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Entries in Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (7)

Friday
Mar152013

Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

On March 2, I returned from a very productive photo shoot in Sicily, the last such trip to gather locations for my upcoming book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide. The opportunity was made possible by a generous group of donors to my Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. Below are excerpts from my near-daily reports sent to these contributors by email.

Gaetano BadalamentiFEBRUARY 20: I touched down on my beloved Sicily a few hours ago. On the very day that two former CEOs of Alitalia were indicted for "alleged wrongdoing" during the airline's bankruptcy in 2008, I feared the worst for the JFK > Rome > Palermo leg of my flight. But everything went off without a hitch: no delays, a very decent chicken dinner with a restaurant-worthy tiramisù, a fascinating effervescent red wine (gratis, of course), and an escort to lead us across the daunting Fiumicino airport in Rome to connect with the final flight. Take that, United!

Maybe I read the Italian papers too much, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed that Pier Ferdinando Casini was on board our flight to Palermo. He's the former president of Italy's Chamber of Deputies and perennial centrist politician possibly implicated in a recent bribery scandal…

To land in Palermo is to be immersed in the Mafia. The name of the airport is Falcone-Borsellino, the two judges blown up weeks apart in 1992. The reason the airport is where it is—too far from the city and too close to the sea for proper landing strips—is because the Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti owned the land and steered all the building contracts his way.

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Sunday
Jan292012

Homecoming

The kid who took on the Mafia's toughest killers

 by Carl Russo

Sutera, an isolated town in Sicily’s hinterland, is a captivating hodgepodge of adobe dwellings and baroque churches decaying quietly off the beaten tourist path. The picturesque locale, dominated by the jutting Mount San Paulino, was sufficiently antique for filmmaker Michael Cimino to use it as a stand-in for Salvatore Giuliano’s village in The Sicilian. Like the legendary bandit, Sutera’s favorite son eventually came home in a wooden box—minus the paparazzi and headlines.

Calogero Zucchetto

Calogero Zucchetto couldn’t wait to become a cop. He left his sleepy village of Sutera at a young age for the excitement of the big city. Before his twentieth birthday, he was on the team of bodyguards escorting Judge Falcone through the streets of Palermo. But the earnest and gangling “Lillo,” as his friends called him, was anxious to step out into the field as an agent—deadly work in the early 1980s, the hunting season of Cosa Nostra.

As soon as Zucchetto made the ranks of Palermo’s Mobile Squad, he insinuated himself into environments foreign to him: the bordellos and betting rooms of the city where he was sure to rub shoulders with the Mafia.

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Friday
Aug262011

Out of the Woods

by Bluto Ray

Of all the ugly monuments dedicated to Mafia victims—and there are many ill-conceived tributes that dot Sicily—perhaps the homliest is found in the most beautiful of settings: the mountain hamlet of Ficuzza. The lush forests of Ferdinand III’s royal hunting grounds—now a nature preserve—open onto a grassy piazza dominated by the gold-hued palace built by the Bourbon “King of Two Sicilies.” Bordering the eastern edge of the square are the romantic two-hundred-year-old arcades where the Lieutenant Colonel of the Carabinieri, Guiseppe Russo, was gunned down in 1977, a fact made blunt by a concrete stub that bears his name.

Colonel Giuseppe RussoColonel Russo, a native of Calabria, kept his family in a little house on the piazza of lovely Ficuzza. It was a refuge from the hazards of his career as the commander of the Mafia unit in smog-shrouded Palermo. But Ficuzza is located a scant seven miles from the city of Corleone and was, during Russo’s residency, on the turf of local crime bosses Totò Riina and Bernard Provenzano. Russo had a history with these Corleonesi, having investigated their kidnappings and infiltration into public works. He even discovered Riina’s wedding invitation and a honeymoon photo in an apartment used by his wife, Ninetta.

The threats made to Russo by the Corleonesi came with the territory. His superior, General Dalla Chiesa, a marked man himself, mounted a symbolic counteroffensive by walking the streets of Corleone flanked by Russo in broad daylight. But as the bosses kept an eye on Russo, he kept tabs on them.

