New York gangster John Bologna was FBI informant for nearly two decades in midst of the Al Bruno murder plot

Shown here in a 2002 surveillance photo in Springfield are John Bologna, left, who police say is a "made soldier" from the New York Genovese crime family, and the late Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno.

Shown here in a 2002 surveillance photo in Springfield are John Bologna, left, who police say is a “made soldier” from the New York Genovese crime family, and the late Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno.

SPRINGFIELD – Both castigating and in defense of New York gangster John Bologna, an admitted co-conspirator in the 2003 mob murder of Adolfo Bruno, federal prosecutors have offered a conflicted presentencing memo in advance of his sentencing.

The 34-page summary — filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where the case ultimately landed — offers a fascinating picture of a mobster whom investigators have previously gone to great lengths to protect.

Bologna is a Westchester, N.Y.-based wiseguy and onetime “right hand” of former Genovese mob boss Arthur “Artie” Nigro, according to court records. He is among eight gangsters in Western Massachusetts and New York convicted in connection with conspiring to kill Bruno, longtime boss of the crime family here.

Two trials in New York City in 2011 and 2012 featured a handful of “made men” from Greater Springfield who provided a rare, public and detailed glimpse of the inner workings of the Mafia.

Bologna is set to be sentenced on May 7 in federal court in Manhattan on charges of murder, extortion and racketeering conspiracies to which he pleaded guilty in late 2009. These include the Bruno murder plot.

05.22.1993 | Republican file photo | Springfield, MA, May 3, 1993, Adolfo "Big Al" Bruno (center) talks with attorneys in the hallway of the Hampden County Superior Court during a recess in his trial for attempted murder.

05.22.1993 | Republican file photo | Springfield, MA, May 3, 1993, Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno (center) talks with attorneys in the hallway of the Hampden County Superior Court during a recess in his trial for attempted murder.

According to testimony, Bruno was targeted as a weak link in a power struggle here as he fell out of favor with New York mob bosses. Bruno was gunned down by a paid hitman in the parking lot of an Italian social club in Springfield’s South End on Nov. 23, 2003. Investigators struggled to piece together a solid case for years, and now say Bologna was a reluctant, but critical, witness who helped put it all together.

Bologna, 71, never made it to the witness stand because by the government’s admission – they discovered he was at once an FBI informant, a liar, a bully, an instigator and murderer.

Court records submitted in advance of his sentencing document Bologna was an informant for 17 years while ascending through the ranks of first the Gambino, then the Genovese crime families. He ultimately landed in the latter’s inner circle. Bologna helped plot murders, orchestrated shakedowns and manipulated the entire crime landscape in Greater Springfield from 2001 to 2003, prosecutors say.

In short, he was not the most believable courtroom witness and a potential embarrassment for the FBI.

“Bologna would not present as a credible individual to a jury, given his history of duplicity and repeated withholding of information. Bologna would be easily led, through cross-examination, to say things that were inaccurate; and Bologna still may not be telling the whole truth as to things about which the Government does not know,” a prosecutor wrote in the sentencing memorandum.

Federal prosecutors routinely file so-called 5K1.1 motions in support of government witnesses who offer testimony against their former cohorts. Those motions generally persuade judges to mete out far lower sentences than those called for by federal guidelines.

Cases in point in the Bruno case: Frankie Roche, the shooter whose sentencing stakes plummeted from a possible death penalty to 14 years in prison after he testified at both New York trials; Felix Tranghese, who was sentenced to four years in prison as opposed to a life sentence for his testimony; and Anthony J. Arillotta, Bruno’s successor who spear-headed Bruno’s murder and a series of unsuccessful vendettas against other rivals. Aside from Bologna, Arillotta is the only informant left to be sentenced in the case but may get a single-digit sentence for a string of murder plots.

Because Bologna lied to investigators even after he signed a formal cooperation agreement in 2007, he will face his sentencing before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel with a somewhat tortured sentencing memo by the government. The memo notes that Bologna began loosely cooperating with the FBI in the 1990s and was classified as an informant, but became a “cooperating witness,” a separate classification, in 2007 when he was implicated in a sports-betting operation in New York.

According to the government’s memo, Bologna began his association with the Gambino family four decades ago.

“John Bologna was a long-time associate of the Gambino Organized Crime Family, who from the 1970s to the 1990s ran large-scale bookmaking operations and assisted in the Gambino Family’s corrupt control of the garbage industry throughout the 1990s,” the memo reads.

