World News

Italians Arrest Top Mafia Bosses, Breaking Up New Mob Council

Posted December 4, 2018 10:33 p.m. EST

ROME — The Italian authorities arrested 46 members of the Sicilian Mafia, including top leaders in the Palermo area, officials announced on Tuesday, nipping in the bud an attempt to re-establish a ruling mob council for the province.

One of those arrested was Settimio Mineo, 80, whom top mobsters from the area chose earlier this year as the council’s leader, officials said.

The council, known as the Cupola in Mafia-speak, aimed to coordinate illegal activities among the area’s principal crime families and make joint decisions on important issues, finding strength in numbers. The Sicilian Mafia had such a structure for decades, until it collapsed in the 1990s.

Mineo, the mob capo, or chief, of Palermo’s Pagliarelli district, was arrested Tuesday, along with the heads of the Villabate, Belmonte Mezzagno and Porta Nuova districts, as well as the bosses of 10 Mafia families from Palermo and the surrounding region, Italian officials said in a statement.

The four senior Mafia leaders have all served prison time in the past.

The arrests were the culmination of a two-year investigation by anti-Mafia prosecutors in Palermo aided by the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police force. The charges included association with the Mafia, illegal gun possession, arson and extortion, Italian officials said.

“This investigation takes us back in time” and to the “reaffirmation of the old rules of Cosa Nostra” under unified leadership, the Palermo prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Col. Antonio Di Stasio, the Carabinieri provincial commander who oversaw the police role in the case, said the arrests aimed to take the wind out of the nascent organization’s sails.

“There is strength in numbers — that’s why we had to make these arrests, to stop illicit activities that could have been carried out because of the power that the Cupola gave its members,” he said in a telephone interview.

Sicily’s Cosa Nostra first devised the Cupola structure in the 1950s. It was radically co-opted at the beginning of the 1980s when Salvatore Riina, known as Totò, a ruthless mobster from the town of Corleone, muscled his way to the top of the Mafia and essentially ran the roost on his own.

Under his watch, the Cupola adopted a strategy of attacking institutions and authorities, including the killings, in quick succession, of the top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992.

Riina’s arrest in 1993 decapitated the structure, which ceased to function. An attempt to re-establish the Cupola in 2008 was thwarted when dozens of mobsters were arrested.

Though behind bars, Riina remained the Mafia’s nominal chief.

His death in November 2017 was a turning point, Di Stasio said. “There was the sense of closing with the past and the beginning of a new era.”

After Riina’s death, investigators who had been looking into a series of extortion attempts noticed a “great ferment” among local mobsters, and an escalation of meetings between mob bosses in Palermo and its hinterland. On May 29, they assembled in a secret location to elect Mineo as their leader.

“They named the oldest member as a sign of respect” as well as a sign that the new crop of mobsters had chosen to adhere to the established rules of Cosa Nostra, Di Stasio said.

The Cupola, the mobsters determined, would meet periodically to deal with pressing issues, including choosing local leaders, resolving disputes and punishing those who had transgressed.

“In six months, they managed to reorganize under traditional rules,” Di Stasio said.

Italy’s chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho, said that Mineo’s election showed that the center of power in the Mafia had returned from Corleone to Palermo, the capital city on the northwestern coast of Sicily. Corleone, Riina’s home base, is a small town in the interior, made famous by the main character of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, “The Godfather,” who was named after the place.

On his Facebook page, Mayor Leoluca Orlando of Palermo praised investigators. “Continuing to attack the mafia’s military force and economic power is indispensable for guaranteeing freedom and democracy,” he wrote.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, writing on Twitter, called the sweep an “extraordinary operation.”