If you Google ‘Mafia’ you will get 163,000,000 hits.
If you Google ‘Cosa Nostra’ you will get 5,280,000 hits.
In 1950 the Mafia did not exist, publicly that is. Sicily knew about it, but even then, to the average citizen, it was some, strange, intangible thing. Italy discovered it when Leonardo Sciascia published his book, The Day of the Owl, in 1961.
In less than a lifetime, everyone knows about it. It's been around in one form or another, for perhaps hundreds of years. As a subculture, it has produced a commonwealth of evil criminals bound together by a common desire-power, money and respect. Men of Honor as they call themselves, demand respect, which channels itself into power that creates the wealth which is really what it is all about.
I'm guessing a lot of Americans, especially those in their ‘golden years,' will remember Joe Di Maggio the famous Number 5 of The New York Yankees.
‘Joltin Joe,' or as he was at times referred to, ‘The Yankee Clipper,' who was an All-Star and three times MVP (Most Valuable Player) is recalled as one of the greatest baseball players ever. Prior to his birth in 1914, his parents had emigrated from Sicily to America sometime in 1898, travelling to California and finally, settling in North Beach, San Francisco.
Joe's father, also Giuseppe, had been born and grew up in a seaside fishing village, Isola delle Femmin, on the north-west coast of the island. The way they drive in Sicily, it's about thirty-five minutes by car, south to the inland town of San Giuseppe Jato in Palermo Province.
Here, forty years after Joe came into the world, another Di Maggio opened his eyes for the first time. His parents (his father Andrea, a shepherd who was also a Mafioso) christened the baby Baldassare. Of Assyrian origin, the name translates roughly into English as ‘Lord Protect the King.' It is one of the most original of given names outside of Italy. Only five have been registered in the USA since 1924.
While he was never royalty, thirty-nine years after his birth, Baldassare would need plenty of protection, and in the process, maybe his actions would change the history of the Sicilian Mafia, forever. Maybe.
San Giuseppe Jato, variously described as a village, a town or a commune, sits under the Jato Mountain in the Belice River Valley, about 30 kilometers west of Palermo City. The population has varied over the years between eight and nine thousand and is largely an agricultural based economy relying on corn, grapes and olives, as well as cattle breeding. It has another, darker economy, one that dates back to the 1950s.
The local cosca or clan was allegedly created following a Mafia summit at Hotel des Palmes, in Palermo, in 1957. Its first capo was Antonio Salamone, who ruled until the infamous Ciaculli Massacre of 1963, brought such heat down on the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, (1) that many of the leaders fled the island. Salamone moved to Sao Paulo, and although he returned to Italy at least twice, eventually became a Brazilian citizen and died there in 1998.
While overseas, he appointed Bernardo Brusca to manage things in his absence. In the early 1980s during the second Mafia War, Salvatore Riina, head of Corleone's Mafia clan, and one day, to be the boss of Sicily's Mafia, united numerous cosche around the island into a group that became known as The Corleonesi. San Giuseppe Jato became one of these, and Brusca moved to be a close ally of Riina who officially nominated him head of the family.
Some sources believe San Giuseppe was Cosa Nostra's most powerful and ruthless cosca.
Among the clans of the Corleonesi, the Bruscas were known as canazzi da catena, chain dogs. It was said Riina released them when he needed them, and then put them back on a chain.
‘The Corleonesi were of a ferocity unseen before,' recalls Dino Paternostro, quixotic director of Corleone's only anti-Mafia newspaper, New Cities. ‘The Mafiosi in Palermo were caught by surprise when the Corleonesi made their move. This became known as ‘The Second Mafia War.'
‘The rivalries went back dozens of years and the war was simply the epilogue of an old story, the settling of old family and territorial scores,' Judge Giovanni Falcone recalled in a long series of interviews with a French journalist published posthumously as a memoir after his murder by Riina. ‘From this terrifying bloodbath that cost hundreds of lives, La Cosa Nostra emerged........stronger than ever.'
Riina was known, disparagingly, by his Palermitan enemies as u curtu, ‘shorty,' who said of him, ‘He'll be even shorter when we have finished with him.'
Then he went and killed them all.
Di Maggio (left), also known to his friends and associates as ‘Balduccio,' or simply ‘Baldo,' left school, became an auto mechanic, raced sports cars as a hobby, married, had children, joined the Mafia, (inducted before seven men, four of them called Brusca, in a farm house owned by Bernardo Brusca in the hills of Dammusi, about five kilometers from Jato,) claimed to have witnessed a kiss between two men that triggered one of Italy's biggest political scandals, and perhaps, dropped a dime on the number one Mafia boss in the world.
During the anni ruggenti, the roaring years, between 1980 and 1990, he worked for the mob as an arsonist, drug trafficker, construction enforcer and organizer for the Mafia's public works division, (for decades, construction and public works in Sicily have provided a foundation for Mafia enterprise and political graft,) and murdered a lot of people. Some sources say fifteen, others thirty. Peter Robb in his masterful analysis of Italian organized crime, Midnight in Sicily, states that between 1981 and 1986, he was directly linked to twenty-four killings.
After his arrest in 1993, Di Maggio admitted to ten of them, but added a rider, saying there were other murders he would confess to at a later date.
He dispatched people on the street, in the countryside, in a bar, in a delicatessen, and on one occasion, on the 24th of May 1988, he and his backup, entered the civic hospital in Alcamo and shot dead a local Mafioso, Rosolino Filippi, in his ward bed.
Ironically, having been ‘banished' by the law to live in Sepino, a small town about 100 kilometers north of Naples, he had then been ordered back to Sicily to give evidence in a magisterial investigation into the activities and members of the notorious P2 masonic lodge. Not unlike a goat being lead to slaughter
Di Maggio was also involved in the killing of at least two Mafia bosses: Rosario Riccobone in 1982, in the same house where Baldassare was ‘made' into Cosa Nostra, and Natale L‘Ala, sprayed to death with a Kalishnikov while he was shopping in a supermarket in Campobello di Mazzara in 1990. His partner, Giacomina Filippello, said, ‘He fell like ripe fruit.'
