Operation Money Fish
Operation Money Fish
Florida Mafia Crew Dismantled
Members of the New York-based Bonanno crime family were making millions of dollars in South Florida cashing counterfeit checks, running telemarketing scams, defrauding Medicare, and stealing and selling people’s identities. But when they hooked up with a shady businessman to help them launder all that money, they got more than they bargained for.
The businessman with supposed connections in the banking industry was really one of our undercover agents, and he infiltrated the mafia crew for nearly a year. The evidence he gathered, along with intercepted phone calls and other electronic surveillance, was enough to put the entire 11-member operation out of business and behind bars.
“The mafia has always been in South Florida,” our agent explained. “Each of New York’s five families has crews that operate here. They make a lot of money and send part of it back to the main guys up north.”
The Bonanno family’s criminal enterprise in South Florida—led by Tommy Fiore, the nephew of reputed Bonanno capo Gerry Chili—was wide ranging. In addition to the scams mentioned above, the crew also participated in arson, extortion, drug trafficking, and buying and selling stolen cigarettes, TVs, and other ill-gotten goods.
Operation Money Fish began in the summer of 2008, when our agent—who was known as Dave Stone—met Fiore. The Bonanno crew was manufacturing counterfeit payroll checks from large companies and needed help cashing them. They would copy a legitimate check, change the account numbers and the amount, and get Dave Stone to use his banking connections to turn the bad paper into cash. Dave and the crew then split the profits. (In reality, since we controlled the operation, no businesses were actually defrauded.)
The crew’s most lucrative scam, though, came from “boiler rooms”—bogus telemarketing operations that are rampant in South Florida. A dozen people working the phones out of someone’s condo can generate big profits. A popular pitch now involves the resale of time share properties. The criminal telemarketers claim they will help people resell their time share, or the fee charged will be refunded in full. Unsuspecting victims on the other end of the line—mostly older people unable to sell the properties on their own—send in the $5,000 or $6,000 fee, and that’s the last they ever see of their money. No services are rendered, and none were ever intended to be.
With the overwhelming evidence against them, the Bonanno crew all pled guilty to racketeering and other charges. “It was a good feeling to bring these guys down,” our undercover agent said. “They were getting away with a lot of crimes. There’s no telling how many people they had hurt or swindled before we got involved.”
But “Dave Stone” and his colleagues on the FBI’s organized crime squads understand that while you can disrupt the mafia’s activities in South Florida and elsewhere, it’s only a matter of time before the bosses in New York establish other crews.
“Absolutely they will try to start up again,” the agent said. “The Bonanno family in New York—like the other families—has to have somebody down here making money because the guys at the top don’t do anything. They rely on the crews to support them. But if they do show up again,” he said, “we will be ready.”