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Entries in Termini Imerese (4)


The Shakedown Shutdown

21 squeeze artists arrested in mob-infested Bagheria (and other good news)

by Carl Russo

Massimo Carminati“BASTA!”—“ENOUGH!”—was the cry of three dozen businessmen shaken down to the brink of poverty in Bagheria, a moldering baroque city long controlled by the Sicilian Mafia. The so-called “shopkeepers revolt” took a sledgehammer to the mob’s extortion racket and made headlines from the New York Times to the Napa Valley Register. This comes as a fresh change following recent news of child killings and flamboyant funerals.

From supermarkets to apparel shops to gambling rooms, everybody paid off Bagheria’s bagmen—or else. “No one should suck the blood of my children,” said one exasperated shopkeeper forced to offer cash “gifts” to a parasitical boss. The merchants’ willingness to name names, along with the cooperation of former gangster Sergio Flamia, helped police capture twenty-one extortioners.

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Tales from the Crypt

Why are coffins stealing the headlines in Sicily? (Short answer: who knows?)

by Carl Russo

Detail of a tombstone in PalermoWHAT’S UP WITH SICILIAN COFFINS this year? You just can’t keep ‘em down. It started with an article in La Repubblica last month about a finely crafted pine box that showed up at a wedding, in 2012, as a cruel gag gift. The bride also received a sinister message on her answering machine: “This coffin is not for your husband but for you and your entire malarazza”—a colossal dis of her family.

A trial bringing harassment charges to two men and a woman, former friends of the couple, began on January 30. Although the targets of the prank have decided not to sue, they issued the following (under)statement: “We’re not interested in money, but these are things you just don’t do.” The couple has left Sicily permanently. It was a truly sick joke, but at least the coffin was empty.

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More Letters from Sicily

by Carl Russo

Below are more excerpts of emails sent to the funders of my Sicilian Mafia photo shoot, which concluded March 2. Where are all the photos? I'm saving them for the book, of course!

Ninetta BagarellaFEBRUARY 23: It took me four trips to Corleone over the years to get every photo I need, and the collection is now complete. Only in the last year did I find home addresses for godfathers Luciano Leggio and his protege, Totò Riina. Totò's sister still lives in the Riina house, but she has never been a problem. Getting the house of Riina's wife, Ninetta Bagarella—that's been intimidating.

She was born into the Mafia in this house and became the first woman to be convicted of Mafia association. Her husband Totò "the Beast", her eldest son and her brother are all behind bars. But with with the youngest son out of prison (living north) and a daughter who married a mafioso in town, I didn't want to let any menfolk catch me taking pictures of the house….

By my luck, I chose Saturday morning, the time the old women beat their rugs on their balconies and waddle off to the market. I waited for one to finish her errands—too short to be Ninetta—then powered up my tiny backup camera in my pocket and walked down that alley. I got to #24 and took three automatic shots of varying exposures. No screams, no guys yelling "O! O!"….

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Loose Dogs

by Bluto Ray

A soothing silence blankets the agricultural heartland in the northern reaches of Caltanissetta Province. Country roads, deserted but for the occasional slow-moving truck, amble past endless fields of wheat and grapevines. The towns along the way are modest and unremarkable, belying the richest commercial region of Sicily. These small concentrations of block houses look alike and, in the case of Valledolmo and the neighboring Vallelunga Pratameno, even sound alike.

Gandolfo PanepintoBut where there is money on the island there is Mafia--with its attending violence. On February 23, 1988, 41-year-old Gandolfo Panepinto was standing in front of the garage, near his home, where he worked on his neighbors’ automobiles. Two armed men appeared suddenly and opened fire. Panepinto died on the spot, filled with bullets from a pistol and a rifle. The killers and their motive remained a mystery for years. How had a small-town mechanic become a Mafia target?

In Sicily, appearances frequently deceive. A laborer might take an entrepreneurial interest in the local underworld, as Panepinto did. He had a criminal history and had just returned to Valledolmo after a court-imposed exile in the mainland city of Lecce. He wasted no time in setting up an extortion racket. His gang used the traditional method of property vandalism to intimidate local businesses who would not pay.

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