Friday, March 14, 2008

The Balkan Connection, Part 2

In Part 1 we looked at some of the earliest information, from the mid-1980's, addressing the rise of Albanian organized crime in the United States, including how ethnic Albanian groups were getting involved in the heroin trade.

Next, we continue with excerpts from Gaetano Badalamenti and the Pizza Connection, by Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus, July 2004 (I made slight changes to the formatting):

"Boston, May 2, 2004. Gaetano Badalamenti, once described by federal authorities as the 'boss of bosses' of the Sicilian mafia and ring leader of a billion-dollar drug smuggling operation, has died, a Justice Department spokesman said Friday. He was eighty. Mr. Badalamenti was sentenced in 1987 to 45 years in federal prison for being one of the ring leaders of the so-called Pizza Connection, a $1.65 billion heroin and cocaine operation that used pizzerias as fronts to distribute the drugs from 1975 to 1984. The trial of Mr. Badalamenti and nearly two dozen conspirators took seventeen months." (The Associated Press)

"Manhattan U.S. Courthouse. October 24, 1985. The government calls it the biggest drug and mafia case ever to come to trial in the United States. The press calls it the Pizza Connection. A small amount of cash was discovered at the Palermo international airport in a suitcase shipped from New York City. The cash was wrapped in pizzeria aprons. The defendants, all Sicilian-born men and nearly all in the food business, are charged with being part of a RICO conspiracy by importing heroin from the Middle East and cocaine from South America and then laundering profits through Swiss bank accounts. The key defendant is Gaetano Badalamenti, sixty-two. He has vigorously denied dealing drugs. He said, 'Drugs are bad for business. The money was never worth the risk. Only greedy pigs touched drugs. Not men of honor.'" (S.Alexander, 1988)

Gaetano "Don Tanino" Badalamenti was born in 1923 in the village of Cinisi, Sicily.


Don Tanino was wanted in Italy for murder and the American authorities sought him because he was considered a drug lord, a kingpin in the flourishing international narcotics market. The FBI discovered through phone taps that Gaetano was to meet a nephew in Madrid, Spain. After seven years in hiding in South America, Don Tanino was about to break cover. He was taken into custody without incident on a Madrid street. Coordinated raids in this country rounded up thirty-two more alleged conspirators in what would be called the Pizza Connection.

"The nephews of Gaetano Badalamenti operated pizzerias—and distributed heroin—out of small mid-western towns. The Sicilians dominated the heroin trade, while the American mobsters received a cut for allowing the Sicilians to operate in their territory. Manufacturers of cheese, olive oil and tomatoes could also be useful export vehicles for smuggling drugs into the United States. Joe Pistone, an FBI agent who infiltrated the Bonanno family, quoted one Bonanno member: 'The zips are Sicilians brought into this country to distribute heroin. They set up pizza parlors, where they received and distributed heroin, laundered money. The zips were clannish and secretive…the meanest killers in the business.'" (A. Stille, 1995)

Thousands of Sicilian Mafiosi slipped into the country vitually unnoticed. Most who entered illegally were fugitives from Italy on charges ranging from murder to narcotics trafficking. Italoamerican congressmen successfully sponsored a few. During the sixties and seventies these men set up a heroin net. The authorities at first believed that the zips constituted simply the Sicilian faction of the Bonanno family and assumed a purely American operation. They were mistaken—the zips were under no one, a force unto themselves. "If you are made in Sicily, your allegiance is to Palermo." The American mafia stood by and profited from the drug trade by allowing it to occur under their noses, but the Sicilians were the ones who put the pieces together to develop and then control the international drug conspiracy.

The long and unbelievably complex trail in New York turned into a circus. During the trial, two defendants were killed and one shot. At the end, all the others, but one, went to prison.

March 2, 1987:

"We the jury have reached a verdict."

"How do you find the defendant, Gaetano Badalamenti?"

"Guilty," the foreman replied.

Notice the dates of the information in this article and of that from Part 1. A Sicilian organized crime group was being taken apart, specifically for heroin trafficking via pizzerias as fronts, at about the same time that Albanian organized crime groups were getting noticed by authorities.

The FBI mentions this "Pizza Connection" in its Italian Organized Crime—Overview:

Since their appearance in the 1800s, the Italian criminal societies known as the Mafia have infiltrated the social and economic fabric of Italy and now impact the world. They are some of the most notorious and widespread of all criminal societies.

There are several groups currently active in the U.S.: the Sicilian Mafia; the Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia; the 'Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia; and the Sacra Corona Unita or United Sacred Crown.


Their criminal activities are international with members and affiliates in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe. They are also known to collaborate with other international organized crime groups from all over the world, especially in drug trafficking.

The major threats to American society posed by these groups are drug trafficking and money laundering. They have been involved in heroin trafficking for decades. Two major investigations that targeted Italian organized crime drug trafficking in the 1980s are known as the "French Connection" and the "Pizza Connection."

These groups don't limit themselves to drug running, though. They're also involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings, and weapons trafficking. Industry experts in Italy estimate that their worldwide criminal activity is worth more than $100 billion annually.

Organized crime is, to a certain extent, organized crime, and it doesn't really matter what ethnic background the criminals are from, the criminal activities are generally the same. Compare this list of Italian organized crime activities to the list of activities of Albanian organized crime groups at the end of Part 1.

In particular, notice the FBI's reference to the "Pizza Connection" in the above passage.

