Most Wanted: Italy’s Fugitive Mafia Lords

On the morning of April 11, 2006, two members of the cacciatore, the Italian Carabinieri’s (paramilitary police) elite Mafia hunter’s unit, observed an isolated shepherd’s shack on Horses Mountain near the Sicilian town of Corleone. They looked on as the shack’s owner passed something to a man inside, only seeing the other man’s arm appear. That’s when they knew after eight years of unforgiving detective work that they finally had the target firmly in their sights. Later that morning the whole of the elite unit assembled at the bottom of Horses Mountain, led by cacciatore Chief Renato Cortese, ready at last to take down their elusive prey. They drove in a convoy to the shepherd’s shack and burst out of their vehicles guns at the ready. The target inside attempted to shut the heavy iron door but Renato Cortese was too quick for the old man and barged his way in. After 42 years on the run, the Boss of Bosses of the Sicilian Mafia, Bernardo Provenzano, stood silently and defiantly before Renato Cortese. The head of the cacciatore had spent the last eight years of his life dedicated to tracking down the fugitive boss of bosses and after a lot of gruelling and all-consuming police work he had finally caught one of the world’s most wanted men.

The isolated shepherd's hut where the last boss of bosses was finally captured in 2006.
The isolated shepherd’s hut where the last boss of bosses was finally captured in 2006.

April 11, 2006, ended what was probably the longest run for a fugitive in criminal history and the news quickly beamed around the world generating huge international interest, overshadowing the result of Italy’s national election the day before. Bernardo Provenzano’s capture was the final blow for the Corleonesi, the most ruthless and violent clan in the history of the Sicilian Mafia.  However the capture of the boss of bosses at this point was just the tip of the iceberg, many of Italy’s top Mafia chiefs remained fugitive’s after decades on the run. But the capture of this most mysterious of godfathers certainly boosted the confidence of the cacciatore and in the years to come they would go on to score some notable successes against Italy’s elusive Mafia Don’s.

In 2007, Sicilian Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, who was tipped to succeed Provenzano as boss of bosses, was captured after over two decades on the run. In 2008, Pasquale Condello who was one of the most powerful leader’s in the ‘Ndrangheta, Calabria’s home-grown Mafia-style crime group, was captured on his powerbase in the city of Reggio Calabria after nearly three decades as a fugitive from justice. 2010 saw the capture of Antonio Iovine, a powerful and well-connected Camorra boss who was one of the leaders of the formidable Casalesi clan. The Camorra are a loose conglomeration of crime families native to the city of Naples and the surrounding region of Campania and the Casalesi had emerged by the early 1990’s as its most potent clan.

While the cacciatore may have captured some of the Italian Mafia’s biggest fish, many of the most powerful crime bosses remain at large. Armed, dangerous and continuing to rule over their criminal empires they flout the authority of the Italian state every day that they remain free. In some, if not most, cases these Mafia lords are protected by a network of corrupt politicians and police officer’s. Many of the Don’s do not stray far from their home, as they need to keep a close eye on their territory. In this blog I will take a look at the 5 most influential and significant Italian crime bosses who are still on the run today.

PASQUALE SCOTTI: 31 YEARS ON THE RUN, CAMORRA, 56 YEARS OLD

pasqualescotti

The 56 year old Camorristi Pasquale Scotti has been a fugitive from justice for over thirty years. He first rose to notoriety as a chief lieutenant of Raffaele Cutolo, a sociopathic and highly intelligent Camorra boss. Cutolo was an extremely ambitious and utterly ruthless Mafia Chief who oversaw his criminal empire from behind bars in Naples Poggioreale prison. He was serving a sentence for the brutal murder of an innocent fireman who had interceded on behalf of a group of young girls who were being intimated by the unhinged Camorristi. From his jail cell Cutolo sought to unite the fractious and warring clans of the Camorra into a vast organisation and founded the Nuova Camorra Organisation (NCO) to achieve his megalomaniacal dream. He was different from most Mafia bosses in that he created his own disturbed ideology, resembling a death cult, which appealed to marginalised Neapolitan youths. He even wrote down his malevolent thoughts in a book that became standard reading for the NCO. Thousands of young killers and aspiring criminals answered his call and the NCO’s power began to fan out from the prison system to the Campania region itself.

