ROME — Lucia Aielli, an anti-Mafia judge in the southern Italian city of Latina, was as surprised as anyone when she read a funeral announcement posted at the school her three children attend and on the door to the tribunal where she worked. The notice, copied and posted in five locations, was for her own funeral to be held in a week’s time. “All members of the Court and the public announce the untimely death of Lucia Aielli,” the announcement said. “A memorial service will be held in Latina Friday, November 28th, 2014.”
Aielli, who was very much alive when she learned of her funeral plans and the death threat they imply, says she is not deterred. “This has shaken me up, of course,” Aielli told reporters Friday as she went back to work. “It’s as if someone is watching my every movement. But that’s part of our job.” Aielli is now under police escort, but the story is just one in a series of organized crime incidents that seem to prove the point that the Italian Mafia and similar organized crime syndicates are alive and well.
Italy’s main organized crime syndicates have all been making shocking news in recent days. A covert tape of a super-secret initiation ceremony held in the north of Italy by the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mobsters that led to 40 arrests this week was released to the public by the police. The oath begins with the boss announcing in rough dialect, as the man to be initiated kneels before him, “In this holy evening, in the silence of the night, under the light of the stars and under the splendor of the moon, I create the holy chain.” Later in the ceremony, the boss wields a gun and threatens that by taking the oath, the initiate gives his life before he betrays the secret society. “Either you poison yourselves or you take this which shoots,” the boss says. “There must always be a bullet reserved; one for you.”
A few days later, police near Naples announced the discovery of enough exotic animals to fill a veritable zoo of the malavita that have been confiscated from Camorra crime families. According to Marco Trapuzzano, head of Italy’s forest corps, which deals with lost and found illegal animals, the beasts were used in the Camorra’s dirty work. In a video released by the police, an officer shows a giant boa constrictor that was left in the back seat of a car belonging to a man who didn’t want to pay his pizzo, or protection money. The police also have a crocodile that was kept hungry on a crime boss’s terrace to intimidate people who owed money. “They would bring them to the terrace and say, ‘You pay or you are his next meal,’” Trapuzzano explains.
The police also confiscated a pair of exotic parrots that were so accustomed to hearing their drug boss owners do business, every time they heard a cellphone ring, they still repeat, “How much do you want?” Another talking bird had memorized the phrase “Adesso ti sparo,” or “Now I’m going to shoot you.”
The police have also confiscated a Siberian tiger, countless exotic monkeys, and turtles that were essentially being trafficked on a black market for endangered species. Children of mafia dons apparently walked around their local neighborhoods with illegal animals perched on their shoulders. At least one mobster said he always kept two biting monkeys in the room when he met his associates. The police also have a number of dogs trained to attack to kill on command.
The organized crime wave in Italy extends all the way up to the far reaches of the government. Late last month, Italy’s president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, was called to testify in Rome for a major Mafia trial being held in Palermo, Sicily, to determine whether the Cosa Nostra, as the Sicilian Mafia is called, was paid by the Italian state to stop a string of assassinations in the early 1990s.
Among the defendants in the ongoing trial is Salvatore Riina, who is serving multiple life sentences, including two for ordering the fatal hits on Italy’s most beloved anti-Mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were killed two months apart in 1992. The “unspeakable agreements” Napolitano was questioned about concern deals supposedly done to quell the violence after the mafia judges were killed. The president, who was not officially accused of any complicity in the matter, reportedly told the judges that he was merely a “spectator to events,” not an accomplice.
Italian authorities say they have proof they are fighting the mobs. A string of arrests and sting operations over the last six months have netted more than 250 people who are associated with Italy’s various organized crime syndicates. Police in Sicily reportedly are now closing the noose around Matteo Messina Denaro, a 52-year-old fugitive boss who has been on the lam since 1993. Sixteen people were arrested on Thursday who are in some way connected to Denaro, who prefers to be called Diabolik and who is wanted in connection with more than 50 murders he has allegedly ordered from his hiding place. He is known for bragging about how he has “filled a whole cemetery.” Denaro is one of the top 10 most wanted criminals in the world. Nailing him would be a coup d’état for the Italian anti-Mafia police.
Last week, Roberto Saviano, whose muckraking book Gomorrah shed light on the inner workings of the Neapolitan Camorra and its far-reaching tentacles, and earned him a price on his head by the clan, said he isn’t sure Italy is really trying to break organized crime at its core.
“I am sorry to say this, but through all these difficult and complicated years I’ve always had the impression that the strongest part of the country is not really against the Mafia,” he wrote in La Repubblica after a Neapolitan judge exonerated two Camorra kingpins of threatening to kill him and placed the blame on their lawyer instead. “No, on the contrary, only a fraction of this country, a part which I would call the best of Italy, is against the Mafia.”