This material belongs to: OCCRP.
Police in Palermo, Sicily, arrested on Tuesday 27 members of a Cosa Nostra clan suspected of extortion, drug trafficking and illegal gambling. The years-long investigation that led to the arrests gave authorities a deeper understanding of the clan’s hierarchy and election system.
The operation named “Falco” (Hawk) was conducted by the Antimafia Unit of the Carabinieri and is the result of an investigative effort that started in 2011 against the Santa Maria di Gesù clan.
“The Mafia family of Santa Maria di Gesù is one of the strongest and oldest in the Cosa Nostra. It was able to reorganize internally after each police operation so far,” said Colonel Antonio Di Stasio, who lead the operation.
The main breakthrough of the investigation was the identification of the leader of the clan – boss Giuseppe Greco.
During the investigation police learned about the hierarchy and the controversies that characterized the family but also about how deep it is infiltration in the businesses in its mandamento.
“The control the clan had on the territory was strong and penetrating, as the clan would systematically resort to violence to purse the aims of the mafia society,” completely subjecting the local economy to extortion,” said Colonel Di Stasio.
Local shops or companies within the clan’s mandamento where violently coerced into paying extortion fees – the pizzo. Some entrepreneurs even adopted the mafia logic and requested its help in obtaining work.
But the most innovative discovery of the probe is the insight into the elections.
Similar to political elections, the mob uses propaganda in its election campaign and a voting-urn for casting ballots. Decades ago authorities had learned from collaborators that the positions in the Cosa Nostra hierarchy – especially the post of the reggente, the head of the clan, also called the principal – were determined by elections. However, the Falco operation documented the process for the first time.
While spying on clan members, investigators learned in 2015 that the election process would start with campaigning weeks before the elected would be appointed to their positions at meetings.
Such a meeting took place on September 10, 2015 in a Palermo restaurant and was attended by 12 “men of honor” who re-elected Giuseppe Greco as the reggente.
Monitoring the meeting, investigators learned that only the reggente and the consigliere, the counselor, are elected by the members of the clan. All other appointments were made by the elected reggente.
“Today’s blast confirms that regardless of the recent death of the boss of bosses Toto Riina, the Sicilian Mafia keeps operating as it did throughout its long criminal history, handing down the rules and strong traditions to new members and building each and every time it’s hierarchy through actual elections,” Colonel Di Stasio explained.
Two elected members were overheard by the police providing a real lecture to younger members on how the rules of the Mafia work, how to behave and how to relate to the hierarchy.
A wire-tapped conversation about an extortion between boss Giuseppe Greco and his deputy Natale Giuseppe Gambino revealed to investigators how serious and respected the organization was.
“When we talk Cosa Nostra….we talk Cosa Nostra! When we joke…..we joke!” Greco was heard as saying.
Colonel Di Stasio said the lack of denouncement of the extortions was particularly worrisome and urged the public “not to be ruled by fear, to kill the omertà and talk to the State, because this is the only way to freedom.”