ROME—Massive sting operations against dangerous mafiosi are never easy to pull off. Especially when they take place in two different countries at the same exact time. But Italian anti-Mafia forces, working with counterparts in Stuttgart, Germany, were able to arrest 169 people in an overnight blitz operation, using helicopters, attack dogs, and hundreds of paramilitary special forces.
The arrests were an attempt to dismantle the Faroa and Marincola clans of the Calabria Mafia known as the ‘Ndrangheta (pronounced en-drang-eh-ta). The families, which are based near Crotone, had infiltrated a variety of sectors, from unaccompanied-minor migrant centers to funeral services across Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Lazio, Lombardy, and Umbria in Italy and around Stuttgart, Germany. Among those arrested were three town mayors and 10 people who worked in local city governments.
Italian anti-Mafia investigators say the crime families, which are also present in the United States, Canada, and Australia, had expanded from their lucrative drug trade and gained footing in the pizza industry, controlling companies that manufacture and distribute everything from long-armed pizza paddles to the special paint used in wood-burning pizza ovens. Thirteen people who were apprehended in Germany were all working in the pizza or Italian restaurant industry there. Nearly $60 million in assets were also seized in Germany.
Chief Prosecutor Nicola Gratteri, who has been in charge of anti-Mafia investigations against the ‘Ndrangheta for less than two years, said the crime families had also infiltrated hazardous-waste collection, several plastics-manufacturing plants, and a company that specializes in the exportation of wine from Calabria. The families also controlled several commercial fishing fleets and had a monopoly on the distribution of baked goods out of several small towns famous for their breads, according to anti-Mafia detectives at a press conference Tuesday.
The ‘Ndrangheta has been around since the early 19th century, but it hasn’t enjoyed the same infamy as the Sicilian or Neapolitan Mafias, even though it’s been involved in several high-profile crimes, including the 1973 kidnapping of Paul Getty III from the streets of Rome. The recent film All The Money in the World highlights the Calabrian mob’s notorious penchant for blood in a scene in which the Getty teen’s ear is sliced off and sent to a local newspaper, which happened after Getty’s grandfather, J. Paul Getty, refused to pay ransom for his grandchild.
The ‘Ndrangheta has moved up the criminal ladder since its early days and now controls the bulk of the illegal drug-trafficking trade throughout Italy and Central America. According to a 2008 cable sent by J. Patrick Truhn, a senior U.S. diplomat studying Italy’s organized-crime syndicates, and published by WikiLeaks, the ‘Ndrangheta was running an annual profit of around $55 billion a year, roughly 3 percent of Italy’s GDP and more than McDonald’s and Deutsche Bank turn over in a year.
“The ‘Ndrangheta organized-crime syndicate controls vast portions of its territory and economy, and accounts for at least 3 percent of Italy’s GDP (probably much more) through drug-trafficking, extortion, and usury. Law enforcement is severely hampered by a lack of both sources and resources,” Truhn wrote, according to the leaked cable. “The Calabrians have a reputation as a distant, difficult people, and their politicians are widely viewed as ineffective. Much of the region’s industry collapsed over a decade ago, leaving environmental and economic ruin.”
It is the lack of control over the territory that has allowed the ‘Ndrangheta to prosper, often able to place candidates in local government offices. One of the men who was arrested on Tuesday morning had easily won a recent election with 62 percent of the vote. Another was the regional president of Crotone. Several city governments in Calabria have been dissolved in recent years due to widespread Mafia collusion.
Investigators say that even with the substantial arrests on Tuesday, the crime families are still active. “These arrests represent a concrete, specific, conscious and voluntary contribution to the members of the mafia association,” prosecutor Gratteri told journalists. “But there are still many others out there.”