Showing posts with label Crime and Mafia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crime and Mafia. Show all posts

25 January 2024

Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto - magistrate

Brave investigator murdered by the Sicilian Mafia

Onlookers gather round Ciaccio Montalto's car the day after the magistrate was killed
Onlookers gather round Ciaccio Montalto's car
the day after the magistrate was killed
The magistrate Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto was assassinated by Mafia gunmen in Valderice, a small town near the Sicilian city of Trapani, on this day in 1983.

Ciaccio Montalto, a state prosecutor who had been involved in every major organised crime investigation in western Sicily over the previous 12 years, was a short distance from his home in the early hours of the morning when his Volkswagen Golf was forced off the road.

Three men armed with machine guns and pistols opened fire, hitting Ciaccio Montalto multiple times, leaving his bullet-ridden body slumped in the driver’s seat. Used to hearing gunshots, none of the nearby residents ventured out to see what had happened and it was not until 7.15am that a passing carabinieri patrol came across the car and discovered the magistrate’s body. He was 41 years old.

The VW’s clock, which police believed stopped working because of the damage to the car, was showing 1.12am, which suggested that Ciaccio Montalto had been dead for just over six hours.

Ciaccio Montalto was an Italian magistrate who was a public prosecutor in Trapani, known for his investigations into the Mafia’s involvement in drug trafficking and their links to the local business and banking community and politicians.

Ciaccio Montalto's work was dedicated to fighting the Mafia in Trapani
Ciaccio Montalto was a formidable
adversary of the Trapani Mafia
He had played a part in every major Mafia investigation in the western part of the island since 1971. 

Speculation linked his killing either to an investigation in 1982 that led to arrest warrants being issued for 40 Mafia members and businessmen in the Trapani area, or to the arrest of two leading politicians - a regional Liberal party secretary and a noted member of the Republican party - on charges of granting illegal building contracts to Mafia figures. 

His death did not have the same impact as the slaying of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino almost a decade later, but was nonetheless a severe blow for the fight against the Mafia in Sicily, robbing the judiciary of a courageous and dedicated magistrate.

It was the Mafia's second major strike against the Italian state in just a few months following the killing of the carabinieri chief General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa and his wife in Palermo the previous September. 

Ciaccio Montalto was born into a family of legal professionals. His father, Enrico, was a judge in the Court of Cassation, and his grandfather, Giacomo Montalto, a notary and former mayor of Erice, an historic hill town in Trapani province. Giangiacomo’s younger brother, Enrico, was a political activist who died in a car accident at the age of 22.

Although he was born in Milan, Ciaccio Montalto soon dedicated himself to the fight against crime in the city of his roots. He returned to Sicily in 1971, a year after beginning his legal career in the north, and rapidly rose to the level of Deputy Prosecutor of the Republic of Trapani.

Among the high-profile investigations he led was one into the so-called “Marsala monster” that ended with Michele Vinci, who was convicted of kidnapping three girls, including his niece, and leaving them to die in a well, being sentenced to 28 years in jail. 

Ciaccio Montalto was due to be transferred to Florence
Ciaccio Montalto was due to be
transferred to Florence
He also broke new ground during an investigation into the involvement of the mafiosi of the province of Trapani in drug trafficking and their links with the business and banking world of Trapani. He was one of the first magistrates to use asset tracing to follow the flow of “dirty money” after becoming convinced that money being laundered through Trapani’s banks was being used to fund a clandestine laboratory for the production of drugs in the Trapani area.

And thanks to Ciaccio Montalto’s work, the Minore brothers, a Mafia clan who controlled Trapani from the 1950s to the late ‘70s and were heavily involved in drug dealing and arms trafficking, as well as being suspected of carrying out many murders, were effectively driven out of the area, brothers Antonino - known as ‘Totò’ - Calogero, Giuseppe and Giacomo being forced to live as fugitives after the magistrate issued an arrest warrant for Totò Minore in 1979 for weapons trafficking. 

Ciaccio Montalto was realistic enough to know his success would put his own safety under threat. Soon after the 40 Mafia members and entrepreneurs he ordered to be arrested in 1982 were released due to lack of evidence, a black cross was painted on the bonnet of the car in which he would ultimately be killed. Unlike some high-profile investigators in the long fight against the Cosa Nostra, he did not have the security of an armour-plated vehicle or a police escort.

Disappointed with the result of that investigation and others, Ciaccio Montalto asked for a transfer to Florence, hoping to investigate the activities of an enclave of Trapani mafiosi who had settled there. The request was granted, but he was killed before it could happen.