Bologna switched teams to align with Nigro and the Genovese family in 1999 but no further details about the defection are provided in the memo. Bologna was never “made” but became Nigro’s “right-hand-man” in overseeing rackets in New York and beyond until Nigro was jailed on extortion charges in 2006.

Nigro was “acting boss” of the powerful crime family and is now serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2011 in connection with the Bruno murder and other crimes. Also convicted in the same trial were brothers Fotios “Freddy” and Ty Geas, of West Springfield, and mob enforcers. Emilio Fusco, a made man from Longmeadow, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy in a separate trial in 2012. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison though he was acquitted of the murders of Bruno and low-level associate Gary Westerman.

In 2001, Bologna began shuttling back and forth between New York and Springfield to step up extortion efforts at Nigro’s behest. He became close with Arillotta, while the two swaggered around strip clubs and other businesses they identified as marks, the memo states. The move to edge out Bruno was born.

In previous interviews, Massachusetts state police said they approached the FBI in New York when Bologna was noted in surveillance efforts at the time. Bologna mysteriously and abruptly stopped coming to Springfield. State police said they suspected a leak, but Bologna’s status as an informant was not confirmed until years later. The U.S. attorney’s memo does not address that aspect of the case.

Arillotta, an ambitious gangster, assembled a crew that began asserting themselves through shake-downs, a takeover of an illegal slot machine business, and beat downs and murder plots against anyone who crossed their paths. Most of it took place at Nigro’s urging, with Bologna managing nearly every maneuver, according to court records.

“Although Bologna did not have a direct role in the planning of the (Bruno) murder or in giving the order itself, he knew full well that the order had been given. Indeed, on multiple occasions when Arillotta and Tranghese were slow to carry out Nigro’s order, Bologna told them to ‘do what they had been told to do’ in carrying out the murder,” the memo states.

After formally signing on with the FBI in 2007, Bologna recorded 100 conversations with his associates, according to court records. These included one with Arillotta in 2008. Arillotta was intensely under investigation for the Bruno murder after he was released from state prison on a loan-sharking conviction. Bologna was dispatched to draw incriminating statements from Arillotta about the murder. The effort fell flat. Arillotta did not take the bait, according to the court memorandum.

“In general, however, Bologna continually and dependably recorded conversations during this period,” prosecutors said, while adding that he sometimes resisted his FBI handlers’ instructions to meet with certain individuals.

When Bologna entered a nine-count guilty plea on charges brought in connection with the Bruno murder, he was allowed release with no bail, as he continued to cooperate. His deal only began to unravel in earnest when Arillotta was arrested in early 2010. Arillotta was convinced Bologna’s cooperation was enough to seal any number of life sentences against him even though the evidence, in truth, was spotty by trial standards.

Arillotta, on the other hand, was a dream witness for investigators. He shared every detail of his criminal history while Bologna was evasive and left out critical details of his own involvement in several schemes.

“In essence, Arillotta described Bologna as the instigator for a good deal of the tension that arose in Springfield prior to Bruno’s murder. As Arillotta described it, when Bologna started coming up to Springfield, it was as though dollar signs flashed before Bologna’s eyes and saw a city ripe for the taking. In addition, Arillotta explained that Bologna was always pitting mobsters against each other, and creating strife where none had previously existed,” the memo states.

Arillotta stunned investigators when he confessed involvement in the attempted murder of New York union boss Frank Dadabo in 2003. They had no idea it had been Arillotta and the Geas brothers who had shot Dadabo several times at Nigro’s behest, prosecutors wrote. Even Arillotta was confused during his early debriefings with federal investigators, because he assumed Bologna had already clued them in.

“I have no idea why I’m not already charged with this,” Arillotta said during one meeting, according to the memo.

But, Bologna had hedged and withheld information in many instances. He also neglected to tell investigators he supplied Arillotta with AK-47 weapons. He was warned multiple times by the government to “come clean,” the memo says. The government finally bailed out of its agreement with him in 2010.

“Bologna’s withholding of information was repeated, and it was significant. More to the point, given the seriousness of Bologna’s underlying conduct and the importance of his information in charging others with serious crimes, it was inexcusable,” the memo states.

The government did some hedging of its own, concluding that Bologna was both a villain and a savior for the case and expanding the investigation far beyond the early suspects.

Prosecutors calculate Bologna’s sentencing guidelines call for around 30 years in prison, although they concede they would support a sentence “somewhere below” given the “value of his cooperation.”

“For approximately ten years, beginning in 1996, Bologna led a double life, as a mobster committing crimes with the Genovese Family on the one hand and providing the FBI confidential source information about certain Gambino Family members and associates on the other,” the report says.

