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Sicilian businessmen stand up to extortion by Palermo Mafia

By David Amoruso

Palermo businessmen have had enough. For years they’ve been extorted by local Mafia clans who came to collect the “pizzo,” but today, ANSA reports, 36 of them made a firm statement by helping police bust 22 Mafiosi who were terrorizing their shops and lives.

Thanks to the businessmen police were able to identify and arrest the mobsters who controlled the Bagheria area of Palermo, Sicily.

“Some of [the businessmen] had been subject to harassment for years,” Carabinieri Colonel Salvatore Altavilla, head of the Palermo operational department told ANSA, “the breakthrough has opened the way to strike a new blow against Cosa Nostra, a sign that the times have changed and that businessmen and shopkeepers finally are rebelling.”

That’s something Carl Russo, author of The Sicilian Mafia: A True Crime Travel Guide, agrees with. He shared a story with Gangsters Inc. which perfectly captures the rise of the Antimafia movement in Italy. Throughout Sicily businesses that have been confiscated from the Mafia have been turned into Antimafia businesses, operations without any Mafia influences. “I stayed at an ‘agriturismo,’ an old farmhouse, it’s the best way to travel in Sicily,” Russo tells fondly. “You get the best food. Beautiful rooms. It’s usually in a stunning location. This one was confiscated from Bernardo Brusca, the old godfather of San Giuseppe Jato. A young couple runs it. The manager is an exquisite chef and his wife serves the food and talks to the guests. I asked her if she had suffered any type of Mafia intimidation. She said, ‘Well, actually yes, when we opened up they cut down the vineyards outside. Somebody killed the vineyards and we just decided to hold strong and continue going.’”

Russo continues, “In downtown Palermo there are a couple of shops which only sell products made from confiscated lands. We’re talking wine, honey, jam, produce. And I asked one lady working in one of the shops right down in the old center of Palermo, ‘What happens? Don’t you get threats?’ And she said, ‘Well you know we’ve been resisting the Mafia for so long that…they just leave us alone. They know it’s not going to do any good.”

Now the 22 Mafiosi facing extortion charges know it as well.

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