By Gina Cherelus
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York pizzeria owner was sentenced on Tuesday to 18 years in prison for trafficking more than 50 kg (110 lb) of cocaine into the United States from Costa Rica, in a case born out of a probe into an Italian organized crime group.
Gregorio Gigliotti, 61, and his son Angelo were convicted by a federal jury in Brooklyn in July of crimes including conspiracy to import cocaine. The elder Gigliotti was also found guilty of two firearms offenses.
The pair were arrested in March 2015, two months before U.S. and Italian authorities said they arrested 13 people on related charges for taking part in a drug trafficking ring in Italy’s southern Calabria region.
Calabria is home to ‘Ndrangheta, Italy’s richest and most powerful criminal organization, which U.S. authorities say has conducted drug smuggling and trafficking in New York with members in Calabria and Toronto, Canada.
Federal prosecutors said Gigliotti and his son used their family-run Italian restaurant Cucino Amodo Mio in Corona, Queens, as well as a produce importation company, Fresh Farm Export Corp, to provide cover for drug trafficking for ‘Ndrangheta.
Gigliotti’s son is awaiting sentencing and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison. Gigliotti’s wife Eleonora, who has admitted conspiring to import cocaine, faces a minimum of five years behind bars, prosecutors said.
A lawyer for the elder Gigliotti did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Joe McMahon, an attorney for Gigliotti’s son, said he was working with U.S. authorities to try to reduce his client’s mandatory minimum sentence.
Between October and December of 2014, police seized approximately 55 kg (121 lbs) of cocaine that had been hidden in cardboard boxes containing cassava and sent to the family by co-conspirators in Costa Rica.
Some of the drugs imported to the United States were destined to be exported for distribution in Italy, according to prosecutors.
When Gigliotti and his son were arrested, police who searched their restaurant seized items including seven firearms, ammunition, brass knuckles, and a handwritten ledger listing transactions of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; editing by Daniel Wallis and Cynthia Osterman)