Prosecutors concluded that Bologna was a lost cause when he was considered a potential defense witness in the New York trials. They asked why he was unconcerned about Arillotta blowing the whistle on the Dadabo shooting and Bologna responded that he “thought more of the kid” and believed he would lie to save others in the Mafia.

“Even though Bologna had been through the cooperation process, he still somehow did not accept that he and others were truly obligated to tell the whole truth,” the memo concludes.

His lawyer, Andrew G. Patel, concedes Bologna never had the “come-to-Jesus” moment prosecutors require from a totally compliant cooperator. He also states in his own memo that his client is deaf in one ear, walks with a cane, as had been “passed from prosecutor to prosecutor” over his years of cooperation and never had the chance to develop a trusting relationship with any single investigator.



Bonanno Family Members Accused Of ‘Old School’ Mob Crimes

donnie-brasco-665x385Nine alleged members of the Bonanno crime family were arrested this week on various “old school mob” charges.

According to CBS, the Bonanno family members are being accused of gambling, loan sharking, extortion and selling drugs. The arrests were made after a two-year investigation into the activities of the family. Police say that they arrested a captain, two capos, a soldier and several associates in the raid. (Don’t worry, there’s a handy graph below to explain the mob hierarchy.)

The crew was reportedly using their union ties to run a $10 million organized criminal enterprise.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said: “Organized crime is by no means extinct. The 158-page indictment demonstrates that organized crime is still operating in New York City and has its hooks into the labour movement.”

The BBC reports that Nicholas Bernhard, the head of Teamsters 917 on Long Island, is being accused of using his power to solicit union members into criminal activities. The indictment states that the Bonanno family used people like Bernhard to grow their criminal enterprise.

The indictment reads: “This crew’s use of a union president in its corrupt activities is detrimental to honest union workers everywhere.”

Officials said that the group brought in more than $9 million annually through various criminal schemes, including an internet gambling ring and the sale of prescription drugs like oxycodone, Viagra and Cialis. They also reportedly sold marijuana.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement: “The organized crime activity described in the indictment is as old as the Bonanno crime family and as relatively new as online betting and trafficking in highly addictive Oxycodone … Either way, it’s corrosive to society and lines the pockets of those who use or sanction violence to enrich themselves.”

Here’s a look at the Bonanno family crime tree.

bonano-crime-family-treeThe Wall Street Journal reports that 7 of the people arrested this week have plead not guilty. Nicholas Santora, who is currently in prison for another crime, has not entered a plea yet.

Does Nicholas Santora sound familiar? How about Nicky The Mouth? Bruno Kirby played the mobster in the film Donnie Brasco.



Former Columbo family capo to visit Mob Museum and tell how he left the mafia but lived to talk about it

Former mobster Michael Franzese poses for a portrait before he speaks to athletes at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007.

Former mobster Michael Franzese poses for a portrait before he speaks to athletes at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007.

Michael Franzese knows he’s lucky to be alive.

More than 30 years ago, he was one of the most powerful mobsters in America. In 1980, he rose to the ranks of caporegime, a “capo” or captain, in the Colombo crime family in New York. There he masterminded scams in the auto industry, on union kickbacks and gasoline taxes. He escaped several indictments and earned millions in cash every week.

Fortune Magazine listed him as one of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses,” and Vanity Fair claimed he was one of the mob’s biggest money-earners since Al Capone.

The mafia was in his blood, too. His father, Sonny Franzese, was the underboss of the Colombo family in the 1960s. His father wanted Michael Franzese to be a doctor, but he threw that life away after his father received a 50-year sentence.

The mob was Michael Franzese’s life, until he met Camille Garcia. Franzese fell in love, but Garcia was a devout Christian. Franzese knew if he wanted to be with her, he’d have to do something no mobster he knew had ever survived — walk away without protective custody.

Franzese pleaded guilty to a racketeering charge, paid back $20 million to the government and served eight years in prison. Since then, by living a cautious lifestyle in Los Angeles, he’s managed to stay ahead of everyone who’s gone after him.

Now he’s sharing his story and giving motivational speeches to youth groups, schools, churches and professional athletes. Franzese will be at the Mob Museum on Friday to talk about his life. Before then, he spoke with the Sun about growing up around the mob, and what it took to get out.

Growing up in a mob family, how difficult is it to avoid that life?
It’s hard to avoid. … When I was growing up, my dad always had seven or eight different agencies investigating him, and every one of them would have a car parked outside house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quite honestly, I grew up hating police. I hated the government and anything to do with law enforcement because of what I witnessed. They were the enemy, and my dad was the good guy. I grew up with that distorted point of view.

