Plus Three Other Stories of Most Wanted Criminals Captured Online
By Clarence Walker
Posted on April 10, 2010
Internet power strikes again. With lethal force, Facebook, the world's popular networking site--struck all the way into the remote corners of Italy, when police, after following up on a trail of online leads captured a Mob assassin wanted for contract murders, drug-trafficking and Mafia-related activities.
Approximately two weeks ago during the onset of spring break season, 'Ndrangheta Mob hitman Pasquale Manfredi (photo right), age 33, was arrested by Italian police in Isola Capo Rizzuto, a region near the city of Crotone in southern Italy.
Had it not been for Facebook the notorious gangster might still be on the loose.
"This was a good catch," an Italian investigator told ABC News based in Washington D.C.
For one year, as one of Italy's 100 most wanted criminals, Manfredi ran a competitive race to elude capture but when the Italian authorities investigated volumes of messages he posted to Facebook friends the digital communication led police to his front door where, according to officers, once they forced entry into Manfredi's apartment to arrest him they discovered a timely, laughable coincidence.
Gangster Manfredi had been chatting on Facebook!
Manfredi, a father of two children, communicated with Facebook friends using the nickname Scarface in honor of the classic 1980s gangster film starring Al Pacino.
A photo of Scarface is even plastered on Manfredi's Facebook site.
Authorities say Manfredi may have been a nice, smooth-talking guy on the internet but in real-life he is a cold-blood killer and a high-level boss of the Nicoscia-Manfredi clan, a faction of the 'Ndrangheta mob of Sicilian ancestors based in the Calabria region in southern Italy.
Facebook.com has over 400 million users worldwide. This phenomenal social network system has gripped millions throughout the world into its spellbound haven, a place where people log on every split second to pour out their hearts, their precious memories, their secrets, lusts and lies, posting pictures, and yes, even details of crimes committed and outlaws have the gall to post their mugs for prime time viewing.
Tim Sparapani, Facebook director of public policy in Washington D.C. estimates that "Facebook users spend 18 billion minutes on the site each day."
Investigators from Rome Central Operation assisted by officers from the city of Crotone led the probe to find gangster Manfredi. Informants tipped off the fugitive's hunters that Manfredi was a passionate Facebook user and regularly logged on to the site to chat, occassionally calling himself 'Georgie'.
Murder warrants for Manfredi accused him of killing rival clan member Carmine Arena in 2004. Police say Manfredi used a bazooka to blow up the Mob player.
A second killing Manfredi accused of was the death of Pasquale Tripaldi in 2005.
Informants told police the wanted Manfredi logged on to his facbook account so frequently the authorities were able to use sophisticated surveillance equipment to trace the direction of the signals each time Manfredi typed information into his computer.
Police refused to identify the tools they used to crack Manfredi's computer system to get the location where he was hiding out.
Crotone police crime squad chief Angelo Morabito also told ABC News when they apprehended Manfredi, the hitman praised him:
'You are the boss of the invisibles' he told me."
Who are the 'Ndrangheta Mafia?
Pasquale Manfredi, a gangster adept in operating military weapons and explosives has the distinction of being among a world-class organized crime operation, the 'Ndrangheta.
Known historically as "The Calabrian Honored Society", the word 'Ndrangheta is a word term that derives from Greek origins which translates to those as noble, courageous and worthy of supreme respect.
These interrelated families originates from the Calabria region in southern Italy.
The 'Ndrangheta (pronounced en-DRAHN-geh-tah) became a force during the 1800s' as violent feuds among landowners in the poverty-stricken region spiraled out of control.
The land disputes formed secret criminal societies located throughout the provinces such as the 'Ndrangheta.
Wielding power and ruthless force elevated the gang to hero status as a defender of the poor against the aristocratic landlords.
Somewhere along the way, the 'Ndrangheta switched roles and comingled into a combustible brew of rural banditry, urban racketeering and extortion.
According to American-based FBI, around 1888, an uncovered investigative document showed that an informant alerted authorities of the Reggie Calabria region, that the 'Ndrangheta were a "sect that fears nothing."
Eventually some 'Ndrangheta members emigrated to Canada and the United States where authorities discovered a sect running an intimidation scheme in Pennsylvannia mining towns in 1906.
The Divezione Investigativa Antimafia known as the DIA--and the Department of the Police of Italy Against Organized crime--describes the 'Ndrangheta Mafia as one of the world's most powerful criminal organizations.
