Organized crime in Italy
|Membership||25,000 members 250,000 affiliates|
Since first becoming well known in the 18th century, organized crime in Italy and its criminal organizations have infiltrated the social and economic life of many regions, particularly in Southern Italy.
Five major mafia-like organizations are known to exist in Italy: Cosa Nostra (or the Sicilian Mafia) of Sicily; ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria (who are considered to be among the biggest cocaine smugglers in Europe); and Camorra of Naples, are the oldest and most powerful of the five, having started to develop between 1500 and 1800. In the 20th century, two new criminal organizations, Stidda of Sicily and Sacra Corona Unita of Apulia, were created. Two other Italian organized crime groups, the Banda della Magliana of Rome and Mala del Brenta of Veneto, held considerable influence during their heights of power but are now largely defunct or inactive. The latest creation of Italian organized crime (IOC), Mafia Capitale, has recently been disbanded by the police.
The most notorious Italian organized crime group is the Mafia or Sicilian Mafia (referred to as Cosa Nostra by members). As the original “Mafia”, the Sicilian Mafia is the basis for the current colloquial usage of the term “mafia” to refer to organized crime groups. The Mafia or Sicilian Mafia notably expanded into some foreign countries, especially the United States, where Sicilian mafiosi eventually joined together with Neapolitan criminal groups in the U.S. and other Italian-American and Italian immigrant criminal groups to form the modern Italian-American Mafia (or simply the “American” Mafia.) Though less well-known, the Neapolitan Camorra, Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, and offshoots of both these groups have also operated or set down roots in foreign countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Latin America, and Great Britain.
Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra)
Based primarily in Sicily, the Sicilian Mafia formed in the mid-19th century by clans which sprang out of groups of bandits; these groups gained local power and influence. In Sicily, the word mafia tends to mean “manly” and a Mafioso considers himself a “Man of Honor.” However, the organization is known as “Cosa Nostra“—Our Thing—or Our Affair. The Sicilian Mafia originally engaged in such lower-level activities as extortion, cattle theft and, upon Sicily becoming part of a democratic Italy, election slugging in addition to other kinds of relatively low-level theft and fraud.
In the 1950s, Sicily experienced a massive building boom. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the Sicilian Mafia gained control of the building contracts and made millions of dollars. It participated in the growing business of large-scale heroin trafficking, both in Italy and Europe and in US-connected trafficking; a famous example of this are the French Connection smuggling with Corsican criminals and the Italian-American Mafia.
Today, the Sicilian Mafia has evolved into an international organized crime group. The Sicilian Mafia specializes in heroin trafficking, political corruption and military arms trafficking and is the most powerful and most active Italian Organized Crime Group in the United States with estimates of more than 2,500 Sicilian Mafia affiliates located there. The Sicilian Mafia is also known to engage in arson, frauds, counterfeiting, and other racketeering crimes. It is estimated to have 3,500–4,000 core members with 100 clans, with around 50 in the city of Palermo alone.
The Sicilian Mafia has had influence in ‘legitimate’ power, particularly under the corrupt Christian Democratic governments from the 1950s to the early 1990s. It has had influence with lawyers, financiers, and professionals; also it has had power and resources by bribing or pressuring politicians, judges and administrators. It has less of these now than previously on the heels of the Maxi-Trials, the campaign by magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and other actions against corrupt politicians and judges; however it retains some influence.
The Sicilian Mafia became infamous for aggressive assaults on Italian law enforcement officials during the reign of Toto Riina. In Sicily the term “Excellent Cadaver” is used to distinguish the assassination of prominent government officials from the common criminals and ordinary citizens killed by the Mafia. Some of their high ranking victims include police commissioners, mayors, judges, police colonels and generals, and Parliament members.
On May 23, 1992, the Sicilian Mafia struck Italian law enforcement. At approximately 6:00 p.m., Italian Magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and three police body guards were killed by a massive bomb. Falcone, Director of Prosecutions (roughly, District Attorney) and for the court of Palermo and head of the special anti-Mafia investigative squad, had become the organization’s most formidable enemy. His team was moving to prepare cases against most of the Mafia leadership. The bomb made a crater 30 feet in diameter in the road Falcone’s caravan was traveling.
This became known as the Capaci Massacre. Less than two months later, on July 19, 1992, the Mafia struck Falcone’s replacement, Judge Paolo Borsellino, also in Palermo, Sicily. Borsellino and five bodyguards were killed outside the apartment of Borsellino’s mother when a car packed with explosives was detonated by remote control as the judge approached the front door of his mother’s apartment.