The mob loved the Russian automatic rifle, also known as the AK-47. It was heavy and cumbersome, but reliable and very effective. Mafia hit men fondly referred to it as lo arruciaturi, ‘the sprinkler.'
‘Baldo' led a busy life which became very complicated when circumstances found him the boss of the Jato clan.
Old man Brusca had been arrested in 1985 and sent off to prison for life following the famous Maxi-Trial of 1986-87, and his son, Giovanni, had taken over the family although he himself was incarcerated at the time. A short, stocky, brute of a man, he was known in the mob as u verra, the pig, for his unkempt and slovenly appearance and the appetite of a trencherman. He had been made into the honored society in 1975. Salvatore Riina, known to his men as Toto, the boss of Corleone, since 1974, following the arrest and imprisonment of Luciano Leggio, was his godfather.
Another of Brusca’s (right) nicknames was lo scannacristiani, literally he who cuts the throats of Christians, but generally in the local dialect, any good person. He had once testified that ‘he had killed between 100 and 200 people with his own hands,' but couldn't remember exactly how many.
To him, killing people was simply un lavoro, a job.
Il Boia, the executioner, was the perfect nihilist, a man who displayed not the slightest smidgen of morality. The peerless Mafia paradigm.
He was the man who pressed the button that set off the explosion that killed judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and five bodyguards in 1992. He is especially notorious for his part in the kidnapping and torturing of the 11-year-old son of another Mafioso who had betrayed him. Brusca had the child murdered by one of his men, Vincenzo Chiodo, who strangled the boy, and the body was then dissolved in acid-as a result, the child's family couldn't bury him. His passing became lupara bianca, a colloquial term commonly used in Sicily to refer to concealed murders. The lupara, the sawn-off shotgun used by shepherds to hunt wolves or lupi, hence the name, was the signature weapon of the old Mafia.
In September 1984, twenty-seven-year-old Giovanni Brusca had been arrested, imprisoned in Busto Arsizio in Lombardy, Northern Italy, and then sentenced to a term of sorggiorno obligato, a forced migration away from a criminal's home to a distant location in mainland Italy, generally in the north. The policy in force since the 1950s seems to have done little but encourage the growth of Mafia delinquency in areas that had never been plagued by it before.
With him and his father out of the picture, Baldassare was elected to run the family in their absence. He lived life well. Built himself a million-dollar villa, with swimming pool and Roman pillars and filled it with original works of art, and flash cars in the garage; but there were problems that developed in his biological family, and he left his wife and two sons and found solace with another woman, Elisabetta Scalisi, who was from a local, wealthy family.
When Brusca junior returned from his term of banishment, and a stint at the infamous Ucciardone prison in Palermo, early in 1991, he not only wanted his Mafia family back, he also had eyes for Elisabetta. Di Maggio must have thought he was standing on the fault line of an earthquake that was about to fracture his way of life. Taking a mistress, leaving his wife and children, was an act of disobedience according to the laws of Cosa Nostra.
As Judge Falcone had once pointed out, ‘wives of men of honour are not to be humiliated in their own social environment.' Although the incessant distortion of rules and the erosion of traditional values were undermining the rank and file, along with the illusory nature of the Mafia's legal order, this respect for wives was almost sacramental.
Baldassare was an uncomfortable presence that needed to be eliminated' as author Alexander Stille noted.
Di Maggio was living on borrowed time and he knew it. ‘A Mafioso who betrays his wife is a man without merit, not to be trusted, a weathervane turning in the wind.' according to esteemed Italian author and Mafia expert, Andrea Camilleri. Perhaps ‘Baldo,' like, Don Quixote, was tilting at a windmill that could never be stopped.
Now, to compound matters, an unpredictable, psychotic monster had come back into his life, and he was about to find out what Ibsen said, hit the nail right on the head:
‘The strongest man alive is he who stands alone.'
Di Maggio hates losing the power and control being a Mafia boss represents. Like all his peers, he had sovereign control over everything that happened in his territory. He was a man of respect but more. He was a boss. He moved in all the right circles, Cosa Nostra wise. It pained him to give this up. He could have gone to Riina or even the Mafia Commission and ask them to arbitrate. Instead, he chooses to leave. He and Elisabetta, who is now pregnant, move to Canada.
In Toronto, he settled with his partner in The Little Italy section of College Street and could often be found here, playing pool, badly, according to Italian author, Antonio Nicaso. who crossed cues with him on more than one occasion. Others from Sicily's Mafia had used this city as a bolt-hole.
Tommaso Buscetta, the soldier from the Porta Nuova Family in Palermo, who became the first major pentiti (informant,) and turned the mob on its ear in the late 1980s, stayed in Toronto in the 1960s and Caltanissetta capo, Salvatore Ferraro, lived in the Etobicoke suburb from 1991 until he was arrested and deported back to Italy in 1994. Pietro and Salvatore Scaduto moved to the city by the lake after their father, Antonino, was murdered during the Bagheria Mafia turf war in 1989.
‘Baldo' kept on top of things back home through contacts with his close friend and associate, Giuseppe La Rosa, who was a soldier in the Jato family, and also the son-in-law of Di Maggio's uncle.
Life in Canada did not work out. With no resident visa granted, he and his partner, and their newly born son returned to Sicily.
Sometime in March 1992, Toto Riina called a meeting with Brusca and Di Maggio. Riina came with his number two in the field, Raffaele Ganci, head of the La Noce Family in central Palermo. They met in a nine-hectare disused wasteland, now known as Parco Uditore, which was only a few hundred metres from where Riina was living. Originally owned by the gasoline giant, AGIP, who had used it to store petroleum products, it had been gifted to Palermo by them in 1969 but allowed to fall into disrepair and decay. Gated and walled, it was a perfect spot for the Mafia to meet people, and sometimes, kill them.
