Buffalo's organized crime family is considered the most influential in the mob's "open city" of Las Vegas, according to a top law enforcement official in Nevada.
The family is involved in a Las Vegas-to-Buffalo pipeline for cocaine and other illegal activities, police investigators say.
On March 20, police in Las Vegas arrested three men identified as Buffalo natives and associates of the Buffalo mob. The men -- Louis Giambrone, 40, and Joseph Amoia, 34, both of Amherst, and Lawrence Panaro, 38, now of Las Vegas -- were charged with possession of cocaine worth $64,000.
Last year, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada's largest newspaper, ran photos of reputed Buffalo mob leaders Joseph Todaro Jr. and Leonard Falzone, and quoted investigators as saying the Todaro family is "far and away" the leading crime family in the Nevada gambling capital.
"I wouldn't say they dominate, but they are the most active group in the city," said Commander Preston Hubbs, chief of Intelligence Services for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. "We see more people from Buffalo here than from any other crime family."
Harold J. Boreanaz, attorney for Todaro and Falzone, said the claims that his clients are involved in Las Vegas mob activities are "totally ridiculous." Boreanaz repeatedly has criticized the federal government for making unsubstantiated allegations about mob activities by the two men.
Hubbs said about 20 Buffalo natives with known links to the Buffalo mob now live in Las Vegas. Buffalo mob members have some business interests in Las Vegas, Hubbs said, but he declined to discuss what businesses are involved.
"We believe Buffalo is involved in all the things you would expect the mob to be involved with -- loansharking, drugs, gambling," Hubbs said.
Hubbs' department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating allegations of the involvement of some Buffalo mobsters in drug-dealing and other crimes in Las Vegas.
The March 20 arrests in Las Vegas involved the purchase of 4 kilograms of cocaine from an undercover detective posing as a drug supplier. Amoia and Giambrone were to deliver the cocaine to Buffalo, where a "made man" was to distribute it, police said.
That man, described as a Buffalo mob member but not named, is under investigation but has not been charged with a crime.
"We are continuing the investigation, and we do think there is more to it than just those three suspects," Hubbs said.
Las Vegas -- like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago -- is a major distribution center for millions of dollars of cocaine each year, said Richard Inscore, special agent in charge of the Buffalo office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. While most of Buffalo's cocaine is believed to come through New York City, investigators say Las Vegas is a growing source.
"We can prove cocaine is being brought here from Las Vegas," Inscore said.
Buffalo investigators working for Inscore said they are attempting to help Las Vegas law enforcement officials find out more about the drug operation uncovered with the three arrests.
Buffalo DEA agents last year arrested Charles Torina, 39, a pit boss from a Las Vegas casino and described as a key link in the Buffalo-Las Vegas connection.
Torina, identified by police as a Buffalo native who several years ago ran a men's clothing store in Las Vegas, was accused of carrying 3 kilograms of cocaine confiscated by drug agents in Clarence in November 1987.
A federal grand jury indicted Torina and 11 others on narcotics charges last June. DEA agents said their two-year investigation into the so-called Torina drug ring turned up the strongest links yet found between organized crime and cocaine trafficking in Buffalo.
But wiretaps have turned up evidence of disagreement within the Buffalo mob about the cocaine traffic.
"There have been some arguments and hard feelings over the drug issue," one veteran agent said. "Some of the mob leadership in Buffalo would rather stay away from selling coke.
"Another faction of the mob in Buffalo is getting heavily involved, and the traffic in Las Vegas is part of that."
Criminals who started in Buffalo also are known to be involved in loansharking, illegal gambling and other criminal activity in Nevada, Hubbs and other police officials said.
Not all investigators are convinced, however, that Buffalo's organized crime family plays a major role in Las Vegas.
"The Buffalo crime family is one of many that does business out here, and we're looking at all of them," said Special Agent Tom Nicodemus, spokesman for the Las Vegas FBI office. "There is a big contingent of Buffalo people, but we have no major indictments to prove they are really a mainstay."
Intelligence officers in the Las Vegas Metro Police have been closely watching organized crime members from Buffalo who frequently travel between the two cities, Nicodemus said.
"The Buffalo crime family is a known presence in Las Vegas, but I really couldn't gauge the significance of it," said U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco. "It's something that has evolved over the years. I'm not really sure if it's an expansion of the Buffalo operations or the start of a move out there."