What experiences with law enforcement did you have growing up?

One incident that always stood out in my mind, because I was younger, is I was playing ball on the street and a kid threw the ball over my head, and it rolled down over the hill. Two of the agents were parked in a car, and the ball rolls down to the car. He gets out and stops the ball with his foot. I was 10 years old. When I got there, he pulled his jacket coat aside and he had a gun there. He said, “This is going to be for your old man one day.”

What was the process like when you decided to quit the mob life?
There’s no blueprint for walking away from that life without going into a (witness protection) program or going into hiding. My plan was to take a plea on this other case they were indicting me on, do some prison time, pay the government some money, marry my wife and move out to California. … I figured after 10 or 12 years they’d forget about me, I’ll live happily ever after out in California. It didn’t work out that way. When I was put in a position to renounce my life and I did, I didn’t realize it was going to be broadcast all over the place.
It shot back to New York like a rocket, and at that point I was in a lot of trouble. … My dad disowned me at the time, the boss put a contract on me, the feds tell me you’re a dead man anyway, you cooperate with us, we’ll put you in a program. I had a rough time for a number of years.

How did you survive?
I knew the mentality of the guys. Your best friend walks you into a room and you don’t walk out again. I moved out to California, I don’t put the house or utilities in my name, I don’t walk my dog every morning at 7 o’clock, I don’t go to the same restaurant, I don’t go to any nightclubs. I changed my whole life around.
I’m on my guard the whole time. I never sold anybody short. What happened throughout the years, just about everybody I ran with is either dead or in prison for the rest of your life. So I kind of outlasted everybody.

Now that you give motivational speeches, what message do you try to convey to the audience?
It’s all about encouragement: letting people understand that if I can come back from this situation, anybody could. I believe strongly in my faith and forgiveness, and just try to encourage people that are struggling. That’s the theme, that’s the thread.

Had you been to Vegas as a mobster? What was that like?
Hundreds of times back in the day, in the late ’70s, early ’80s. The Dunes was my place. I would be down there every other week. … It was great. We had the run of the place. I had a $2 million credit line between myself and all the guys at the Dunes. Everything was comped. … We had a big presence back in ’70s and ’80s, and that was my time. It was wide-open back then, not like today where the Gaming Board is on top of everybody. It was great for guys like me; we had the run of the place.

Do you still look over your shoulder today or is your day-to-day a little more regular now?

It’s more regular, but I still don’t take things for granted. When I’m in certain places, I make sure I have resources around me I should have. I don’t sell people short, I never do. I was part of that life and there’s guys there that are very capable of doing things. … I’m just fortunate to be out of that life.



Shelton Man Connected To Gambino Gambling Ring Gets Prison

usdojlogoA 65-year-old Shelton grandfather was sentenced to six months in federal prison July 31 for running money within a large-scale gambling operation organized by two alleged associates of the Gambino crime family.

Prosecutors said Domenico Manchisi collected gambling proceeds in greater New Haven to give to Dean DePreta and Richard Uva, two “longtime organized crime associates” based in Stamford.

Manchisi was one of 19 people indicted by the feds in connection to the gambling ring, which used a website to lay bets and earned some $1.7 million in 38 weeks. Discussions about Manchisi’s role in the gambling ring were detailed through secretly-recorded conversations.

On March 28 Manchisi pleaded guilty to one count of operating an illegal gambling business.

Manchisi was far from a career criminal. He was a successful small businessman, operating several restaurants over the years, according to court documents.

He had a stable family life, having been married to the same woman for 42 years. He lived in Shelton with his wife, kids and grandchildren.

And he’s a first-time offender.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors noted his background made his crime inexplicable. His lawyer called the crime a “terrible mistake.”

Manchisi’s lawyer argued he should receive probation, while prosecutors argued for a sentence of six to 12 months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in federal court in Hartford July 31 ordered Manchisi to pay a $20,000 fine in addition to spending six months in prison.

The case was investigated by the FBI Fairfield County Organized Crime Task Force, the Internal Revenue Service, the Stamford Police Department, the Bridgeport Police Department and the Connecticut State Police.


Mafia kin’s ‘discrim’ nix

International Union of Operating Engineers

International Union of Operating Engineers

A grandnephew of late Luchese “goodfella” Paul Vario lost his legal fight after claiming he had been barred from joining a union because of his Italian-American heritage.

Thomas Vario had sued Local 14-14B of the International Union of Operating Engineers, saying he was denied membership because of an “Italian criminal connection.” The union runs skyscraper cranes.