"The 'Ndrangheta, represents the globalisation of Italian organised crime including the Sicilian Mafia," says Rome-based Antimafia Directorate Enzo Macri who is Calabrian himself.
Organized crime agencies estimates the 'Ndrangheta earns $30-$40 billions annually from narcotics, racketeering, loansharking and other legit businesses such as construction, real estate, restaurants and supermarkets.
'Ndrangheta Mafia controls 80% of imported cocaine from the Calabrian port of Gioia Tauro and distributed to places like Europe, Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Russia, Canada, Germany, Greece and Bulgaria.
Investigators say the majority of cocaine transported from Colombia onto the docks of Gioia Tauro in Calabria signifies partnership between the 'Ndrangheta and Colombian drug lords.
"The Colombians prefer to deal with the Calabrians," Macri adds. "They are much more reliable. They don't talk. And they pay on time."
The 'Ndrangheta has grown over the years between 1990 and 2000, with 155 clans and close to 10,000 affiliates, a larger number, relative to regional population size, and has even more players among them than the Mafiosi based in Sicily, Campania or Puglia.
Mob experts say unlike the Sicilians, the Camorra, the Sacra Corona Unita, and other Costa Nostra organizations who consists of families or clans without blood lineage, the 'Ndranghetas are mixed together by blood relationships to bind them to silence for life, with most of its 'ndrine consisting of extended families, often linked by marriage to form much larger units known as locali.
Each group is named after their village, or after the family leader.
Nicola Gratteri, a highly-trained prosecutor based in Rome who trace the innerworkings of the Calabrian syndicates says, "'Ndrangheta families have often arranged weddings to solder the links between them."
"There are families that have intermarried as many as four times in the 20th century."
Another factor protecting the organization is its structure. Unlike the Sicilians whose structure is pyramid the 'Ndrangheta has a horizontal structure.
When Italian government during the 1990s passed legislation to make it easier for a Mob player (called a pentito) to turn state's evidence against other members the new law devastated the higher-ups in the ranks of Cosa Nostra but not those in the 'Ndrangheta.
Why? Gratteri explains. "A Calabrian mobster considering to turn state's evidence must come to terms with betraying maybe 200 of his relatives."
"There have been 'Ndrangheta pentiti," Enzo Macri admits.
"But we've never had a boss turn state's evidence."
The head of the 'Ndrangheta cannot be chopped off like the FBI has done to Italian crimebosses in the United States.
Despite close kinship in the 'Ndrangheta Mafia, even violence within small clans can lead to public bloodbaths.
Several years ago ongoing conflicts over drug trafficking profits a hit squad armed with pistols murdered three members of a rival faction including 'Ndrangheta boss Salvatore Valente.
The syndicate made sensational headlines in August 2007 when members shot six rivals to death outside a restaurant in the German city of Duisberg. Gangster Manfredi is a suspect in those murders also.
For more information on the Duisberg murders read Clarence Walker feature story titled: Mob Murders in Italy Cools Off
When reporters asked chief Morabito if using the internet was a mistake for Manfredi, he answered, "Mafia members in hiding need to keep in touch either by passing notes, using cell phones, or, in these days, via computer."
Morabito adds, "Manfredi is a very dangerous character and he was listed on Italy's 100 Most Wanted but now he's been taken off the streets; thanks to meticulous police work and a thorough investigation."
Bottom line: one of the most feared assassins in organized crime facebooked his mobbed-up ways into the slammer.
What a helluva catch!
"The Facebook Fugitive"
Here's another facebook capture. Craig "Lazie" Lynch (photo above), an escaped British criminal once dubbed, "the Facebook Fugitive" became a sensational 'hit' on the internet after he escaped from the Hollesley Bay Prison located in Suffolk England on Septemer 23, 2008.
What inspired Lynch to flee prison after he'd already served six of a seven year term for armed burglary is anybody's guess. Officials say the escapee had been approved for parole when he fled from prison where he was working in a factory as a trustee.
Lynch's capture evolved to legendary status when he opened a Facebook account and posted pictures of himself, pointing his finger in a f...k you sign to taunt the police, as if to say, "catch me, if you can".
Each day while on the run Lynch logged in daily to report his eating habits, sipping fine whiskey, and describing sexual conquests.
British authorities were outraged. "We have spoken to Facebook and we are trying to trace him from the information we have," Suffolk police spokesperson Anne-Marie Breach told CNN.
"We're also asking for help from the public."
