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Friday
Nov302012

Boondock Saint

by Carl Russo

A famed anti-Mafia priest gets the Scooby-Doo treatment in the animated kiddie show, “La Missione di 3P.” (After all, “anime” is Latin for “soul.” ) 3P is Padre Pino Puglisi, whose impolitic sermons against the gangsters of his outpost parish in Brancaccio earned him a fatal “rosary of gunshots,” as they say in Italy, in 1993.

As seen in the trailer below, the RAI-TV series adds hair to the ecclesiastic and casts him, appropriately, as a crime fighter. The jazzy show-tune theme has a catchy chorus anyone can translate:

Pino PuglisiIo parlo con Dio, Dio parla con me.

Pio, amico mio, Pio parla con te.”

But the production is cheap—farmed out to a Korean animation house?—and the didactic tone won’t earn too many young converts. (For junior do-gooders with A.D.D., I'd recommend the new book, Invasion of the Cockroaches: The Mafia Explained to Kids.)

Puglisi is in the spotlight on terra firma as well. His remains will be transfered to Palermo’s grand cathedral and Pope Benedict plans to beatify him in May 2013. I’m all in favor of canonizing a cleric who demonstrated bravery instead of magic tricks, but if kids actually tune in to “La Missione di 3P," we’ll have the miracle, too.

Click to see the photosI’d also like to see sainthood bestowed on another 3P, Pastor Pietro Panascia, even if he wasn’t a Roman Catholic. Panascia organized a protest in 1963 after a car bomb in Ciaculli blew up seven officers of the carabiniere. His demonstration, which he titled “An Initiative for the Respect of Human Life,” was shrugged off by Palermo Archbishop Ernesto Ruffini as “a ridiculous attempt by a speculative Protestant.”

That was the same Ruffini who considered the Mafia to be nothing more than simple Sicilian delinquency and/or a communist plot.

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Thursday
Nov012012

News Muse 11.1.12

by Carl Russo

If you squint hard enough, you can see something good in Sicily’s kooky regional election this week. The shockingly high amount of voters who boycotted the race—57 percent sat out Sunday’s polls—can be read as a sign that the orgy is over for Silvio Berlusconi’s compromised cadre. More important for Sicilians, it shows that the Mafia can no longer deliver the votes to the party it favors.

Rosario CrocettaNow enter the victorious center-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, a tough-minded pol with the kind of anti-Mafia bona fides to put mobsters on notice. He hails from Gela, an industrial city on the southern coast so lousy with crime that it has its own homegrown mafia, La Stidda. (Language lesson: stella, “star” in Italian = stidda in Sicilian.)

As Gela’s seven-year mayor, Crocetta purged the city government and even the local carabiniere of stiddesi, closed eighty of their housing projects, and persuaded many shopkeepers to quit paying extortion fees. Soon elected to parliament, Crocetta served on the EU’s Anti-Mafia Commission.

Click to see the photosCrocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a boss caught on tape. That he is gay excites the mainstream press which has tried to come to terms with this inversion of Italian machismo. Then again, Crocetta is no powder puff. (Compare Berlusconi’s makeup and painted-on hair. And no jokes about Palermo’s soccer colors.)

Second place in the governor’s race went to Beppo Grillo, the comic-provocateur who taunts Berlusconi publicly, calling him “the Psycho Dwarf.” (The former prime minister, tarnished by sex scandals and plagued with a big mouth, was slapped with a tax fraud conviction last week.)

Grillo’s protest vote further reveals strong disaffection in Sicily, a red state-like conservative bastion. If anything, he split the left vote and still managed to trounce the Dwarf’s candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, who came in third.

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Wednesday
Oct172012

News Muse 10.17.12

Updated on Saturday, October 20, 2012 by Registered CommenterCarl Russo

by Carl Russo

Only the biggest Mafia stories get the Time magazine news splash, so I was surprised to read, “Italy Dismisses Entire City Government over Suspected Mafia Ties.” The forced breakup of a regional capitol city—in this case, Reggio Calabria, the toenail in the Italian boot—is news, but not of the earth-shattering variety. With a population of 185,000, Reggio (as the locals call it) isn't much bigger than Providence, Rhode Island, or Knoxville, Tennessee.

Salvatore "Totò" CuffaroOn the island of Sicily alone, forty-four municipalities have been dissolved by the Interior Ministry for reasons of Mafia infiltration since 1991. My own list of such cities covers the last five years or so: Belmonte Mazzagno, Castellammare del Golfo, Roccamena, Salemi, Siculiana, and Terme Vigliatore.

And a list of cities whose leaders were investigated and/or arrested: Carini, Misilmeri, Palagonia, Palermo, and Villabate.

The aforementioned Roccamena is a typical Sicilian town, isolated from the others by vast plains of yellow barren fields. Its peaceful tangle of streets betray a turbulent past. Peasants there fought the Mafia’s brutal estate managers for the right to work the land. Nobel Peace Prize-nominated activist Danilo Dolci staged hunger strikes over construction jobs that drew news cameras to its tiny piazza.

I went to Roccamena in 2006, months after its mayor, Giuseppe Salvatore Gambino, was arrested for Mafia association along with Bartolomeo Cascio, the capomafia of the area. Despite a pistol found in Gambino’s desk, which he denied was his, and some incriminating phone taps, the ex-mayor was eventually absolved, avoiding a stiff ten-year sentence. I managed to snap a photo of the city hall before the Chief of Police stepped out of the building to stop me.

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Sunday
Oct072012

News Muse 10.7.12

by Carl Russo

Flush a toilet, thank “Diabolik."

Godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, the super-fugitive from Castelvetrano with a playboy rep, was stripped of $33 million of his estimated $390 billion fortune last week. The booty included a group of eighteen companies that came to light with the recent capture of a frontman for the elusive “Diabolik," proving that the control of public works is still in the black hand of the mob.

Matteo Messina DenaroConstruction contracts worth $65 million kept his concrete pouring at seaports, resorts, highways and even the Palermo airport. The flush of many a hotel toilet came courtesy of the boss’ waterworks.

My only question is, while attending the couscous festival in San Vito Lo Capo some years back, did I lodge at a Messina Denaro hotel or a Bernardo Provenzano hotel? Each boss had his grubby mitts on the beach town’s tourist trade at the time.

Montreal’s former “Teflon Don,” Vito Rizzuto, may be free to roam Canada after a five-year repose in a Colorado prison—extortion, murder accessory, the usual—but he’s still a wanted wanted man in Sicily. His crime was the attempt to launder money through the biggest public project of them all: the bridge that will link the island to the Italian mainland.

Click to see the photosRizzuto will have to return to his native Cattolica Eraclea eventually, at the end of the long day, where he will spend eternity in a concrete crypt. Who gets that cement job?

Last Wednesday, the regional court in nearby Agrigento chose a unique method for the redistribution of ill-gotten wealth. As Giuseppe Falsone—another playboy don of the Messina Denaro mold—begins a long prison stint, his assets will be doled out to the citizens of the region for “existential damages.”

The $130,000 payout will be existential, too, hopefully poured back into drained city coffers in the land of crumbling Greek temples, with another $3.25 million to be fought over later.

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Friday
Aug312012

Paolo Borsellino: The End

by Bluto Ray

One day in that terrible Palermo summer of 1992, already darkened by the recent killing of top anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, two magistrates entered upon a scene that deepened their despair. There at his desk in the Prosecutor’s Office sat their colleague, Judge Paolo Borsellino, head in hands, crying repeatedly, “A friend has betrayed me.”

Paolo BorsellinoIt was disturbing behavior for the heroic public servant who, as Falcone’s right-hand investigator in Italy’s famous maxi-trials, had helped clap the irons on nineteen powerful Mafia bosses for good. Borsellino’s breakdown came from more than just the exhaustion of working day and night to find his partner’s killers. He had been telling everyone: “I’m racing against time. I’m looking directly at the Mafia. I have so much work to do, so much work...”

His work was cut short a few days later. On July 19, Borsellino drove from his villa in a nearby suburb to a modern apartment complex in downtown Palermo, led and followed by the two other cars of his bodyguard team. The judge was coming to fetch his mother for an appointment at her cardiologist’s office. The doctor, a family friend, was unable to make the house call because someone had set fire to his car the night before.

Click to see the photosThe convoy entered the cul-de-sac of Via Mariano D’Amelio where its three drivers went into their familiar defensive positions. Borsellino parked and stepped from his Fiat Croma, lit a cigarette, and smiled enigmatically as the men moved to surround him. They were well-practiced in the “human turtle” formation used to move the judge through public spaces.

At that instant, a great fireball exploded, piercing the quiet Sunday evening and flinging the cars into the air. A column of thick black smoke obscured the men’s severed limbs jettisoned several stories high. People rushed to the scene to discover the horror of the latest Mafia attack: Paolo Borsellino and five of his escorts blown up less than two months after Judge Falcone met the same fiery fate.

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Saturday
Jun302012

Road Rage

by Bluto Ray

Captain Mario D’Aleo bore a grudge and everyone knew it. The head of the carabiniere unit in Monreale, near Palermo, spent the better part of his working days nosing around the village of San Giuseppe Jato. The hillside township with its surrounding pastures and unnamed backroads kept Mafia secrets tucked safely out of view. The greatest secret was the one the captain yearned to know most: the whereabouts of Bernardo Brusca, the area’s domineering crime boss.

Captain Mario D'AleoWhenever D’Aleo crossed paths with a member of the Brusca family, he nabbed him. Bernardo’s son Giovanni bore the brunt of the officer’s diligence; he was thrown into the barracks on more than one occasion to be questioned about the company he kept or the circumstances of a car set ablaze. “Be careful, because you insist on persecuting our family too much,” warned Giovanni’s aged grandfather, Emanuele. D’Aleo knew a threat when he heard one.

Captain D’Aleo was newly appointed to lead the Monreale station, a Roman-born careerist ten years on the job yet still in his twenties. He had stepped into the boots of Captain Emanuele Basile, assassinated by the Mafia in 1980, and, without missing a beat, continued his predecessor’s vigorous investigation of the Brusca family’s shady interests. Like Basile before him, the impertinent D'Aleo was a threat to the Bruscas, but the family’s high position on the Mafia’s company chart guaranteed them a hearing by the Commission on the matter.

Click to see the photosLike many decisions deliberated by the Mafia Commission—controlled at the time by the violence-prone capo from Corleone, Totò Riina—the Bruscas’ cop problem would end in a death sentence. In the early 1980s, Riina’s murderous juggernaut was claiming ever more victims; police officers fell like tin soldiers.

Despite the obvious danger, D’Aleo trudged on, collaborating with Lance Corporal Giuseppe Bommarito. Bommarito was a Sicilian native in his thirties who had previously worked alongside Captain Basile until his superior met his untimely death. A few years later, D’Aleo and Bommarito, patrolling the same treacherous beat, surprised a group of Mafia suspects in meeting. The presence of Monreale boss Salvatore Damiani, a close associate of Bernardo Brusca, led the officers to believe that a series of unsolved murders in the area—including that of Captain Basile—were traceable to these men. But the investigation came to an abrupt halt.

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