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Entries in Totò Cuffaro (4)

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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Wednesday
Apr172013

News Muse 4.17.13

by Carl Russo

The Muse has struck again! My keyboard is a bloody mess as I bang out the last sections of my book, The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide. Part of my burden is to keep up with Cosa Nostra’s never-ending news and update my manuscript accordingly. A few items have popped up recently that beg a quick comment.

Michele AielloLike the largest confiscation of Mafia booty in Italy since…ever! As Sicilians suffer some of the highest unemployment rates in the European Union, a bank-busting $1.7 billion worth of dirty assets were seized from Vito Nicastro, “the Lord of the Wind.” A frontman for gone-with-the-wind fugitive boss Matteo Messina Denaro, Mr. Nicastro is said to have laundered Mafia money mostly through wind and solar farms in Trapani province, reaping the green from “green energy.”

And after the authorities made the confiscations, what did they do with Nicastro? Throw him in jail pending a trial? Nah. They suggested he stick around his home city of Alcamo, which, if you’ve ever been there, you’ll say is a bit harsh. Unless it’s Alcamo Marina, a separate resort town with nice homes and white beaches and probably where the bastard lives.

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Thursday
Nov012012

News Muse 11.1.12

by Carl Russo

If you squint hard enough, you can see something good in Sicily’s kooky regional election this week. The shockingly high amount of voters who boycotted the race—57 percent sat out Sunday’s polls—can be read as a sign that the orgy is over for Silvio Berlusconi’s compromised cadre. More important for Sicilians, it shows that the Mafia can no longer deliver the votes to the party it favors.

Rosario CrocettaNow enter the victorious center-left governor, Rosario Crocetta, a tough-minded pol with the kind of anti-Mafia bona fides to put mobsters on notice. He hails from Gela, an industrial city on the southern coast so lousy with crime that it has its own homegrown mafia, La Stidda. (Language lesson: stella, “star” in Italian = stidda in Sicilian.)

As Gela’s seven-year mayor, Crocetta purged the city government and even the local carabiniere of stiddesi, closed eighty of their housing projects, and persuaded many shopkeepers to quit paying extortion fees. Soon elected to parliament, Crocetta served on the EU’s Anti-Mafia Commission.

Click to see the photosCrocetta also survived a 2008 plot involving a Lithuanian hitman hired to assassinate “that communist faggot,” according to a boss caught on tape. That he is gay excites the mainstream press which has tried to come to terms with this inversion of Italian machismo. Then again, Crocetta is no powder puff. (Compare Berlusconi’s makeup and painted-on hair. And no jokes about Palermo’s soccer colors.)

Second place in the governor’s race went to Beppo Grillo, the comic-provocateur who taunts Berlusconi publicly, calling him “the Psycho Dwarf.” (The former prime minister, tarnished by sex scandals and plagued with a big mouth, was slapped with a tax fraud conviction last week.)

Grillo’s protest vote further reveals strong disaffection in Sicily, a red state-like conservative bastion. If anything, he split the left vote and still managed to trounce the Dwarf’s candidate, Sebastiano Musumeci, who came in third.

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Wednesday
Oct172012

News Muse 10.17.12

Updated on Saturday, October 20, 2012 by Registered CommenterCarl Russo

by Carl Russo

Only the biggest Mafia stories get the Time magazine news splash, so I was surprised to read, “Italy Dismisses Entire City Government over Suspected Mafia Ties.” The forced breakup of a regional capitol city—in this case, Reggio Calabria, the toenail in the Italian boot—is news, but not of the earth-shattering variety. With a population of 185,000, Reggio (as the locals call it) isn't much bigger than Providence, Rhode Island, or Knoxville, Tennessee.

Salvatore "Totò" CuffaroOn the island of Sicily alone, forty-four municipalities have been dissolved by the Interior Ministry for reasons of Mafia infiltration since 1991. My own list of such cities covers the last five years or so: Belmonte Mazzagno, Castellammare del Golfo, Roccamena, Salemi, Siculiana, and Terme Vigliatore.

And a list of cities whose leaders were investigated and/or arrested: Carini, Misilmeri, Palagonia, Palermo, and Villabate.

The aforementioned Roccamena is a typical Sicilian town, isolated from the others by vast plains of yellow barren fields. Its peaceful tangle of streets betray a turbulent past. Peasants there fought the Mafia’s brutal estate managers for the right to work the land. Nobel Peace Prize-nominated activist Danilo Dolci staged hunger strikes over construction jobs that drew news cameras to its tiny piazza.

I went to Roccamena in 2006, months after its mayor, Giuseppe Salvatore Gambino, was arrested for Mafia association along with Bartolomeo Cascio, the capomafia of the area. Despite a pistol found in Gambino’s desk, which he denied was his, and some incriminating phone taps, the ex-mayor was eventually absolved, avoiding a stiff ten-year sentence. I managed to snap a photo of the city hall before the Chief of Police stepped out of the building to stop me.

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