Crazie Lynch reputation as a Facebook fugitive grew into a phenomonal.
Eluding authorities past the 2009 christmas season, the convict updated his profile with, "yes! yes!... made it to xmas. "I beat their f....king system and I love it."
His Facebook fans went wild. One fan wrote, "lol, great job man, good luck from France."
Another fan posted a Youtube song in Lynch's honor.
Crazie Lynch antics were so bold he gave an interview via internet to Channel 5, a TV station located in Great Britain.
"I'm genuinely surprised and shocked that people actually want to follow a burglar, you know?"
When asked if police would ever catch him, Lynch snapped, "they're not going to catch me; I'm not going to give them the joy of catching me."
What Lynch didn't know as he communicated daily on Facebook the law was using high-tech surveillance tools to track the signal of his ISP (Internet Service Provider) address, which reveals the geographic area where his computer was being used.
After 112 days on the run, Scotland Yard finally arrested Craig Lynch in the British county of Kent and turned him over to authorities in Bexleyheath, a suburb of London.
John O' Connor, a former commander with Scotland Yard, said, "there was no justification for Lynch's escape from prison and that his antics on Facebook would now get him a harsher sentence."
What is the lesson in Craig Lynch case? With exception of transforming himself into a Facebook celebrity fugitive with thousands of fans cheering him on--Crazie Lynch just might be a lil' crazy for real.
Why? For someone to escape prison after having only a few months left prior to being released into the free world is like a person falling down 39 floors on a elevator inside of a 40-story building---but suddenly---decide to run back up---and leap out of a 10th floor window, than to make it on down to the 40th floor.
Facebook strikes again
While on the run fugitive Max Sopo enjoyed Mexico so much he updated his Facebook site with every titillating moment.
Wanted on bank fraud in Seattle Washington involving the theft of $200,000, Sopo fled the United States into Mexico driving a rented vehicle.
Each day, Sopo posted messages on Facebook. From Cancun, one read, "living in Paradise and loving it."
On June 21st 2009, Sopo posted a message in capital letters:
"Life is very simple! But some of us humans make a mess of it. Remember I am just her to have fun and...parteeee!"
Michael Scoville, the assistant U.S. attorney responsible for assisting authorities to find the Camerron-born fugitive, recalls more of Sopo's updates on Facebook.
"Sopo described lazy days on the beach and wild nights on the town." "He was making posts about how beautiful life is and having a good time with his buddies", Scoville said.
"He was definitely not living the way we wanted him to be living, given the charges he was facing."
Finally, U.S. Secret Service Agent, Seth Reeg, instinctively checked Facebook and a photo of Max Sopo, popped up. In the photo the thief was partying against a backdrop featuring a BMW and cognac logos.
As Scoville combed through Sopo's list of friends--one was listed as a former employee of the U.S. Justice Department.
"We figured this was a person we could possibly trust to keep our inquiry discreet", Scoville told reporters.
The former U.S. official said he "met Sopo in Cancun's nighclubs a few times but did not really know him nor had no idea he was a fugitive."
In another impromptu meeting with Sopo the former government employee used a little creativity while conversating with the fugitive and discovered where he was living.
Scoville provided this urgent information to Mexican authorities who arrested Sopo immediately. If convicted on the federal theft charges he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Sopo's crime partner, Edward Asatoorians, copped a plea for five years in prison.
In Sopo's case it only shows you never know who your friends really are on Facebook.
Drug Dealer Alfred Hightower Nabbed by Popular Online Game
Alfred Hightower was simply one of many fugitives wanted by Indiana police for marijuana-trafficking. To avoid punishment Hightower made a ghost-like move and fled to Canada leaving no trace behind.
Once Hightower made it into Canada he figured the law couldn't touch him. At least he thought.
What the drug dealer didn't realize was that the long arm of the law possessed not only capabilities to reach across foreign borders but was also capable of reaching into the online 'World of Warcraft', a popular online game featuring witches and warlocks, a game that Hightower played ritually; a game that police were able to trace online and nail Hightower to the cross this past January.
Now back in Custody the fugitive is awaiting trial. What really happened online with Hightower and the 'World of Warcraft'?
Having a level 80 character, according to news reports, the fugitive spent an excessive amount of time online entertaining himself.
It all went down this way.
When Matt Roberson, a detective with the Sheriff department in Kokomo Indiana, discovered Hightower's lust for the warlock game, the officer was familiar because he himself was a regular player of the game.
