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Mob case snares 3 reputed leaders

A $2.2 billion betting ring, N.J. officials said, also led to a Lucchese-Bloods alliance for prison smuggling.

Three reputed leaders of the Lucchese organized crime family were charged yesterday with heading a $2.2 billion sports-betting and loan-sharking operation targeted in an investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

The investigation, Operation Heat, also uncovered an alliance between organized crime figures and a member of the Bloods street gang, authorities said.

The arrests and alleged connection between La Cosa Nostra and the Bloods were disclosed by New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram during a news conference in West Orange.

Milgram said "an alarming alliance" between the traditional mob family and the street gang had smuggled heroin, cocaine, marijuana and cell phones into East Jersey State Prison in Rahway.

One of those charged was a guard at the prison.

The gambling operation involved high-tech Web sites and a wire room in Costa Rica where most of the transactions were processed, authorities said.

The top figures taken into custody were New York mob leaders Joseph DiNapoli and Matthew Madonna, both 72, and Ralph V. Perna, 61, who was described as the ranking member of the New Jersey branch of the crime family.

DiNapoli and Madonna, according to the charges, routinely received "tribute payments" from Perna and others who directed the gambling operation from New Jersey.

Perna's three sons - Joseph, 38, John, 30, and Ralph M., 35 - and Martin Tacetta, 56, a former underboss of the New Jersey faction of the Lucchese organization, were also among 27 reputed mob members and associates charged.

Five others, including reputed Bloods leader Edwin B. Spears, 33, and prison guard Michael T. Bruinton, 43, were charged in the prison-smuggling operation.

Twenty arrests were made yesterday. Warrants and complaints were issued for those not picked up.

The Division of Criminal Justice alleged the gambling ring handled about $2.2 billion in wagers over 15 months beginning in August 2006. While the ring was sophisticated and included password-protected Web sites, division director Gregory Paw said, the defendants "collected debts with the same crude tactics that have always characterized organized crime, namely extortion, violence and loan-sharking."

In addition, authorities said, the investigation uncovered ties between mob figures and Spears, a high-ranking member of the Nine Trey Gangster set of the Bloods and at one point an inmate at East Jersey State.

Authorities said Spears, who had the rank of a "five-star general" in the gang, and Joseph Perna had set up a system that bribed Bruinton, the guard, to help get contraband into the prison.

"The drug and cell phones were allegedly distributed to inmates who had previously placed orders through Edwin Spears," authorities said.

The inmates arranged to have money orders for the purchases sent to associates of Spears, who passed the money on to Joseph Perna and other mob figures.

Authorities also allege that Perna, because of their relationship, sought Spears' assistance in stopping a member of the Bloods from extorting an associate of the Lucchese organization.

While most of those charged yesterday are from North Jersey or New York, a Philadelphia man, Michael T. Ramuno III, 33, was one of several individuals charged with promoting gambling and money-laundering in the gambling operation.

In addition to the arrests, authorities obtained court orders to freeze 16 bank accounts, seize 16 motor vehicles, and place liens against seven properties.