Brooklyn federal Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ruled that the union’s court-appointed mob-connection watchdog had acted properly.



US sanctions members of Naples mafia

The US Treasury on Wednesday announced sanctions against five members of the Naples mafia and two companies suspected of having links to the “Brothers Circle” criminal gang.

The treasury department said in a statement it was sanctioning Camorra mob boss Marco Di Lauro, fugitive Mario Riccio and three other mobsters.

It was also sanctioning two businesses with ties to the “Brothers Circle” — a multi-national criminal network whose tentacles stretch throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

The moves are “a continuation of our systematic effort to expose and disrupt these dangerous groups and protect the US financial system from their illicit activity,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.

Di Lauro has been on Italy’s most wanted list since 2004 for mafia-related activities. Riccio, 22, is tied to a drug-trafficking network that nets “tens of millions of euros” each year, the treasury department said.

It said “The Brothers Circle” was a multi-ethnic group composed of criminals largely from the former Soviet Union but also extending around the world. The US government has already sanctioned 15 people with ties to the organization.

The Treasury sanctions mean the assets of individuals and businesses held in the US have now been frozen. The sanctions also ban any dealings with those involved.


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Children taken from mafia families to try to stop cycle of violence

| August 12, 2013 | 0 Comments

Thousands take part in anti-mafia protests every year to remember the victims of violence

Thousands take part in anti-mafia protests every year to remember the victims of violence

A judge in southern Italy is pioneering a programme to help children of mafia bosses to escape a life of crime – by taking them away from their parents at the first sign of trouble.

“We needed to find a way to break this cycle that transmits negative cultural values from father to son,” says Roberto di Bella, president of the juvenile court in Reggio Calabria, on Italy’s southern toe.

This is the heartland of one of the most formidable of the country’s mafias – a criminal network known as the ‘Ndrangheta, the biggest cocaine smugglers in Europe.

Mafias are always built around blood ties – especially so in the ‘Ndrangheta’s case, making its clans particularly hard for security forces to penetrate.

“There’s a religious baptism and a mafioso baptism, which is confirmed when you reach a certain age,” says Antonio Nicaso, who has written extensively on the ‘Ndrangheta’s family dynamics.

Ndrangheta Territory

Ndrangheta Territory

Mafia organisation based in Calabria, at the southern “toe” of Italy, with about 6,000 members

“‘Ndrangheta” comes from the Greek for courage

Formed in 1860s by exiled Sicilians

Less famous than Cosa Nostra (Sicily) or Camorra (Naples) but thought to be most powerful

Has global reach, and links to Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Colombia

“If it were not part of Italy, Calabria would be a failed state. The ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least 3% of Italy’s GDP” – US

Wikileaks cable (2008)
Source: FBI, Wikileaks

“So this means that, often, the children of bosses – particularly the first-born – are predestined to follow in their father’s footsteps.”

“If you are a boy whose father, uncle or grandfather is a mafioso, then there’s no-one who can set rules ”

Roberto di Bella

Daughters are sometimes compelled to marry the sons of other bosses, he says, binding separate clans together through blood relations.

“There are letters from women who write about their daughters being forced to marry men they don’t love, just to enlarge the power of the family,” Nicaso says.

Across the Straits of Messina the Sicilian mafia has been undermined by the so-called “Pentiti”, the “penitent ones”, who have collaborated with the police and informed on their fellow criminals.

But the ‘Ndrangheta clans have produced comparatively few turncoats – and codes of conduct are simply passed from one generation to the next.

Former clan boss Salvatore Coluccio, arrested in 2009, is one of many mafiosi to follow his father into the 'Ndrangheta, including his brother

Former clan boss Salvatore Coluccio, arrested in 2009, is one of many mafiosi to follow his father into the ‘Ndrangheta, including his brother

In recent years Judge Di Bella’s court has been dealing with the sons of mafiosi who he sentenced as juveniles back in the 1990s. So last year he decided that something had to be done.

“As president of the court, I took some decisions,” he says.

The court began focusing more on the children of well-known mafia families aged around 14 or 15 who had “started to acquire the mafiosi mentality”, as Di Bella puts it, beginning with petty crimes.

So far about 15 of these teenagers – the great majority of them boys – have been taken away from their relatives and placed in care homes. But they are not in prison and they can go back home for visits every few weeks.

“This always starts with a court case,” says Di Bella. “When these children are accused of bullying, of vandalising cars or police cars, and families do nothing, then we intervene.

