Mafia witness ‘forced to drink acid’

Maria Concetta Cacciola: forced to drink acid

Maria Concetta Cacciola: forced to drink acid

On 20 August 2011 Maria Concetta Cacciola, 31, mother of three young children, was held by the wrists and the head, and forced to drink hydrochloric acid. She died in agony. Her family claimed she had locked herself in the  bathroom and committed suicide. An inquiry is now under way to establish who killed her.

Three months previously, Maria Concetta had walked into a police station in Rosarno, Calabria, and requested protection in return for information about her family, members of a powerful mafia clan. She said her life was in danger because she had had a flirtation with a man on Facebook (whom she hadn’t even met, since he lived in Germany) while her husband was in prison, and her messages to him had been discovered.

‘She wasn’t under investigation, she wasn’t a suspect,’ said prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti, when I spoke to her at the courthouse in Reggio Calabria in summer 2013. ‘She was very nervous, and kept looking at her watch. She had told her family she had gone to report her son’s stolen moped. We had a very limited time to test the truth of what she was telling us, and decide what to do.’ Continue reading

Palermo prosecutor threatened by mafia boss

Prosecutor Nino Di Matteo surrounded by supporters

Prosecutor Nino Di Matteo surrounded by supporters

‘Di Matteo must die. And not just him, but all the prosecutors in this trial, they’re driving me mad. They’re going to die if it’s the last thing I do.’

This threat was uttered in November by the boss of Cosa Nostra, Totò Riina, currently held in a high security prison in Milan, where he is serving a number of life sentences for murder. But that doesn’t stop him declaring his intention to wipe out one of Italy’s foremost anti-mafia judges.

Corleone does not forget,’ the boss added, in a reference to Mafiosi still loyal to the most violent, ruthless family in Cosa Nostra’s history.

The object of Riina’s murderous intent, Nino Di Matteo, is chief prosecutor in a trial  that threatens to expose historical allegiances and covert communications between ministers of state, police chiefs, and the organized criminals they were supposed to be pursuing. The boss’s threat also included assistant prosecutors Vittorio Teresi, Francesco Del Bene and Roberto Tartaglia. Continue reading

Women breaking the mafia’s rules

Magistrate Alessandra Cerreti, working with mafia women

Magistrate Alessandra Cerreti, working with mafia women

The Ndrangheta is facing a new threat to its dominion in Calabria. Its own women.

Alessandra Cerreti is a high profile prosecutor on the front line of the war against the mafia. She is smart, highly professional and glamorous. I met her in her office in Reggio Calabria, where she and her colleagues are fighting the mafia ‘tooth and nail’.

Cerreti recently handled the collaboration of a woman from a powerful criminal family, whose evidence secured the conviction of an entire Ndrangheta clan.

Giusy Pesce was married at 13 (she and her boyfriend ran away together, so a formal engagement was a matter of course) and had a baby at 15. Her husband was in and out of prison, and didn’t make any arrangement for Giusy and the children. She was reduced to begging for handouts from her cousin. Continue reading

‘We need to end slavery in Calabria’

Maria Concetta Cacciola: killed herself by drinking acid

Maria Concetta Cacciola: killed herself by drinking acid

When Maria Concetta Cacciola’s husband held a pistol to her head, she fled to her parents’ house and begged them to protect her. Her father told her: ‘He’s your husband, you stay with him for the rest of your life.’

A new book by Sicilian journalist Lirio Abbate, Fimmine Ribelli (Rizzoli) describes the stories of women in Calabrian mafia families who have rebelled against the male violence and oppression that characterises mafia culture.

‘I wanted to shine a spotlight on these women,’ says Abbate. ‘We need to challenge this reduction of women to slaves.’

The subtitle, ‘How women are going to defeat the Ndrangheta’, is perhaps more of a call to action than a reflection of current reality. Much of the book makes dismal reading for anyone hoping for a tale of triumph over oppression. Continue reading

The people say ‘basta’ to mafia extortion

Maria Teresa Morano: the family was behind her father

Maria Teresa Morano: the family was behind her father’s protest

In a remote part of Calabria, a group of small businessmen dared to stand up to the mafia and refused to pay protection money. Maria Teresa Morano’s father was one of them. 

In 1992, the businessmen and shopkeepers of a small rural town, Cittanova in Calabria, received a series of unwelcome visits. They were each approached by a known mafioso, who took them from their place of work, alone, to a secluded spot, where armed men were waiting. There they were told they must pay protection money (known as ‘pizzo’).

If they refused they were beaten up, threatened at gunpoint, or told that their children would be harmed. Continue reading

Finally, an antimafia priest. Reader, they shot him

Padre Puglisi, shot by the mafia. Photo: archivio diocesano "P. Puglisi"

Padre Puglisi, shot by the mafia. Photo: archivio diocesano “P. Puglisi”

Padre Pino Puglisi, or 3P as he styled himself for his young followers, was murdered with a bullet to the back of his head, twenty years ago, at the door of his parish church.

Confronted by his killer in the street, he didn’t try to run. He responded simply: ‘I was expecting you.’

Don Puglisi had been threatened numerous times, in response to his radical ministry. In a neighbourhood under mafia control, he had the temerity to preach sermons against the mafia’s practices. He encouraged his parishioners – intimidated by the culture of omertà – to help the police with leads in crime investigations.

He worked with young men and boys in Brancaccio, a mafia-run suburb of Palermo. Boys who had no reference point or hope for the future he encouraged to come to his social centre, to play basketball, and talk. He gave them somewhere to go other than the street corners, and showed them that being in the mafia was not the only way to gain respect in life. Continue reading

Paranoid padrino: inside the mind of the mafia

Giovanni Brusca, what was he thinking when he pressed the button?

Giovanni Brusca, what was he thinking when he pressed the button?

They are obsessed with secrecy and symbolism, arcane codes and structures, they have messianic tendencies and are prone to extreme violence. Clare Longrigg asked psychiatrist Corrado De Rosa, don’t you need to be a bit mad to be a Mafioso?

‘Ask Giovanni Brusca what he was thinking when he pressed the button to blow up judge Falcone and his escort,’ says the psychiatrist. ‘He wasn’t thinking anything. He was carrying out a sentence.

‘Membership of Cosa Nostra is about a way of being. It defines who you are. While membership of the Naples mafia, the Camorra, is about having. People join the Camorra because it offers them an image: they can become somebody, they can be rich.

‘Cosa Nostra boss Bernardo Provenzano was arrested in a shepherd’s hut in the mountains. He had some ricotta cheese, a few old vegetables, a bible, and not much else. He was so powerful, he was the personification of Cosa Nostra, so he could live without showing it.’ Continue reading