Update On New Connection Gambino-Inzerillo Probe

New York wiseguy Thomas Gambino, 47, Sicilian mobster Tomasso Inzerillo, 72, and three other men, all wearing bathing suits, converged on a dinghy in the bay of Palermo, Sicily last summer.

Frank Cali, left.

They met to discuss the divvying up of profits from the sale of some Caribbean property formerly owned by then-New York-based Gambino underboss Francesco (Franky Boy) Cali, who wouldn't be alive to experience another summer; he was shot and killed in March on Staten Island in an unrelated shooting (that nearly derailed the probe).

Of course that dinghy was bugged by Italian investigators working with the FBI.

Italian police have since said that the last summer meeting in Palermo of those five gangsters (the Daily Beast reported the dinghy details) was the first solid lead regarding the criminal connection between the American and Sicilian groups.

The discovery kicked the investigation into high gear, with central command for the Italian and US joint operation scrambling officers to the Dominican Republic while also intensifying surveillance efforts in New York and Sicily.

“New Connection” was born.

The probe resulted in last week’s arrests of 19 mobsters, all in Sicily by the Palermo mobile squad, the Central Operative Service of the State Police, and the New York office of the FBI. Thomas Gambino also was arrested in Sicily then; he would've been arrested at his Staten Island home, had he been on Staten Island. Instead he was in Sicily enjoying what turned into an abruptly abbreviated “family vacation.”

Law enforcement also conducted search and seizure raids in Palermo, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey, which is where the FBI came in. (Thomas Gambino’s home actually was raided the Tuesday night before.)

The results of the searches haven’t been released yet.

The police used WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service, to launch the raids.

As Italian law enforcement said last week during  a press conference: “A WhatsApp message is sent to the joint squad. It’s the sign the Italian police and their FBI colleagues have been waiting for because from Sicily to the U.S., the old Mafia has returned.”

The "sign" that Italian police and the FBI "have been waiting for" -- does that imply that the sender of the message was someone outside the squad?

The Inzerillo and Gambino families had been strengthening their reach into wholesale food companies, casinos, and online betting, which supplemented their extortion, loan sharking, and money laundering efforts.

More than a dozen businesses, from casinos to car dealerships in Sicily and New York state were seized as part of the “New Connection” joint operation.

During the 1980s Sicilian mafia war, investigators say, the Inzerillos in part focused on funding their return to power in Sicily one day—all the while allegedly working with the Gambinos.

Key players of the Gambino and Inzerillo families returned to Palermo starting in 2000 with the intention of commencing operations in the neighborhoods of Passo di Rigano, Boccadifalco, and Torretta, maintaining strong ties with the Gambinos. Specific focuses included extortion, plus efforts in wholesale food supplies, online gaming, and betting management.

The execution of Frank Cali in March created intense anxiety on both sides of the law, in both countries. (Cali and Thomas Gambino were the “subjects of extreme criminal significance, " as Italian prosecutors said last week.)

“It could have gone either way, they could have severed ties or made them stronger in his memory,” an anti-Mafia police source said.

Law enforcement was concerned that the shooting had been a Sicilian message warning the Americans to stay away.

Ironically, there apparently was a general sigh of relief among both gangsters and lawmen when it was learned that Cali had been gunned down by Anthony Comello, a Donald Trump-supporter who just wanted to date his niece. And now,  his lawyers, in a recent filing, claim Comello had a "delusional obsession" with a right-wing conspiracy group and that he grew to believe that Cali held “significant status in a worldwide criminal cabal bent on the destruction of American values and the American way of life."