The roundup involved law enforcement from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark and Rhode Island.
The alleged criminals range from low-level book-makers to made members of New York and New Jersey's organized crime families.
The message if anyone thought the defection of Sammy the Bull and the death of John Gotti Senior were events that spelled the end of organized crime, think again.
"The mob has shown itself to be resilient and persistent," Asst. Director Janice Fedarcyk of NY FBI said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the arrests "an important and encouraging step forward in disrupting La Cosa Nostra's operations."
Holder made it a point to be here for the announcement of the arrests.
"Members and associates of La Cosa Nostra are among the most dangerous criminals in our country," Holder said. "The very oath of allegiance sworn by these Mafia members during their initiation ceremony binds them to a life of crime."
Among those arrested Thursday were union officials, two former police officers and a suspect in Italy. High-ranking members of the Gambino and Colombo crime families and the reputed former boss of organized crime in New England also were named in 16 federal indictments unsealed Thursday.
The indictments listed colorful nicknames - "Tony Bagels," "Vinny Carwash," and "Johnny Pizza." While the nicknames are almost laughable, their alleged crimes are anything but.
Their alleged offenses range from extortion to narcotics trafficking to murder.
One indictment charges an alleged Colombo captain, Anthony Russo, in the 1993 hit on an underboss during the family's bloody civil war.
"Two other murder victims were shot in a public bar, because of a dispute over a spilled drink," Holder said.
Still, grouping 16 unrelated indictments into one very packed news conference today raised some questions.
"They all reached a point in the investigation, where it was appropriate to indict and take them down," Fedarcyk said.
The arrests also make for a much stronger impression on the general public should anyone have perceived organized crime as taking a backseat to other problems these days.
Still, at least one defense expert whose represented mob bosses over the years remains skeptical, saying a news conference is one thing. A conviction is another.
"I would be very curious to see what happens at trial. In fact, maybe I'll be there and see what the jury says. It may be two words: not guilty," attorney Barry Slotnick said.
Luigi Manocchio, 83, the reputed former head of New England's Patriarca crime family, was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He has long denied having mob ties. An indictment accuses him of collecting protection payments from strip-club owners.
Also arrested was Thomas Iafrate, who worked as a bookkeeper for strip clubs and set aside money for Manocchio, prosecutors said. Iafrate pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Providence, R.I.
Other charges include corruption among dockworkers in New York and New Jersey who were forced to kick back a portion of their holiday bonuses to the crime families. Members of the Colombo family also were charged with extortion and fraud in connection with their control of a cement and concrete workers union.
Most of the defendant were awaiting arraignment on Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn. If convicted, they face a wide range of maximum sentences, including life in prison.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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