Reuters International

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Tony the Cripple, "Muscles" and "Mustache Pat" were among dozens of suspected Mafia members arrested on Thursday in a massive multi-state bust.

U.S. authorities charged 46 people, ranging in age from 24 to 80, with extortion, loan sharking, smuggling, arson, gun trafficking and other crimes in a federal indictment unsealed in New York.

Prosecutors said the suspects were members of four of the city's five major Mafia outfits - the Genovese, Gambino, Luchese and Bonanno families. Other defendants were part of the main Philadelphia family, the indictment said.

"Today's charges against 46 men, including powerful leaders, members and associates of five different La Cosa Nostra families, demonstrate that the mob remains a scourge on this city and around the country," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Most of the suspects were arrested in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida early on Thursday. Three remained at large, according to U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan.

The multi-year investigation included a mobster-turned-witness who wore a recording device and a federal agent who posed as a member of the conspiracy.

In court papers, prosecutors detailed an array of schemes, including gambling rings, untaxed cigarettes sales and fake credit cards.

Prosecutors cited several instances in which the defendants used violence to intimidate and extort victims, including one assault involving glass jars and steel-tipped boots.

Pasquale "Patsy" Parrello, 72, Eugene "Rooster" O'Nofrio, 74, and Joseph Merlino, 54, were the leaders of the conspiracy, prosecutors said. Merlino is believed to be the head of the Philadelphia crime family.

A second indictment unsealed in Massachusetts on Thursday charged two of the suspects in a separate extortion scheme, along with three other alleged members of the Genovese family.

Also on Thursday, the grandson of former New York mob boss John Gotti, also named John, was charged by New York City prosecutors with dealing oxycodone and other drugs in a case unrelated to the federal case. Police recovered $240,000 (£183,054) in cash and more than 850 pills, and a total of nine people were arrested.

The elder John Gotti died in prison of cancer in 2002.

The federal prosecution is one of the largest mob-related busts in recent years, as the pace of such cases has slowed since the mafia's heyday decades ago. Although the mafia is not as powerful as it once was, prosecutors said the investigation shows it is still a potent force.

(Editing by Bill Trott and Leslie Adler)

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