In an e-mail to Gangsters Inc. Journalist Clarence Walker, Detective Roberson, said:
"During an operation conducted with the U.S. Marshal's service in 2009, I came across information at Hightower's old address indicating he was living in Canada and playing online video games".
Roberson information was reaffirmed by an informant who mentioned to another officer that Hightower was living in Canada and the fact he often played the online game featuring witches and warlocks.
As a former computer repair and robotics tech guy in high school and an avid player of the Atari 2600, the World of Warcraft, and the XBox 360, Detective Roberson further told this journalist, "due to the fact that myself and my son were familiar with the 'World of Warcraft', I immediately recognized the gaming service as Blizzard Entertainment".
At this point, Roberson's invaluable knowledge about the warlock game the fugitive was playing online, in essence, sounded like a dose of bad luck was stirring up for the drug dealer.
Armed with the information needed Roberson played a long shot in 2009 and subpoenaed Blizzard Entertainment to retrieve Hightower's account information.
"They don't have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption they wouldn't," Roberson told news reporters.
A few months later, to Roberson's surprise, Blizzard sent an information package containing Hightower's IP (Internet Provider) address and log-in account to play the warlock game.
Hightower's online name was 'Rastlynn'.
With technical assistance, Roberson said he "popped the information into an IP address search and located Hightower in Ottawa, Canada".
U.S. Federal Marshals contacted Canadian authorities and soon afterwards the drug dealing Hightower was cold busted and extradited to Kokomo, Indiana.
If convicted, Hightower might serve up to ten years in prison.
Meanwhile Blizzard Entertainment declined comment if Hightower was the first person arrested by police as result of playing the Warcraft game, or, if the company on prior occasions provided law enforcement information on users of their online gaming system.
Following details of Hightower's arrest which exposed how Detective Roberson sent a subpoena to Blizzard Entertainment officials who in return provided the information to help nail the fugitive triggered a firestorm of legal questions.
One online story posted by PixelsandPolicy.com read:
According to legal research provided by attorney Robert G. Scofield, the law said, "subpoenas issued by one state to another state are normally legally invalid unless under the exceptional rule."
Did Hightower case fall under the exceptional rule?
The article further read.
"Roberson's subpoena, then, was more of a freindly request for information and Blizzard had no legal obligation to provide any of Hightower's information to the Indiana police".
Internet users should be aware of limited privacy while playing online games or logging into social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace, but how far can law enforcement power extend its authority into online games and networking sites?
Detective Roberson responds, "there is no need for someone to challenge the subpoena because it was only to locate information on someone's whereabouts to arrest them for an active warrant that already existed."
"This is old school policing mixed with technology, a perfect example of the evolution of law enforcement and the use of computers and online gaming as the generation changes from the Baby Boomers to the X Generation."
Roberson's assessment of the situation involving law enforcement use of obtaining sensitive information from online games and networking sites to apprehend fugitives and wanted criminals, may withstand court rulings regarding privacy for online users because of the vagueness of most privacy rules listed on such sites, but millions of users must ask this question:
Can they expect gaming sites and networking programs to voluntarily comply with out-of-state, or, in-state subpoenas from law enforcement seeking information to assist their investigation even if the websites have no legal obligation to respond?
Another favorable leverage for the law is the fact there are no current federal laws in the U.S. requiring websites to disclose how the information they receive from visitors are to be used.
Last year, December 1st, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against several law enforcement agencies to disclose their policies for using social networking sites for investigations, data-collections and surveillance.
The lawsuit is still pending.
Two weeks after Detective Roberson nailed Hightower he located another wanted drug dealer on Facebook. Roberson said prior to finding the guy he didn't know what he looked like until he found the man's photo on Facebook showing him surrounded by cash money and marijuana.
Having reached the finale in this roundup of fugitives busted online, perhaps, if these outlaws had read the privacy terms specifically for all users of Facebook and online gaming sites, which says, "we may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests including criminal and civil matters if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law."
Then maybe, if the captured fugitives mentioned in this story had read the aforementioned statement of online sites forewarning users of their intent to help police and heeded the warning they would have stayed offline and enjoyed entertainment elsewhere.
But the lure of the internet world is an irresistible fascination.
Time has really changed. None of these fugitives didn't count on the savvy, technical skills of investigators to track them down in the world of cyberspace.
Any comments, contact Journalist Clarence Walker at:firstname.lastname@example.org
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