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How a GPS tracking device led the FBI to arrest 11 mobsters

Stephanie Pagones

Twenty people — including nearly a dozen mobsters from the Colombo crime family — were busted by the federal authorities Thursday morning following a years-long investigation that began when an alleged mob captain's GPS tracker ended up on a New York City bus, officials said.

The 11 La Cosa Nostra associates and eight others were nabbed following an investigation that began in November 2016, after a city worker found the tracking device on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus, according to a Thursday press release from the Eastern District of New York.

Authorities soon linked the device to alleged mob captain Joseph Amato, who was using it to keep tabs on his girlfriend at the time – and had bragged to her about how he would be able to keep a watchful eye.

“This is my island. Not yours. I have eyes all over,” he boasted in an email to the woman, who had found the tracker on her own vehicle and allegedly attached it to the bus.

In a separate email to the girlfriend, he talked about how he “thrived” in jail, records show.

After authorities were notified of the device, agents began tapping into the cell phone conversations of Amato, his son, Joseph Amato Jr., and fellow Colombo family members or associates Daniel Capaldo, Thomas Scorcia, Anthony Silvestro and Vincent Scura, among others, the release states.

The investigation was conducted by the New York City Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in conjunction with the Eastern District of New York. On Thursday, the defendants were hit with charges of racketeering, extortion, loansharking, stalking, attempted sports bribery and similar offenses.

“As alleged, they are still up to their old extortion and bribery schemes, and terrorizing their victims, but they are also still getting caught,” said William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York Office.

Court papers detail the mobsters’ repeated attempts to extort people who owed them money, or even loansharking rivals. They went out of their way to avoid getting caught by law enforcement, and often spoke in code or referred to certain people using nicknames, such as “the plumber,” which referenced Scorcia, court papers show.

But some attempts were more successful than others.

“Indeed, on one occasion after Amato Jr. described a threat to hurt someone, Amato presciently said, ‘Let me call you back, please, because I might as well go turn myself in, alright?,’ ” according to a transcript of the call provided in court papers.

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The suspects allegedly used threats or actual violence to build their own reputation or “earn illegal proceeds.”

In December 2018, Amato enlisted his son to threaten Staten Island bar workers after one of the elder’s girlfriends allegedly got wind that he had been cheating on her.

“We, yo we abused him so bad,” Amato Jr. said in describing the incident during a cell phone call, according to court papers. “Made a grown man cry.”

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The papers also describe how a man named Benjamin Bifalco, who was previously charged, had outlined plans to thousands to players on an NCAA basketball team to get them to intentionally lose the game, and unsuccessfully tried to get Amato Jr. to place a bet on the other team. But Amato Jr. ended up deciding against it.

While searching the homes of Scorcia and Amato, authorities also recovered two stun guns, two firearms, thousands in cash and what appeared to be tear gas.

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