Initial investigations into Ciaccio Montalto’s death pointed towards the Minore clan.  Salvatore Minore, in fact, was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia for ordering the killing and two mafiosi for carrying it out, although all three were later acquitted by an appeal court. It was later discovered that Minore himself had been killed a year before Ciaccio Montalto.

Ultimately, on the basis of evidence provided by new witnesses and Mafia informers, the killing was attributed to the notorious Corleonesi mobster Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina, who was seen as the capo di tutti capi - boss of all bosses - on Sicily, along with another leading mob figure, Mariano Agate. Riina, by then already in jail serving several life sentences, was handed another, along with Agate. Two corrupt lawyers, one of whom tipped off Riina after learning of Ciaccio Montalto’s intention to tackle the Trapani gangs in Florence, were acquitted on the grounds of unreliable testimony.

Ciaccio Montalto was granted a state funeral, conducted by the bishop of Trapani, Monsignor Emanuele Romano, at the cathedral of San Lorenzo, where 20,000 people gathered outside.

He was survived by his wife, Marisa La Torre, who would later be appointed deputy mayor of Trapani, and their three daughters Maria Irene, Elena and Silvia. 

The territory of Valderice includes mountain scenary and a sweep of coastline
The territory of Valderice includes mountain
scenary and a sweep of coastline 
Travel tip: 

The small town of Valderice, where Giangiacomo Ciaccio Montalto lived and sadly died while investigating crimes in Trapani province, has gone under that name only since 1958. It was previously known as Paparella but was renamed following the division of the Monte San Giuliano municipal area. Valderice, which is 8km (five miles) northeast of Trapani and about 95km (60 miles) west of Palermo, includes several scenic areas such as the stunning Zingaro Nature Reserve with its 7km of wild cliff top walks and the remains of a stone age settlement, and three beach areas: Bonagia, Lido Valderice and Rio Forgia.  In the town, the churches of Santa Maria della Misericordia, built in 1637, and Sant’Andrea Apostolo are among the oldest in the area. The Molino Excelsior is an old mill now converted to the Centro di Cultura Gastronomica, which every year provides gastronomic events, workshops and lessons to promote local customs and traditions. 

Erice is one of Sicily's most beautiful towns with an abundance of picturesque narrow streets
Erice is one of Sicily's most beautiful towns with
an abundance of picturesque narrow streets
Travel tip:

Dating back 3,000 years, Erice is one of Sicily’s most beautiful towns, a mediaeval gem that nestles some 2,464 feet above the sea, surrounded by vineyards in the mountains behind Trapani.  It is a fortified town with charming, narrow streets, echoing with history and blessed with a pace of life from a different age. Erice is watched over by an impressive 12th-13th century Norman castle, the Castello di Venere, where visitors can stroll around the grassy interior courtyard, flanked by an impressive stone wall allegedly built by Daedalus, the architect of Greek mythology. The castle offers spectacular panoramic views.  Erice has many churches and chapels, including the Norman-style church of San Martino, the church of Sant’Albertino degli Abbati and Chiesa Madre, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, with its quadrangular bell tower. One of the most attractive parts of Erice is the Spanish quarter, said to have been built in the period of Spanish domination to house Spanish soldiers, a requirement for every Sicilian city.

Also on this day:

1348: The Friuli earthquake

1755: The birth of physician Paolo Mascagni

1852: The birth of explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza

1866: The birth of operatic baritone Antonio Scotti

1982: The birth of singer-songwriter Noemi


23 February 2023

Emanuele Notarbartolo - banker and politician

First major figure to be assassinated by Mafia

Emanuele Notarbartolo spent 14 years in charge of the Banco di Sicilia
Emanuele Notarbartolo spent 14 years
in charge of the Banco di Sicilia
The banker and politician Emanuele Notarbartolo, whose determination to end corrupt banking practices in Sicily in the late 19th century would cost him his life, was born on this day in 1834 in Palermo.

Notarbartolo served as a conservative Mayor of Palermo from 1873 to 1876 and director of the Banco di Sicilia from 1876 to 1890.

He saved the bank from going bust by stamping down on the practice of doling out large and effectively unsecured loans to favoured individuals but in doing so made many enemies.

Having survived being kidnapped in 1882, Notarbartolo was stabbed to death in his first-class compartment on a train just outside Palermo, his body thrown out of the carriage on to the track side.