“Every time I have to take away a minor from a family it’s a very tough decision, I have to make a deep judgement.” But sometimes, he says, the court concludes there is no other option.

“Our objective is to show these young men a different world from the one they grew up in,” he says. “If you are a boy whose father, uncle or grandfather is a mafioso, then there’s no-one who can set rules – and we provide them with a context.”

The hope is that when the youngster is free to go back home permanently – when he is 18 – he will chose not to enter the criminal underworld.

It is not the first time youngsters from problem families have been placed in care. What’s new is Di Bella’s determination to intervene early, and to coordinate more closely with social workers, psychologists and others to give the children a fresh start.

The programme is still being described as “experimental”, and “evolving”, but Di Bella says he expects a lot more youngsters will be removed from Calabrian mafiosi families in the months and years to come, and that the programme may be replicated elsewhere in Italy.

The funeral cortege of two men thought to have been killed in a battle between rival clans of the 'Ndrangheta passes through San Luca, Calabria, in 2007

The funeral cortege of two men thought to have been killed in a battle between rival clans of the ‘Ndrangheta passes through San Luca, Calabria, in 2007

The initiative is welcomed by Mario Nasone, a social worker with experience of dealing with ‘Ndrangheta children. The juvenile court is looking at the issue in a comprehensive manner for the first time, he says – but he adds that the programme needs more state support.

“We need to create a network in which we can guarantee that these kids going into homes have a certain ‘cultural detox’,” he says.

The mafia bosses Nasone and his colleagues visit in jail are aware of the authorities’ new determination to intervene in families like theirs.

“There’s a certain amount of concern,” Nasone says. “But we have to talk to them – make them responsible. They must understand that they cannot with impunity do whatever they want with their children – bring them up as mafiosi. We can’t allow this.”

Nasone has seen for himself that with the right approach youngsters can be steered away from lives of crime.

He tells the story of a 16-year-old he worked with at a detention centre. When it was time for him to leave, his mother said that he had to return to the family to take the place of his mafiosi father, who had been killed.

“You’re with us or with them,” she argued, meaning the world beyond the ‘Ndrangheta. “He chose, and he went away to Milan,” says Nasone.

“We got him a job. But he had to cut off links with his family. These are not easy choices.”

How children are initiated into the clans

As well as family members, the ‘Ndrangheta draws children from outside its clans into its ranks.

“They go around the neighbourhoods scouting for the strongest, bravest kids, and they pick the best ones,” says Antonio Nicaso.

For a time these chosen children serve what amounts to a criminal apprenticeship.

“They’re followed to show whether they’re trustworthy, then presented to the boss, and whoever presents them takes responsibility for them.

“They make youngsters believe that the ‘Ndrangheta is an organisation made up of special people, with a cult of respect and honour.”

And there is eventually an initiation ceremony.

The oath-taking involves cutting the finger of the newcomer. Their blood is allowed to fall on a picture of Saint Michael the Archangel, who the ‘Ndrangheta mobsters regard as their patron.

“They set the image on fire and hold it in their hand while it burns, saying ‘I promise to be faithful to this organisation, and should I betray it, I would burn like this Saint’.”

Source: BBC

Sicily’s openly gay governor risks life in anti-Mafia drive

| August 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

Dicing with death: Since winning the governor's job nine months ago, Rosario Crocetta has taken his crusade islandwide

Dicing with death: Since winning the governor’s job nine months ago, Rosario Crocetta has taken his crusade islandwide

PALERMO, ITALY – Of the previous two men to sit in Sicily’s palatial governor’s office, one is up on criminal charges and the other is doing hard time. Their successor, Rosario Crocetta, is the unlikeliest politician ever to govern Cosa Nostra country.

Back when he was mayor of a coastal town plagued by mob violence, Crocetta took on the dons, combating the ingrained practice of “pizzo,” or forced protection payments, while helping put hundreds of gangsters behind bars. His anti-Mafia revolution led crime boss Daniele Emmanuello to call for his assassination, with police subsequently arresting a series of mobsters for plots against his life.

Since winning the governor’s job nine months ago, Crocetta has taken his crusade islandwide, kicking a hornet’s nest as he strengthens anti-Mafia laws and takes aim at the cronyism, waste and corruption that turned Sicily’s Treasury into the gift that kept giving. But to get this far, the 62-year-old former communist with a penchant for sea-blue spectacles first had to tackle another powerful adversary: masculine stereotypes in Italy’s macho south.

“I’m homosexual, which I call a gift from God, and no, I didn’t hide it one bit!” he said, dangling a lit cigarette and throwing his head back in a raucous laugh. Talking about his successful campaign for governor, he said, “The fact that I’m here is almost inconceivable. Even I’m surprised.”

