allies remain.
Vincenzo Roccisano, 54, had little trouble travelling around the world in recent months -- throughout Europe, South America and Canada -- despite his notoriety and serious criminal convictions for drug trafficking.
Authorities are now concerned his extensive travels mirror the global routing of his former large-scale smuggling enterprise.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Roccisano was credited with being one of the first to apply the notion of globalization to boost drug trade profits.
Along with colleagues in the 'Ndrangheta, the name of the Mafia that formed in the Italian region of Calabria, he established an innovative "trading post" where South American cocaine, worth four times as much in Europe as it was here, was swapped with associates in Italy for heroin, which was far cheaper in Europe because of its proximity to the opium fields of Asia.
By selling their wares where it attracted the optimum price, the mobsters dramatically increased their profits, despite the added costs of transnational shipping.
With the money, however, came added risk and it was not long before police in Canada, the United States and Italy were working together, tracking drugs and money swirling across four continents.
In 1989, investigators confirmed mobsters from Toronto were in New York arranging large drug transactions and that money was being laundered in Canada.
Investigators then found the drugs. To avoid suspicion, packages of baby clothes, secretly stuffed with cocaine, were mailed to Mr. Roccisano's hometown of Gioiosa Ionica in southern Italy. The packages were addressed to elderly women not suspected of being in the drug trade.
That year, U.S. police raided Mr. Roccisano's New York apartment, which was expensively furnished and trimmed with marble, and found two passports, an airline ticket to Italy and boxes of bullets.
After those New York arrests, warning calls were immediately made to Canada. An informant in Toronto then made a deal with authorities to remain in Canada while his child was treated at the city's Hospital for Sick Children.
The arrests of Mr. Roccisano's colleagues in Toronto in April 1990 proved colourful.
One suspect fled in a car and as he was chased by unmarked police cars he frantically emptied bags of heroin out of the window. Alas, the wind kept blowing the potent powder back into the car and when police found him his face and hair were encrusted in white.
Mr. Roccisano has long been a fighter.
After eight were indicted in the United States in 1989 on three narcotics violations -- including conspiring to import heroin and export cocaine -- all pleaded guilty, except for Mr. Roccisano.
He faced trial alone and was held responsible for 10.6 kilograms of heroin and convicted on all counts.
He then fired his lawyer and hired new counsel to fight his sentencing.
The U.S. government sought a life sentence. Although the judge accepted that Mr. Roccisano was "a supervisor," he declined to accept evidence of additional drug activity that was not presented at his trial and sentenced him to just under 20 years' imprisonment.
Again Mr. Roccisano fired his lawyer and hired yet another one to file an appeal, which was denied. In 1991, he launched a second appeal with a new lawyer, claiming that all three previous lawyers were "constitutionally ineffective."
He claimed his first lawyer failed to call Mr. Roccisano's sister, wife, and father-in-law as witnesses to provide "innocent explanations" for his association with the others, according to court documents. The appeals court dismissed him.
Another appeal in 1995 changed tactics, with Mr. Roccisano next claiming that his previous lawyers should have told him how hopeless his case was and advised him to plead guilty like everyone else. This was found by the court to be "profoundly lacking in merit."
Not giving up, in 2000, he appealed again, this time without a lawyer. He filed an affidavit claiming that had he been told how bad it might go for him, things would have gone differently.
"I would have pled guilty and accepted responsibility," he said in his statement, describing the government's evidence as "overwhelming."
"Had [my lawyer] informed me that there was a strong likelihood that I would be convicted at trial, given the strength of the government's evidence, and informed me that the government offered me a plea bargain of the sort offered my co-defendants, I would have either accepted the offer outright or at least engaged in further plea bargaining, if the government's offer was not fair," he said.
His appeals were finally settled, against him, in 2002.
In 2006, Mr. Roccisano was released and deported back to Italy, where he was arrested at the airport in Rome by Italian police and named as an important member of the 'Ndrangheta, belonging to the Ierino clan of Gioiosa Ionica, on southern Italy's eastern shore.
The clan was notorious in Italy for a series of sensational kidnappings for ransom in the 1980s, the proceeds of which were laundered through a travel agency in Toronto and used to fund their foray into the international drug trade.
Since then, the organization's presence on the world stage of drug trafficking has increased greatly, becoming a major force linking South America, Europe and North America, often using Canada as a staging ground, Italian authorities say.
The Ierino group formed a close relationship with neighbouring clans, notably the Mazzaferro, Coluccio-Aquino, Jerino and Ursino-Macri. Allies and associates have emigrated to Canada over the years -- many legally, others illegally -- forming cells here, according to the Carabinieri, an Italian anti-mob unit.
Their ties remain as strong in North America.
As a whole, the 'Ndrangheta has now become the most powerful crime group in Italy, dominating the drug trade in Europe, authorities say.
The latest trouble for Mr. Roccisano came on Tuesday evening on Long Island, N.Y., when he was arrested by members of a U.S. federal anti-drug task force as he left a restaurant after a meal.
At a brief court appearance the next day, authorities hinted that investigators feared he was rebuilding his global network through his "extensive" travels.
Although apparently being watched by drug investgators, he stands accused only of entering the United States illegally.
After his recent arrival in the United States he was staying with his wife in Queens, according to an affidavit by an investigator, as reported by Newsday, a Long Island newspaper.
Neither Mr. Roccisano's lawyer nor prosecutors could be reached for comment.
Mar. 01, 2010
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