‘Baldos's not some old orange to chuck away,’ Riina said as he embraced him. Di Maggio knew a Judas kiss when it slapped him on the cheek. Toto had Brusca in his heart not ‘Balduccio,' who had worked for Riina long enough to see a shafting coming long before the screws would be tightened. Riina was at his most fearsome when he displayed his softer side as the gentle and wise uncle figure. Political intrigue and social instability is a way of life in Cosa Nostra. Toto loved power the way a musician loves an orchestra. There is no greater way to exercise power than to decide who lives and who dies.
‘Baldo' must have felt like Erin Morgenstern's protagonists in The Night Circus. ‘I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held, trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.'
He realized that he'd become another victim of lo traggedriara, the good, old-fashioned Sicilian plot, fuelling suspicion by feeding lies. The writing was on the wall, and taking Elisabetta with him, he fled Sicily again and made his way this time to Viggiù, then to Borgomanero, north of Milan, where he had contacts. And that's where he was when the cops caught up with him.
The province of Novarro is used by the Italian justice department to house Mafiosi in banishment. The local police keep a close eye on arrivals and departures. In 1993, they raided his apartment at 44 Viale Marazza, (or a garage belonging to Natale Mangano, one of Di Maggio's contacts in the area; different sources give different accounts,) about midnight on January 8th. They found him in possession of a Tanfoglio semi-automatic pistol and a bullet-proof vest and for that, he's arrested.
And then, the circus truly begins.
Transported to the carabinieri (military police) barracks on Baluardo la Mamora, in the city of Navarro, Baldo does the unthinkable, and ‘turns cop' as the Mafia call it. There is some kind of epiphany. He decided that his salvation lay in the confession. If they send him to Ucciardone Prison in Palermo, sometimes referred to as the ‘Hotel of the Mafia,' his life will be measured in hours rather than days. He becomes a pentito. A discloser, when he reveals that he knows how to find Salvatore Riina, the most wanted man in Italy.
‘I was his driver,' he tells his bewitched audience. ‘I can help you find him. I'll tell you about the 32 men we killed one November afternoon ten years ago. I can give you the names and numbers of the families across Sicily. Where the money goes when they pour cement to build roads that go nowhere. Who their political contacts are. Who’s in bed with who.'
With the Italian state in the throes of a nervous breakdown following the killing of judges Falcone and Borsellino in 1992, capturing Riina will take the heat of everyone.
He is interviewed by not one, but fourteen different officers. If entropy is a measure of disorder, what takes place in the early hours of that Saturday morning is the Second Law of Thermodynamics to a tee. Policemen are falling over themselves to get a piece of the pie, but Di Maggio wants the number one.
Vincenzo Giuliani, the provincial commander isn't big enough, so they send for numero uno, General Francesco Delfino, commander of the Piedmont Region.
Three in the morning, and the general, who has been in charge of this region for only four months, is on his way to add to the scrum, although he would arrive later in the day from his home in Turin, an hour drive away down the Autostrada A4.
Known as lo squalo, the shark, because in his pursuit of criminals he shows no scruples.
Delfino is a controversial figure in the law enforcement area, and will, in fact, end his career in disgrace, following a scandal involving a kidnapped businessman and a ransom that goes missing.
He may also have crossed paths with Di Maggio once before when he was posted to Sicily in 1987 as the deputy commander of the Palermo carabinieri. He had led a squad to examine the villa Di Maggio was building in San Giuseppe Jato. A tip-off had indicated that Riina was living here, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Stories had circulated, however, that the policeman and the Mafioso had spent some time discussing something, but what it was, has never been revealed. It's one of many rumors that will circulate about the general that probably will never be satisfactorily resolved, as Delfino died in 2014.
The problem facing the police and Marina Caroselli, the young public prosecutor appointed to the investigation, is that no one knows who this man, Di Maggio is. He has no record. He has never been arrested. He was a soldier and a boss in the Mafia for over ten years. And only Cosa Nostra knew that. He had killed people all over the place, but there was nothing in the judicial system about him. He hummed of mystery, like a pathway into darkness without end. Now, the vow of silence that he had sworn to uphold as a man of honor, was about to crumble into the dust of self-preservation. Twelve years after he cradled an image of the holy saint as it burned in his hands, and repeated the oath of allegiance, he is singing a different song.
There had been a whiff of him two months earlier in the south of Sicily when the police launched Operation Leopard, on November 7th, arresting over 200 suspects in the biggest anti-Mafia operation since the Maxi-Trial of the 1980s. The strike had been triggered by information supplied by Leonardo Messina, the underboss of the San Cataldo Family that operated near Caltanissetta, and who had rolled, and become a pentito in June 1992.
Perhaps Messina's most devastating revelations were about the relations between Cosa Nostra and Italian politics. He was the first informant to name Giulio Andreotti, one of Italy's most respected statesmen, as the ultimate point of reference in a chain of political exchanges that should have adjusted the sentence of the Maxi Trial that had established Cosa Nostra as a single hierarchical organization ruled by a Commission and that its leaders could be held responsible for criminal acts that were committed to benefit the organization (the so-called Buscetta theorem). The Mafia counted on judge Corrado Carnevale of the Supreme Court to modify the sentences imposed, which he didn't and Salvo Lima – Andreotti's pro-consul in Sicily-acted as the liaison with Andreotti for the needs of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra- according to Messina.
He identified 300 Mafiosi in detail: height, weight, age, the color of hair and eyes. All except one. He knew the name, ‘Baldo' Di Maggio, that he was a mechanic, and had been a driver for Salvatore Riina, but nothing more. And who knows how much a mystery he would have continued to be, until that early morning arrest in Bogomanero?
Questioned by Delfino and two other carabinieri officers who had flown up overnight from Palermo, Baldo sketches out an area in Palermo's western suburb where he had seen Riina at a house, and detailed meetings with Riina, Raffaele Ganci and a man called Giuseppe Sansone.