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Saturday
Jul232011

The Pools of Palermo

by Bluto Ray

Earlier this year, a court prosecutor found an old cassette in a box she hadn’t opened since her college days of the early 1980s. The tape contains the voice of a lecturer, tinged with a rural Sicilian accent, cautioning an audience of students about drugs. The speech was not a harangue by a pro-abstinence zealot; it was a dire warning about Mafia hegemony delivered by Rocco Chinnici, at the time one of the world’s foremost experts of organized crime:

 

Rocco Chinnici“The greatest danger there is today is resignation in the tendency to view the Mafia as an unavoidable evil in our time. We need to react. We need to make young people in particular understand that the Mafia, with its manufacture and sale of drugs, has exceeded itself in the criminal power that has always been its trademark…. There’s a need for citizen responsibility…. In a city like Palermo, so much is permeated by the Mafia. And the overwhelming majority, the silent ones, the fearful, are really on the judge’s side when he does his duty.”

 

Each year thousands of Italians march in tribute to a pair of beloved judges martyred by the Mafia in the 1990s, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Politicians make speeches and dedicate streets in their honor; schoolchildren lay wreathes on their statues. But often overlooked is the man who hand-picked these brilliant men for his anti-Mafia pool: Chief Prosecutor Chinnici, who speaks from beyond the grave on that cheap cassette recorded four months before his murder of 1983.

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Thursday
Mar312011

Hit and Miss

by Bluto Ray

In the mid-1980s, the “excellent cadavers” were starting to pile up. Investigative judge Carlo Palermo had already lost two distinguished colleagues to Mafia assassins: Colonel Giuseppe Russo and Judge Giangiacomo Montalto. Palermo took on the cartels while stationed in the northern Italian city of Trento. There he uncovered a vast international drug and arms operation that sparked a bribery scandal in Parliament.

Barbara Rizzo AstaCertain higher powers apparently found the dedicated servant to be a little too efficient: all of his investigations were ordered closed. Frustrated, Palermo transferred to the Sicilian port city of Trapani to take the place of the murdered Judge Montalto.

Certainly nobody else wanted the job in the Mafia infested region. In those days, the hilly northwest region of the island hid a number of factories busily refining Turkish heroin for the American market. The 38-year-old judge arrived with a list of thirty or so mafiosi he had connected to trafficking and other crimes. It took only two weeks for the Mafia to throw him a welcoming party.

On the morning of April 2, 1985, Judge Palermo was being whisked down the coastal highway from a military base to his Trapani office in an armored Fiat 132. Following close behind were his bodyguards in an unprotected Fiat Ritmo. Waiting for the tiny entourage was a Volkswagen Golf parked by the side of the road in the beach town of Pizzolungo. It was empty except for the nearly fifty pounds of dynamite inside set to detonate by remote control.

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Saturday
Mar052011

Hero Without a Body

by Bluto Ray

Chalk up another disappointment for Sicilians in the unpunished murder of Placido Rizzotto. A pile of bones believed to be the remains of the trade unionist failed to produce a DNA match with the exhumed body of his father when tested last October. Regardless, the annual gathering to commemorate Rizzotto will take place, as it has every March since his death in 1948, in the central piazza of Corleone. Eulogies will be delivered on the very spot where he took on the Mafia singlehandedly.

Placido RizzottoThough he belongs to a tradition of peasant activists assassinated for challenging the Mafia’s feudal estate system--thirty-five were killed before him--Rizzotto was one of the most authentic and homegrown men of the bunch. The third-grade dropout did not arrive at an ideology through books but by observation and experience. His mafioso father Carmelo was an estate boss who was thrown into prison for nearly five years, leaving the young Placido in charge of a brother, five younger sisters and the family cows before reaching his twelfth birthday. His bed was a mat of straw.

Rizzotto’s political education grew after he was drafted as a Fascist soldier to fight in the Venetian region of northern Italy. After Mussolini’s fortune reversed in 1943, Rizzotto joined the partisans fighting Nazis in the region. He returned to Corleone two years later with a new view of the Mafia’s power monopoly. His perspective could find traction in today’s political debates:

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