Across Europe, openly gay politicians are cracking the pink ceiling as never before, in recent years becoming prime minister in Belgium and Iceland and foreign minister in Germany, the region’s powerhouse.

Even in Italy — the only major nation in Western Europe without any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples — a gay candidate, Nichi Vendola, won the governorship of Apulia, in the south, seven years ago. Despite still deep resistance in Italy to gay-rights laws, Vendola easily won re-election and is now a national kingmaker on the Italian left.

And yet Crocetta’s win in Sicily — a conservative bastion of the Catholic Church, machismo and the Mafia — has left even Italian gay rights advocates flabbergasted, upending conventional perceptions of Italy’s south as less socially progressive than the more prosperous north. In fact, when measured by the number of openly gay regional presidents (the position officially held by Crocetta, which is roughly equivalent to that of a state governor in the U.S.), the south is ahead of the north by a score of 2-0.

“Having Crocetta in Sicily is like having an openly gay man elected governor in Alabama,” said Ivan Scalfarotto, a member of the parliament and a Milan-based gay rights advocate. “But the most telling point is that his sexuality became a small detail for voters. This was about what he had done” against the Mafia.

In Sicily, Crocetta’s sexuality has courted less controversy than other aspects of his political persona. His harshest critics call him a grandstanding populist with a flair for the dramatic who will stop at nothing to score political points. Decorum is also not a quality he seems to highly prize. Last month, he showed up at a World War II commemoration ceremony more than an hour late, then piqued the ire of visiting U.S. dignitaries by saying Allied forces had destroyed his family home. He was playing to his leftist base, his opponents say, when he temporarily suspended construction of a U.S. military satellite dish citing a possible health risk.

Nello Musumeci, who is the right-wing opponent he beat in November, insists Crocetta is a flash in the pan who won because Italy’s economic crisis and a series of corruption scandals had soured voters on traditional politicians.

“At any other time, he would have been seen as an alien in Sicily, not a revolutionary,” groused Musumeci.

To that, Crocetta simply shrugs, offering his own interpretation of victory. By choosing him, Sicilians proved themselves ready to embrace a “radical” solution to the age-old scourge of the island’s crime families.

“Freedom is about the moment you stand up and rebel,” Crocetta said. “Sicily has stood up and is on its feet. What is happening here? A cultural revolution. I don’t know if we’ll succeed, but it’s about time we tried.”

Armed with a Cabinet that is dominated by women and includes ethnic and sexual minorities, Crocetta has canceled tainted state contracts, appointed an anti-Mafia judge to head a major public procurement department and pushed a law to aid witnesses to Mafia crimes. He has also opened channels of communication with the national prosecutor’s office in Palermo that officials there say have led to the opening of 20 probes.

He has a 24-hour security detail, and a strategy for protection that involves frequently changing sleeping arrangements. His largest task so far, he said, has been unraveling a maze of millions of euros in misspent funds and bad state deals left by his predecessors.

“Everybody wants me,” he said, comically complaining in his office when an aide slipped a note informing him of yet another phone call. “Oh, not her,” he said when informed who is on the line. “She’s such a neurotic, and her son is practically gay.”

In looks and manner, think of actor and gay-rights champion Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the book for the musical “La Cage aux Folles,” if Fierstein were playing the part of an anti-Mafia Sicilian governor and going for the Oscar. His sexuality rarely became a dominant issue during his governor’s campaign, but it was an undercurrent.

A right-wing newspaper routinely referred to him as “the gay candidate for governor.” His political opponents, Crocetta said, secretly distributed doctored photos of him supposedly engaged in sex acts. At one point, he made national headlines when he pledged to abstain from sex and “marry Sicily” if elected to the post. He described the comment — taken literally across Italy — as a sarcastic response to a journalist too interested in his private life.

“It was the biggest idiocy I’ve ever heard in my life,” Crocetta said of the national obsession with his “chastity vow.” “Of course I didn’t mean it. Well, at least the part about not having sex. I am married to Sicily.”

Like U.S. President Barack Obama on the issue of race, Crocetta is caught in the vortex between those who see him as too gay and those who see him as not gay enough. He authorized the use of public funding for this year’s Gay Pride festival in Palermo, and became the first Sicilian governor ever to attend it. But he has not put gay-rights laws toward the top of his agenda. He said he personally supports gay marriage, but “Sicily is not ready for all this.”