Ganci, the man who had met Di Maggio at the meeting that triggered his second flight from Sicily, runs a butcher's shop on Via Lo Jacono. Giovanni Falcone's wife, Francesca Morvillo, also a judge, would stop here to buy her fresh meat from the man who one day, would help to kill her and her husband.
‘Baldo' also outlined the movements of Vincenzo De Marco who would collect Riina's children in his Volkswagen Golf to drop them off at school, and then collect them each afternoon and return them to their home. He filled pages with this kind of Mafia minutia, which helped convince the authorities that he was a valuable source that needed to be developed, although, from day one, he stated that he did not know the exact address where Riina lived, only the general area.
But maybe this is not true. There are sources that claim Di Maggio knew the address but made a deal under the table with the police, to simply identify Riina once he was out on the street. What was important, was that no one searched Riina's house.
Di Maggio tells the general he knows a lot of other stuff- including the dirt on one of Italy's most famous politicians-Giulio Andreotti- but Delfino tells him to sweat the hard stuff and concentrate on Riina for now.
‘Baldo' was brought back to Palermo on January 11th, and by January 14th, the investigators had tracked down the home of Giuseppe Sansone to an address on Via Bernini, by checking the utility bills charged out to all the residences in the neighborhood.
On January 15th, Salvatore Riina, la belva, the beast of Sicily, the mass murderer, the boss of all bosses, the man responsible for dozens, conceivably hundreds of killings, is arrested, just before nine in the morning.
Salvatore Biondino, an unemployed farm laborer, who had celebrated his fortieth birthday five days before, drives a beige-colored Citroen ZX out through the gated entrance at number 54 Via Bernini, in the Palermo suburb of Uditore, heading south down towards the sprawling roundabout on Via Leonardo da Vinci that straddles the E90 ring road. It's a crisp, clear, Friday morning.
The out-of-work peasant is also the head of the San Lorenzo Mafia cosca, (he had been involved in the massacres of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, in May and July of the previous year,) and this morning, is driving his boss, Toto Riina, to a meeting with a group of his senior men- Raffaele Ganci, Salvatore Cancemi, and others, at a cuppola meeting to be held in a house in the San Lorenzo district, to discuss the back story on a declaration he made to his inner circle on Christmas Eve, 1992, at the house he is now leaving.
Cuppola is the governing committee, or commission, made up of the bosses of the top Sicilian Mafia clans. Brusca claimed the boss wanted to re-instate his program of beating the state into submission by more bombings and acts of terrorism.
Ora ci rumpemu i corna a tutti. Now we are going to break all their heads.
It will have to wait.
Down the road, about 40 meters from the gated entrance, an inconspicuous white van is sitting. It contains police officers and Di Maggio. The van has been monitoring this area for the last two days, taking photos and tracking conversations through sound sensors aimed at the complex. Baldo has already confirmed the presence of Antonietta Bagarella, Riina's wife, the man who looked after the gardens and pointed out Riina’s children coming and going.
Now, he identifies the Mafia boss as the car leaves the house, and a message is passed on to the assault team waiting in the area. Number 54 is the address for a number of houses in this complex, and at this point, no one knew just exactly which was Riina's. Those who had been chasing the elusive boss have no idea what he looks like. The last official photograph had been taken in 1969. In July of that year, he had been banished to serve four years in Bologna and had simply walked out of the magistrate's court and disappeared. And here he was, at last, twenty-four years and five months later, living in an expensive, gated community in the capital of Sicily. Di Maggio was the only one in the surveillance team that knew what he looked like. Irrespective of any other information he may have passed onto the authorities, this was by far the most important.
Five minutes in, the Citroen is abruptly stopped, near the roundabout, outside the Agip Motel, hemmed in by unmarked cars, as a squad of ROS (Raggruppamento Operativio Speciale) agents, armed up and balaclava-clad, surround the vehicle.
The ROS formed in 1990, is a highly-trained, specialist unit of the carabinieri, created to fight the Mafia and other organized crime factions. It's Number 2 squad leader today is Sergio De Caprio (right), a thirty- year old career soldier, heading a team of nine men conducting ‘Operation Sbirulino.' For a long time after Riina's arrest, he was known to the Italian public only by his code name, ‘Captain Ultimo.' The Number 1 squad is based in Monreale, to the west of the city chasing leads on Riina in the western province.
As the gunmen surround him, Riina (photo below), face down in the dirt, arms spread wide, no doubt was sensing the fate he had dished out to so many in his life-long career as a thug and a killer. A man who had bled Sicily senseless with his insatiable appetite for violence. When he found out he was being arrested and not shot, his relief was apparently palatable. He stared at his captors, the wrinkles in his face like glyphs etched there since Corleone was known as Lionheart. The little, (5' 2') tubby man, in a shabby tweed jacket, over a navy sweater, wearing rumpled corduroy pants, looked less like a Mafia boss than could possibly be imagined. More like a benign old nonno off to pick up some cannelloni.
In his first courtroom appearance in March, he claims, 'I am a poor illiterate..... just a poor farmer..... all home, work, family and church, as they say in our parts..... all these years no one looked for me, no one stopped me, no one said anything to me..... I was a free citizen,' Riina told the court with exaggerated politeness. ‘I took planes, trains, the bus to Trapani not long ago.'
The arrest of the supreme boss was in some ways created by crises of values within Cosa Nostra. Carmelo Petralia a Sicilian magistrate claimed that ‘there was an evil within the Mafia that had taken away its unity.' It was almost certainly due to the satanic leadership of Salvatore Riina. On this January day, he was removed from a ship that in theory, should have become rudderless.
The house on Via Bernini, swimming pool, elevator, all mod cons, belongs to the Sansone brothers,
Giuseppe and Gaetano, except it doesn't. Sort of. It's leased to one Giovanni Bellomo, that just happens to be the name on the identity card Riina shows to ‘Captain Ultimo' when he is arrested. He's renting it from an estate agency which bought it in 1980, and ironically, is based in Isola delle Femmine, that town on the coast where Joe Di Maggio's parents lived before they emigrated to America, all those years before.
