Changes in Mafia Leadership Reveal New Links to US-Based La Cosa Nostra

DNI Open Source Center

Monday, November 19, 2007

The recent arrest of mafia fugitive Salvatore Lo Piccolo and the April 2006 capture of Bernardo Provenzano, the Sicilian mafia's "boss of bosses," have highlighted the succession challenge over the position of top boss within the organization. Open source reporting suggests that the ensuing power struggle, following Provenzano's arrest, led not only to increased violence in Sicily but also to likely renewed cooperation between the Sicilian mafia and the US-based Gambino family. Their growing relationship may open new possibilities for the Sicilian mafia to launder money through US institutions.

Lo Piccolo, Provenzano Arrests Highlight Succession Challenge

On 5 November 2007, Italian police arrested Salvatore Lo Piccolo, his son Sandro Lo Piccolo, and two other top Palermo bosses at a hideout not far from Palermo. According to press reports, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, 65, was very close to emerging as the new "boss of bosses" of the Sicilian mafia, a position left vacant after the arrest of longtime superboss Bernardo Provenzano in April 2006. Provenzano's long reign as supreme boss (1993-2006) was marked by minimal mafia violence; however, Lo Piccolo's near ascension to this rank since Provenzano's arrest was marked by months of renewed, although limited, mafia-related violence around Palermo. With Lo Piccolo now in police custody, Italian law enforcement officials and the press have speculated on what the new power vacuum means and whether there will be a renewal of armed conflict as rival bosses struggle to fill it.

At the time of Lo Piccolo's arrest, Italy's Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso stated that Lo Piccolo was "the only one able to take up Provenzano's mantle" (ANSA, 5 November 2007). In another interview with left-leaning daily L'Unita, Grasso stated that the old mafia commission (the mafia's management board of directors) had been "pulverized" and that "it would take some time, in the absence of a man with all the characteristics of the old, arrested bosses, before someone would reconquer power through a general consensus." Nonetheless, Grasso warned that one could not rule out new mafia violence in the wake of Lo Piccolo's arrest (6 November 2007).

Commentary in left-of-center daily La Repubblica reminded readers that Lo Piccolo was no new supreme leader, since his influence had been limited to Palermo adding that neither Trapani boss Matteo Messina Denaro or Domenico Raccuglia, the dominant boss in Partinico and Altofonte, would be able to take over the organization. Similarly, centrist dailies Il Messaggero and Corriere della Sera speculated about the possibility of either man taking control the entire Sicilian mafia (6 November 2007).

Italian Authorities Predicted Infighting After 2006 Provenzano Arrest

Following Provenzano's capture in April 2006, Italy's intelligence service report warned of "emerging tensions" between mafia groups as a result of Provenzano's failure to designate either Salvatore Lo Piccolo or Matteo Messina Denaro as his successor. Similarly, the Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) cautioned that the capture of Provenzano could potentially present mafia leaders an opportunity to return to violence as a means of expressing their power (CESIS 57th Relazione sulla politica informative e della sicurezza, 2006; DIA report, 2d semester 2006).

In the wake of Lo Piccolo's arrest, La Repubblica reminded readers that the April 2006 arrest of Bernardo Provenzano had resulted in the "break-up" of the centralized control of the mafia. In its place, there was now nothing more than a horizontal network of territories each controlled by its own boss, all of whom were resistant to swearing fealty to a central leader (6 November 2007).

Bernardo Provenzano, of the Corleone faction, led the Sicilian mafia from 1993 until his arrest in 2006. The violent reign of his predecessor, Salvatore (Toto) Riina, was marked by terrorist attacks in Rome, Milan, and Florence (1993) and the assassination of several anti-mafia officials -- including Carabinieri General Alberto Carlo Dalla Chiesa (1982) and the magistrates Giovanni Falcone (1992) and Paolo Borsellino (1992). After Riina's arrest in 1993, Provenzano ordered the mafia to go underground and refrain from violence in order to deflect unwanted attention from law enforcement. His thirteen-year-long reign, commonly referred to as the Pax Mafiosa, enabled the Sicilian mafia to reconstitute its criminal operations and significantly increase its revenue.