In 1993 the authorities arrested Salvatore “Totó” Riina, believed at the time to be the Capo di tutti capi and responsible directly or indirectly for scores if not hundreds of killings, after years of investigation which some believe was delayed by Mafia influence within the police and Carabinieri. After Riina’s arrest control of the organization fell to Bernardo Provenzano who had come to reject Riina’s strategy of war against the authorities in favor of a strategy of bribery, corruption and influence-peddling. As a consequence the rate of Mafia killings fell sharply but Mafia influence not only in the international drug and white slavery (prostitution) trade but locally in construction and public contracts in Sicily continued. Provenzano was himself captured in 2006 after being wanted for 43 years.
In July, 2013, the Italian police conducted sweeping raids targeting top mafia crime bosses. In Ostia, a coastal community near the capital, police arrested 51 suspects for alleged crimes connected with Italy’s Sicilian Mafia. Allegations included extortion, murder, international drug trafficking and illegal control of the slot machine market.
Stidda or La Stidda
La Stidda (Sicilian, star) is the name given to the Sicilian organization started by criminals Giuseppe Croce Benvento and Salvatore Calafato, both of Palmi di Montechiaro, Agrigento province. The Stidda’s power bases are centered in the cities of Gela and Favara, Caltanissetta and Agrigento provinces. The organization’s groups and activities have flourished in the cities of Agrigento, Catania, Siracusa and Enna in the provinces of the same name, Niscemi and Riesi of Caltanissetta province and Vittoria of Ragusa province, located mainly on the Southern and Eastern coasts of Sicily.
The Stidda has extended its power and influence into the mainland Italy provinces of Milano, Genova and Torino. The members of the organization are called stiddari in Caltanissetta province and stiddaroli in Agrigento province. Stidda members can be identified and sometimes introduced to each other by a tattoo of five greenish marks arranged in a circle, forming a star called “i punti della malavita” or “the points of the criminal life.”
The Cosa Nostra wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s that brought the Corleonesi Clan and its vicious and ruthless leaders Luciano Leggio, Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano sometimes referred to as “Cosa Nuova” into power caused disorganization and disenchantment inside the traditional Cosa Nostra power base and values system, leaving the growing Stidda organization to counter Cosa Nostra’s power, influence and expansion in Southern and Eastern Sicily. The Stidda membership was reinforced by Cosa Nostra men of honor such as those loyal to slain Capo Giuseppe DiCristina of Riesi who had defected from Cosa Nostra’s ranks due to the bloodthirsty reign of the Corleonesi clan.
The organization also looked to enlarge its membership by absorbing local thugs and criminals (picciotti) who were at the margins of organized crime to gain more power and credibility in the Italian underworld. From 1978 to 1990, former Corleonesi clan leader and pretender to the Cosa Nostra’s “Capo di Tutti Capi” title, Toto Riina, waged a war within Cosa Nostra and against the Stidda spreading death and terror among mafiosi and the public in his quest for a crime dictatorship, leaving over 500 in Cosa Nostra and over 1000 in La Stidda dead, including Stidda Capos Calogero Lauria and Vincenzo Spina.
With the 1993 capture and imprisonment of Totò Riina, along with the currently jailed Bernardo Provenzano’s, “pax mafia,” following a new, less violent and low-key approach to criminal activities the Stidda has gained power, influence and credibility among the longer established criminal organizations within Italy and around the world, making itself an underworld player in the United States, Canada and Germany. The Stidda is sometimes called the “Fifth Mafia” in the Italian media and press.
Camorra or Campanian Mafia
The word “Camorra” means gang. The Camorra first appeared in the mid-1800s in Naples, Campania, Italy, as a prison gang. Once released, members formed gangs in the cities and continued to grow in power. The Camorra has more than 115 gangs with about 500 members each, for a total of about 57,500. The Camorra made its fortune in reconstruction after a powerful earthquake ravaged the Campania region in 1980.
The Camorra also specializes in cigarette smuggling and receives payoffs from other criminal groups for any cigarette traffic through Italy. In the 1970s, the Sicilian Mafia convinced the Camorra to convert the cigarette smuggling routes into drug smuggling routes with the Sicilian [Mafia’s assistance but not all Camorra leaders agreed. This brought about the Camorra Wars between two factions and almost 400 men were murdered. Those opposed to drug trafficking lost the war.
The Camorra controls the drug trade in Europe, and is organized by management principles. It runs the largest open-air market in the world in Secondigliano in Naples. The gangs themselves are loosely controlled franchises. The former leader, Paolo Di Lauro, who designed the system has been imprisoned since 2005. The organization produced about €200 million (about $250 million) annually. They inspired the current Italian television series Gomorrah.
It is believed that nearly 200 Camorra affiliates reside in the United States. Many came to the US during the Camorra Wars ever since the 19th century, as proved by an old organization best known as Black Hand. The Camorra conducts money laundering, extortion, alien smuggling, robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, political corruption, and counterfeiting.
