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It’s the Cheese: Why We Love Our Mafia Shin-Deep in Sheep Dip

The ingredient that gives Mafia news that old-world flavor

by Carl Russo

I CAN TELL A CERTAIN news item about the Italian Mafia has gone really big as soon as friends and relatives start sending me the media links. Often these reports of arrests, attacks, and assassinations come with an exotic flair that conforms to our stereotypical view of the mob. Without a touch of the Hollywood—secret initiation rites, a bullet between the eyes—the news doesn’t travel beyond Italy. But when there’s an element of food involved, especially cheese, the story sprouts legs and takes off running.

“I’ve put the ricotta aside for you,” was the opening quote in several news articles about the media-dubbed “Mafia sheep code” that went viral this month. That statement and similar ciphers, recorded by police wiretaps, were made by a pair of Sicilian sheep grazers whenever a message from fugitive godfather Matteo Messina Denaro was ready for pickup. The two shepherds and nine other accomplices were arrested on August 3, the culmination of a five-year investigation and the latest roundup in actions that have bagged the capomafia’s sister, cousin and various in-laws.

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Lucky Luciana: Daughter of Boss Messina Denaro to Be Married in London, Says Tipster

Leaked details include bejeweled invitation to luxe affair

by Carl Russo

Matteo Messina DenaroTHE RECLUSIVE DAUGHTER of Italy’s most-wanted gangster will be married in London this September, according to a tip received by Mafia Exposed. While details remain unconfirmed, the source claims to be close to the bride, and has forwarded materials related to the event.

UK resident Luciana is said to be thirty years old and the eldest daughter of Sicilian godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, a.k.a. Diabolik, a multibillionaire sought since 1993 for Mafia crimes that include drug trafficking and murder.

The fugitive Messina Denaro is the target of Italy’s most intense manhunt, and for that reason is not expected to give away Luciana to one Gordon at the ceremony.

But might the reception afterward be the UK underworld’s fête of the year? Former London jewel thief Jimmy Tippett Jr. tipped it, if you will, with a Facebook boast. “You know your going up in the world,” wrote the author of the memoir Born Gangster, “when you get personally invited to billionaire Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro’s daughter Luciana’s wedding.”

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Born to Run: Angelo Provenzano’s Mafia Burlesque

Despite an uproar from Mafia victims, the godfather’s son still entertains tourists in Sicily

by Carl Russo

Bernardo ProvenzanoNobody envies Angelo Provenzano his childhood. As the son of a fugitive boss—the boss of Cosa Nostra from the late 1990s to the mid-aughts—the boy suffered a bizarre and paranoid upbringing. The Provenzanos were kept on the run for the first sixteen years of his life. “I was born and brought up in captivity,” he said in later years. Things barely improved when his mother took Angelo and younger brother Francesco Paolo, in 1992, to live in the family’s hometown of Corleone. The boys had to run a gauntlet of paparazzi on their first day of high school. Police raided their home at all hours in hopes of catching their father on a secret visit.

During those years, investigators had no idea that Bernardo “Binnu the Tractor” Provenzano was holed up in a tiny shack on the mountain that overlooks Corleone, the Mafia city of fact and fiction. Binnu wanted his common-law wife Saveria Benedetto Palazzolo to raise their sons openly, giving them a normal life and a proper education, and steering them clear of the illicit career path of most Mafia sons. But constant police surveillance, intense family secrecy, and a strained relationship with their fugitive father took a toll on the boys. Little Francesco Paolo was especially resentful of Binnu’s absence. After high school, their job prospects were blocked wherever their father’s reputation had preceded them.

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Sicily’s Scarface: Is This Retired Cop a Former Mafia Hit Man?

Numerous witnesses place a man “with the face of a monster” at the scene of notorious Mafia crimes. Most agree he worked on behalf of Italian Secret Services.

by Carl Russo

Giovanni AielloACROSS FROM PALERMO’S palm and plane-shrouded Piazza della Vittoria lie the headquarters of Sicily’s state police department, accessible to authorized personnel through an arched entrance in a stately old villa. This genteel setting can turn in an instant to a scene of pandemonium following the arrest of a Mafia boss; squadrons of police cars, sirens screaming and lights strobing, descend upon the station like a military blitz. Crowds of citizens who’ve heard the news gather to cheer as one or another godfather of notoriety is frogmarched through the archway by his hooded captors.

It was during a moment of quiet at the department, in early 2014, when a 48-year-old Sicilian woman approached the armed guards stationed just inside the archway. Her ordinary appearance belied her pedigree as Mafia royalty. She was Giovanna Galatolo, daughter of a dynastic clan that controlled Palermo’s lucrative produce market for more than half a century. Her father, brothers, uncles and cousins were integral pieces of a killing machine that eradicated a slew of police officials and judges back when when capomafia Totò Riina ran the Sicilian mob, a generation ago. Now Giovanna was ready to betray her family to the police. “My life is my own,” she told a magistrate. “They can’t control me.”

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Mafia Exposed Shortlisted in 2014 Blogger Awards

Italy Magazine gives website a nod for Best Art and Culture Blog—again!

by Carl Russo

A YEAR AGO, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself among the Best Blogger finalists chosen by the editors of the prestigious Italy Magazine. Now I’m on the shortlist for a second straight year, so I know it wasn’t a mistake!

You see, Mafia Exposed doesn’t exactly fit in with the sunny, travel-porny Italophilia on display at the other nominated blogs. That’s not to knock my redoubtable competition—if you’re not reading this while staying in fabulous Italy, you probably wish you were.

It’s just that Mafia Exposed tries to do what its title implies: to lay bare the criminal underbelly of the country’s most intriguing region, the island of Sicily. And it’s not always pretty.

But unlike my book, this blog is more than a literal gallery of grim and spooky Cosa Nostra landmarks. It’s also a celebration of the spirit of Sicilians who refuse to live under Mafia tyranny. This spirit takes many forms, as my posts about literature, film, music and politics hopefully attest.

At least that’s my best guess why the magazine again nominated the blog in the Best Art and Culture category. They could have just as easily ignored it altogether.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this labor of love, then please take a few seconds to click on the image below and vote for Mafia Exposed!



Malarazza: Rocking in the Old World

Sicilian “hicks” strike from the heartland

by Carl Russo

Pino Puglisi“AMMAZZARU lu parrinu!”—“They killed the priest!”—are the words heard rising above deafening cicadas in the dusty Sicilian countryside. A distraught little boy shouts them as he tears across an abandoned ranch, cuing a band of musicians to strike up a rocking lament for the slain cleric. The folkloric tune, recorded in 2012 and titled “Zio Pino,” has just been released as a music video, and it’s become a minor sensation in the land of the Mafia.

Father Pino Puglisi, the “uncle” of the song’s title, was assassinated in 1993 for his very public stance against the mob operating around his tiny parish on the outskirts of Palermo. His story has inspired numerous tributes, from staged plays to comic books to TV cartoons. This rousing number is performed by Malarazza 100% Terrone, a name that reclaims two epithets frequently heaped upon Sicilians by northerners who should know better. Loosely translated: malarazza = bad blood; terrone = hick.

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