The psychotic Raffaele Cutolo’s attempts at empire building were opposed by a powerful alliance of established Camorra clans, who were closely aligned to the Sicilian Mafia. This opposition group was known as the Nuova Famiglia (NF). Things really heated up between the two rival groups after a massive earthquake rocked Campania, destroying much of the city of Naples and the surrounding region which killed thousands. The enemy clans sought to out-do each other to be best placed to benefit from the subsequent rebuilding projects and a brutal mob war for control of the lucrative building boom broke out between the NCO and the NF. Thousands were murdered in this most bloody and brutal of gangland conflicts. Slowly the NF emerged victorious after much blood was shed. Cutolo was brought down, not by mob rivals, but after over-playing his hand with the Italian government when he revealed how he had helped negotiate the release of an important politician who had been kidnapped by a left-wing terrorist group. The revelation of his comfy prison life and high level contacts in the Italian government provoked an outcry amongst the Italian public and he was deported to the harsh prison island of Asinara, located off the coast of Sardinia, cutting him off from his support network.

Raffaele Cutolo, the murderous and deranged leader of the NCO.
Raffaele Cutolo, the murderous and deranged leader of the NCO.

In the wake of Raffaele Cutolo’s downfall, his protégé Pasquale Scotti attempted to take over the shattered and forsaken criminal organisation. Scotti had been one of the NCO’s chief military commanders during the huge gang war that rocked Campania and he undoubtedly had the blood of hundreds on his hands. Scotti, like his mentor Cutolo, combined high intelligence with a capacity for utter ruthlessness and bloody acts of violence. His powerbase was in the Campanian town of Caivana, which he ruled like a feudal lord. His clan engaged in cigarette smuggling, drug-trafficking, protection rackets and infiltration of public works contracts. He had close ties to politician Luigi Cesaro, who later became the deputy leader of Silvio Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia and served as President of the Campania region from 2009 to 2012.

The Nuova Camorra Organisation was reeling from the combined assaults from its enemies and arrests by the police. The Carabinieri tracked Pasquale Scotti down to his territory of Caivana on December 17, 1983, however the incorrigible young Camorra boss wouldn’t go down without a fight and a gun battle broke out. Scotti was shot threw the hand and eventually surrendered to the police. Soon after his arrest he began feeding information to the law, but focused on telling all about his enemies. After ingratiating himself with his police handlers they agreed to allow him to go for much needed surgery on his injured hand. He was taken to Caserta hospital on Christmas Eve, 1984. Despite being on the sixth floor and watched over by a police guard he managed to scramble out the window. Or so the story goes, he could just as easily have bribed his guard’s and walked out the front door.

Since fleeing from the hospital on that winters evening in 1984, Scotti has been one of Italy’s most wanted men and an international arrest warrant was issued for him in 1990. One of the theories of his whereabouts have him hiding out in a secret bunker on his territory, a favoured method of fugitive Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta bosses to avoid capture. Also sightings of him have been reported in Germany and Poland. Since his escape he has developed close ties to ‘Ndrangheta clans that operate in the northern Italian city of Milan, the country’s economic capital. Although he has a reputation for extreme violence he is also respected by fellow Mafioso for having a sound business acumen. Scotti is believed to work closely with the ‘Ndrangheta in gambling, drug-trafficking and the infiltration of local politics and the economy in Northern Italy.

There has also been claims issued from various sources about his apparent death. Recently an ‘Ndrangheta boss who turned informant claimed that Scotti had been killed by a criminal rival. However this has been largely dismissed by most who are in the know and he was spotted just last month on his territory of Caivana, travelling in a convoy of cars. It is highly likely he is being protected by a network of relatives, criminal cohorts, corrupt politicians and police officers. Pasquale Scotti, after three decades on the run, looks no closer to being captured. He may have even radically altered his appearance via plastic surgery.

