Coordinated Raids in France, Italy, New York Precede: SAN JOSE, Calif.
PARIS (AP) _ Police have arrested at least 18 people in coordinated raids in France, Italy and the United States, smashing a major network supplying heroin to the east coast of America, a source close to the two-year probe said Wednesday.
The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency office in San Jose, Calif. said many of those arrested were senior citizens.
The French source, who demanded anonymity, said the arrests Monday and Tuesday ″will have a major impact on the market. They controlled the price on the East Coast by the amount they moved there.″
He said the ring had been able ″to send 20 to 50 kilos (44 to 110 pounds) of Southwest Asian heroin to the East Coast every three months,″ and that it was distributed from New York to Miami.
The arrests resulted from cooperation among U.S., French, Italian and Spanish narcotics agents, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. More arrests were expected, particularly in the United States, the source said.
Some clandestine meetings of the ring, dubbed the ″French-Sicilian Connection,″ were in Spain, and couriers moved through Canada with drugs and money, the source said.
Those arrested were all of Italian or Sicilian descent, but most were nationals of the country in which they were arrested, he said.
Police arrested six people Monday and Tuesday in Marseille, traditional heart of the French drug business; two in Paris; four in Italy, mostly in Sicily; four in New York and two in San Jose.
All are ″linked with organized crime in Italy and the United States. They finance, organize and export the drugs, and import the proceeds to Europe,″ he said.
No drugs or major sums of money were found during the arrests, but investigators ″expect to locate banks and other financial institutions used to ‘wash’ the money,″ the source said. He added that chemicals used to process morphine base into heroin were seized.
Among those arrested in Marseille was Mario Piazza, 50, a restaurant owner and an associate of the city’s late crime boss, Paul Mondolini, who was shot dead by unknown assailants in the city last year, the source said.
Also arrested in Marseille were Rudolfo Dipisa, Joseph Amsellem, Michel Kasparian, Mariano Piazza and Henri Giralt.
The two ″arrested″ in Paris was Bernard Benhamou, already serving a jail term for carrying 4.8 pounds of heroin into France from Pakistan last October, and a man identified as Albert Aquizerat, the source said.
The names of those arrested in Italy and the United States were not known in Paris.
The source confirmed that the 22 pounds of heroin seized in Miami last September, had been shipped by this network.
″We felt we could pick it up without jeopardizing the investigation, and trigger off some reactions that would help us,″ the source said.
In San Jose, the head of the DEA office said the ring involved some of the same people involved in the ″French Connection″ investigation of the 1960s, and dealt with all levels of the heroin trade from raw opium to processing labs to smuggling.
Agent Larry Lusardi said the trade was ″obviously in the millions of dollars.″
Acting on a federal complaint issued in New York, the DEA arrested an elderly San Jose couple, Rose and George Adragna, Lusardi said.
He said many of those involved were senior citizens.
The Adragnas were arrested Tuesday, charged with conspiracy to smuggle heroin into the country, released on a $100,000 bond and ordered to appear in court Jan. 30, Lusardi said. He said their arrest resulted from court-ordered wiretaps on their home.
″Many of these people in this organization are well known to French, American and Italian authorities as major heroin violators,″ said Lusardi.
″Basically, the Adragnas’ involvement was putting the European people they knew either as friends or relatives (in touch with) people in New York they were friends with,″ he said. ″I think probably all of the people arrested were very high in the organization.″