Matteo Messina Denaro’s long history as a killer—turncoat mobsters said he’d boast of enough murders to fill a cemetery—boosted his reputation as a Sicilian Mafia leader.
He was caught Monday at a Palermo clinic where he was receiving chemotherapy after 30 years of evading capture while running the Mafia. He was taken to a maximum-security prison on the Italian mainland early Tuesday, but the Cosa Nostra’s more than century-old roots and laws will likely prevent its demise.
Palermo Prosecutor General Lia Sava told Rai state radio that the Mafia’s future is unknown.
One thing is certain. Cosa Nostra regulations. Sava said it will use its 150-year-old regulations to heal the harm and develop the new leadership structure needed after the arrest. Investigators claim Cosa Nostra has lacked a top capo for decades, despite Messina Denaro’s prominence.
Salvatore “Toto,” the “boss of bosses,” was arrested in a Palermo hideout in 1993 “Riina, Italy’s top fugitive for 23 years.
Fugitive's arrest like a 'quake,' but Mafia very resilient https://t.co/WvG9EKkJbv
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Riina was in control of Cosa Nostra’s “commission” that operated illicit businesses and planned a lethal reprisal against the state for its crackdown on the mafia, according to trial testimony. “After Riina, there was no absolute boss, said Rome Chief Prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi, who took over last year after helping find Messina Denaro in Palermo.
According to Cosa Nostra’s regulations, Messina Denaro wouldn’t have qualified as “capo di capi” because he was from Castelvetrano on Sicily’s western coast, not Palermo or its hinterland. Messina Denaro, son of a mobster, “was one of the most significant leaders and had contacts with other criminal organizations in Italy and overseas, Lo Voi told The Associated Press.
“Lo Voi said his arrest was a Cosa Nostra earthquake. Lo Voi said Messina Denaro’s reputation as a ruthless clan chief who ruled western Sicily further elevated him.
Messina Denaro was flown by military plane Tuesday to a maximum security jail in L’Aquila, in the middle Apennine mountains, where senior organized crime bosses who refuse to collaborate have limited visitor privileges.
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Giovanni Melillo, Italy’s national anti-Mafia prosecutor, stated that placing Messina Denaro in prison won’t disrupt Cosa Nostra’s plan of more than a decade.
That strategy is “no longer violent.” “against the state, Melillo said on state TV Monday night, referring to the 1992 bombings that killed Palermo prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and the 1993 bomb attacks against Rome churches, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, and an art gallery in Milan, part of the Mafia’s attempt to get the state to drop its crackdown on Cosa Nostra. Melillo said Cosa Nostra is hiding to “co-penetrate the social and economic fibre” of Italy.
In the previous two decades, a small army of turncoats helped Italian authorities throw scores of Cosa Nostra members behind prison, which helped the ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate in Italy’s southern “toe” overtake the Sicilian mafia and become one of the world’s top cocaine brokers.
An FBI undercover operation alongside Italian detectives, including Falcone, broke up a multi-million heroin and cocaine ring involving Sicilian Mafia members and the Gambino crime family in New York in the 1980s.
Lo Voi stated Cosa Nostra “had gone back in a large manner to drug trafficking”—cocaine, synthetic substances, and heroin. He claimed that Cosa Nostra and the ‘ndrangheta don’t really compete because there’s enough drug trade.
Drug trafficking “earns enormously and is less perilous than extortion,” Lo Voi claimed.
Cosa Nostra has historically extorted “pizzo” from local businesses.
15 years ago, Palermo’s youth protested against their elders’ lifelong acceptance of the practice. Creating “Addiopizzo” (Farewell Pizzo), “They advised companies to denounce extortionists instead of paying them.
The Mafia needs local control.
When breadwinners lost work during the COVID-19 outbreak, neighborhood mobsters provided groceries, Lo Voi said.
Messina Denaro may have evaded the law for 30 years in Sicily thanks to that complicated connection of benefit, fear, and complicity.
Since his detention, authorities have been seeking his last refuge, a dead-end alley residence in Campobello di Mazara, near Trapani. The fugitive’s cancer treatment identity card was Andrea Bonafede. Italian news reports indicated the genuine Bonafede and at least one of the clinic’s doctors who treated the fugitive in late 2020 are under investigation.
The man who donned fancy scarves and hand-painted shirts chatted with cancer patients and gave them olive oil, according to La Repubblica.
Six years ago, Italian authorities seized Messina Denaro’s olive orchards and bottling facilities near Trapani for 13 million euros. Two Carabinieri officers carried him out of the clinic to shouts of “Bravi!”
Others asked why he was captured after decades.
“”I had expected it for a long time, but it is outrageous that it took 30 years,” Salvatore Borsellino, brother of the deceased prosecutor, told AP in a video interview from Palermo.
Borsellino said “he enjoyed cover” locally. “Institutional complicity was also necessary.