The agency is a subsidiary of a company that owns many companies that trace their lineage back to the Sansones. Giuseppe often drives the boss around town as he goes about his business. The other Di Maggio, Baldassare, will confirm, in due course, that the Sansone brothers, big in the building and construction world, are close to Riina; Gaetano is also a capo, or crew boss, in Cosa Nostra's Uditore Family.
After they arrest Riina, the squad take him to the carabinieri headquarters on Via Muro di San Vito, near the famous Teatro Massimo, in central Palermo. There, he is photographed under a picture of General Carlo Alberta Dalla Chiesa, the prefect of Palermo, murdered on Riina's instructions in 1982. He is then locked away in the first of many prisons which will be home to him for the rest of his life. And that was that. Except this being Sicily, it wasn't of course.
About 7:30 pm that day, Riina's wife and four children leave the villa in a car. The two sons and two daughters had all been born between 1974 and 1980 at the plush, private, Pasqualino e Noto Hospital across the street from The Villa Malfitano, one of Sicily's most famous stately homes.
The children are registered at a local hospital, in their given names. The same place where Riina had received treatment for his diabetes. In his own name. The children attended school, in their own names. There was really no secret or mystery about where he and his family lived. Right in the heart of the city. It appears the forces of law and order were the only ones confused.
‘A ghost family haunting Palermo,' according to Attilio Bolzoni. The wife and children are driven to the Agip Motel, (by Nino Gioè a man of honour from the Altofonto cosca,) the same one where her husband had been arrested ten and half hours earlier. Here, they transfer into a taxi and are then driven to Corleone. They move into the old family home on Via Scorsone, Number 24, an alley in the upper area of the town. The next day, the local carabinieri station report their arrival.
Antonietta Bagarella, now in her early seventies, still lives in Corleone in this house with her two sisters, Maria and Manuela. Her two sons had gone to join their father in prison. With their DNA, it is almost inevitable. Giovanni will stay locked up for life for committing four murders. Giuseppe, served his entire sentence, 8 years and 10 months, no remittance, for Mafia association. They are prisoners of their own shadows, their fathers, most of all.
On May 29th, 2016, the annual procession of the statue of San Giovanni Evangelista winding through the streets of Corleone, stops outside number 24, and apparently, the parade pays homage to the wife of Sicily's most notorious Mafia boss as she stands on the balcony and waves to the crowd. There is an uproar in the Catholic Church. Law enforcement officers are beside themselves. The mayor says it's much ado about nothing. It's simply another day in the small, bucolic town which because of its historic links to Cosa Nostra, and four of its worst, will forever carry the stigmata of evil. A town with a history too heavy to hide. Between 1944 and 1948, there were so many people murdered here, that on a per capita basis, it was the homicide capital of the world.
Back on Via Bernini, Riina's home is now empty, of people at least, and for some, obscure reason, left unsecured by the police until February 2nd. Late in the afternoon, the ROS surveillance camera focused on the complex entrance is switched off. It is part of a development made up of 14 properties, some still under construction. It is the last house to the west, hidden from public view by a high wall. The police claim at the capture of Riina they did not know which house within this compound was his.
When the law eventually turns up, they find the property stripped, walls re-painted, everything of value gone, safe opened and empty. It turns out, in due course, that all the ‘smalls'-jewelry, paintings, porcelain, Ninette's fur coats- stuff like this, had been collected and handed over to Giuseppe Gelardi, the capo of the Partinico Family of Cosa Nostra. It was then passed onto Giusto Di Natale, of the San Giuseppe Jato clan who hid them until 1996, when they were collected by some unknown person and removed. The only thing the authorities found was a notepad sheet on which were listed the names and telephone numbers of Rita Biondino, Rosi Gambino and Gianni Sansone, children of Riina's confidants. This scrap of paper was initialed 'LB’ which was assumed to refer to Lucia, Riina's twelve-year-old daughter.
It was claimed that the house cleaners were from Corleone, led by Gioachino La Barbera, and supervised by Giovanni Brusca. Wherever they came from, they knew they had plenty of time to do their job. No one was going to interrupt them.
Brusca, after he was arrested and became a muffuti, (another Mafia term for an informant,) would disclose that Riina recorded everything on paper. He kept a record of his income from the building contracts he supervised, along with the money he earned from drug trafficking and extortion. This information was stored in safes and sometimes, in specially adapted empty gas cylinders. His personal papers were carried outside his home in a locked, leather valise. These included copies of pizzini, (small pieces of paper on which messages were recorded and then passed on by couriers to recipients such as Bernardo Provenzano, his official number two, and other senior members of his cartel across Sicily,) and other more ambiguous and perhaps incriminating documents that might link Riina into the State at the highest level.
So what were these documents and why were they so important? And why did the carabinieri leave the house unattended for eighteen days? Colonel Mario Mori, head of the ROS in Palermo in 1993, and Captain Sergio De Caprio were both subsequently indicted on charges of aiding and abetting Cosa Nostra for failing to secure the premises and have the house searched by a forensic team. A judicial hearing in Palermo found both men not guilty on July 11th, 2006. It even offered the defendants an apology.
The ROS claimed they discontinued their surveillance of the house six hours after |Riina was arrested, and accordingly, informed the Palermo prosecutor's office of their action. That is one story at least. Another is the carabinieri requested permission to keep the complex under surveillance to see who else might visit. An excellent and logical idea. Except no one did. Keep watching it, that is.
The investigation by the court runs to over 100 pages. It is long, complicated and beyond the scope of this story. Someone screwed up. Of that, there is no doubt. In catching their target the state won the short game, but is it possible they missed out on the big win by not finding what Riina was hoarding at Number 54? The judgement also determined that Riina's capture was in no way connected to intelligence supplied by agents of Cosa Nostra which has been one of the great, unsolved Gordian knots surrounding this period in Mafia history.
