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Entries in Rocco Chinnici (5)

Friday
Feb072014

Sacred and Profane: The Heavens Open Above a Mafia Stronghold

The Sistine Chapel of Sicily is restored after 46 years in the dark, and Riina sings (by accident)

by Carl Russo

Totò RiinaTRAVELERS FOLLOWING the itineraries of my new book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, might be surprised to encounter something beautiful in Castelvetrano, a city darkened by its criminal history. Notorious as the place where the bandit Salvatore Giuliano was gunned down, and now the home base of fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, the Castelvetranesi can be proud of one thing: they’ve got the Sistine Chapel of Sicily.

Beginning today, the first time since the great quake of 1968 forced its closure, worshippers and wanderers alike may behold one of the finest spectacles the Late Renaissance has to offer: a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Antonino Ferraro of Giuliana, Sicily.

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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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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
Jun092011

An Enemy Within?

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 FalconeGiovanni 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.

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Sunday
Feb202011

The Pope's Country Club

by Bluto Ray

Giuseppe Greco’s death from a tumor last week garnered more press than his movies ever did. The obituaries read like a string of bad reviews, casting the filmmaker’s career in the shadow of the Mafia. The plot points are damning: he served a four-year sentence for laundering illicit money through his productions; he borrowed a deluxe Mercedes 500 from Palermo’s crooked mayor, Salvo Lima, for a film shoot; and, after jail, he wrote and directed a family saga that romanticizes the Mafia of old Sicily.

Michele GrecoBut the piece of publicity that stuck to him most was the kind you can’t buy and wouldn’t want to: Giuseppe was the son of Michele Greco, the infamous “Pope” of the Mafia.

Don Michele Greco, the debonair silver fox whose ever-present Bible and prayer cards lent him a pious air, was the toast of Palermitan society in the 1970s. His estate, “Favarella,” in the eastern suburb of Ciaculli, was a lush expanse of tangerine orchards with plenty of wild game to excite the sportsmen among the local elites. Many of the rooms in Greco’s lodge had giant ovens and barbecue grills enjoyed by the business leaders, politicians and policemen who were frequent guests. Favorites were given a key to the gate.

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