‘Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia
Derived from the Greek word andragathía meaning courage or loyalty, the ‘Ndrangheta formed in the 1850s. The ‘Ndrangheta consists of 160 cells and approximately 6,000 members, worldwide some estimate there to be as many as 10,000 core members and specializes in kidnapping and political corruption. The ‘Ndrangheta cells are loosely connected family groups based on blood relationships and marriages. ‘Ndrangheta presence in the United States is estimated between 100 and 200 members and associates. The majority of that presence is in New York and Florida. The ‘Ndrangheta is also known to engage in cocaine (controlling up to 80% of that flowing through Europe) and heroin trafficking, murder, bombings, counterfeiting, illegal gambling, frauds, thefts, labor racketeering, loansharking, illegal immigration, and kidnapping.
Basilischi (Basilicatan Mafia)
The Basilischi are a mafia organization founded in 1994 in Potenza. It’s sometimes called Italy’s fifth mafia. This organization has assumed a role for the control of illegal activities in the region. They are believed to be an independently run ‘ndrina from the Rosarno Alliance involving 5 clans of in the provinces of Reggio Calabria and Gioia Tauro plain. Not a lot is known of them.
There is another belief that this group was created by local crime bosses and criminals with the help of the Pesce and Serraino ‘Ndrangheta clans from Rosarno in the northern and western areas of the region of Calabria and so would be smuggling drugs and arms through Italy into the rest of Italy for these Clans.
Sacra Corona Unita (Apulian Mafia)
Sacra Corona Unita (SCU), or United Sacred Crown, is a Mafia-like criminal organization from the region of Apulia (in Italian Puglia) in Southern Italy, and is especially active in the areas of Brindisi and Lecce and not, as people tend to believe, in the region as a whole. The SCU was originally founded in the late 1970s as the Nuova Grande Camorra Pugliese, based in Foggia, by the Camorra member Raffaele Cutolo, who wanted to expand his operations into Apulia. It has also been suggested that elements of this group originated from the ‘Ndrangheta, but it is not know if they were breakaways from it or the result of indirect co-operation with clans of the ‘Ndrangheta.
A few years after the creation of the SCU, following the downfall of Cutolo, the organization began to operate independently from the Camorra under the leadership of Giuseppe Rogoli. Under his leadership the SCU mixed its Apulian interests and opportunities with ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra traditions. Originally preying on the region’s substantial wine and olive oil industries, the group moved into fraud, gunrunning, and drug trafficking, and made alliances with international criminal organizations such as the Russian and Albanian mafias, the Colombian drug cartels, and some Asian organizations. The Sacra Corona Unita consists of about 50 Clans with approximately 2,000 Core members and specializes in smuggling cigarettes, drugs, arms, and people.
Very few SCU members have been identified in the United States, however there are some links to individuals in Illinois, Florida, and possibly New York. The Sacra Corona Unita is also reported to be involved in money laundering, extortion, and political corruption and collects payoffs from other criminal groups for landing rights on the southeast coast of Italy. This territory is a natural gateway for smuggling to and from post-Communist countries like Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.
With the decreasing importance of the Adriatic corridor as a smuggling route (thanks to the normalization of the Balkans area) and a series of successful police and judicial operations against it in recent years, the Sacra Corona Unita has been considered, if not actually defeated, to be reduced to a fraction of its former power, which peaked around the mid-1990s.
The internal difficulties of the SCU aided the birth of antagonistic criminal groups such as:
- Remo Lecce Libera: formed by some leading criminal figures from Lecce, who claim to be independent from any criminal group other than the ‘Ndrangheta. The term Remo indicates Remo Morello, a criminal from the Salento area, killed by criminals from the Campania region because he opposed any external interference;
- Nuova Famiglia Salentina: formed in 1986 by De Matteis Pantaleo, from Lecce and stemming from the Famiglia Salentina Libera born in the early 1980s as an autonomous criminal movement in the Salento area with no links with extra-regional Mafia expressions
- Rosa dei Venti: formed in 1990 by De Tommasi in the Lecce prison, following an internal division in the SCU.
The Mala del Brenta, also known as the Mala del Piovese or Malavita del Brenta was in operation throughout the Veneto region, across Northern Italy and into Croatia/Yugoslavia, Malta, Hungary and possibly Austria in the 1970s and 1980s.
There is a debate if this organization shall be considered a mafia-like organization, even if, according to Article 416-bis cp, introduced into Italy in 1982, it falls into the category of mafia-type organization displaying some of the characteristics described therein. This is in spite of its origins in the Northern Italian region of the Veneto, and its North Italian membership base. Having originally spawned from the Southern Italian organized crime syndicates, who had operated and infiltrated the Veneto region during the 1970s, their vision of unifying Veneto banditry into a mafia-style syndicate was first realised under the leadership of Felice “Angel Face” Maniero throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
These original Sicilian mafiosi, controlled much of the mafia activity in the Veneto, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and included most notably: Salvatore “Totuccio” Contorno, Gaetano Fidanzati, Antonino Duca, Gaetano and Salvatore Badalamenti, and Giuseppe Madonia. Veneti malavitosi, or underworld figures and bandits, learned from these Sicilians the necessary means for organizing themselves and taking the reins of control from the successive two decades.
