U.S. police, acting at the request of an Italian court, arrested a New York City man authorities identifed as a member of the Gambino mob family for extortion, Italian officials said on Thursday.
A court in the southern Italian city of Potenza ordered the arrest of Francesco Palmeri, 61, and seven others for trying to extort $1.23 million from an Italian businessman, according to the arrest warrant.
Sicilian-born Palmeri is considered a leading member of one of New York's most powerful mob families, the Gambinos, the arrest warrant says, citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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The rare case of attempted international extortion emerged during a separate investigation into a trans-Atlantic drug smuggling and money laundering ring that involved members of the 'Ndrangheta and the Gambinos.
Palmeri made two separate trips to Italy in 2013 to put pressure on the owner of a southern Italian company that plans and installs electrical systems for oil platforms. The business owner also received a series of letters from "friends in Brooklyn" asking him for money, according to the warrant.
The Italian businessman was strong-armed about a loan he was given in the 1980s, the warrant says, which police said likely came from international drug traffickers connected to deceased New York mobster Cesare Bonventre, who was born in the same Sicilian town as Palmeri, Castellamare del Golfo.
Bonventre, known as "The Tall Guy", was a high-ranking member of another New York crime family, the Bonannos, before being murdered during an internal power struggle in 1984.
The maximum sentence for criminal conspiracy to commit international extortion aggravated by mafia membership is about 20 years, investigators said