Power Vacuum Leads to Mafia Violence

Over the 18 months since the Provenzano arrest, mafia-related violence has increased within the Palermo metropolitan area. Italian officials and press reports have linked the violence to the struggle of Salvatore Lo Piccolo and his associates against local members of the Corleone faction, dominant since the early 1980's.

On 20 June 2006, Italian police arrested 45 suspected mafia members in order to prevent a new mafia war between the Palermo and Corleone factions within the Palermo metropolitan area. Prior to the arrests, police electronically eavesdropped on conversations in which Corleone faction boss Nino Rotolo ordered the assassination of rival Palermo faction boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo and his son Sandro (La Stampa, 21 June 2006; La Repubblica, 21 June 2006). In August 2006, two hitmen gunned down 63-year-old Giuseppe D'Angelo in broad daylight in the Palermo district of Tommaso Natale. The local edition of center-left daily La Repubblica suggested that crime may have been a provocation by a rival mafia faction against Salvatore Lo Piccolo and reported local authorities' concerns about a renewal of violence between competing mafia groups (23, 24 August 2006).

In September 2006, Bartolomeo Spatola, the 72-year-old boss of the Tommaso Natale district of Palermo, disappeared. The press suggested Salvatore Lo Piccolo's men kidnapped and killed Spatola because he had allegedly supported Nino Rotolo's plan to murder Lo Piccolo and his son Sandro (La Repubblica -- Palermo edition, 22 September 2006; La Repubblica -- national edition, 23 September 2006).

In March 2007, Police discovered a large arsenal of weapons in the countryside outside Palermo. Palermo Provincial Police Chief Giuseppe Caruso stated the weapons "were ready to be used" and opined that the current absence of violence in Palermo "did not signify that the danger of a new mafia war had been averted" (La Repubblica -- Palermo edition, 30 March 2007).

In June 2007, two hitmen killed 46-year-old mafia boss Nicola Ingarao -- an ally of Nino Rotolo. Franco Gabrielli, director of Italy's domestic intelligence service SISDE, warned that the murder of Ingarao possibly marked a return to mafia violence. Prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia seconded this view stating that the murder "could be a sign of reorganization, stabilization, or potential war among gangs" (La Repubblica -- Palermo edition, 14, 15, June 2007; La Repubblica -- national edition, 14 June 2007; La Stampa, 14 June 2007).

For more analysis on the intra-mafia fighting, see Appendix A. Some violence has also been linked to increased pressure on business owners. For more information, see Appendix B.

Renewed Sicilian-US Mafia Ties Suspected

Leading anti-mafia officials and the press assert that the Sicilian mafia established new ties with the New York City-based Gambino crime family and that such ties would enable both to profit from increased international drug trafficking and would provide Palermo's mafia factions an opportunity to launder their earnings in real estate within the United States.

Italy's National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso recently argued that the Sicilian mafia planned to engage in large-scale international drug trafficking and needed the assistance of Italian-American crime families to invest drug profits in commercial networks in Manhattan (La Repubblica, 13 July 2007).

In August 2007, Italian police arrested 14 mafia members in the town of Toretta, near Palermo. The mafia members, who had ties to Lo Piccolo, had received help from the Gambino family to invest illicit gains in the Brooklyn real estate market, several dailies reported (Corriere della Sera, 9 August 2007; La Repubblica, 10 August 2007; Il Giornale, 10 August 2007).

Anti-Mafia Commission member Carlo Vizzini recently hypothesized in center-right news weekly Panorama that the Gambino family and Palermo's leading mafia factions were setting up new illicit trade operations connecting Palermo, the Dominican Republic, and North America (New York City and Canada) to diversify mafia drug trafficking away from heroin and toward cocaine from South America. To support this thesis, Vizzini stated that 1) Palermo mafia factions controlled import-export businesses for food products that could serve as cover for drug trafficking between Italy and the United States; 2) Palermo mafia faction members had recently been observed visiting New York City and the Dominican Republic on the same trips; and 3) a high-ranking member of the Gambino family had recently set up operations within the Dominican Republic (1 November 2007).

