At Large

The Real Mafia Thrives

Business is good in Sicily and beyond, and very personal.

By 12.11.07

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There was a time when the capture of a major mafia leader in Sicily with ties to the American Cosa Nostra would have prompted considerable media attention. Old-fashioned criminal terrorism, however, has been downgraded by Islamic jihadism. Nonetheless, life goes on apace for the oldest continuing terror organization in the West.

Unfortunately for the Sicilian mafia, they now have to work on a new compromise candidate to be a unifying leader among their "families." Until that is accomplished, the deadly struggle for ascendancy among the dominant clans will return to what it was prior to the relatively peaceful period of Pax Mafiosa of the last capo di tutti capi, Bernardo Provenzano.

Provenzano, now aged 74, was finally found and arrested in April 2006, having taken over from the legendary Salvatore Riina in 1993. Provenzano had hid for many years in his home farming region of the town of Corleone, a community well known to fans of The Godfather. Provenzano had been instrumental in bringing about a relatively peaceful period during which Sicilian criminal enterprises returned to profitability after the bloody terrorist years of "Toto" Riina. Riina's murderous regime had resulted in the deaths of top-ranked anti-mafia police officers and judicial magistrates in Rome, Milan and Florence -- and brought down the wrath of an outraged Italian public.

With the steadying hand of Provenzano gone from the scene, the struggle for supremacy quickly grew as Palermo and Corleone groupings battled for control of Palermo's metropolitan area. Salvatore Lo Piccolo headed the indigenous Palermo faction and Nino Rotolo had taken over as the principal Corleone family boss. What followed was a return to the sanguinary days before Provenzano's successful peace making. A key mafia boss of Corleone connection was assassinated in June 2007 and all sides "went to the mattresses." The traditional gang violence had returned.

Meanwhile, Lo Piccolo's Palermo organization that earlier had had close ties to the Gambino crime family of New York succeeded in rejuvenating these contacts post-Gotti. With the aid of the Americans, Palermo's families, now effectively under the direction of Salvatore Lo Piccolo, expanded their drug operations throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Dominican Republic. Lo Piccolo was on his way to eventually assuming the power once held by the now jailed Bernardo Provenzano. However, Lo Piccolo's strictly Palermo base worked against a consensus in his favor among the other Sicilian families.

It would appear that Lo Piccolo and his Palermo allies had long been laundering their drug profits through various business operations in New York, e.g. real estate, food processing, and other trading mechanisms. The Corleone families wanted to participate in this activity and moved to agree to the return to Sicily of a hated rival family, the Inzerillo's, in exchange for a piece of the new action in the Caribbean and North America. After a few more purposeful deaths, the situation has appeared to be moving toward settlement with the usual theme of "the business of organized crime is business."

The sums involved are enormous. To begin with, it's estimated that the Sicilian mafia employs directly and indirectly through its criminal operations and ancillary commercial activities about 10% of the Sicilian population. Interpol has now reported the spread of mafia operations, along with accompanying violence, from Italy to several European countries, including Germany.

An annual income of about 30 billion euro makes the Sicilian mafia revenue about one third of the bottom line of 90 billion euro estimated for all Italian criminal enterprises as calculated by the Italian business association, Confesercenti. If the income from arms and drug trafficking is included, the National Anti-Mafia Prosecution Office estimates the final sum to be closer to 135 billion euro. This figure constitutes the gross revenue of the Sicilian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta of Calabria, the Camorra of Naples and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita from, among other things: loan sharking, extortion, public works skimming, protection rackets, and...investments in the American and European stock markets.

A few weeks ago on November 5th Salvatore Lo Piccolo and his son, Sandro, were arrested along with two of their top capos in a house on the outskirts of Palermo. The long negotiated promotion to "boss of bosses" of the elder Lo Piccolo, now 65 years old, thus has been canceled and the expectation is for a possible return to the bloody battling to name a new unifying chief.

At this time, the leading candidate is the still-at-large Matteo Messina Denaro, 45, the son of the famous Don Ciccio (Francesco M. Denaro), an ally of the Corleone tribal grouping going back to both Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. Matteo Denaro is said to be in the mold of the late John Gotti in terms of personal flamboyance and a past replete with murder and mayhem.

To the question as to whether or not Italy's organized crime, and the Sicilian mafia in particular, would ever do business with Islamic extremists, their answer is obvious. Business is business and there's nothing personal involved!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.