MARCO DI LAURO: TEN YEARS ON THE RUN, CAMORRA BOSS, 34 YEARS OLD

Marco-Di-Lauro

The Di Lauro clan was founded in the early 1980’s by family patriarch Paulo Di Lauro aka Ciruzzo ‘o milionario (Ciruzzo the millionaire). He had earned this nickname as a young Camorristi after an older Camorra boss saw his profligate way of gambling at casino’s and commented “Who does this guy think he is? Ciruzzo the millionaire!” Any flamboyance that Paolo may have had as a younger man was gone by the time he rose to become a Camorra boss in his own right. His territory was centred on the desolate slums of Secondigliano and Scampia, located on the northern outskirts of Naples. Paolo Di Lauro had killed his mentor and nominal boss Aniello La Monica in 1982. The northern slums had proven not to have been big enough for both of the ambitious Camorristi and Paolo took over everything in this territory. Exceptionally understated, secretive, clever and ambitious, Di Lauro spotted a lucrative opportunity in the northern slums. He realised that the high-rise housing projects of Secondigliano and Scampia could be turned into Europe’s largest open-air drug market and this is exactly what he and his clan set about doing.

The Di Lauro clan were soon selling huge quantities of heroin, cocaine and hashish from benighted housing projects such as the infamous La Vele of Scampia (the sails of Scampia). The towers of La Vele could earn the Di Lauro clan up to €500,000 per day as drug dealers and users from all across Europe flocked to the Di Lauro’s territory to take advantage of the cheap prices. The clan also made their money from high-quality counterfeit goods such as Gucci and Armani knockoff’s and also from selling untaxed cigarettes, a popular Camorra racket. He also owned countless legitimate businesses in Italy and across Europe. Di Lauro allowed his clan lieutenant’s a lot of autonomy and maintained a remote but powerful presence in the slums, enforcing peace among the naturally quarrelsome Camorristi in his clan. He was still largely unknown to the police and public at large and that is just the way he liked it, he was not a flashy crime boss and didn’t like to flaunt his power and authority.

Clan patriarch Paolo Di Lauro
Clan patriarch Paolo Di Lauro

The Camorra boss had been happily married for many years and the marriage had produced 11 sons. As his boys grew up they all became part of his criminal clan, the two most important of his sons were heir apparent Cosimo, a hot-headed psychopath, and the more understated Marco. In the early 2000s, Paolo Di Lauro became ever more remote and began to hand more and more power to his sons. He had made a huge miscalculation though as his son Cosimo was made of different stuff from him. The lurid and impulsive Cosimo Di Lauro told his father’s chief lieutenant’s that the old arrangements were off, the autonomy they had enjoyed under his father would no longer be tolerated under his leadership. Paolo came out of his self-enforced hiding and attempted to patch things up with his old comrades but the damage had already been done. Many of them had also sensed weakness in the Di Lauro clan and they smelled blood.

A sizable chunk of the Di Lauro’s clan broke off to form their own rival faction, known as the “Secessionist” or as the “Spaniards” as many of them had moved their drug-trafficking operations to Barcelona. Cosimo Di Lauro had gathered around him a group of young, ambitious killers who he had recruited to put his own stamp on his father’s clan. In late 2004 a savage and gory war broke out as the Di Lauro’s and the Secessionists battled it out for control of the lucrative drug trade, known as “The Secondigliano War” or alternatively as the “Scampia Feud”. Over fifty people were killed and the slums began to resemble a war-zone with shootouts happening on a daily basis, what had once been a purgatory for residents had now become a living hell. Di Lauro’s sons Cosimo, Marco and Ciro led the clan loyalists against the Secessionists in this Camorra civil war.

The most shocking incident of the whole gangland conflict was when Cosimo Di Lauro and one of his top henchmen, Ugo De Lucia, kidnapped a young girlfriend of a rival gangster and tortured her to death in an attempt to gain information about her boyfriend’s whereabouts. Her mangled and burned corpse was found gruesomely dumped in a burnt-out car. Incidents like this provoked a public outcry and the slothful Italian state was forced to take action against the battling clans. The police went into overdrive to track down Cosimo Di Lauro but for now he kept constantly on the move guarded by his loyal band of youthful killers. However his lustfulness would be his undoing and he was tracked down after texting one of his many girlfriends. He was arrested in an apartment block in Scampia on January 21, 2005, where he arrogantly posed for photographs for his adoring and delusional fans.