Now, we have an excerpt from a 1996 paper entitled MEN OF PURPOSE: THE GROWTH OF ALBANIAN CRIMINAL ACTIVITY by GUS XHUDO (also available here) (I have fixed some typo and punctuation errors):


Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, a variety of groups and factions has used the conflict in the region as a means to benefit from illicit activity. Their criminal operations have only recently been discovered by law enforcement authorities and identified as a possible threat. Since late 1989 to 1990, the demise of communism in the region, coupled with the disintegration of Yugoslavia into its constituent parts has been accompanied by the rise of criminal activity in the Balkans. Of all the region's criminal elements, however, none has done as well as the Albanians. Once scattered and disorganised, and working for others, the Albanians have, in the past five to ten years, moved into independent operations, established a vast network of mules and trouble-shooters throughout Western Europe, coordinated activity with supportive emigre communities, and managed to consolidate their operations on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, they appear to be growing and expanding their operations at an alarming rate. Authorities both in Europe and the United States are at a loss as to the nature and extent of these groups and have succeeded in making only minor arrests. Highly secretive and ruthless, the Albanians, in some respects, mirror the Sicilian Mafia of years past, with its highly intricate code of honour based upon a patriarchal system of respect.1 According to law enforcement authorities, their activities to date includes drugs and refugee smuggling, arms trafficking, contract killing, kidnapping, false visa forgery, and burglary.2

"Authorities both in Europe and the United States are at a loss as to the nature and extent of these groups and have succeeded in making only minor arrests."


The evidence suggests four main factors which explain why Albanian Criminal Organizations have managed to rise so quickly and with such success. First, following extensive undercover operations against the Italian Mafia in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigations [FBI], by the end of 1986 had managed to uncover the Pizza Connection. Involving the Sicilian Mafia's underground delivery system for heroin trafficking, the case suggested collusion by some of America's most reputed crime families, including the Gambinos, as well as Paul Castellano, and the Piancone brothers of Carato Bari, Sicily.3 While the case did little in terms of halting the Mafia's overall heroin business, it did disrupt a portion of their drug trade, especially in the Tri-State [New York, New Jersey, Connecticut] area. More importantly, the disruption and breakdown of the Mafia's activities in the area, provided the opportunity for other 'ethnic based crime groups' to move in and pick up the slack.4 This is where the Albanians saw their chance to break out of the low level criminal activities they had been involved in and operate independently. Up to that point, their activities had not been organised and were dominated by small scale robberies, isolated and concentrated, primarily in New York's five boroughs. Those few Albanians who were involved with organised criminal groups often found themselves working for the Italians, either as mules, couriers, or even assassins. This was especially true of Albanians employed by the Gambino, Lucchese and Genovese crime families. These families were quick to find recruits among the Albanian youth, particularly those located in the urban areas along the north-east coast of the United States. In cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, Albanians were often concentrated in areas adjoining predominant Italian neighbourhoods. As one Albanian described it: "The Italians, especially the 'old world Italians', are a lot like us. They have similar views about family, honour, respect. They pay well and reward loyalty. It wasn't difficult to find a lot of Albanians who wanted to work for them."5 A not too well known consequence of the Pizza Connection Case, however, was that following the investigation and break-up of the pizzerias in New York many of them were sold to ethnic Albanians who continue to run them as pizzerias. Others have been converted to social clubs and cafes where organised elements meet to discuss operations. This is especially true in the Fordham section of the Bronx in New York (as it is in the Kosovor Albanian cafes in Brussels and Paris).

"More importantly, the disruption and breakdown of the Mafia's activities in the area, provided the opportunity for other 'ethnic based crime groups' to move in and pick up the slack.4 This is where the Albanians saw their chance to break out of the low level criminal activities they had been involved in and operate independently. [snip] A not too well known consequence of the Pizza Connection Case, however, was that following the investigation and break-up of the pizzerias in New York many of them were sold to ethnic Albanians who continue to run them as pizzerias."

The result is addressed in this passage found in forum post entitled BUYING AN INTERVENTION; KOSOVO AND ALBANIAN PAC MONEY IN CONGRESS:

[Joseph] DioGuardi, an Albanian American whose ancestors came from an Albanian transplant community in the heel of Italy, sat in Congress for several years in the mid-1980s as a Conservative Republican from New York's Westchester County, but creating a Greater Albania was his agenda as a map on his website shows ( His Political Action Committee (PAC) activities are easy to follow from 1988 on. What makes the PAC and individual contributions to campaigns more interesting is the demonstrated connection between the Kosovo Heroin Mafia, its "pizza connection" distribution ("inherited" from the Gambino crime family) and money-laundering networks, and the number of pizzeria owner-contributors listed in DioGuardi's filings.

The Croats and Albanians came up with big pots of laundered money, then spread it around selectively, with American politicians helping to persuade other members in Congress.

Mr. DioGuardi's organization is the Albanian American Civic League, of which he is president. The AACL's Balkan Affairs Adviser is Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, who is also the treasurer of the ALBANIAN AMERICAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE.

Organized crime is nothing if not opportunistic. The channeling of proceeds from illegal activities into the political realm helped build support in Washington for American foreign policy activities that would create further opportunities for Albanian organized crime.

The result is that Albanian organized crime groups back in the Balkans now control a narco-state, Kosovo; they control a great deal of the movement of heroin through the Balkans, as well as the forced prostitution in Kosovo -- where the international peacekeeping forces provide a semi-captive clientele for the captive sex slaves. Albanian organized crime in the Balkans also has big pieces of other kinds of action.

Along with other information, I will soon be posting the names of politicians who have been receiving Mr. DioGuardi's AAPAC money. For now, if you want a peek ahead, you can go to the Federal Election Commission website and, in addition to information on Committee ID: C00278689 -- ALBANIAN AMERICAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE, you can see information on AAPAC's activities for the 2007-2008 Cycle.

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