ROME — Notorious mobster Pasquale Scotti’s rap sheet reads like it is straight out of screenplay for the next Godfather movie. He had been on the run for 31 years after escaping from a suburban Neapolitan hospital on Christmas Day 1984, where he was nursing gunshot wounds under tight security. He had been the right-hand man to the boss of the Nuova Camorra Organization, responsible for some of the deadliest crimes in Naples in the 1980s. The Nuova Camorra was a sort of renaissance group meant to breathe life into the Camorra crime syndicate, and Italian anti-Mafia detectives now consider it the most potent of the Camorra clans in operation today.
Scotti, now 56 years old, was convicted in absentia for extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal arms possession and more than 20 murders, including that of “Dolly Peach,” an exotic dancer whose body was found inside a cement block, killed for her betrayal of the clan. He was also tied to the mysterious murder of “God’s banker” Roberto Calvi, a financier with Vatican connections whose body was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982. It is little wonder that he was the first on the list of Italy’s top ten most wanted men.
So it may seem strange that Scotti was arrested without incident in Recife, Brazil, doing the most pedestrian of duties: grocery shopping after taking the kids to school. He had lived on the lam in Brazil under the name Francisco de Castro Visconti, an assumed identity that seemed polar opposite to his reputation. On the surface, his alter ego was that of an upstanding man who paid his taxes and lived in a house in the suburbs. He had undergone extensive plastic surgery, including laser hair removal on his scalp and eyebrows, according to local press reports in Brazil.
When he was picked up under a joint operation by Italy’s anti-Mafia agents, Interpol and Brazilian police on Tuesday, he didn’t put up a fight. One of the Italian agents reportedly referred to him by his nickname “Collier,” referring to a necklace he gave the wife of his big boss, Raffaele Cutolo, in the early 1980s. He was also referred to as “The Engineer,” for the way in which he orchestrated hits.
“It’s me, you got me,” he reportedly said when he was arrested. “But that Pasquale Scotti doesn’t exist anymore, he died in the ’80s.”
Italian anti-mafia police had been closing in on Scotti for years despite rumors that he had been killed in the 1990s, according to a statement by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. There were also suggestions that he was a turncoat, taking part in special missions for the Italian secret service. Shortly before he escaped from the hospital, he had entered a plea bargain with local anti-Mafia prosecutors, and his escape was seen in some circles as an orchestrated strategy for him to provide state’s evidence while living under a new identity. But it seems his cooperation, such as it was, was feigned.
Scotti’s identity was confirmed using digital fingerprints taken when he registered to vote in Brazil. “This was an extraordinary score by our team,” Alfano said after the arrest was secured. “Hunting down fugitives goes beyond our own borders and we have built a legal network with investigative partnerships that increases our chances of victory.”
Local Brazilian media reported that Scotti’s wife and children had no idea that he was a mobster. Neighbors and clients at his Italian-Brazilian restaurant described him as “cautious” and “shy,” in stark contrast to the cold-blooded killer his old Neapolitan associates knew.
Still, a leopard doesn’t change its spots. After years in obscurity, Neapolitan detectives say they were able to trace him because he reportedly tried to strike up an illicit business deal with his old Camorra friends and a new criminal ring in Brazil. According to Naples chief prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo, Scotti was getting back into the business. “His holdings are currently under investigation in Brazil,” Colangelo said when he announced Scotti’s arrest. “It seems he did retain some contacts at home.”
Italy will now ask for extradition to bring Scotti back to serve multiple life sentences. Presumably authorities will keep a closer eye on him this time.