The arrest of Cosimo Di Lauro
The arrest of Cosimo Di Lauro

The Di Lauro’s were haemorrhaging men and money to the Secessionists and crime family patriarch Paolo Di Lauro now sued for peace with his enemies. It was a conflict he had never wanted in the first place. A sort of calm descended on the war-torn slums but the peace would not last long. Paolo Di Lauro was arrested at an old woman’s non-descript apartment in Secondigliano, where he had sought refuge, on September 16, 2005. His long reign as a Camorra boss was at an end and he was handed a life sentence at a subsequent trial. His son Cosimo was also handed down a life sentence for the horrific murder of the young woman who was dating one of his rivals and for a whole host of other crimes. Another of Paolo’s son’s, Ciro, had also been captured and imprisoned during the police crackdown.

The only remaining Di Lauro of any consequence who is still free is another of Paolo’s sons, the 34-year old Marco. He helped lead the war effort against the Secessionists and was sentenced to life in absentia for murdering an innocent civilian who he wrongly suspected was a member of the rival faction. He has been one of Italy’s most wanted criminals for a decade and an international arrest warrant has also been issued for him. Marco may have fled abroad as his old enemies would probably kill him on sight. Alternatively he could be hiding out in an underground bunker, as many Camorra bosses have done in the past. One of his brother’s Vincenzo was arrested in 2007. The last known killing in the “Scampia Feud” was in 2008 when an old Di Lauro loyalist was shot dead. The slums of Northern Naples have since become one of the most deadly corners of Europe as the successors of the Di Lauro’s have battled it out with each other over the last decade. The Di Lauro’s control of Secondgliano and Scampia may have passed but Camorra killings still happen here on an all too regular basis.

ROCCO MORABITO: 21 YEARS ON THE RUN, ‘NDRANGHETA BOSS

Rocco Morabito
Rocco Morabito

The Morabito’s are one of the oldest and historically most powerful clans in the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta. They have been active in the criminal brotherhood for at least over a century. They hail from the impoverished village of Africo, located in the harsh Aspromonte Mountains. Africo was destroyed in a series of devastating landslides in 1951 and the benighted inhabitants were forced to move to the coastal plain of the Locride nine miles away, where they founded the village of Nuova Africo. The Morabito’s were amongst the families that made the move to the new village on the coast.

This Mafia clan’s most important leader was Giuseppe “Shootstraight” Morabito, who inherited the position from his father in the late 1950s. He was a crafty, charismatic and extremely intelligent crime boss who was highly respected by all the ‘Ndrangheta clans of Calabria. After the murder of Siderno Don Antonio Macri in 1975, Morabito became the pre-eminent crime lord in the whole of the Locride region and one of the most powerful bosses in the entire ‘Ndrangheta. Later he sat on a ruling body that co-ordinated the criminal brotherhood’s activities and his territory was used to host meetings between the top bosses in Calabria.

Clan patriarch Giuseppe Morabito
Clan patriarch Giuseppe Morabito

The Morabito’s extended their influence to Messina, on the east coast of Sicily, and to the north in the economically important city of Milan. Giuseppe Morabito saw that the clan’s future success and dominant position could be maintained by involvement in drug-trafficking, which they engaged in on a massive scale. The clan also maintained contacts around the globe from the America’s to Australia, which helped deepen their involvement in drug trafficking. They brought in cocaine from South America, hashish from Morocco and heroin from Asia. In March 1994 a massive consignment of cocaine was seized by Italian police in one of the largest busts in history. 5,500 kilos of cocaine was discovered outside the city of Turin, the Morabito’s were believed to be investors in this consignment, and other huge shipments, with six other ‘Ndrangheta clans in what could be described as a cocaine cartel.