Appendix A -- Inzerillo Family: Source of Violence or Catalyst of Renewed US Ties?

In the late 1970's, Palermo's Inzerillo crime family partnered with the Gambino family of New York City to export heroin from Sicily to the United States. Salvatore Riina, boss of the rival Corleone faction, viewed the Inzerillo family as an obstacle to his seizure of total control of the Sicilian mafia. In May 1981, Riina ordered the assassination of crime boss Salvatore Inzerillo and over the next few months directed his hitmen to murder an additional 200 members of the Inzerillo family in Sicily. His men then killed Salvatore Inzerillo's brother in New Jersey. In 1983, after the Gambino family pleaded on behalf of the remaining Inzerillo family members, Riina agreed to allow them to live, provided they never returned to Italy (Cosa Nostra, A History of the Sicilian Mafia by John Dickie, 2004; La Repubblica, 12 July 2007). According to Italian press reports, several members of the Inzerillo family have recently returned to Palermo (La Stampa, 21 June 2006; Corriere della Sera, 30 June 2007; La Repubblica, 12 July 2007).

Take One: Inzerillo Family as Source of Violence

According to several press sources and anti-mafia officials, the Corleone faction opposes an agreement between Lo Piccolo and the Gambino family. The agreement entails Lo Piccolo's support for the return of the Inzerillo family -- the Corleone faction's longtime enemy -- to Sicily in exchange for new lucrative business opportunities with the US organized crime.

Secret police recordings revealed that Corleone faction boss Rotolo ordered the assassination of rival Palermo boss Lo Piccolo, and his son Sandro, in retribution for their support of the Inzerillo family's return from exile (La Stampa, 21 June 2006; Corriere della Sera, 21 June 2006). Corriere della Sera suggested that Lo Piccolo ordered Nicola Ingarao's murder for two reasons: 1) Ingarao opposed the return of the Inzerillo family; and 2) the elimination of Ingarao would enable Lo Piccolo to secure control of the central Palermo district of Porta Nuova for factions not hostile to his gang (30 June 2007).

In a July 2007 hearing before the Italian Senate's Constitutional Affairs Committee, the director of Italian State Police, Antonio Manganelli, warned that the chain of recent murders in Palermo is in part due to the return of the "so-called fugitives (Inzerillo family)...who have now returned...If they are back, it means that someone has authorized their return. This is not appreciated by the other side," he added (Il Giornale, 4 July 2007). Corriere della Sera suggested the Lo Piccolo family directly benefited from the Inzerillo's money and commercial connections to the United States (30 June 2007). Later, following the police's capture of secret mafia documents, La Repubblica attributed Lo Piccolo's large monthly income of 40,000 euro a month -- twice the income of Bernardo Provenzano at the time of his arrest -- to new commercial arrangements with Italian-American crime families as well as to closer ties to the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta (3 October 2007).

In an interview, Anti-Mafia Commission member Carlo Vizzini said that the return of the Inzerillo family indicated a rapprochement between the Gambino family of New York and mafia families in Palermo, with the strongest relationship being that between the Gambino and Lo Piccolo families (Panorama, 1 November 2007).

Take Two: Inzerillo Family as Catalyst of Renewed US Ties

At the same time, some anti-mafia officials and press reports suggested that the Corleone faction has likely agreed to allow the Inzerillo family to return in exchange for a share of the new business opportunities between Palermo mafia factions and the American Gambino family. According to these sources, such an agreement would act as a unifying force to strengthen the mafia and would most likely prevent a new mafia war. La Repubblica asserted that the return of the Inzerillo family could indicate an agreement between their enemy, the Corleone faction, and their allies, the Gambino and Lo Piccolo families, in exchange for access to the United States. As evidence of this, La Repubblica cited numerous visits over the last three years between Sicilian criminals and a member of the Gambino crime family known to be close to the Inzerillo family (12, 15 July 2007).

Italy's National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso argued that the murder of Ingarao -- interpreted by some as a military strike by the Palermo faction against the Corleone faction -- did not necessarily mean a new mafia war was imminent. Instead, he suggested the return of the Inzerillo family may signify a new agreement between factions to bring unity to the Sicilian mafia (La Repubblica, 13 July 2007).

