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Entries in Giovanni Brusca (9)

Thursday
Dec192013

Unsung Heroes, Unstrung Hooligans

A beating by the Mafia didn’t change the mind of one stubborn shopkeeper


by Carl Russo

OUR FASCINATION with the Mafia is in part a leer at the organization’s endless capacity to apply brute force in creative ways. To wit, last month’s story of a screaming victim tossed to ravenous pigs. But we’re also drawn to Mafia stories for the old good/evil dichotomy, Davids versus Goliaths armed to the teeth and cruel.

Giovanni BruscaOne news story with classical overtones is set in Noce, a traffic-snarled quarter of Palermo known as a Mafia stronghold since the late nineteenth century. A series of police crackdowns between October 2012 and March 2013 rid the local business community of pesky extortioners—for a few months, anyway. Cosa Nostra abhors a power vacuum: a new set of “tax collectors” soon descended on Noce merchants, demanding the pizzo—“protection” payments.

Those who hesitated to pay were duly punished, among them an artisanal carpenter who lost his Alfa Romeo to arson and was shot in the leg. Reporters noted that the new Mafia leader behind the attacks, 37-year-old Giuseppe Castelluccio, was also a carpenter. That irony grew darker with another reprisal against a holdout merchant, this time involving a blunt tool essential to the craft trade. But let’s take it back to last summer

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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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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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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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Thursday
May172012

Hotel Mafioso

by Bluto Ray

The Mafia, it can be argued, begins and ends in prison. Creation myths abound about the criminal organization as a widespread social phenomenon, the most mystical and romantic tales believed by many self-justifying “men of honor” over the ages. The reality is no less colorful: a motley crowd was cast into Sicily’s dank jail cells during the tumultuous nineteenth century—street toughs and town bosses, revolutionaries and soldiers of lost causes—creating a peculiar Petri dish of hybrid criminal culture.

Gaspare PisciottaNumerous violent uprisings jolted the island after Ferdinand III consolidated the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1816. The royal descendant of the Spanish branch of Bourbons (who changed his name to Ferdinand I of Sicily) was viewed as only the latest of conquerors by a people who had known oppressive foreign occupation for millennia. Fittingly, Ferdinand’s most lasting legacy is a massive stone fortress in Palermo that has served as a prison since 1837. Originally called La Vicaria, its current name evokes the notoriety of Sing Sing or Alcatraz to Italians: Ucciardone Prison.

Though the Bourbon regime fell in 1860 after Garibaldi’s forces raided Sicily and Naples, thus pulling the two kingdoms into the country we know today as Italy, Sicily remained a powder keg politically. Revolutionaries split into pro-unity and Sicilian autonomist camps, with Bourbon loyalists conspiring at the edges. Battles in the streets of Palermo broke out in a lawless bandit-ridden landscape. An autonomist rebellion in 1866 waged against government soldiers erupted both outside and inside the walls of Ucciardone, where imprisoned rebels battled the guards. It was, according to the city’s prefect at the time, a Mafia-led uprising.

Click to see the photosMafia. The buzzword of the 1860s that encapsulated both the tough-guy swagger of dandified hoodlums and the secret “brotherhoods” that provided stronger community protection than a brutal or distant government. The term spread beyond Sicily with the smash success of a stage play debuted in 1863 called I mafiusi di la Vicaria. The plot concerns the Sicilian patriotism shared by a revolutionary lawyer and his mafiosi cellmates in Ucciardone. The theme resonated with audiences; the prison populations of Sicily and Naples were known to be surrogate states run by the underworld bosses housed within.

James Fentress’ crucial history, Rebels and Mafiosi, characterizes the period’s strange bedfellows:

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Saturday
Apr282012

My Latitanza

by Bluto Ray

Time Off for Good Behavior Dept.: This blurb is a little sneak for my mammoth piece on the prisons of the Cosa Nostra, coming in a few weeks. You see, I’ll be “latitante,” a fugitive from the blogosphere, the object of whispered rumors and imagined sightings at illicit betting rooms in Palermo.

Actually, I’ll be out in the field through mid-May, but I’ll be back with photos of a few prisons all too familiar to the Mafia. If successful—for one should never attempt to take pictures of a maximum-security penitentiary in Italy—I’ll present the new images along with my shot of the notorious Ucciardone Prison, which you may have seen in an earlier post.

A list of the personalities covered in the upcoming essay, titled “Hotel Mafioso,” should, I hope, entice avid Mafia observers to return: Gerlando Alberti, Gaetano Badalamenti, Tommaso Buscetta, Vito Cascio Ferro, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Falcone, Salvatore Giuliano, Luciano Leggio, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Marchese, Cesare Mori, Gaspare Mutolo, Gaspare Pisciotta, Totò Riina and more.

If those names just flitter past like the credits of an old spaghetti western, then come back for the stories; they’ll depict 150 years of Mafia life under lock and key. But here’s one more teaser: Which of the characters listed above created this Sicilian-themed painting in his secret studio? The winner will receive a goat’s head.

Buon primo maggio a tutti!

 

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