Anthony "The Genius" Megale, a Stamford man believed to be the highest-ranking Mafia member in Connecticut, was arraigned on a 46-count federal indictment charging him with racketeering, extortion and illegal gambling.
Fifteen of the 18 people were arrested Wednesday. Investigators were searching for the others, including Igazio Alogna, an alleged Mafia captain, and Vincent Fiore, an alleged Gambino soldier from Goshen, N.Y., both charged with attempted extortion.
Four of those indicted - Megale, Fiore, Alogna and Victor Riccitelli, who is charged with racketeering - are allegedly "made" members of the Gambino family.
"This is the most significant investigation of La Cosa Nostra in the state of Connecticut in 15 years," said Special Agent Michael Wolf, the state's top FBI agent.
All 15 men presented in court Wednesday were ordered held while they await bail hearings within a week, during which time they were expected to hire or be assigned attorneys. None entered a plea.
Megale, a stocky man with glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, rolled his eyes and smirked slightly when prosecutors told him he was facing more than 20 years in prison on nearly every count.
"As underboss, Megale reports to the boss of the Gambino family, helps decide disciplinary issues involving the family, and assists in resolution of internal family disputes," the indictment said.
The indictment describes a traditional Mafia organization run out of Fairfield County, with members shaking down business owners.
Prosecutors say Megale demanded $2,000 a month from an area nightclub owner for "protection," plus a little extra every year as a "Christmas bonus." A vending machine owner was allegedly forced to pay Megale's crew $200 a month.
The indictment also accuses Megale of lending money at exorbitant rates. A $2,500 debt allegedly accrued interest at the rate of $100 a week.
In 1989, Megale was charged with being the late Gambino boss John Gotti's top man in Connnecticut, and Megale pleaded guilty to racketeering the following year. He was released from prison in 1999.
FBI agents and members of a regional strike force fanned out through southern Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island, arresting people around dawn. Many of the men looked bedraggled during their court appearance, some wearing baggy T-shirts, others sweat pants or jeans.
In Wednesday's indictment, prosecutors don't name the Gambino boss Megale allegedly answered to. Mob observers say that's because the leadership structure is fractured, with nobody clearly in charge.
"There's no one guy who's running the show," said Joseph Coffey, a former New York police officer and mob expert.
Twelve men were named in the main indictment and charged with racketeering, extortion or illegal gambling. Seven men were charged with dealing cocaine in two related indictments, including one defendant who also is charged in the main indictment.
By Matt Apuzzo