SCITUATE, R.I. (AP) – The Rhode Island State Police arrested 18 people allegedly connected to Mafia crime rings on Monday and used a backhoe to dig through an East Providence lot searching for the victim of a three-decade-old mob hit.

The dig for the body was called off around dark, but it was expected to resume Tuesday. Police said more arrests are on the way and that the sting, a year-and-a-half in the making, would make it harder for older reputed mobsters to recruit younger would-be criminals.

“An attempt to connect with the younger generation of thugs is something that we cannot tolerate in this state,” Attorney General Patrick Lynch said at a news conference announcing the arrests.

“This I think will serve as a devastating blow to some of the older generation that have really been such a problem,” he added.

Some of those arrested allegedly had ties to the Patriarca crime family, which for years controlled organized crime in Providence and Boston.

One alleged longtime Patriarca figure arrested Monday was Nicholas Pari, 71, of North Providence.

Investigators said he took counterfeit handbags and sneakers from undercover federal agents who infiltrated the ring, allegedly based out of the Valley Street Flea Market in Providence.

In return, the agents got guns and drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and Vicodin, said State Police Lt. Col. Steven O’Donnell.

Pari was charged with racketeering, firearms violations and drug offenses.

Pari was convicted of manslaughter for the 1978 killing of Joseph “Joe Onions” Scanlon, whose body was never found. State Police officials said they were digging beneath the ground in an East Providence apartment complex for a victim killed by the mob about 30 years ago. Authorities would not say whether that victim is Scanlon.

Detectives also arrested Gerald Tillinghast, 62, on drug and gambling charges. Tillinghast was released last year from prison for a Mob-related killing.

He’s now accused of operating an illegal gambling and drug sales business out of a second-hand discount furniture and appliance store and then, when that business went under, out of the flea market.

All 18 men were being arraigned in Providence District Court on Monday. A judge ordered that Tillinghast be held in jail without bail, said his defense attorney, Paul DiMaio. He was not asked to enter a plea.

“I just don’t believe that he was involved,” DiMaio said. “He’s been trying to do the right thing. I know he was trying to find a job, find a chauffeur’s license.”

An attorney for Pari could not immediately be reached for comment.

Undercover federal and state detectives infiltrated the operation after a confidential informant came to them with information. Pari and the other men are also accused of fencing stolen goods, selling stolen jewelry and setting up heists and sales of catalytic converters, police said.

AP-ES-11-17-08 1903EST

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