In brief, the proposition is that Bernardo Provenzano, Riina's official second-in-command, working with the state, used Vito Ciancimino, one of the great criminal weasels of Sicily, a Corleone born, (the only man to ever punch Luciano Leggio in the face and live to tell about it,) ex-Palermo mayor, and crooked politician, as a go-between, to set up the capture of Riina.
Police had given a map of Palermo to Ciancimino, who in turn passed in on to Provenzano (photo below), who ringed the area where Riina lived, returned it and the map was then handed over to Giuseppe de Donno of the ROS. It's a headache thinking about it. Just why Provenzano did not simply ring up the cops and tell them the address has never been explained.
But that might have been because of Raffaele Ganci.
Digging deep, everywhere, the ROS had been following people, researching backgrounds, looking into old case files. This had led them to Leonardo Vitale. A soldier in the Altarello cosca of the Palermo municipality, he became one of the early 20th century pentiti in 1973, (perhaps the only true and honest one, as he had no ulterior motive in confessing his Mafia sins,) and during interrogation by Bruno Contrado, head of the Palermo Flying Squad, he described how Riina resolved a conflict between the cosche of Porta Nova and La Noce over the right to impose kickbacks on a construction project that covered both neighborhoods. Riina had found in favor of La Noce ‘because they are in my heart.'
Captain Ultimo and his team started tracking Ganci, the boss of La Noce, trailing him as he moved across the city, watching who he met, linking up his contacts, noticing how often he visited an address on Via Bernini.
Nowhere in this scenario, however, is there an explanation for the part Di Maggio would come to play in the convoluted proceedings that followed. Some sources believe he was simply an elaborate cover to disguise the involvement of Provenzano who had become concerned over Riina's frontal attack against the state. Provenzano would aim at calming things down by creating a ‘Pax Mafiosa' wherein money became more important to Cosa Nostra than killing. The fox would replace the lion as it were.
In return for not bombing and killing them, the government was supposed to promise a relaxation in the harsh prison laws imposed on Mafiosi, go easy on seizing their assets, and generally, adopt a softer, much lower key approach to Mafia harassment. Provenzano also guaranteed there would be no more ‘scorched-earth' policy against law and order in Sicily or the Italian mainland when he became the boss. This at least was a promise fulfilled.
Following the Mafia-led bombing campaign in Italy from May until August 1993 against monuments and museums, managed by Leoluca Bagarella, the brother-in-law of Riina, and the head of the Corleonesi's military wing, Provenzano's rule, (following Bagarella's capture in 1995,) until his arrest in 2006, was that of a benign dictator rather than the big bang theorist of Salvatore Riina who had in fact, before his arrest, confided to Giovanni Brusca that his next ‘big bang' was Judge Pietro Grasso who had been charged with investigating the assassinations of the two judges- Falcone and Borsellino-in 1992.
- Read: To Kill a Dream: The Sicilian Mafia and the Murder of a Priest
Prosecutor Alfonso Sabella believed that Provenzano thought he and Cosa Nostra could co-exist with the state and that there was no need to destroy it. He could take what he needed. No reason to be greedy and go for it all. In a 500-page court case sentence report following a trial to prosecute the mainland bombers in 2012, is one of the more interesting, if not sensational legal phrases issued by the government of Rome in a long time.
It reads, 'A negotiation [between State and Mafia,] based on a do ut des undoubtedly took place.' (Do ut des is Latin for the equivalent of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.')
So here is the state of Italy, confirming in writing, that it and Cosa Nostra were partners.
The other condition Provenzano dictated, was that the police hand over those ‘documents' that Riina was apparently hoarding in his private safe on the Via Bernini.
Giusy Vitale, sister of Riina's ‘second pack of killer dogs,' Leonardo and Vito Vitale, of the Partinico Mafia clan, and the first woman pentito, in Mafia history, claimed that ‘some of the documents would have put a bomb under the state. If the police had got hold of them it would have been a total disaster.'
The documents? Just what was or is, so important about them?
These are just some of the possibilities:
They disclose the state’s involvement in the shooting down over Italy, of a civilian DC 9 in January 1980 by a French fighter pilot. 81 people died.
The mystery of how after he and his wife were shot dead, along with their bodyguard, General Alberto Dalla Chiesa, the Prefect of Palermo’s safe was cleaned out of all papers in the Villa Pajno, his official, secured residence, on Via della Libertà.
The murder of Piersanti Matterella, President of the Sicilian Regional Government, in January, 1980. Always considered a Mafia killing, might it have been more complicated than that in terms of the political connections?
The riddle of the disappearance of Judge Borsellino’s red leather police diary where he kept his investigation notes. Right after the attack at Via d’Amelio it disappeared from the crime scene and was never found. ‘My brother’s death was a State murder,’ Paolo’s brother Salvatore Borsellino claims. ‘My brother knew about the negotiations between the Mafia and the state, and this is why he was killed.’
The rumor that Riina kept carded records of hundreds of people at local government and state level and their connection into Cosa Nostra for political and financial gain.
To historians and researchers of the Sicilian Mafia, there seems to be a Pirandellian epistemology at play with so much critical knowledge and information hidden, and nothing ever what it seems to be.
Not unlike a Pandora's box. Opening it, and trying to sort fact from fiction is like catching mercury in a sieve. For example, ‘Capitan Ultimo,' now a Colonel, in an interview given in 2011, categorically claimed that the Provenzano link was a ‘total falsehood.'
Trying to understand the complexities of Italian politics, especially when diluted with Mafia intrigue, is perhaps not unlike walking blindfold through a minefield wearing skis.
Were the documents handed over to the new Mafia boss, Provenzano? We do not know. Brusca claimed that Riina's wife, knowing how important the papers were, simply burned them all in the garden before she left the property. It has been alleged they were passed on to Matteo Messina Denaro, the Mafia capo of the western region of Palermo Province. Another runner from the state. He's been on the lam for twenty-two years. A man who allegedly controls over 900 made men and untold thousands of associates.