After an official hearing where the Anti-Mafia Directorate (DDA) informed Italy's Anti-Mafia Commission that it suspected a new pact between Sicilian mafia groups and the Gambino family, Commission Chairman Francesco Forgione stated: "The system of relations between Cosa Nostra (Sicilian mafia) in Palermo and the US mafia has not only been confirmed, but has become an element whereby organized crime can be placed in the international scenarios within the system of money-laundering, illegal trafficking rackets, and ever larger economic investments. These relations allow the Sicilian mafia to become stronger and to evade the clampdown imposed by the forces of law and order, and by the magistracy" (La Repubblica, 17 July 2007).

Appendix B -- Impact of Mafia's Increased Pressure on Business Owners Scope of Mafia Operations

The Sicilian mafia counts some 5,000 people within its inner circle of initiated members but employs several thousand more criminals across Sicily. In one form or another, the mafia's criminal operations and the businesses it controls provide employment to around 10 percent of the Sicilian population. Moreover, the mafia can provide at least 450,000 votes to Sicilian politicians in exchange for favors. Under Provenzano's leadership the mafia doubled its income from 15 trillion lire in 1994 to 30 trillion lire by 1999. By 2004, its annual revenue had reached 30 billion euro, equivalent to one third of the 90 billion euro total annual revenue for Italian organized crime groups estimated by Confesercenti, one of the leading business associations in Italy. (Italy's National Anti-Mafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso suggests the total annual income for Italian organized crime groups may be much higher -- near 135 billion euro -- due to arms and narcotics trafficking not considered in Confesercenti's calculations.) According to a 2003 estimate by Italian anti-mafia officials, the total combined assets of the Sicilian mafia and three other Italian crime organizations (Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, the Neapolitan Camorra, and the Apulian Sacra Corona Unita (Sacred United Crown)) totaled around $1 trillion. The leading sources of income for the Sicilian mafia include drug trafficking, infiltration of public works projects, extortion, loan sharking and investments in the American stock market (Limes, Vol 2 2005; La Stampa, 23 October 2007; Il Giornale, 23 October 2007; La Repubblica, 23 October 2007;, 22 October 2007; Famiglia Cristiana, 4 November 2007.)

Mafia Demands on Business Community Generate Calls For Greater Law Enforcement

The increase in mafia violence has not been limited to infighting between rival factions. Recently, mafia gangs have increased their demands for protection money from Sicilian business owners. In response, business leaders, politicians, and intellectuals have called upon Rome to send more police, and possibly the Army, to Sicily to protect businesses from crime gangs.

In September 2007, leading Italian dailies reported a wave of mafia attacks against businesses across Sicily accompanied by written threats demanding payment of protection money. Center-left daily La Repubblica suggested that mafia gangs also used the violence as a show of force against rival factions (Corriere della Sera, 17 September 2007; La Repubblica, 18 September 2007).

In response to the increase in mafia aggression against Sicilian businesses, Confindustria (Italian employers association) Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo demanded the Italian Government send more police to Sicily (La Stampa, 13 September 2007; Il Sole-24 Ore, 11 October 2007). Local Sicilian politicians from both left-wing and right-wing parties seconded Montezemolo's demands as did leaders of the Italian Parliament's Anti-Mafia Commission (La Repubblica -- Palermo edition, 18 September 2007).

Interviewed in leading centrist daily Corriere della Sera, the famous Sicilian crime writer Andrea Camilleri argued that the recent violence resulted from the removal of Provenzano's leadership and warned of a new mafia war. To contain the violence, he suggested the government send the Army to Sicily (17 September 2007). Italian Army General Piero La Porta, however, said that the mission of the Army remained national defense, not law enforcement, and opined that Italy had sufficient police forces to fight the mafia, provided they were reorganized (Radio Radicale, 17 September 2007; La Repubblica, 18 September 2007).

In response to these demands, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi promised to send more police and magistrates to Sicily (Il Sole-24 Ore, 5 October 2007). At the same time, center-right news weekly Panorama reported that several members of Prodi's center-left coalition continued to support the idea of sending in the military to crush the mafia (18 October 2007).

