Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn busted approximately a dozen members of the Colombo crime family, including the entire leadership of the mob clan, over racketeering and extortion charges on Tuesday.
The arrests included Andrew “Mush” Russo, the octogenarian boss of the family, and Benjamin “Benji” Castellazzo, the underboss. Others arrested include the family’s consigliere, captains, a soldier and associates.
The Colombo crime family is the youngest of what was once the “Five Families” that dominated organized criminal activities across New York City and within La Cosa Nostra, or the American Mafia’s nationwide criminal organization. Additional arrests in the bust included an alleged soldier of the Bonanno crime family, also part of the “Five Families”, who was charged with loansharking, fraud and drug trafficking offenses.
The charges relate to various schemes in a 20-year effort by the family to “infiltrate and take control of a Queens-based labor union … and its affiliated health care benefit program…that provides medical benefits … to the members of the Labor Union, and to a conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with workplace safety certification,” the US attorney office of the eastern district of New York said in a press release on Tuesday.
The crime family has been accused of making direct threats of bodily harm to control the labor union. According to the press release, since 2001, Colombo “captain” Vincent Ricciardo and his cousin, Domenick Ricciardo, have extorted a portion of the salary of a senior official in the labor union by threatening to harm him and his family.
“I’ll put him in the ground right now in front of his wife and kids, right in front of his f—-g house, you laugh all you want pal, I’m not afraid to go to jail, let me tell you something, to prove a point,” said Vincent Ricciardo in a consensually recorded conversation on 21 June 2021. “I would f—-g shoot him right in front of his wife and kids, call the police, f–k it, let me go, how long you think I’m gonna last anyway?”, he added.
The Colombo crime family has also been accused of devising schemes to launder money from the health fund’s contracts and payments through third parties.
Arraignments for the defendants are expected to begin at the Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday afternoon. If convicted, the defendants each face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
“This Office and its law enforcement partners are committed to dismantling organized crime families, eliminating their corrupt influence in our communities and protecting the independence of labor unions,” said acting US attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis.
“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself. The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well. These soldiers, consiglieres, under bosses, and bosses are obviously not students of history” said FBI assistant director-in-charge Michael Driscoll.
“Regardless of how many times they fill the void we create in their ranks, our FBI Organized Crime Task Force, and our law enforcement partners are positioned to take them out again and again,” he added.
Several of the defendants’ lawyers declined to provide comments to the Guardian. Nevertheless, an attorney for Benjamin Castellazzo, the family’s underboss, told the Guardian that he will be pleading not guilty.