|3 December, 2007
||From Sicily to New York
While Italian law enforcement has seemingly dealt serious blows to the
Mafia, there is evidence that a new and more formidable Mafia is now
Commentary by Eric J. Lyman in Rome for ISN Security Watch (12/3/07)
With the two most powerful Sicilian Mafia bosses behind bars and the illicit criminal
network's domestic sources of income curtailed, it at first seems that Italian law
enforcement has dealt several serious blows to Italy's most notorious secret crime
But it now appears that in its weakened state, the Cosa Nostra is strengthening ties to
New York's Gambino crime family, a move that has fostered the return of one of
Sicily's most notorious clans and which may bolster revenue, decentralize decision
making and make the job much tougher for Italian investigators and prosecutors.
The last 18 months have been tough ones for the Sicilian Mafia.
In April 2006, police raided a remote farmhouse in Sicily and captured "boss of bosses"
Bernardo Provenzano, a member of the famed Corleone faction of the Mafia who had
been the organization's top figure for 13 years. Provenzano had famously transformed
the Mafia into a less visible but equally potent organization after the 1993 arrest of
Salvatore "Toto" Riina.
The arrest sparked a period of infighting in the Mafia between the Palermo and
Corleone factions. In June, police arrested 45 suspected mafia members in Palermo,
and another 14 were apprehended near the city in August. Slowly, the violence died
down with power finally resting in the hands of Palermo boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo,
who was himself captured in a dramatic raid in early November.
In the latest development, police on 30 November apprehended a key Lo Piccolo ally,
Palermo Zen district boss Michele Catalano, who was arrested in his girlfriend's home
while watching a television drama on the exploits of the jailed Riina, Provenzano's
Lo Piccolo did a lot in his short time in power: There is compelling evidence that he
reached out to the Gambino clan, one of the "five families" that control organized crime
in the New York area.
According to Piero Grasso, Italy's top anti-Mafia prosecutor, the 14 mafiosi taken into
custody in August had information on them indicating that Sicilian bosses had been
illicitly investing in the Brooklyn real estate market. And ranking Sicilian and Gambino
bosses have been spotted together in the US, Canada, Sicily and, most recently, in the
Dominican Republic, where it is believed they have set up a joint food import and export
business to act as a cover for drug trafficking.
This is not the first time the Gambino family has partnered with its Sicilian counterparts:
In the 1970s, Palermo's Inzerillo family teamed with the Gambinos to transport Sicilian
heroin to the US.
That set the Inzerillos on a collision course with the powerful Riina, the head of the
Corleone clan and a rising Mafia figure at the time. In 1981, Riina ordered what became
known as The Second Mafia War - an all-out attack on the Inzerillos, sparked by the
killing of kingpin Salvatore Inzerillo in a hail of bullets that left him unrecognizable. Within
two years, 200 members of the Inzerillo clan were dead, including Salvatore's brothers
Santo, who was strangled in Sicily, and Pietro, who was shot to death in New Jersey.
Riina allowed the last remaining Inzerillos to flee to the US under Gambino protection on
the condition that they never return to Italy. The deal pushed the Palermo faction out of
power in favor of the Corleone faction, and it ended cooperation with the Gambinos.
His reign over the Sicilian Mafia was among the bloodiest on record, resulting in the
murder of several highly visible government officials - most notably General Carlo della
Chiesa in 1982, and prosecutors Giovanni Falcone in 1992 and Paolo Borsellino a year
later - and coordinated terror attacks far from the Sicily base in Rome, Milan and
Florence in 1993. But with Riina's capture that year, Provenzano took control and the
Mafia evolved into a behind-the-scenes force funded by extortion money, a period
known in Italy as the Pax Mafiosa.
But with Provenzano's capture, power shifted back to the Palermo faction under Lo
Piccolo, setting the table for renewed ties to the Gambinos and the return of the
notorious Inzerillos - who came back to Sicily after 25 years, ostensibly with the
blessing of the Corleone faction eager to dip into the cash flow from the Gambinos.
With Lo Piccolo joining Provenzano behind bars, it is not yet clear who will rise to the
top of the ranks of organized crime in Sicily.
But with the Corleone and Palermo clans inching closer, the peace with the Inzerillos,
and the increased ties with the Gambino family, infighting seems less likely than it was
in the wake of Provenzano's capture.
And the Mafia that emerges seems sure to be more international, richer and harder to
fight than the one that existed only a few months ago.
Eric J. Lyman is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent in Rome.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the
International Relations and Security Network (ISN).