Appendix C -- Biographical Information: Lo Piccolo, Messina Denaro Salvatore Lo Piccolo Photo on Italy's Most Wanted List

Salvatore Lo Piccolo, born 20 July 1942, was arrested, along with his son Sandro, by Italian police on 5 November 2007 in Giardinello, between Cinisi and Terrasini, not far from Palermo. Before his arrest, Lo Piccolo's name appeared on Italy's most wanted list for the crimes of mafia association and homicide. He had been a fugitive from justice since 1983. Lo Piccolo and his son Sandro controlled the Palermo neighborhoods of San Lorenzo, Tommaso Natale, Partanna Mondello, Pallavicino, and Cardillo and dominated the western area of Palermo Province including the towns of Carini, Cinisi, and Terrasini.

According to Palermo Provincial Police Chief Giuseppe Caruso, Lo Piccolo ranked at the top of the list of possible successors to Bernardo Provenzano as "boss of bosses." Lo Piccolo's fortune came from the international traffic of cocaine, the extortion of Sicilian businesses, and the theft of money allocated for public works projects. He invested much of his earnings in real estate. Lo Piccolo long supported Provenzano's policy of not directing violence toward the state and prefered arbitration as means to settle conflict between rival mafia factions.

Lo Piccolo's nickname within the mafia world is "u vascu," Sicilian dialect for "il vecchio," which translates into English as "the old one" or "elder." In clandestine correspondence with former mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, Salvatore Lo Piccolo used to identify himself by the number 30. Until his arrest, Lo Piccolo enjoyed excellent relations with the Italian-American La Cosa Nostra and arranged for the return of the Inzerillo family to Sicily after twenty years of exile in the United States (; Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate (DIA) reports, 1st and 2d semesters 2006; Antimafia Duemila, Vol 1 2005, Vol 3, 2006; La Repubblica, 12 April 2006; Il Sole-24 Ore, 19 April 2006; La Stampa, 30 December 2006; "Cosa Nostra sicilienne: la succession du capo di tutti capi" published on, September 2007).

Matteo Messina Denaro, born 26 April 1962 in Castelvetrano, appears on Italy's most wanted list for the crimes of mafia association, homicide, theft, and the transport of explosives and their use to produce mass murder and devastation. Currently a fugitive from justice, Messina Denaro is the boss of the western Sicilian province of Trapani. He has close ties with South American drug cartels specializing in the international trafficking of cocaine from Colombia. His father, the late Francesco Messina Denaro, known commonly as Don Ciccio, was the mafia boss of Trapani and an ally of the Corleone faction led by Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano.

Matteo Messina Denaro served as both Toto Riina's chief intelligence officer and terrorist operative until Riina's arrest in 1993. Under Riina's orders, Messina Denaro actively spied on anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone and former Justice Minister Claudio Martelli while both were living in Rome in the early 1990's. He also plotted to carry out an attack on the journalist Maurizio Costanzo. In 1993, under Riina's orders, Messina Denaro carried out car bomb attacks against the Uffizi gallery in Florence and the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome that killed 10 people. In all, law enforcement officials hold Messina Denaro directly responsible for the murder of 70 people. Messina Denaro's nickname within the mafia world is "Diabolik." He used the pseudonym "Alessio" in his clandestine correspondence with former mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano.

Messina Denaro suffers from severe mypopia and received treatment for this condition at a clinic in Barcelona, Spain, in 1994 and 1996. According to press reports, his favorite pastimes include fast cars, women, video games, and puzzles. He is repeatedly described as wearing expensive jewelry, designer suits, and silk ascots around his neck. In April 2007, a leading Italian daily reported he was currently seeing a woman named Maria. Another press source reported that he had a daughter in 1993 by his companion Franca Alagna (; Antimafia Duemila, Vol 3 2006; Corriere della Sera, 12 April 2006; La Repubblica, 12, 25 April 2006; La Stampa, 25 April 2006, 7 April 2007; Il Giornale, 26 April 2006; Il Sole-24 Ore, 19 April 2006; "Cosa Nostra sicilienne: la succession du capo di tutti capi" published on, September 2007).

Source: Open Source Center