Rocco Moretti - the boss
Puglia crimewave points to emergence of 'fifth' Italian mafia
On 1 April, just as Italy was at the peak of its coronavirus crisis, a man in a protective face mask approached a residential home for vulnerable old people in Foggia in the southern region of Puglia. He was not coming to help residents, however, but rather to blow the home’s doors off with an explosive device.
The incident, in which fortunately no one was injured, came as no surprise to the care home’s owner, Luca Vigilante. He had only recently completed repairs following a bomb attack on the premises in January.
The car of Vigilante’s brother Christian was also blown up a few weeks before the January attack. The pair are key witnesses in two trials involving a criminal organisation that authorities believe is Italy’s “fifth mafia”.
Alongside Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Naples and the Sacra Corona Unita, investigators have identified an emerging Puglia-based crime organisation that has remained under their radar for several years.
Judicial investigations had suggested mafia activity in northern Puglia, but confirmation from government authorities came after three car bombings in Foggia in January and the year’s first murder, when gunmen on a scooter shot a 50-year-old man in his car. The violence in Foggia prompted the interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, to send a team of anti-mafia investigators to Puglia.
Signs of the criminal clan’s activities predated these incidents. There was an average of one murder a week, one robbery a day and an extortion attempt every 48 hours in Foggia province in 2017 and 2018.
“The Foggia mafia is relatively young,” the head prosecutor for the city, Ludovico Vaccaro, said. “The clans that make up this organisation have been embedded in this territory for at least 30 years. We cannot compare them to the historical Italian mafia groups like Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta, but it is a mafia characterised by a high degree of aggression and violence. It is what I call a primitive mafia, one that feeds cadavers to pigs so as not to leave a trace. An unrefined mafia in its actions, and for this reason dangerous.”
The mafia in Foggia province emerged in the late 1970s, when the head of the Neapolitan mafia and founder of the New Organised Camorra, Raffaele Cutolo, met a delegation of local criminals in Puglia with the goal of “hiring” them into his organisation and extending his influence into the contraband trade in cigarettes in the Balkans.
“Cutolo’s plan failed shortly afterwards,” said Giuseppe Volpe, a prosecutor and head of the anti-mafia district directorate of Bari. “An internal struggle ensued from which one autonomous criminal clan emerged victorious and gradually began infiltrating other areas of Puglia.”
Volpe said that after the January car bombings, media unaware of an independent mafia in Foggia province wrongly reported the attacks as the work of the Sacra Corona Unita, the so-called fourth mafia. “But that wasn’t the case. We are witnessing what should be called a fifth mafia, independent of the Sacra Corona Unita,” he said.
At least three criminal sub-groups operate in the area around Foggia. Besides the Società Foggiana, which profits from extortion and drug-dealing, there is the Cerignola clan, known for its armoured car heists and cocaine smuggling, and another group active around the Gargano, on the spur of Italy’s boot, whose bosses smuggle marijuana from the Balkans.
Prosecutors came to realise over the years that they were dealing with a real mafia, but the authorities in Rome continued to underestimate the forgotten Foggia mob as a B-list organisation.
Investigators say the recent wave of car bombs and arson attacks against business owners who refuse to pay protection money indicate that the new groups are in crisis. “They need cash,” Volpe said. “They need to fill their coffers, and in order to do it they need to frighten people.” As Italy deals with the disastrous economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic there is also evidence of the mafia, including in Puglia, exploiting the crisis by using stolen or extorted cash to purchase businesses that had to shut during the lockdown.
“I’d be a liar if I told you I’m not afraid,” said Luca Vigilante. “And I know that my life has changed and that it will be hard to get back to a normal one. But we cannot give up. They must not win.”
He and his brother are under police protection after reporting that two alleged mobsters had attempted to extort money from them. The Vigilantes are among the few businessmen to have rebelled against requests for protection money in Foggia, where prosecutors say that until a few years ago, more than 80% of shopkeepers paid up.
A week before the second attack on the brothers, Daniela Marcone of the anti-mafia association Libera organised a protest in the streets of Foggia. Such anti-mafia fervour had not been seen since the murder of high-profile members of the Italian state in the 1990s. About 20,000 people took part.
“We had to show people that they were not alone,” said Marcone. “We had to show them the honest people of Foggia are on the side of the business community.”
Her father, Francesco Marcone, was killed in the stairwell of his apartment building in 1995. He was the director of the public tax agency and had been denouncing corruption and tax evasion for months.
“My father’s murder was a textbook mafia killing,” Marcone said. “Someone even suspected that his killer was a member of the Sicilian mafia, which in those years had become a killing machine. For the authorities and for ordinary people alike, it seemed unthinkable that the mafia existed in Foggia.”
Francesco Marcone’s murder, like many others, remains unresolved.
The local mafia is believed to have killed 360 people in the Gargano area alone, and 80% of the killings are unsolved. Vaccaro points a finger at the state’s crisis of legitimacy. The government decided without explanation in 2013 to remove eight judicial districts between courts and prosecution offices from the province of Foggia. Cutting the number of prosecutors and judges has resulted in trials that drag on for years.
“The state is not much present in this area, which seems forsaken and forgotten,” said Vaccaro. “If we want to fight [the Foggia mafia], we must convince people that the state is on their side, that it is close and prepared to support them. It’s taken us 30 years to realise that we’re dealing with a serious mafia group. Let’s not take another 30 years to defeat it.”
Great article, Chef, and not entirely off topic. These guys have gotten a lot of clout lately in Italy and quietly grew while the Italian gov has gone after the major players (Ndrangheta, Camorra, Cosa Nostra).
Now that they are dealing in drugs, do enough digging and you will find the connections to South America and/or Mexico.
I imagine they are getting their coke from the Calabrians, who have long standing connections to Mexico and South America. CJNG more than likely being the original source of coke.
Please note however, the Italians will buy from whoever is supplying. The Zetas were a big source in the past decade or so:
It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.
Thank you, Bujo. I think they get their drugs from the Camorra in Naples for now, but if this expands, for sure they might get some direct connect to Mexico.
In reply to this post by El_Bujo
I think the Ndrangheta is skipping the Mexican cartels probably only deal with Mexicans when they have landed loads. Italians been in South America since the 70's
Great article @leChef. There´s a huge problem in Italy with these unknown mafias. The Societá Foggiana is not the only one. In Sicily for example there´s the Stidda, a very violent group born in the 80s which fought against Cosa Nostra and still manages things in Caltanisseta province. There are also big unknown mafias in Rome, Venice and Milan.
About the suppliers of the big three Italian groups, apart from the Zetas supplying the N´drangheta during the 2010s I haven´t heard anything serious about Mexican groups selling to Italians.
The Camorra developed strong ties with Peruvians and Bolivians during the 1980s and the N´drangheta is very powerful both in Paraguay and Brazil (and even Uruguay) I think that countries (all along with Colombia) are the places were they buy.
@Red: I do imagine you are right. I guess the Italian diaspora of the past also plays in as a significant factor. Brazil has the largest group of people with Italian ancestry outside of Italy.
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