Following the arrest in 2007, of Salvatore Lo Picolo, who had allegedly taken over Provenzano's role, Denaro may have become the supreme boss of Sicily's Mafia. However, there seems no empirical evidence to support this. Provenzano actually did apparently favor Salvatore Lo Picolo and Antonio Rotolo, both Palermo City-based, as his chief aides, and no doubt, successors.
The investigators who checked out the hundreds of pizzinis discovered with Provenzano after his capture, found one which said referring to an important decision for Cosa Nostra, ‘It's up to you (Rotolo) me and Lo Piccolo to decide this thing.'
However, they both hated and tried to kill one another, but were arrested and given hefty prison sentences, before completing the act on each other.
According to the DIA, (La Direzione Investigativa Antimafia) Salvatore Riina is still the boss of the Mafia in Sicily.
Twenty years after the law captured Riina, Judge Antonino Di Matteo and his associates will go to court in Palermo on May 27th 2013 to prosecute ten men: three Mafiosi, two pentiti, two politicians and three former policemen, alleging that they were part of a conspiracy between the state and the Mafia aimed at stopping the mob's war against Italy. The trial, called ‘The State-Mafia Pact' by the press, is described as a most complex and contradictory court case, (it is, in fact, the State prosecuting itself,) and is still proceeding at the time of this writing. (2)
Antonino Di Matteo knows just how hard this trial will be. Interviewed for a television documentary by Al Jazeera, he said, ‘The Mafia isn't only the Mafia that shoots, bombs and traffics drugs. That's one aspect of the Mafia, the military Mafia. The Mafia is above all something else. It's an organization that wants to exercise power in place of the state.'
The capture of Riina is the first of two mysteries that will come to belie the actions of Baldassare Di Maggio in the years that follow his arrest in Northern Italy.
The second concerns the kiss.
- Read: A Kiss is just a Kiss
Di Maggio had, through his lawyer and his carabinieri handlers, arranged a meeting on April 16th, 1993, with Palermo Prosecutor, Giana Carlo Caselli. He wanted to tell the world what a crook Giulio Andreotti really was. Caselli was all ears. The Senate in Rome had just received a request on March 27th to examine the senator for apparent collusion with the Mafia.
Andreotti (right) was an Italian politician and statesman who served as leader of the ruling Christian Democracy party; he was the fifth longest-serving Prime Minister since Italian Unification in March 1861 and held this office seven times. Minister of the Senate since 1955. Secretary or minister of ten departments over forty-six years, and head of The First Republic, which ran from approximately 1946 until 1994. A friend of US Presidents from Richard Nixon to George Bush. Hard to pick someone bigger to out.
According to Di Maggio, he was in bed with Riina.
Andreotti, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Craxi government, was in Palermo in September 1987, to meet his colleagues in their annual Christian Democrats Friendship Festival. Staying as usual, at the Villa Igea, a luxurious, waterfront hotel, after arriving on Sunday, the 27th, he was supposed to lunch with his colleagues, but never turned up. Dismissing his security guard, he left the hotel about 2:30 pm and was back to make a key-note speech by 6:00 pm.
Where he went, no one knows. Except, perhaps Baldassare Di Maggio, Riina and two dead men.
Around the time Andreotti was leaving his hotel, ‘Baldo' drove a white Golf Volkswagen into the tortuous, narrow streets of the ancient and somewhat derelict Albergheria district of Palermo. He had been instructed to be neat, clean and dress smartly. He waited near a warehouse behind Casa del Sole at the east side of Piazza del Carmine.
Riina arrived in a nondescript car driven by Giuseppe Sansone, and Di Maggio then drove the boss to the penthouse suite of Ignazio Salvo, the richest man in Sicily, at the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, about 15 minutes up the Via Roma, where he claimed Andreotti, Salvo and Salvatore Lima, another ex-mayor of Palermo, and yet again, another crooked politician, and Riina's mob bag-man, were waiting. In due course, Toto would kill both Salvo and Lima.
The mystery begins!
Between 1993 and 2003, Andreotti was tried for Mafia association and separately, for the murder of a Rome-based journalist, Nino Pecorelli. He was acquitted on all charges and died at age 94, in 2013. Between trial, acquittal, the state appeal, conviction, and successful re-appeal by Andreotti, it had taken ten years. His main court case transcript runs to 600,000 pages. The lawyers were drowned in a tsunami of legal bloat. Tullo Pironti tried to tell the story in his book, La Veria Storia d'Italia, published in 1995. He got it down to a mere 976 pages!
Among other things, it was claimed that Andreotti was the éminence grise behind the P2 Masonic Lodge.
The same one to figure in Di Maggio's murder of Rosolino Filippi, which would happen eight months after the alleged meeting in Palermo. There are not just degrees of separation and lines of convergence in the world of Cosa Nostra. It is a veritable primeval swamp of intrigue and Machiavellian intercourse that at times, defies any kind of logical interpretation.
So. Did Baldassare Di Maggio point a finger and get the boss of the Mafia off the streets forever?
Did he see the same boss of the Mafia kiss the boss of Italy? Again. ¿Quien sabe?
One evening in 2013, while exercising in his prison yard with another mobster, Alberto Lorusso, Riina was heard to say during the conversation, ‘I met him with my bodyguard.' The him being Andreotti.
Renato Guttuso the great Sicilian painter once mused, ‘You can find anything and everything in Sicily, but you can't find the truth.' Another Italian, Sabina Sestigiani maintains, ‘Power manipulates and conceals truth in order to guarantee its existence.'
In a radio broadcast in 1939, Winston Churchill claimed of Russia, that ‘it was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.'
Compared to Italy, Russia is as transparent as a Baptist minister in a fundamentalist church with his hand out for money.
And what about Baldassare Di Maggio?
For being an informant, the state awarded him a lump sum plus a monthly allowance. The bonus, about $300,000, allowed him to travel to the Italian mainland buying up Kalashnikovs, ammunition and explosives which he needed in his vendetta against the Brusca clan.
