ROME—Italy's anti-mafia special forces made sweeping arrests last week in Sicily, capturing several new dons of the next generation. Two of the men—Leandro “The Pope” Greco and Calogero Lo Piccolo—are direct descendants along a lifeline of crime that spans several generations. Their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers helped propel the Sicilian mafia to power.
But these arrests were different from those of their forefathers. Rather than scouring the hideouts for weapons and secret messages like the kind the old bosses relied on, the cops were looking for passwords and a different kind of paper trail—one they hoped might lead them to secret investments in high-tech companies and cryptocurrency money laundering.
Italy’s oldest mafia, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, is going through a renaissance of sorts. The mafia is filling the vacuum created by economic uncertainty thanks to the current government’s war with the European Union through loansharking and money laundering, according to Italy's top anti-mafia organization. It is also prospering in people smuggling, thanks to a crackdown on migrant arrivals in recent months. All of these old businesses do much better when the mobsters can hack into systems to forge documents or hide their profits in hard-to-trace cryptocurrencies.
In the most recent report by Italy's Anti-Mafia Investigation Division, or DIA, the skillset embraced by the younger generation of mobsters goes far beyond who is responsible for the highest body count. “The accent is also on the managerial skills of this new generation of potential bosses who are investing capital towards innovative and high-tech areas of business, sectors that until now were seemingly excluded from the sphere of interest of the mafia.”
Those arrested last week were also extremely young. Greco was just 28 years old and considered a true boss of bosses, apparently filling a power vacuum created by a string of arrests that was thought to have toppled the so-called cupola of the Sicilian Mafia in recent years. Investigators were expecting to find Greco to be just a young thug working for those inside the prison, but instead they discovered he was a true “capo” or boss, according to investigators who arrested him. Even turncoats were impressed by his business acumen. “He's a kid even if he has an old man inside,” said Francesco Colletti, a turncoat whose testimony led to the arrest, according to Sicilian anti-mafia police. “He has an elegant vocabulary and an exceptional brain."
The arrests last week were also made possible thanks to the cooperation of Filippo Bisconti, a turncoat or pentito who had been twice arrested for what would be considered white-collar crimes had he not been a mobster.
“These young bosses do respect the antiquated rules of the secret society centered in Corleone,” Bisconti said, referring to the stronghold of the Sicilian mafia. “But they also know that the rules have changed and in these times, they need to bring more to the table than a will to kill.”
The DIA report also points to the younger age of top dons under investigation and those arrested, which has contributed in part to the uptick in the use of technology. “The 18-40 age bracket has grown to a considerable dimension,” the report states. “In some cases even exceeding the 40-65 age group, which historically dominated the statistics.”
The younger criminals are more adept in using technology for sinister means, says Italian anti-mafia politician Lucrezia Ricchiuti, who commissioned a recent report into the mafia's use of Bitcoin to launder money in their illicit gambling industry. “This means we need more and more effort to refine strategies to avoid the situation whereby the virtual currencies could hide Italian mafia members and help their money laundering,” she says.
Organized crime has also fallen off the high-priority list in the new populist government. Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and vice premier, has gone so far as to say he doesn't even think anti-mafia author Roberto Saviano and a host of others who live under constant protection should continue to be granted round-the-clock security, which, if removed, would hand these men and women to organized crime syndicates like a gift.
Those arrested last week will likely be put away for several years, but authorities warn that there is no shortage of new dons on the horizon.