Experts: Provenzano's capture not the end of the Sicilian mob
Posted 4/12/2006 8:56 PM
By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY
ROME — The dramatic capture Tuesday of Italy's Mafia kingpin is the country's
biggest success against organized crime in 13 years, but hardly a crippling blow
to the vicious Sicilian mob, law enforcement and Mafia experts say.
Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia's "boss of bosses" since 1993 and a fugitive for
43 years, was nabbed at a farmhouse outside Corleone, the hilltop town made
famous in The Godfather movies. He did not resist arrest, authorities said.
Mafia experts said the arrest of Provenzano, 73, peeled away a layer of fear
cultivated by the Cosa Nostra under his leadership.
"The myth of Provenzano's invincibility was part of Sicily's basic beliefs," said
Dino Paternostro, author of several books about the Mafia. "I think most people
believed he would never be caught. That is why he was called the Phantom of
Provenzano also is known as Binno u Tratore— Bernie the Tractor — because
of his reputation for mowing down rivals. He ascended to Mafia chief after the 1993 capture and arrest of Toto "The Beast" Riina.
During Provenzano's decades on the lam, Italian courts convicted him in absentia, giving him life sentences for killing more than a
dozen other mobsters and anti-Mafia investigators.
Leoluca Orlando, the former mayor of Palermo and a newly elected member of Italy's Parliament, warned that people should not read
too much into Provenzano's apprehension. "This is a very big event, but this does not mean that the Mafia is finished or even
substantially weakened," Orlando said. "It is not so fragile as to be undone by one capture, no matter how dramatic."
On Wednesday, Provenzano was flown off the island of Sicily to a high-security prison in Terni in central Italy. He refused to talk to
investigators, police said.
Police arrested three men accused of aiding the fugitive.
State broadcaster RAI reported that the mob boss, upon his arrest, glared at the police officer who commanded the farmhouse raid
and told him: "You don't know what a mistake you are making."
Provenzano's unexpected apprehension ended speculation in the Italian media that he might be dead, rather than in hiding. His
capture riveted the public and pushed coverage of Italy's nail-biting national election to the bottom of the front page in many
Provenzano was considered a master of disguises, once dressing as a Catholic bishop to attend a secret Mafia meeting, Orlando
The Sicilian Mafia is expected to move quickly to replace him. The mobster "was in poor health anyway, and so even without the
capture his time was limited," Orlando said. "Usually, there is a change at the top every 10 or 15 years. The selection process
probably started only a few hours after Provenzano was taken into custody."
One issue that is not clear is whether the succession to the next generation of Mafia leadership will be smooth or bloody.
Paternostro, Orlando and Palermo Police Chief Giuseppe Caruso identified Salvatore Lo Piccolo, 63, and Matteo Messina Denaro,
46, as Provenzano's most likely successors. Both men have been on the run for years: Lo Piccolo since 1983; and Messina Denaro,
known as "The Playboy" because of his affinity for girlfriends and gold watches, since 1993, they said.
But Caruso said it was unclear if there would be a peaceful transition or if the two men might fight to determine who would become
the next boss of bosses.
"There might be some kind of understanding between leading figures, or there might be a bloody battle between the two of them and
perhaps other top Mafia leaders to see who will take control," Caruso said.
Piero Grasso, Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, addressed the possibility of a clan war in an interview with RAI: "There is a power
vacuum that must be filled, and nobody can say how that will happen."
The last major power struggle in the Sicilian Mafia came in the late 1980s, when Riina and his lieutenants slaughtered dozens of
rivals. A few years later, in 1992, the group killed anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two murders that
attracted worldwide attention and turned public opinion against the Mafia.
In Italy, Paternostro said, the Mafia earns billions of dollars a year by smuggling cigarettes, alcohol and other goods; running extortion
rackets and prostitution rings; and skimming money off government contracts in areas such as port operation, property development,
and waste disposal.
Along with the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Naples, the Sicilian Mafia is one of three major organized crime branches
"We should not make the mistake of thinking that the arrest of Bernardo Provenzano will mean the beginning of the end of the Mafia,"
Antonio Ingroia, an anti-Mafia magistrate in Sicily, told Reuters.
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
This article originally appeared in
Italian Police via AP
Bernardo "The Tractor" Provenzano is surrounded by
police in Palermo, Sicily.