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Entries in Salvo Lima (5)

Tuesday
Apr022013

Final Dispatch

by Carl Russo

Here’s my final letter, dated February 27, 2013, sent from Sicily to the patrons of my photo shoot. The images mentioned will appear in my upcoming book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide.

Massimo CianciminoEscape from Palermo! As much as I love the intrigue of the capital city of Sicily (and the Mafia), three days of maneuvering the confusing streets with cut-up squares of a city map on my lap and no street signs is tedium, not adventure. The saving grace is that it's not roaring hot as in previous trips. If the technology were cheap, I would've attached a live web-cam to the hood and broadcast the ride.

At any turn, you go from a speedway to ancient labyrinthine souk where the cobblestones crack into dirt, and you find yourself face-to-face with an old man shoeing a horse. Add to that cars coming at you from blind corners at all moments. Cross traffic at intersections is a free-for-all, the driver in front of you screeches to a halt in to buy artichokes from a roadside vendor, pedestrian wander into traffic, and yet it all works, without American-style road rage.

Let me catch you up on one uncomfortable moment I mentioned at the close of my last letter. I was parked across the street from the palazzo of Massimo Ciancimino.

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Friday
Aug312012

Paolo Borsellino: The End

by Bluto Ray

One day in that terrible Palermo summer of 1992, already darkened by the recent killing of top anti-Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, two magistrates entered upon a scene that deepened their despair. There at his desk in the Prosecutor’s Office sat their colleague, Judge Paolo Borsellino, head in hands, crying repeatedly, “A friend has betrayed me.”

Paolo BorsellinoIt was disturbing behavior for the heroic public servant who, as Falcone’s right-hand investigator in Italy’s famous maxi-trials, had helped clap the irons on nineteen powerful Mafia bosses for good. Borsellino’s breakdown came from more than just the exhaustion of working day and night to find his partner’s killers. He had been telling everyone: “I’m racing against time. I’m looking directly at the Mafia. I have so much work to do, so much work...”

His work was cut short a few days later. On July 19, Borsellino drove from his villa in a nearby suburb to a modern apartment complex in downtown Palermo, led and followed by the two other cars of his bodyguard team. The judge was coming to fetch his mother for an appointment at her cardiologist’s office. The doctor, a family friend, was unable to make the house call because someone had set fire to his car the night before.

Click to see the photosThe convoy entered the cul-de-sac of Via Mariano D’Amelio where its three drivers went into their familiar defensive positions. Borsellino parked and stepped from his Fiat Croma, lit a cigarette, and smiled enigmatically as the men moved to surround him. They were well-practiced in the “human turtle” formation used to move the judge through public spaces.

At that instant, a great fireball exploded, piercing the quiet Sunday evening and flinging the cars into the air. A column of thick black smoke obscured the men’s severed limbs jettisoned several stories high. People rushed to the scene to discover the horror of the latest Mafia attack: Paolo Borsellino and five of his escorts blown up less than two months after Judge Falcone met the same fiery fate.

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Saturday
Dec172011

Plus Ça Change

by Bluto Ray

The rest of Italy may be falling apart under the eurozone crisis, but the agents of Sicily’s anti-Mafia police have been busy earning their Alfa Romeos. Big busts—the kind that steal headlines and inspire politicians to speechify—have been coming in rapid-fire succession. Whether the clans of the island are being “decapitated” (to use a favored term of the Italian press) or just being set back remains to be seen. But details emerging from current investigations point to the stubborn entrenchment of the Mafia in Sicilian society.

Enzo FragalàThere’s a persistence of irony as infuriating as amusing to news like the tidbit from Wednesday’s predawn capture of twenty-eight mafiosi around Palermo. On the sucker’s list of businesses extorted by the controlling gang of the Porta Nuova district is, allegedly, the production company of Squadra antimafia, a TV crime-soaper which enjoys high ratings on a Berlusconi network.

Neighborhood boss Calogero Lo Presti and his boys provided transportation, food and even cocaine to the cast and crew, according to the informant Monica Vitale, a former Mafia “tax collector” and ex-girlfriend of an imprisoned boss. (The real-life cops recorded a phoned complaint to the dealer who couriered the nose candy by scooter: “My ‘photocopy’ isn’t as good as those other ‘photocopies.’ How come?”) And just like a strong-arm union rule, the producers were forced to install a gang member on the crew.

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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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Saturday
Jan152011

The Beast of Palermo

by Bluto Ray

Our first look at Salvatore “Totò” Riina begins on the last day of his accomplished criminal career: January 15, 1993.  The capomafia was being driven along Piazza Einstein, a freeway interchange in Palermo’s residential Uditore district, when police cars sided up to his modest Citröen and forced a stop.  Relieved that the ambush was not a Mafia attack, he told the arresting officers, “Yes, I’m Riina. Bravo. Congratulations.”  He professed his innocence and surrendered his false I.D.

Salvatore "Totò" RiinaLess than twenty-four hours had passed since his hideout was discovered among a complex of luxury villas in Uditore. The carabiniere had been surveilling a particular house on Via Bernini swarming with mafiosi. A reformed boss threatened by Riina had identified three figures on the video screen as the boss’ wife, son and gardener. The agents could scarcely believe their luck: Sicily’s most-wanted man of the late twentieth century was theirs for the taking.

Though Riina evaded capture for twenty-three years, he never cut a low profile.  His actions rocked Italy to its foundations and made world headlines. In January of 1992, he “went crazy,” according to a court document, when four hundred of his fellow “men of honor” were sentenced in Palermo’s Mafia maxi-trial. By the year’s end, the two chief investigators on the case, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were blown to bits.  Likewise, crooked politicians Salvo Lima and Ignazio Salvo were gunned down for failing to intervene on behalf of the Mafia.

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