Anthony L. DiNunzio, the reputed leader of the New England Mafia who allegedly bragged that he would enforce his authority by burying opponents alive, was charged with racketeering and extortion Wednesday in US District Court in Rhode Island, in yet another blow to a criminal organization that continues to see its power erode.
DiNunzio, 53, the younger brother of the convicted mobster Carmen “The Cheese Man’’ DiNunzio, is the sixth consecutive boss or acting boss of the New England Mafia to face criminal charges. His predecessors have all been convicted.
DiNunzio, of East Boston, was arrested just before 7 a.m. at the Gemini Social Club in the North End of Boston. Wearing glasses and a windbreaker jacket, he pleaded not guilty in federal court later to charges of racketeering conspiracy, extortion, and traveling to aid extortion.
Prosecutors have asked that he be held without bail, and a hearing is scheduled in Providence May 3.
“Organized crime likes to believe their reach is long,’’ US Attorney Peter F. Neronha said at a press conference after the hearing. “Our reach is longer.’’
Neronha said the indictment should serve as a message to organized crime figures who hope to assume DiNunzio’s role.
“These are not light punches,’’ he said. “These are heavy blows, and we hope they will . . . continue to have an effect.’’
DiNunzio’s lawyer, Robert Sheketoff, would not comment outside the courtroom Wednesday.
DiNunzio was ensnared in a case that began in Rhode Island two years ago and was followed by a nationwide sweep of Mafia figures in January 2011, the largest roundup of Mafia figures of its kind in history.
In the Rhode Island case, several Mafia figures, including former acting boss Luigi “Louie’’ Manocchio, and their associates were accused of and later pleaded guilty to extorting thousands of dollars in protection payments from strip clubs, including the Satin Doll and the Cadillac Lounge. Manocchio and several associates have yet to be sentenced.
Manocchio, 84, yielded control of the Mafia around late 2009. For a short time, according to law enforcement officials, Peter Limone, one of the men vindicated after serving 33 years in prison for a gangland murder he did not commit, assumed the role of acting boss. Limone was subsequently arrested and convicted in Massachusetts state court on bookmaking charges.
Authorities said Wednesday that DiNunzio, whose criminal record includes an extortion conviction, then took control of the New England Mafia, overseeing operations in Boston and Rhode Island.
DiNunzio immediately sought to collect on the cash payments that Manocchio’s crew was receiving from the Rhode Island strip clubs, according to court documents filed Wednesday. He named a top Mafia member from Rhode Island, Edward Lato, as head of the organization in that state and had him deliver money, authorities said.
DiNunzio also sought the permission of the New York-based Gambino crime family to require payoffs from someone involved in the adult entertainment industry who was doing business in Rhode Island, authorities said.
DiNunzio, according to the authorities, defined his leadership style.
“As soon as I took over, I changed everything,’’ he allegedly told an associate.
According to court records, DiNunzio issued the warning to bury alive those who defied his rule during a meeting with an associate at My Cousin Vinny’s restaurant in Malden in June 2011. . If someone disobeyed him, he allegedly said, “I get to watch you die in the ground.’’
He added: “I stay there 10 [expletive] hours until your [sic] dead. And I’ll dig you back up and make sure you are dead.’’
Several of DiNunzio’s conversations were recorded on wiretaps, including those he apparently had with members of the Gambino family. The other members of the Mafia were not identified in court records and are referred to only as Mafia members or associates.
DiNunzio began to suspect he was under investigation after Lato and other associates were charged, along with Manocchio, in 2011, according to court records. DiNunzio was searched and had $5,000 seized by the FBI after Lato had given him the money.
DiNunzio told an associate from the Gambino family that he had come to realize that he was being recorded during a meeting at Billy Tse Chinese restaurant in Boston, the records say, confiding to an associate that the Rhode Island investigation could be his downfall.
“That’s the only thing I could think that could set me up,’’ he allegedly said.
Law enforcement officials said Wednesday that the case against DiNunzio shows the inner workings of organized crime. DiNunzio can be heard on wiretaps discussing the process of becoming a “made’’ member, for instance, according to court records.
The officials pledged to continue investigating organized crime in Rhode Island and Boston.
“This is a regional problem that crosses state borders,’’ said Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Boston.
To date nine people, including DiNunzio, have been charged in the extortion of Rhode Island strip clubs, and six have been convicted. Before DiNunzio and Limone, New England Mafia bosses Frank “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme, the late Nicholas Bianco, and Raymond “Junior’’ Patriarca were convicted.
“The Justice Department and its law enforcement partners are determined to put La Cosa Nostra out of business, and we won’t stop until we’ve done just that,’’ said James M. Trusty, chief of the organized crime and gang unit for the Justice Department.
Officials acknowledged, however, that the arrest of DiNunzio opens a window for someone else to assume the leadership role and that the Mafia continues to operate.
DiNunzio, according to court records, has told associates that his son was working with La Cosa Nostra as “an administrative guy.’’
He has also told an associate that he would not yield his power, not even after an arrest, the records say.
“If I go to the can, I’m still the boss . . . no matter what,’’ he allegedly said.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.