He teamed up with Gioachino La Barbera, and Santo Di Matteo and others, in a campaign against his enemies in San Giuseppe Jato, starting his own personal war sometime in 1995. His brother, uncle and cousin were shot dead by men under Brusca, and Di Maggio went about destroying as many of them as possible. He claimed the police asked his help in tracking down u verra, which happened in 1996, and they were happy to turn a blind eye to his activities as long as he produced the goods.
Di Maggio and his men kill Giuseppe Carfi, Pietro Lo Re, Benedetto Gambino, Matteo Pirrone, Vincenzo Arato and Giuseppe Alamia. Maybe more.
In October 1997, while in Pisa, he was arrested for murder by agents of the police on behalf of the Palermo Prosecutor's office.
Two years later, when he appeared at court in Pagliarelli Prison, in Palermo, he had become sick, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. The doctors said it was ‘psychosomatic.' His partner said he was so ill, his weight had dropped to 50 kilos.
Although confined to the wheelchair, he was subsequently arrested for drug trafficking in January 2001. It was alleged that Elisabetta Scalisi, acted as his accomplice in this enterprise.
On April 6th, 2002, Di Maggio was sentenced to life in prison for the murders he had committed in Sicily while in the witness protection system. In 2004 and 2006 he was tried and sentenced for further criminal acts and in July 2012 an appeal against his sentences and an application for early release was refused.
April 2013, he was one of 40 Mafiosi charged with being part of a new Mafia provincial group (mandemento), that included San Giuseppe Jato, and in due course, sentenced to a further seven years in prison.
Which is where he will presumably stay for many years to come. However, Italy being Italy, it's debatable.
Albert Camus, the French writer and philosopher, who hated riding in cars and was killed in a car crash, with a train ticket to his destination in his jacket pocket, once wrote: ‘Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.' So maybe we have to wait for Baldassare Di Maggio to die before we can truly evaluate his locus in the history of Sicily's Mafia.
Salvatore Riina (right) is currently incarcerated in the biggest prison in Europe, The Opera, near Milan. Maybe he works on the prison farm, called Fattoria di Al Cappone, (now there's a name to play with,) although it's unlikely, as he is a recipient of the strict Article 41-bis of The Prison Administration Act, which restricts privileges of hardened criminals.
Bernardo Provenzano was finally captured in April 2006, after 43 years on the run, almost twice as long as ‘Shorty.’ He was living in a crumbling concrete shack with a ramshackle tiled roof, in the countryside, eighteen minutes by car from the carabinieri barracks in Corleone. He had come to the small farm belonging to a shepherd, Giovani Marino, who made a living producing ricotta cheese, sometime in 2004. Ten years after his arrest, at the age of 83, he will die in a secure ward at San Paolo hospital in Milan, following a long series of illness's: Parkinson Disease, bladder cancer and a stroke. Towards the end, he developed a lung infection that finally tipped the scales.
His lawyer, Rosalba Di Gregorio, claimed Provenzano had been effectively ‘dead' for four years and did not recognize anyone or understand anything throughout this period. He is the first Corleone boss to be cremated. His common-law wife, Saveria Palazzolo, brings his ashes back to the hard-scrabble town in the hills where she lives with her two sons. On Sunday, July 17th, 2016, late in the evening, with more police presence than mourners, his remains are interred in the town cemetery. The Archbishop of Monreale had issued an edict prohibiting a public funeral.
Even in death, he scared people out of their tree.
In March 2016, the carabinieri launched a massive attack on Cosa Nostra. The operation, code-named Brasca-Quattro-Zero, resulted in the almost total dismantling of two powerful cosche: Villagria-Santa Maria di Gesù near Palermo City, and San Giuseppe Jato. Sixty-two men were arrested and detained. The head of Jato, was 82 year old Gregorio Agrigento (right), one of the Mafia's ‘grey panthers.' He was almost as old as the family itself.
‘The future of Cosa Nostra is in the hands of octogenarians,' the author and Mafia expert, Attilio Bolzoni said in La Repubblica, in 2016.
It's not only geriatrics who are running the families. Once undreamed of, women are now playing an increasingly important role in Cosa Nostra. Police in 2015, arrested a grandmother, Teresa Marino, who was directing all the criminal activities of the Porta Nuova clan, (the same one Buscetta joined in 1946,) while her husband, the boss, Tommaso Lo Pristi, was locked away in Ucciardone Prison. Gender equality in an organization that had been fraternal since the time it was created.
Dino Segre, the Italian author, believed behind Italy's official façade of bourgeois morality, traditional family life, and patriotism, as portrayed post-1918, was in fact, a world driven by sex, power, and greed. Take away the sex and the formula is a perfect fit for the Mafia in Sicily today. And certainly, in its political links into Rome. The corruption, thievery and the immorality of the political system that has governed Italy since its inception seems to be a perfect match to the perfidious and venal ambitions of Cosa Nostra.
As a force of evil, it’s hard to know which to choose.
In one of the endless paradoxes that fill this story, the home of Riina and his family on Via Bernini, having been seized by the state as a Mafia asset, was converted to a carabinieri station to serve the area, and officially opened in May, (Maggio) 2015.
‘We would like to be as civilized as the rest of the world, but we never let go this perverse fascination with the criminal underworld.'
A member of Il Catturandi, the secret police unit of the elite Palermo Flying Squad, formed in 1995, and tasked with tracking down and capturing senior Mafiosi.
(1) According to Tomasso Buscetta, the word ‘Mafia' is a literary creation and that real Mafiosi call themselves ‘Men of Honor.' When they refer to their organization, they call it Cosa Nostra.
Judge Antonino Caporetto the Palermo Prosecutor, who worked with Judges Falcone and Borsellino, stated that the term was never American in source, but originated in Sicily. ‘Before Buscetta,' he said, ‘we didn't even know the Mafia's real name.'
(2) Those charged are:
Giuseppe De Donno-Police
For more of Thom L. Jones' articles on the Mafia, check out his Mob Corner at Gangsters Inc.
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