Sometimes referred to as the fifth and smallest of the Mafia organizations across Italy during its existence, it operated under the sanction of the Corleonesi clan from Sicily and had strong links with other mafia families, such as Cosa Nostra, ‘Ndrangheta, Camorra and Sacra Corona Unita.
The Banda della Magliana (English translation: Magliana Gang) was an Italian criminal organization based in Rome and active mostly throughout the late 1970s until the early 1990s. The gang’s name refers to the neighborhood in Rome, the Magliana, from which most of its members came. The Banda della Magliana was involved in criminal activities during the Italian “years of lead” (or anni di piombo). The organization was tied to other Italian criminal organizations such as the Cosa Nostra, Camorra and the ‘Ndrangheta, but it was also notably connected to neofascist paramilitary and terrorist organizations, including the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (NAR), the neofascist group responsible for the 1980 Bologna massacre. In addition to their involvement in traditional organized crime rackets, the Banda della Magliana is also believed to have worked for the Italian secret services (SISMI) and political figures such as Licio Gelli, grand-master of the illegal and underground freemason lodge known as Propaganda Due (P2), all of which were purportedly connected to neofascist and far-right militant paramilitary groups.
The Mafia Capitale was an Italian Mafia-type, crime syndicate, or secret society, that originated in the region of Lazio and its capital Rome. Founded in early 2000s by Massimo Carminati on the ashes of Banda della Magliana.
Italian crime in U.S. and other foreign countries
Those currently active in the United States are the Sicilian Mafia, Camorra or Neapolitan Mafia, ‘Ndrangheta or Calabrian Mafia, and Sacra Corona Unita or “United Sacred Crown”. The FBI refers to them as “Italian Organized Crime” (IOC). These Italian crime groups frequently collaborate with the Italian-American Mafia, which is itself an offshoot of the Sicilian Mafia and, to a lesser extent, the Camorra.
The Sicilian Mafia first gained footing in the United States following waves of immigration from Southern Italy into the United States. In the past, the Camorra also operated on a larger scale in the United States, forming the New York Camorra, which warred with the Sicilian Mafia in the United States and eventually became absorbed into the United States Sicilian Mafia to form what is now known as the American or Italian-American Mafia. Though many of the first Italian criminal groups in the U.S. combined to create the Italian-American Mafia, more recent members of the Sicilian Mafia, Camorra, and ‘Ndrangheta continue to semi-independently operate in the U.S. or collaborate with the Italian-American Mafia.
The FBI estimates the size of the four IOC groups to be approximately 25,000 members and 250,000 affiliates worldwide. There are more than 3,000 members and affiliates in the United States scattered mostly throughout the major cities in the Northeast, the Midwest, California, and the South. However, their largest presence centers around Boston, New York, northern New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Their criminal activities are international with members and affiliates in Canada, South America, Australia, and parts of Europe. These organizations are also known to collaborate with other international organized crime groups from all over the world.
The Italian gangs (especially the Sicilian Mafia) have also connections with the Corsican gangs. This collaboration were mostly important during the French Connection era. During the 1990s the links between the Corsican Mafia and the Sicilian Mafia permitted an establishment of some Sicilian gangsters in the Lavezzi Islands.
The major threat to American society posed by IOC groups centers around drug trafficking and money laundering. IOC groups have been involved in heroin trafficking for decades. Two major investigations which targeted IOC drug trafficking in the 1980s are known as the “French Connection” and “Pizza Connection.” These and other investigations have documented their cooperation in drug trafficking with other major drug trafficking organizations. IOC groups are also involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, frauds, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings, and weapons trafficking. Industry experts in Italy estimate that their worldwide criminal activity is worth more than $100 billion annually.
Outside of the United States, Italy, and Southern France, IOC groups have also established strongholds in Canada (i.e. Rizzuto crime family, Musitano crime family, Cotroni crime family, Commisso ‘ndrina, Siderno Group); Australia (i.e. Siderno Group, The Carlton Crew, Honoured Society, Barbaro ‘ndrina); and Germany (see Duisburg massacre). Italian organized crime groups also operate to varying extents throughout Western Europe, including the United Kingdom. In the U.K. in particular, historically influential but now defunct Italian organized crime gangs operating in Great Britain included the Sabini gang and Cortesi brothers.
Italian organized crime groups have also carved out turf or formed close ties with local organized crime group in Latin American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela (where the Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan in particular has a significant presence.)