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Thursday
Jun132013

A Boy and His Toys

by Carl Russo

Gaspare Spatuzza let spill yesterday that the Mafia experimented with remote-controlled drones for use against enemies. The reformed hit man (and killer of the now canonized priest Pino Puglisi) said of his drone field tests: "We needed to learn how to pilot it and steer it towards targets, loading it with a modest amount of explosives."

Gaspare SpatuzzaMafia authority John Dickie tweeted about the news report: "Worthy but bit desperate stab at new angle on mafia." He's right: the idea of Spatuzza testing flying bombs is, like, wow, but it's not substantial news. The Mafia, thanks in part to him, accomplished much more mayhem and murder with terra-bound dynamite.

Besides, every time this pentito opens his mouth his words end up on newsprint. Like when he told a court that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his longtime sidekick, Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, had "practically placed the country in our hands."

But Spatuzza is worth listening to: Dell'Utri began serving a seven-year prison sentence for Mafia association in March and Berlusconi faces jail time for everything from tax evasion to sex with a minor—not that he'll ever set his golden culo on a cell bunk.

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Saturday
Jun082013

Strange Breadfellows

by Carl Russo

Giovanni FalconeA TAVOLA! The Corriere della Sera reports on the tasteless pub grub of a Vienna eatery inspired by both The Godfather movies and the slain anti-Mafia heroes of Sicily. The name of the establishment? Don Panino, of course, where the menu offers the Don Peppino, a sandwich based on the murdered activist Giuseppe Impastato. The dish is described as “a loud-mouthed Sicilian cooked by a bomb like a barbecued chicken.”

The pièce de résistance is the Don Falcone—a dubious tribute to Sicily's beloved Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, blown up in 1992. It's a pork sausage that comes with the legend: “He earned himself the title of the greatest rival of the Mafia in Palermo, but unfortunately he will be grilled like a wurst.” Makes your mouth just water, doesn't it?

Someone was offended enough to launch an online petition protesting Don Panino's “advertising strategy on the glorification of awful crimes perpetrated by the Mafia in Italy.” At the time of this writing, the restaurant's website is down.

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Wednesday
May292013

Deal Me In

by Carl Russo

Italy’s trial of the century will probably last for another century. But, unlike past Mafia trials that prosecuted hundreds of mobsters at the same time, this one is down to only ten defendants. And they're not only mafiosi but also high-placed public officials who are being charged.

Nicola MancinoThe crime? Brokering a secret deal in the early 1990s: in exchange for lighter punishments for its members, the Mafia would stop killing so many of those high-placed public officials. You can read the details of the historic trial—the so-called Trattativa (Negotiation)—here.

This video was shot outside the Palermo courtroom hosting the trial. Nicola Mancino, Italy's Interior Minister during the years of the alleged Trattatvia, is jeered by protestors shouting, "Shame! Shame!"

Mancino is accused of hiding evidence of the covert talks from prosecutors. Earlier, on the stand, he bristled at appearing "in the same trial as the Mafia," i.e., in the company of reviled godfathers like Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. Mancino wants to star in his own trial, maybe?

Those red books being waved by the demonstrators represent Judge Paolo Borsellino's missing journal, swiped from the wreckage of his assassination site twenty years ago.

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Saturday
May042013

Teasers R Us


by Carl Russo


Giuseppe Impastato

“Giuseppe Impastato used every available medium to battle the Mafia. In 1976, he founded a small FM radio station and called it Radio Aut. His signature show, Onda Pazza—“Crazy Wave”—was a series of satirical dramas about life in “Mafiapoli,” a substitute for Cinisi. Music and sound effects wryly underscored the dialogue of Peppino and friends. Local politicians were lampooned mercilessly to the porcine snorts of Pink Floyd’s “Pigs.” An obvious caricature of Don Tano Badalamenti depicted the capo praying for a Christian Democrat win, mixed with the ricochets of bullets from an old western. Young people brought portable radios to bars and listened in groups. The show was a hit." 

 —excerpt from The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide by Carl Russo, coming in 2014 from Strategic Media Books

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Wednesday
Apr172013

News Muse 4.17.13

by Carl Russo

The Muse has struck again! My keyboard is a bloody mess as I bang out the last sections of my book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide. Part of my burden is to keep up with Cosa Nostra’s never-ending news and update my manuscript accordingly. A few items have popped up recently that beg a quick comment.

Michele AielloLike the largest confiscation of Mafia booty in Italy since…ever! As Sicilians suffer some of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union, a bank-busting $1.7 billion worth of dirty assets were seized from Vito Nicastro, “the Lord of the Wind.” A frontman for gone-with-the-wind fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, Mr. Nicastro is said to have laundered Mafia money mostly through wind and solar farms in Trapani province, reaping the green from “green energy.”

And after the authorities made the confiscations, what did they do with Nicastro? Throw him in jail pending a trial? Nah. They suggested he stick around his home city of Alcamo, which, if you’ve ever been there, you’ll say is a bit harsh. Unless it’s Alcamo Marina, a separate resort town with nice homes and white beaches and probably where the bastard lives.

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Tuesday
Apr022013

Final Dispatch

by Carl Russo

Here’s my final letter, dated February 27, 2013, sent from Sicily to the patrons of my photo shoot. The images mentioned will appear in my upcoming book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

Massimo CianciminoEscape from Palermo! As much as I love the intrigue of the capital city of Sicily (and the Mafia), three days of maneuvering the confusing streets with cut-up squares of a city map on my lap and no street signs is tedium, not adventure. The saving grace is that it's not roaring hot as in previous trips. If the technology were cheap, I would've attached a live web-cam to the hood and broadcast the ride.

At any turn, you go from a speedway to ancient labyrinthine souk where the cobblestones crack into dirt, and you find yourself face-to-face with an old man shoeing a horse. Add to that cars coming at you from blind corners at all moments. Cross traffic at intersections is a free-for-all, the driver in front of you screeches to a halt in to buy artichokes from a roadside vendor, pedestrian wander into traffic, and yet it all works, without American-style road rage.

Let me catch you up on one uncomfortable moment I mentioned at the close of my last letter. I was parked across the street from the palazzo of Massimo Ciancimino.

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