Is it last call at the hotel Lucky Luciano made famous?
by Carl Russo
AFTER WORLD WAR II, America’s population of junkies swelled to hysteria-inducing numbers, courtesy of the New York Mafia families that pushed French-made heroin. The Narcotic Control Act, passed by the US Congress in 1956, took a sledgehammer to the illegal trade: two hundred gangsters suddenly found themselves serving forty-year prison sentences. Their brethren in Sicily, while finding it lucrative to smuggle morphine in orange crates, were still more invested in peddling contraband cigarettes. Lucky Luciano’s Mafia summit of October 1957 changed all that. The Sicilian-born gangster, recently booted from America, summoned New York boss Joe Bonanno and his associates to Palermo for a four-day convention with the leaders of Cosa Nostra.”
by Carl Russo
A 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.
by Bluto Ray
Those cultured hooligans at the UK zine Sabotage Times have reprinted another piece from this blog—I’ve always wanted to work with Brando!
Which brings me to the biggest news for Mafia watchers this month: the release of convicted hood Giuseppe Salvatore Riina from prison. “Salvuccio” (“Bad Sal”), a.k.a. “Riina Junior,” is the son of a true-to-life godfather from Corleone, Totò Riina, who will stay in prison forever.
It was the second time the paparazzi had staked out the prison gate waiting for Salvuccio's liberation. In January 2008 he was let out early, six years into an eight-year sentence, while the court deliberated over his case. The image of the junior boss emerging from the maximum security fortress in a snow-white puffer vest and pink shirtsleeves had a creepily incongruous Milan Fashion Week vibe. At the end of the catwalk he stepped into an idling black Mercedes to reunite with the notorious first lady of the Cosa Nostra, Ninetta Bagarella, a.k.a. “Mamma.”
The European press ate it up, but the citizens of Corleone—the convict’s old neighbors—were appalled to have him back. (“He’s socially dangerous!” said the mayor.) Within a year, Salvuccio was ordered to finish his sentence for Mafia-related crimes; back to jail he went.
by Bluto Ray
“Don Puglisi would not be proud of the Sicily of today, a Sicily that doesn't show more indignation,” declared a conservative politician last week at a gathering to commemorate a much loved priest. “The truth is that the Sicily of today isn’t worthy of the martyrs who fought the Mafia.” He berated the island’s young people as “dormant” and “embarrassing.”
But the politico’s words rang hollow later that evening as hundreds of teens took to the streets—along with parents, grandparents and teachers—in a torchlight procession to the spot where the cleric was murdered for his opposition to the Mafia.
The name of Father Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi will be forever associated with Brancaccio, a beat-up fringe of Palermo whose impoverished denizens are doubly cursed by urban decay and Cosa Nostra crossfire. Wedged between cliff and sea, railroad and freeway, smoggy Brancaccio sits in a historic battle zone of mafiosi.
Fearsome hoods like Michele “The Pope” Greco, Pietro “Little Mister” Aglieri and Stefano “The Falcon” Bontade trafficked and killed from Ciaculli to the south to Santa Maria del Gesù to the west. The atmosphere of violence and crime led the Sicilian-born Puglisi to take over the godforsaken parish in 1990, turning down plum assignments in richer neighborhoods despite his illustrious thirty-year career.
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 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.
by Bluto Ray
There was nothing supernatural about Judge Falcone’s death premonition; death was all around him. When he moved up the ladder from bankruptcy cases to Mafia prosecutions in 1979, the Palace of Justice in Palermo was still recovering from the assassination of its chief examiner, Cesare Terranova. The crime came two months after the murder of police chief Boris Giuliano and was followed three months later by that of Piersanti Mattarella, the President of Sicily. Then those of chief prosecutor Gaetano Costa (August, 1980) and Palermo’s prefect, General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa (May, 1982).
Giovanni Falcone, the “super-judge” who transformed the Italian judicial system from a passive revolving door into an aggressive prosecutor, knew he would be taken out by the Mafia and freely admitted it. Falcone’s boss, Rocco Chinnici, who succeeded Terranova until the Mafia struck him down in 1983, had the same premonition and advised him to keep a diary until his own fateful day came. Falcone took the advice then charged ahead with the greatest Mafia indictment in history, the “maxi-trial” of 1986-87, which tried 475 members of the Cosa Nostra.
As he learned, Falcone’s instinctive ability to coax confessions from powerful Mafia bosses--our knowledge of Cosa Nostra largely comes from the explosive testimony of supergrass Tommaso Buscetta--created enemies on both sides of the law. The judge had fairly shrugged off two brushes with death during prison visits: he was taken hostage at a jailhouse riot in Trapani and nearly shot in Palermo’s notorious Ucciardone. But it was the bomb planted at a rented vacation house, its location known only to a few in his circle, that profoundly rattled him.