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Entries in Bagheria (5)


The Shakedown Shutdown

21 squeeze artists arrested in mob-infested Bagheria (and other good news)

by Carl Russo

Massimo Carminati“BASTA!”—“ENOUGH!”—was the cry of three dozen businessmen shaken down to the brink of poverty in Bagheria, a moldering baroque city long controlled by the Sicilian Mafia. The so-called “shopkeepers revolt” took a sledgehammer to the mob’s extortion racket and made headlines from the New York Times to the Napa Valley Register. This comes as a fresh change following recent news of child killings and flamboyant funerals.

From supermarkets to apparel shops to gambling rooms, everybody paid off Bagheria’s bagmen—or else. “No one should suck the blood of my children,” said one exasperated shopkeeper forced to offer cash “gifts” to a parasitical boss. The merchants’ willingness to name names, along with the cooperation of former gangster Sergio Flamia, helped police capture twenty-one extortioners.

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Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

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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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More Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

Below are more excerpts of emails sent to the funders of my Sicilian Mafia photo shoot, which concluded March 2. Where are all the photos? I'm saving them for the book, of course!

Ninetta BagarellaFEBRUARY 23: It took me four trips to Corleone over the years to get every photo I need, and the collection is now complete. Only in the last year did I find home addresses for godfathers Luciano Leggio and his protege, Totò Riina. Totò's sister still lives in the Riina house, but she has never been a problem. Getting the house of Riina's wife, Ninetta Bagarella—that's been intimidating.

She was born into the Mafia in this house and became the first woman to be convicted of Mafia association. Her husband Totò "the Beast", her eldest son and her brother are all behind bars. But with with the youngest son out of prison (living north) and a daughter who married a mafioso in town, I didn't want to let any menfolk catch me taking pictures of the house….

By my luck, I chose Saturday morning, the time the old women beat their rugs on their balconies and waddle off to the market. I waited for one to finish her errands—too short to be Ninetta—then powered up my tiny backup camera in my pocket and walked down that alley. I got to #24 and took three automatic shots of varying exposures. No screams, no guys yelling "O! O!"….

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Chamber of Horrors

by Bluto Ray

Running along Palermo’s southern waterfront is the Corso dei Mille, a boulevard named for the advance that Garibaldi and his thousand soldiers made on the route in 1860. That era’s splendor of palaces and citrus groves was replaced with reckless development and gridlocked traffic, the very air tinted orange with smog. In the 1970s, the decaying neighborhood was ruled by one of the Mafia’s most degenerate bosses, Filippo Marchese.

Filippo MarcheseMarchese operated his own rackets--he was implicated as a drug trafficker who laundered earnings through the banks--but he played a significant role as an executioner for the Corleonese Mafia led by Totò Riina. He set up a grisly death factory in a filthy, abandoned apartment by the shore which came to be called the Room of Death.

The victims were generally losers of the Mafia war of the early 1980s: those hoodlums who ran afoul of the Corleonesi. Interrogations in the Room of Death were conducted at a table set with a few chairs. While a crew of four or five men restrained a victim with ropes or chains, Marchese took personal pleasure in doing the strangling himself. Sometimes he snorted cocaine and masturbated to the spectacle.

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