NEW YORK -- Federal authorities have charged 32 people, including a dozen alleged mobsters and associates, with using threats of violence and shakedowns to control garbage pickup routes in New York City's suburbs.
FBI agents arrested 30 of the defendants on Wednesday on racketeering conspiracy, extortion and other counts during morning raids around the city and its northern suburbs, as well as in New Jersey. Two more were expected to surrender later in the day.
An indictment identifies 12 of the defendants as either official members or associates of the Genovese, Gambino and Luchese organized crime families. The crime families have a long tradition of infiltrating and extorting trash collection companies at a cost partly borne by paying customers.
"In addition to the violence that often accompanies their schemes, the economic impact amounts to a mob tax on goods and services," George C. Venizelos, head of New York's FBI office, said in a statement.
Court papers allege the extortion ring controlled several trash hauling companies in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties in New York, and in Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey. The men extorted protection money from the companies and told them which routes they could use, the papers say.
If any of the controlled companies broke the rules or an outside company sought to compete by offering lower prices or better service, those companies would "face threats of, and actual force or fear of economic reprisal," the papers say.
Two defendants, angered that they weren't getting their illicit cut of hauling fees quickly enough, stole a garbage truck and kept it until they were paid, the papers say. In another instance, the ring swiped garbage containers from a competitor in New York and repainted them for use by a mob-controlled hauler in New Jersey, they add.
The investigation also resulted in separate conspiracy charges accusing three defendants of buying hundreds of thousands of contraband cigarettes from a government cooperator in Lyndhurst, N.J., in 2010. Two were charged also with transporting stolen goods - a hot dog cart ripped off in Orangeburg, N.Y., the same year.
At a hearing on Wednesday afternoon, the defendants crowded into a Manhattan courtroom, where it appeared that most would be released on bails set at $1 million and lower.
Some of the men face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of racketeering conspiracy.