The charismatic boss of Africo had taken his clan from a small rural mafia outfit to a truly international criminal phenomenon, but his high status as one of Italy’s most powerful and richest criminals made Giuseppe Morabito a huge target for law-enforcement. In 1992 he was forced to run go underground after he was convicted for being the leader of an international drug-trafficking ring. He continued to rule his criminal empire for the next 12 years but he was eventually captured in 2004 along with his son-in-law, he surrendered without a fight. The leadership of the clan passed to his Rocco, who managed the clan’s affairs for the next 6 years, while not as charismatic and intelligent as his father he was respected by other ‘Ndrangheta clans as a peace-maker. Rocco’s run came to an end in 2010 when he was arrested outside his sister’s home near Africo.

Rocco’s successor as clan boss was his cousin and namesake, also called Rocco Morabito. The 48 year old crime boss, a nephew of imprisoned patriarch Giuseppe has been a fugitive from justice since 1994, he is wanted for a whole host of crimes including drug-trafficking. During the reign of his uncle he operated in the northern city of Milan, overseeing the clan’s vast interests in the drug trade and other criminal and semi-legal enterprises. The last sighting of him was in Milan, dressed sharply in a fancy suit and surrounded by an armed guard. In Calabria, Rocco has focused his clan on infiltrating the tourist industry, investing in hotels and properties along the coast. It is likely that Rocco Morabito is hiding out on his territory in the Locride although he may split his time between Calabria and Milan.

GIOVANNI MOTISI: 22 YEARS ON THE RUN, COSA NOSTRA, 56 YEARS OLD

Giovanni Motisi as a younger man
Giovanni Motisi as a younger man

The Motisi’s are an old name in the Sicilian Mafia with a history in Cosa Nostra stretching back to the 19th century. It could be said that the Mafia is in the DNA of the Motisi family. Hailing from the south-eastern part of Palermo, the Altarello neighbourhood in the suburbs, the Motisi’s have held top positions in the Palermo Mafia for the past 100 years. Lorenzo Motisi was a powerful boss and a member of the Provincial Commission in the 1950s. Lorenzo was succeeded by his son Matteo but although he succeeded to be the head of the Motisi clan he did not retain the family’s pre-eminent status in South East Palermo. They came under the sway of the arrogant and aristocratic Bontade clan who lorded it over the other clans of Palermo.

A small but extremely ambitious and ruthless Mafia clan from the town of Corleone began to gain power within the Sicilian Mafia throughout the 1970s, led by the formidable duo of Toto Riina and Bernardo Provenzano. The Motisi’s were irked by being supplanted by the haughty Bontade’s and they closely aligned themselves with the Corleoenesi. The established Palermo clans, such as the Bontade’s and the Inzerillo’s, scoffed at the “peasants” of Corleone but they had vastly underestimated their much poorer but pitiless enemies. The Corleonesi allied themselves with the smaller clans in and around Palermo, such as the Motisi’s, and also planted their own men in enemy families. Their ambition was to wipe out the established clans and take over Cosa Nostra for themselves. At stake was the lucrative heroin trafficking route’s to America, which had made many of the Don’s billionaire’s.

The Second Mafia War, as it is labelled, actually resembled a blood purge against the enemies of the Corleonesi in which over a thousand people died, including many innocents and representatives of the Italian state. Powerful Mafia bosses and close friends Stefano Bontade and Salvatore Inzerillo died within a month of each other in 1981, both in a hail of Corleonesi AK-47 gunfire. The Motisi clan were at the forefront of this brutal massacre siding with their new allies and helping to wipe out the established clans of Palermo. The clan boss Matteo Motisi was rewarded by Toto Riina by being appointed capo mandamento of the Pagarielle district. A mandamento is the name for a grouping of three Mafia clans in Sicily. It was the highest honour the Corleonesi could bestow on their Motisi allies.

Matteo Motisi was later sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in such high-profile murders as the twin bombings of anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Giovanni Motisi took over the mandamento from his uncle Matteo, he had been one of Toto Riina’s top killers during the Second Mafia War. He has been a fugitive from justice since 1993 after being convicted in absentia for the 1985 murder of a policeman. Motisi later became close to Corleonesi leader Bernardo Provenzano, who took over from Toto Riina after he was captured by police in 1994. The young Mafia boss was tipped by many as a rising star within the Sicilian Mafia. However recent years have been hard on the Sicilian Mafia with repeated police crackdowns and internal dissension within the organisation. The Corleonesi no longer hold sway after Provenzano was captured in 2006. Also Motisi was said to have been stripped of his position as capo mandamento as he could not maintain control of territory due to police pressure.

