Charles DeLucca is a reader of this blog who kept emailing me interesting stories about the Camorra, as well as his take on the American Mafia. I noticed a quality to the writing and asked him how about he write these “emails” as stories for me to post on my blog?
I generally give his stories a light edit — every single writer born of this earth needs at least one editor, if not two or three; I leave in the Italian phrases and terms he uses — we both agree not to offer a translation; everyone should know how to find http://translate.google.com.
Sometimes I “Americanize” his prose a little more than I prefer; this is for reasons of clarity. You may notice how the “voice” of the writing may sometimes change: this is a U.S. editor editing stories written by an Italian writer using the English language.
Here, is his latest piece, DeLucca describes the differences among the various crime rings in Italy. I have written about this, too; my story is much more basic than Mr. DeLucca’s, and the key takeaway is: “In addition to [the American and Sicilian] Cosa Nostra, there is the Camorra, which is based in the Campania region around Naples; the ‘Ndrangheta, based in Calabria, and the little-known Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot.
“Together they were estimated in 2009 to have had a turnover of 135 billion euros – almost nine per cent of Italy’s gross domestic product.”
I want to thank Mr. DeLucca for making such a key contribution to Cosa Nostra News.
|Salvatore “Toto” Riina|
Readers of this blog — whether you are a goodfella or not — probably don’t know much about the various organized crime groups based in Italy. You may have heard of the Camorra, Ndràngheta and Sacra Corona Unitá — but do they mean anything to you?
Although they are all southern Italian, they are extremely different from the Sicilian Mafia, which of course many of you are no doubt more familiar with.
The original Sicilian Mafia suffered a lot as a result of Salvatore Riina’s ego: the former boss of a small family in Corleonessi took over the Palemo family. Strong bosses like Tano Badalmenti simply had to move away. But even after a bloody war against the Italian-State, Sicilian families did not change that much in structure and rituals. It is true that nowadays they do recruit via FaceBook, and they still make a huge living out of “pizzo,” constructions (like in Aquilla after the earthquake of 2009) and drug dealing. Drug dealing allows the Sicilians to interact with other ethnic groups, although they always require that the other party is known to somebody. But for the past 30 years, the Sicilian have kept a pretty much very rigid structure. Since everybody is looking at the Sicilians and the “Sicilians in America,” less attention is paid to other groups.
Fore example, the Ndràngheta of Calabria (also known as Onorata Società or Picciotteria) has become a strong organization in drug trafficking. They are still strongly “off the radar” (in fact the more movies and books about an organized crime group the lesser its power). But, we do know they have rituals and they recruit from local areas of Calabria. It is an imperative to “make your bones” either killing (taking part in a hit or simply shooting a bystander) or proving that you are not afraid in jail.
Guys of the Ndràngheta are strong in drugs. In the late 90s I met some of them working side by side with the Gulf Cartel (powerful Mexican Cartel that dates back to 1930). These two groups enjoyed one similar hobby: shooting dogs, street dogs, in the park. Some of the Ndrángheta guys I met actually, tattoo themself after spending a time in jail, just to show themself as “quality future members.” Just like with certain latino gangs, the tattoos have meaning: how tough and how cruel you are.
As far as we know only one local, very local Ndrángheta boss, Luigi Bonaventura, had turned pentiti. There are about 160 Ndràngheta cells with roughly 6,000 members and, according to US government information on the web, there are about 200 in the US. This group organized themselves as separate cells, groups no bigger than six people, and one cell has no information about another one. Last time I was in Argentina I met a lot of Calabrian guys and they organized the first form of Italian Mafia in Argentina, a country where 60% of its people are of Italian heritage, mainly northern. Therefore, there is not mafia. So, we could not stay in Argentina and we entered Brazil.
|Rafaele Cutolo: his clan evolved into what is
known as Sacra Corona Unitá.
Less is known about the criminal group name Sacra Corona Unitá, a strong grupo in the area of Puglia. What I can tell you is that in 1970, Rafaele Cutolo (I have spoken about him already) wanted to create a new Camorra group, more organized, more centralized. Let´s remember that Cutolo wanted to gain power in the north of Naples and outside Naples. After his arrest, Cutolo´s Camorra grupo in Puglia became an independent group and took the name of Sacra Corona Unita. They consists of about 50 clans with approximately 2,000 members (according to the FBI web page) and specialize in smuggling cigarettes, drugs, arms, people, money laundering, extortion, and political corruption. As well at the Camorra clan, these fellows have made lots of money smuggling whatever you can, to and from post-Communist countries like Croatia, Yugoslavia, and Albania. Are there any guys from Sacra Corona Unita in the US? It is believed, but this is typical US government speculation.
The Camorra, my people, has about 100 clans, and 7,000 members. (According to US sources… now I like the US government…ha-ha-ha). What is true about the Camorra is that, not only are we involved in money laundering, construction (from Naples to Milano), drugs, political corruption but also lots of legal business connected to the world of Italian fashion. We do have ritual initiation that I won´t mention. Making your bones is important and, the more time you spend in jail the better it is. After spending years in jail me and my friends got tattooed “Prima morte, poi disonore” on our backs. It’s more deep than “Morte prima di disonore” (a common tattoo among Italian-American mafia wannabes).
We recruit from local towns in Naples, and it takes a long time before you are made a member; the signal of getting close to membership is getting in charge of a district (either drug distribution, restaurants etc.). The more territory you have, the more powerful you are. You always recruit young kids that the law cannot touch. I don´t believe American LCN guys hire kids to work as killers but if they ride a motorcycle, and you teach them to shoot, they make amazing killers. Literature reveals a very interesting data about Camorra: kids are taught to shoot but in order to make sure they are not afraid of bullets, you shoot them while they wear a bullet-proof vest. Once they get a mark, they know they are in the right way. Unlike America’s LCN, every other form of Italian Mafia has no problem killing women, girls, priests, judges, politicians and whatever is necessary.
How do we get along ? It is not really smooth, and everybody is territorial. However we do have a common enemy, the Italian State. How do we get along in the US? I haven´t met Calabrians of other Camorras in the US. I haven´t met formally any Italian American mafiosi so I can´t speak really, but given the historic tensions between “zips” and American wiseguys, I don´t know what to expect.
Do we have sit downs? Not really, things are pretty much violent. Do we have “associates?” You can work as an affiliate but the sistem will not protect you or vouch for you. Do we have capos ? Not really. But if you are strong enough, and you are making lots of money you will be close to the boss. It goes also that we don´t have an underboss or consiglieri. You need permission to kill another Camorrista? Not really, you just go ahead with it. Now, if you start making lots of money, you know there will be reaction.
In America´s LCN, when the boss is out of the picture, the underboss or the consiglieri steps in unless the boss had the last word – like Carlo Gambino with Paulo Castellano. When Paulo Castellano was killed, the consiglieri helped with the transition when John Gotti took the driver’s seat. With us, in some cases you can expect a rivalry war, but there is clear procedure. The toughest capo will take the seat. That´s how things are in Camorra when the boss is out. Every single powerful capo will fight (tooth and nail) for the big seat, and there is no commission to stop the madness. But that´s how it is.
To be in the Camorra, to survive in the Camorra you have to be smart enough to make lots of money and strong enough to fight every time….both things at the same time. The issue of “not earning because you are fighting a war” does not apply in here.
At some point, Cutolo understood this and that is why he wanted to unify the clans.
That´s why, ´the Life´ in the Italian version sometimes is a constant Hobbesian “state of war.” Find your pleasures where you can in the meantime my friend.