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Entries in Trapani (9)

Sunday
Jul072013

Kicked to the Curb

by Carl Russo

PALERMO SOCCER STAR Fabrizio Miccoli apologized to his city, to his family and to the family of Giovanni Falcone for calling the slain anti-Mafia prosecutor “filth.” The word he used, captured on an intercepted phone call, was “fango”—literally "mud.” But when used as invective, it means something closer to “merda.”

Fabrizio MiccoliThe blasphemy was the tipping point for the pudgy-in-pink captain of Palermo's Serie A team, a goal-kicking striker (Italians prefer the English term “bomber”) already under investigation for alleged Mafia association and attempted extortion. “He needs a change of scenery,” said Palermo soccer president Maurizio Zamparini, who declined to renew Miccoli's contract when it expired June 30.

Miccoli’s red-card foul came after the discovery of his very close friendship with Mauro Lauricella, son of Palermo boss Antonino Lauricella, a.k.a U Scintilluni (“the Big Shiny Guy,” for his polished shoes), whose September 2011 arrest was a festive occasion. The 33-year-old Miccoli is charged with sending Lauricella Junior to shake down tardy creditors. Miccoli readily admits to his brotherly bond with Lauricella but claims ignorance of the man's Mafia links. Frank Sinatra made the same claim about his pal Lucky Luciano.

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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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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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Sunday
Oct072012

News Muse 10.7.12

by Carl Russo

Flush a toilet, thank “Diabolik."

Godfather Matteo Messina Denaro, the super-fugitive from Castelvetrano with a playboy rep, was stripped of $33 million of his estimated $390 billion fortune last week. The booty included a group of eighteen companies that came to light with the recent capture of a frontman for the elusive “Diabolik," proving that the control of public works is still in the black hand of the mob.

Matteo Messina DenaroConstruction contracts worth $65 million kept his concrete pouring at seaports, resorts, highways and even the Palermo airport. The flush of many a hotel toilet came courtesy of the boss’ waterworks.

My only question is, while attending the couscous festival in San Vito Lo Capo some years back, did I lodge at a Messina Denaro hotel or a Bernardo Provenzano hotel? Each boss had his grubby mitts on the beach town’s tourist trade at the time.

Montreal’s former “Teflon Don,” Vito Rizzuto, may be free to roam Canada after a five-year repose in a Colorado prison—extortion, murder accessory, the usual—but he’s still a wanted wanted man in Sicily. His crime was the attempt to launder money through the biggest public project of them all: the bridge that will link the island to the Italian mainland.

Click to see the photosRizzuto will have to return to his native Cattolica Eraclea eventually, at the end of the long day, where he will spend eternity in a concrete crypt. Who gets that cement job?

Last Wednesday, the regional court in nearby Agrigento chose a unique method for the redistribution of ill-gotten wealth. As Giuseppe Falsone—another playboy don of the Messina Denaro mold—begins a long prison stint, his assets will be doled out to the citizens of the region for “existential damages.”

The $130,000 payout will be existential, too, hopefully poured back into drained city coffers in the land of crumbling Greek temples, with another $3.25 million to be fought over later.

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Thursday
May172012

Hotel Mafioso

by Bluto Ray

The Mafia, it can be argued, begins and ends in prison. Creation myths abound about the criminal organization as a widespread social phenomenon, the most mystical and romantic tales believed by many self-justifying “men of honor” over the ages. The reality is no less colorful: a motley crowd was cast into Sicily’s dank jail cells during the tumultuous nineteenth century—street toughs and town bosses, revolutionaries and soldiers of lost causes—creating a peculiar Petri dish of hybrid criminal culture.

Gaspare PisciottaNumerous violent uprisings jolted the island after Ferdinand III consolidated the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1816. The royal descendant of the Spanish branch of Bourbons (who changed his name to Ferdinand I of Sicily) was viewed as only the latest of conquerors by a people who had known oppressive foreign occupation for millennia. Fittingly, Ferdinand’s most lasting legacy is a massive stone fortress in Palermo that has served as a prison since 1837. Originally called La Vicaria, its current name evokes the notoriety of Sing Sing or Alcatraz to Italians: Ucciardone Prison.

Though the Bourbon regime fell in 1860 after Garibaldi’s forces raided Sicily and Naples, thus pulling the two kingdoms into the country we know today as Italy, Sicily remained a powder keg politically. Revolutionaries split into pro-unity and Sicilian autonomist camps, with Bourbon loyalists conspiring at the edges. Battles in the streets of Palermo broke out in a lawless bandit-ridden landscape. An autonomist rebellion in 1866 waged against government soldiers erupted both outside and inside the walls of Ucciardone, where imprisoned rebels battled the guards. It was, according to the city’s prefect at the time, a Mafia-led uprising.

Click to see the photosMafia. The buzzword of the 1860s that encapsulated both the tough-guy swagger of dandified hoodlums and the secret “brotherhoods” that provided stronger community protection than a brutal or distant government. The term spread beyond Sicily with the smash success of a stage play debuted in 1863 called I mafiusi di la Vicaria. The plot concerns the Sicilian patriotism shared by a revolutionary lawyer and his mafiosi cellmates in Ucciardone. The theme resonated with audiences; the prison populations of Sicily and Naples were known to be surrogate states run by the underworld bosses housed within.

James Fentress’ crucial history, Rebels and Mafiosi, characterizes the period’s strange bedfellows:

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Saturday
Apr282012

My Latitanza

by Bluto Ray

Time Off for Good Behavior Dept.: This blurb is a little sneak for my mammoth piece on the prisons of the Cosa Nostra, coming in a few weeks. You see, I’ll be “latitante,” a fugitive from the blogosphere, the object of whispered rumors and imagined sightings at illicit betting rooms in Palermo.

Actually, I’ll be out in the field through mid-May, but I’ll be back with photos of a few prisons all too familiar to the Mafia. If successful—for one should never attempt to take pictures of a maximum-security penitentiary in Italy—I’ll present the new images along with my shot of the notorious Ucciardone Prison, which you may have seen in an earlier post.

A list of the personalities covered in the upcoming essay, titled “Hotel Mafioso,” should, I hope, entice avid Mafia observers to return: Gerlando Alberti, Gaetano Badalamenti, Tommaso Buscetta, Vito Cascio Ferro, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Falcone, Salvatore Giuliano, Luciano Leggio, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Marchese, Cesare Mori, Gaspare Mutolo, Gaspare Pisciotta, Totò Riina and more.

If those names just flitter past like the credits of an old spaghetti western, then come back for the stories; they’ll depict 150 years of Mafia life under lock and key. But here’s one more teaser: Which of the characters listed above created this Sicilian-themed painting in his secret studio? The winner will receive a goat’s head.

Buon primo maggio a tutti!

 

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