Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anatomy of an Albanian mob coup: The challenge, the balk, the murder

Cafe Amici, the scene of the shooting.

Following close on the heels of the U.S. attorney’s successful conviction of a handful of New York-based Albanian-American gangsters, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn (Eastern District) announced a far-reaching new bust of the city’s Albanian mob. Coordinated by the International Narcotics Strike Force (made up of the D.E.A., N.Y.P.D., I.C.E./H.S.I., New York State Police, I.R.S. and U.S. Marshals) 37 individuals were charged and raids and arrests occurred on July 13 in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Putnam County, Rockland County, Orange County, and Albany. There were also arrests in New Jersey, Colorado, and Florida. And in Albania. The DEA described the syndicate as having “hundreds of associated members, workers and customers spanning three continents” and with trafficking drugs from Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela to sell in New York and at least four other states, and in Canada and Europe.
It’s too soon to tell whether this is the end of an era for the New York-Albanian mob and its role at the center of a global drug network, or if law enforcement has merely made room for new, up-and-coming criminals to take the places of the ones they’ve taken out of commission.
We already know that the power dynamic between the different factions within Albanian organized crime is extremely fluid, and that there have always been aspiring gangster-entrepreneurs waiting to displace the ones who already established themselves.
What follows is the story of a coup, in which one gang sensed weakness in another, and pushed the advantage.
WHEN THE KRASNIQI BROTHERS, BRUNO AND SAIMIR, came from Michigan to New York in 2002 in their early 20s and started hanging in Albanian coffee shops, they stood out because they were the only ones wearing suits.
This was a few years before they made their reputation as two of the most successful, and violent, weed dealers and all-around gangsters in New York. At the time, they didn’t have much cash, so they decided to rob someone to come up with their seed money. That was how they got their start.
Three years later, they wound up making a victim of Parid Gjoka, a young Albanian-American who was already well-established in the New York drug trade, and who the Krasniqis worked with when they first arrived.
Gjoka’s problem, according to recent testimony from a former Krasniqi ally, was that he was too sensitive.
Almir (Miri) Rrapo, a former civil servant in Albania who aligned himself with the Krasniqi crew in New York, said the real giveaway that Gjoka was soft was the extent to which he was devastated by the loss of his girlfriend, a famous-back-home singer and violinist named Anita Bitri who died with her mother and 7-year-daughter from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Rrapo said Gjoka “overdid” the whole grief thing, crying, getting high on drugs, putting up posters of Anita. Gjoka himself admitted as much at his recent trial: “I was talking more than I was supposed to about love, on the streets you can’t do that.”
Rrapo and the Krasniqis, who had hung out with Gjoka a bit early on, didn't think he deserved their respect anymore. But perhaps more importantly, Rrapo said, they also didn’t see why he should be doing so much better than them in the drug trade: “He was making a lot of money [Gjoka said he was making $5-10,000 a week] and we thought he didn’t deserve to be making all that money.”
Meanwhile, the Krasniqis were beginning to attract the notice of the broader New York-Albanian organized-crime establishment. A guy named Erion Shehu (known on the street as Lonka), a friend of Gjoka, was running Astoria, especially the illegal gambling operations. He was connected to an Albanian gangster named Alex Rudaj, whose organization had fought the Gambinos for control of the gambling trade in part of New York. During Operation Trojan Horse, when the FBI took down the Rudaj syndicate, Shehu somehow avoided arrest and he was still operating.
The Krasniqis started causing problems at Shehu’s bars and clubs; they’d run up tabs and not pay. They’d shoot guns at the ceiling.
PARID GJOKA AND HIS BOYS SOLD 25 POUNDS of weed to the Krasniqis on credit and the Krasniqis decided not to pay. Gjoka and his associate Plaurent Cela went to meet the Krasniqis and their crew (about 10 people) outside of a coffee shop in Staten Island to ask for the money.
After some discussion, Saimir Krasniqi said, “We’re not paying you.”
“You sure?” Gjoka asked.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Yeah, you gonna see,” Gjoka said, cursing Saimir as he walked away.
Saimir dared Gjoka to curse him again.
Gjoka did.
Saimir pulled a gun on Gjoka and a melee broke out.
Gjoka went back to his group’s hangout, the La Roma Café, and told his boys to get ready for a war.
They bought guns from an Albanian man named Nebi Braka, one of them a $2000 Uzi. They went underground, moving from motel to motel. They got a shotgun from somebody named Fat Tony in upstate New York. Cela showed off “a new baby”—a .45 with a small magazine.
In July 2005, Gjoka's gang got a tip from Shehu, who was tired of the Krasniqis' troublemaking. Bruno Krasniqi was in a strip club in Astoria.
Gjoka, Cakoni and Cela all drove to the strip club in a van. Shehu followed in his Jaguar. He was on the phone with somebody inside the strip club who was feeding them information.
Bruno emerged, and got into a car. They followed him, looking for a close shot. They got close enough, side-view mirrors almost touching. Gjoka and Cela were side-by-side kneeling in the van, aiming their guns at Bruno. Twenty seconds went by. Gjoka couldn’t do it. He remembered when he and Bruno were hanging together, sharing prostitutes, doing coke together, eating together; he remembered when Bruno was hanging in his apartment and he carved his name on Gjoka’s sofa.
Gjoka lowered his gun and he lowered Cela’s gun. Cakoni was angry.
“You’re not for this, you’re not for this job,” he said.
Cela lost all respect for Gjoka and slammed the car door when he left. Gjoka said he was disappointed in himself, that he didn’t have the heart to kill.
The Krasniqi crew was also getting ready for battle, and they had no such compunction. Bruno went to Detroit and got guns, bulletproof vests and ammunition from an auction. They got one with a silencer, they got a .9 millimeter—15 guns in total.
Later on that month, after the aborted hit on Bruno, the Krasniqis got a tip that Gjoka’s crew was hanging out in the Café Amici in Glendale, a still-heavily Italian, German and Eastern European neighborhood in Queens.
They drove there and waited outside. Some of the boys put their shirts over their heads to disguise themselves. They waited for “the time it takes to smoke three cigarettes,” Rrapo testified later. Then it was “Lonka! Lonka! Lonka!” Shehu was coming out.
The Krasniqis didn’t reminisce about old times, like Gjoka did. Kasa shot his Colt; Bruno, encouraged by Saimir, shot his 9 millimeter. About 20 bullets in all. They sped away.
When they got to the Belt Parkway, they threw their guns in the water and hugged each other. Rrapo said he was shaking and nervous. Kasa said to him, “Remember, you gave me the gun, you’re as guilty as I am.”
Outside Amici’s, there was Lonka’s shot-up body. Cela was on his knees, devastated. Cakoni was screaming and cursing at the police to call an ambulance, to stop pointing their guns at him. (Lonka had had a gun on him.)
Cakoni was taken in by the police. According to testimony, a police officer later brought him Lonka’s chain and said, “This guy is finished.”
The next day Cela, Cakoni, and Gjoka went to a church on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens. They didn’t go inside, but they prayed and cried outside.
Lonka’s father took his body back to Albania. Cela went over to attend the funeral. Almir Rrapo fled to Albania. “Tani,” Gjoka’s sidekick, fled to his family home in Pennsylvania. The NYPD showed up there in September and started asking questions.



Post a Comment