A more recent photo of Motisi
A more recent photo of Motisi

There have been many rumours of Motisi’s death reported with even some police sources claiming that he is no longer alive. But repeated reports from informants and turncoats state that Motisi is alive and well, hiding out in the city of Argigento. A recent photograph of him at his daughter’s birthday showed a heavily obese man, on this occasion the Mafia hunters came close to capturing him. He has so far avoided arrest on numerous occasions. History shows that even the most elusive of bosses end up being captured at some point, Provenzano managed 42 year. Sicily is a small island and Motisi is hiding somewhere protected by family, friends and fellow Mafioso. It is also unclear how much influence Motisi even has within the Sicilian Mafia anymore but that won’t stop the Mafia hunters from tracking him down for his many crimes. They only have to be lucky once, he has to stay one step ahead all of the time.

MATTEO MESSINA DENARO: 22 YEARS ON THE RUN, COSA NOSTRA

Diabolik
Diabolik

Matteo Messina Denaro aka “Diabolik” is the most wanted Mafia boss in Italy, his notoriety is well known around the world and there is international arrest warrant’s outstanding for his capture. I previously wrote a blog about Matteo Messina Denaro which you can view here https://globalmafianews.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/where-is-diabolik-the-net-is-closing-in-on-sicilys-most-elusive-godfather/ so I will keep this part of the blog brief. Suffice to say that Messina Denaro aka Diabolik is the head of around twenty Mafia clans based in Trapani province, the most Mafia infested part of Sicily outside Palermo. He has about 1,000 “men of honour” under his direct command. He is said to be intelligent, refined, well-educated with a reputation for being a bit of a playboy. His father Don Cicco was the boss of the Castelvetrano Mafia and a close ally of Corleonesi Chief Toto Riina. Matteo was personally schooled in the ways of the Mafia by Toto Riina and he is said to have the blood of hundred on his hands. He has been wanted by police since 1993 for his part in a terrorist bombing campaign on the Italian mainland that sought to force the government to over-turn the results of the maxi-trial in which hundreds of Mafiosi had been imprisoned. He has been wrongly labelled by the media as the boss of bosses of the Sicilian Mafia but in fact such a position no longer exists since the downfall of the Corleonesi. Recently Messina Denaro’s support network has been hit hard by the Mafia hunters, many of his top men and even family members have been arrested. Some believe it is only a matter of time before Italy’s most wanted man is finally behind bars.

In conclusion a dedicated core of Italian police and magistrates have made great strides towards bringing down Italy’s fugitive Mafia bosses in the last decade. However more needs to be done in fighting the Italian Mafia’s by successive governments, who are sometimes guilty of hopping into bed with the criminal brotherhoods. There is cause for some hope though, the new Pope has spoken out firmly out against the Mafia, which ends a long era of silence on the part of the Vatican. An anti-mafia governor was also elected in Sicily last year, which is certainly refreshing considering his two predecessors were both charged with aiding Cosa Nosta. Also Italy elected a new president a fortnight ago who has vowed to take the fight to the Mafia’s. President Sergio Mattarella’s own brother was murdered by the Corleonesi while serving as the leader of Sicily, he had opposed the Mafia’s power in local politics. But the Mafia’s of Italy still wield enormous power in Southern Italy and the financial crisis has actually benefitted them to an extent. Perhaps with the election of President Matarella we will see more funding toward the elite cacciatore Mafia hunters unit and the capture of Italy’s fugitive mafia lords.

By Steven Trotter

Sources & Further Reading:-

Letizia Paoli Mafia Brotherhoods

John Dickie: Mafia Republic

Roberto Saviano Gomorrah

John Follain The Last Godfathers

Also many newspaper articles and web pages plus my own long research on the subject

Any feedback on my latest blog would be greatly appreciated.

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