BOSTON (AP) – Gaetano Badalamenti, once described by federal authorities as the “boss of all bosses” of the Sicilian Mafia, has died, a Justice Department spokesman said Friday.

Badalamenti, 80, a ringleader of a $1.65 billion heroin and cocaine smuggling operation that used pizzerias as fronts to distribute the drugs from 1975 to 1984, was sentenced in 1987 to 45 years in federal prison.

The Justice Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, could not confirm when, where or how Badalamenti died, but he was most recently housed at the Federal Medical Center in Ayer, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons Web site. The facility specializes in treating inmates with serious illnesses.

The smuggling ring was charged with importing heroin from the Middle East and cocaine from South America and then laundering profits through Swiss bank accounts. Prosecutors also claimed ring members were behind scores of murders in Sicily and the United States.

Badalamenti, of Cinisi, Italy, was also sentenced to life in prison in absentia in Italy in 2002 for the 1978 murder of a disc jockey who was frequently critical of the Mafia boss.

The trial of Badalamenti and nearly two dozen coconspirators in the case took 17 months, included more than 400 witnesses, 15,000 exhibits and 41,000 pages of transcripts.

During the trial, prosecutors described Badalamenti as the former “boss of all bosses in Sicily – the most powerful man in the Sicilian Mafia” during the 1970s. But he eventually lost a turf war and fled to Brazil.

Louis Freeh, who went on to became director of the FBI, was one of the lead prosecutors. Rudolph Giuliani, later the mayor of New York, was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time of the trial.

AP-ES-04-30-04 2146EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.