'Trafficking King' clan nabbed around the world
Arrest of 507 associates follow GTA man's deportation in huge international drug bust
Sep 18, 2008 04:30 AM
The image of former Toronto resident Giuseppe Coluccio has been splashed throughout the Italian media over the past 24 hours as American authorities announced one of the largest international drug busts in history.
Coluccio, who lived in the Greater Toronto Area for three years under the alias of "Joe Scarfo," was dubbed the "King of International Drug Trafficking" when American and Italian authorities yesterday announced the arrests of 507 of his alleged associates.
Coluccio, 41, was deported from Canada three weeks ago and is now being held in an Italian prison, awaiting trial on a series of outstanding drug trafficking charges.
The Coluccio investigation was part of a larger operation, which has resulted in mass arrests in Italy, the United States and Mexico.
"He's one of the leaders of the consortium that was the target of this operation," said organized-crime expert Antonio Nicaso, who has lectured police forces on international crime.
"Canada was one of the destinations of the cocaine," Nicaso said.
Authorities say Coluccio's 'Ndrangheta group was linked to an organization in Atlanta, which co-ordinated the transportation of truckloads of hidden drugs and millions of dollars in currency.
"This operation confirms the power of the 'Ndrangheta in international drug trafficking," said Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, in an interview from Atlanta through an interpreter.
The massive operation – dubbed "Project Reckoning" – was announced yesterday in Washington by U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, while authorities said they had seized more than 40 tonnes of illegal drugs.
Project Reckoning centred on the links between Coluccio's 'Ndrangheta and a Mexican drug trafficking cartel known as the Gulf Cartel.
Among those indicted are the three alleged leaders of the Gulf Cartel: Ezequiel Cardenas-Guillen, Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez.
The operation was spurred along in April when Italian authorities managed to photograph Coluccio's alleged associates receiving a packet of cocaine in Calabria to test the drug for purity.
They managed to trace the cocaine back to a pizzeria in New York, whose owners were allegedly connected to Coluccio, Nicaso said.
At the time of his arrest in Markham on Aug. 7, he was considered to be one of Italy's most wanted criminals and a top figure in the notorious 'Ndrangheta.
Toronto police found $1.5 million in his luxury apartment on Palace Pier, overlooking Lake Ontario.
He was a frequent visitor to York Region, where he drove a yellow Ferrari and silver Maserati – using a fake Ontario driver's licence.
American authorities say the Gulf Cartel is responsible for the transportation of massive quantities of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana from Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico into North America.
Nicaso said the operation shows how the Gulf Cartel has managed to push ahead of established Colombian cartels through extreme aggression, and links to Mexican paramilitary organizations.
"By spreading dangerous drugs and resorting to brutal violence, international drug cartels pose an extraordinary threat both here and abroad," Mukasey said.
The arrests yesterday involved investigations in several countries, including Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Italy.