Crocetta, the son of a poor tradesman and a seamstress mother, said his vendetta against the Mafia took shape decades ago. While working at a Sicilian petrochemical plant, he said he discovered the depth of the Mafia’s infiltration in local business. In 1990, he was outraged by a Mafia hit on an arcade in his hometown of Gela that left eight boys dead. Two years later, the town government was dissolved by national authorities for being hopelessly in the pocket of organized crime.

In 2002, he ran for mayor of Gela and was declared the winner a year later due to electoral fraud. He set up a program to aid businesses coerced into making regular protection payments to the Mafia. After re-election in 2005 and a stint as a member of the European Parliament, he ran for governor last year on what he calls a single platform: “Against the Mafia.”

His fight, he said, has taken its toll. In 2010, he said he had to seek therapy after his mother died. She had stopped eating after hearing talk of a mob plot against his life on the news. “She died 40 days later,” he said.

Great Train Robber Biggs defiant on 50th anniversary

| August 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs, 83, attends the funeral of fellow robber, Bruce Reynolds, in London, on March 20, 2013

Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs, 83, attends the funeral of fellow robber, Bruce Reynolds, in London, on March 20, 2013

LONDON, England (AFP) – Half a century after Britain’s infamous Great Train Robbery, the most notorious member of the gang, Ronnie Biggs, is unrepentant and says he is proud of his role in the heist.

The gang stole the equivalent of £45 million ($69 million, 52 million euros) in today’s money from a mail train travelling from Glasgow to London 50 years ago on Thursday.

The crime itself was audacious enough, but it was Biggs’ 36 years on the run and his high-profile new life in Brazil which propelled him to fame.

He escaped from prison in 1965 and was finally arrested and thrown back in jail in 2001 on his voluntary return to Britain.

Biggs, who will celebrate his 84th birthday on the anniversary of the robbery, was released from prison in 2009 after his lawyer claimed he was close to death following a series of strokes.

But he is still alive and although now confined to a wheelchair he showed he has lost none of his old defiance by making an obscene hand gesture to journalists at the funeral of the gang’s mastermind Bruce Reynolds in March this year.

Biggs, who cannot speak and communicates through a spelling board, said ahead of the 50th anniversary: “If you want to ask me if I have any regrets about being one of the train robbers, my answer is ‘no!’

“I will go further: I am proud to have been one of them. I am equally happy to be described as the ‘tea-boy’ or ‘The Brain’.

“I was there that August night and that is what counts. I am one of the few witnesses — living or dead — to what was ‘The Crime of the Century’.”

Biggs admitted however that he does have some regrets.

“It is regrettable, as I have said many times, that the train driver was injured,” the Londoner said. And he was not the only victim.

“The people who paid the heaviest price for the Great Train Robbery are the families, the families of everyone involved in the Great Train Robbery, and from both sides of the track.

“All have paid a price for our collective involvement in the robbery. A very heavy price, in the case of my family.

“For that, I do have some regrets.”

While the train robbers’ exploits have passed into folklore, many people deplore the almost forgotten fate of the driver, Jack Mills.

He was coshed over the head by another member of the gang, never recovered from his head injuries and died seven years later.

‘Big Jim’ Hussey is said to have claimed on his deathbed that he was the attacker, although other accounts say it was a man who has never been brought to justice.

The driver had stopped the train at a remote bridge at Ledburn in Buckinghamshire, northwest of London, after seeing a red signal — but it was fake, created using a glove and a battery-powered light.

Once Mills was incapacitated, the gang uncoupled the engine and the first two carriages and a human chain of robbers removed 120 sacks containing 2.5 tonnes of cash.

The crew left in the rest of the train did not realise anything had happened until it was too late.

But the plan unravelled when the gang members abandoned plans to lie low for several weeks and instead fled from the farmhouse they had rented. The police, tipped off by a neighbour, rounded up many of them.

Nine of the 16 involved went on trial in 1964 and each was given 30 years in jail, although most did not serve out the whole sentence.

Biggs escaped from London’s Wandsworth prison in a furniture van 15 months later. He fled to continental Europe in a boat then underwent plastic surgery in Paris.

He spent four years on the run in Australia but fled again to Brazil in 1970. He was tracked down but could not be extradited as he had fathered a Brazilian child.

From his base in Rio de Janeiro he taunted the British police, aided by the British tabloids who lapped up his roguish tales.

When he voluntarily returned to Britain in May 2001, he was re-imprisoned before being released on compassionate grounds in 2009.

Biggs, who now lives in a nursing home, has contributed to a new book about the robbery to explain first-hand the complete story of the heist.

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