The Project ONIG investigation was initiated by the New York Office of the FBI in 1991 as a covert operation to expose the narcotics activities of Italian Organized Crime (IOC), specifically Sicilian Mafia members and associates, operating in North America. The investigation and initial prosecutions took six years to complete, culminating in a 1997 trial in Reggio Calabria, Italy, wherein FBI agents provided testimony and introduced evidence regarding multi-kilogram quantities of heroin sold in the U.S., with the proceeds of the sale enabling the purchase of large quantities of cocaine for shipment to Italy.
The seizure in Brooklyn, New York, on May 6, 1993, of a package containing three kilograms of cocaine which had been mailed by Project ONIG subjects and was destined for co-conspirators in Siderno, Italy, led to the initiation of a joint investigation with the Italian National Police (INP). The FBI determined that multi-kilogram quantities of heroin were being imported and distributed by IOC subjects.
As developed through investigation and revealed through trial testimony, links between Colombian organizations in New York, Colombian traffickers in Bogota, Colombia, and IOC associates in New York were exposed. The Colombian group supplied the Sicilian Mafia with multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, as evidenced by the shipment of 167 kilograms of cocaine intended for shipment to Rome, Italy, which was seized by Colombian authorities in Bogota in November 1993. In July 1998, the court in Reggio Calabria, Italy, imposed lengthy sentences on more than 40 defendants as a result of Project ONIG.
The most significant aspect of this investigation was in the revealing of the depth of cooperation between IOC groups and other major organized crime groups. In addition to the cooperation with Colombian traffickers in Bogota, several IOC subjects were identified as closely associated with the Caruana-Cuntrera Organization (CCO) of the Sicilian Mafia, primarily based in Caracas, Venezuela. They were also found to be purchasing heroin from a Canadian cell of the Big Circle Boys, an Asian criminal enterprise with cells in several major cities around the world. Additionally, the members or associates of the CCO were also importing heroin into the United States for Kung Lok triad members in New York, who were in turn selling it to criminal groups in Detroit and Washington, DC.
In the United States, this investigation resulted in the convictions of seven Asian Organized Crime members and one associate of the CCO. Salvatore Nicolucci and Emanuele Ragusa, long associated with the CCO, are fugitives of this investigation for whom requests have been made under provisions of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Canada for extradition to the United States.
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