Although ultimately they were set free as the legal process broke down, Raffaele Palizzolo, a rival politician with Mafia connections as well as a fellow member of the Banco di Sicilia board, and a boss of the Villabate mafia clan, Giuseppe Fontana, were identified as being responsible for his death. Each was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Murders involving members of the Cosa Nostra were commonplace but the victims were generally other mafiosi or associates. Notarbartolo’s death is thought to have been the first instance of a politician or other prominent public figure being killed on Mafia orders.

Notarbartolo was born into one of Palermo’s most important aristocratic families and was given the title Marquis of San Giovanni. Orphaned as a child, he moved to Paris in his early 20s and then to London, where he developed a passion for economics and politics, becoming a supporter of liberal conservatism which on his return to Italy placed him on the Historical Right.

Newspapers in Italy covered the trial of Notarbartolo's alleged killers extensively
Newspapers in Italy covered the trial of
Notarbartolo's alleged killers extensively
He joined the Sardinian Army and joined Giuseppe Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand, taking part in the Battle of Milazzo as his red-shirted followers captured the island of Sicily and pushed towards the mainland.

Notarbartolo’s participation was rewarded with public office in Palermo, where he was for a while assessor of the city’s police force before being appointed president of the civic hospital. In his capacity as Mayor, to which office he was elected in September 1873, he promoted the construction of Palermo’s enormous opera house, the Teatro Massimo.

He developed a reputation for moral integrity, thanks to which he was appointed General Manager of the Banco di Sicilia in February 1876 at the behest of the Rome government led by Marco Minghetti. 

His brief was to reorganise the banking system on the island, which had fallen into such chaos that the Banco di Sicilia was at the brink of bankruptcy, threatening dire consequences for the entire Sicilian economy.

Notarbartolo soon discovered that incompetent bank managers were granting substantial loans to so-called entrepreneurs and builders purely on the basis of patronage, without asking for guarantees and allowing generous repayment terms.

This impacted on a considerable number of powerful people in Palermo, politicians and criminals alike, who had become used to easy finance with no questions asked. It was not long before there were plots to oust Notarbartolo.

Notarbartolo's rival Raffaele  Palizzolo was one of the accused
Notarbartolo's rival Raffaele 
Palizzolo was one of the accused

Yet he was not intimidated, even when he was kidnapped. After paying 50,000 lire as a ransom, he was released unharmed and vowed to redouble his efforts to rid the bank of corruption. By now he had several rows with Palizzolo and suspected that his rival was behind the kidnap, although it was never proved.

He wrote to the Minister of Agriculture and Commerce in Rome, outlining the lax and corrupt practices he had exposed, but the letter was somehow intercepted and fell into the hands of Palizzolo, who informed the other members of the bank’s board. In 1890, his opponents, with the backing of Francesco Crispi’s government, forced Notarbartolo to resign.

After his successor as director of the bank made a number of reckless and costly decisions, there was talk of Notarbartolo being reinstated. Days after this came to light, he was killed.

Soon after the train carrying Notarbartolo towards Palermo from his country estate near Sciara left the station at Trabia, some 33km (21 miles) southeast of the capital along the Tyrrhenian coast, it entered a tunnel, at which moment two men entered the banker’s compartment and attacked him, stabbing him 27 times.  His body, thrown from the compartment, was found in undergrowth by the track.

Fontana and two supposedly complicit railway workers were arrested, but a court in Palermo quickly acquitted Fontana and convicted the railway workers. Despite testimony from a carabinieri officer pointing to him as a possible instigator of the murder, Palizzolo - by then a member of the Chamber of Deputies -  was never called.

Further trials in Milan and Bologna eventually found Fontana and Palizzolo guilty, the former of killing Notarbartolo, the latter of commissioning the murder. Each was sentenced in 1902 to 30 years in prison, only for the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome to overturn the verdicts a year later on the basis of procedural defects.

A new trial took place in Florence in 1904 at which a new witness was to be produced on behalf of the prosecutors after another mafioso, Matteo Filippello, had confessed to being the other man in the railway carriage attack.  A few days before he was due in court, however, Filippello was found dead, police reporting that he had hanged himself. 

Fontana and Palizzolo were both then acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence, the latter apparently welcomed by a cheering crowd on his return to Palermo.

Notarbartolo's bust in Palazzo Pretoria
Notarbartolo's bust
in Palazzo Pretorio
Travel tip:

Emanuele Notarbartolo is commemorated in Palermo in the Via Emanuele Notarbartolo, an important street in the city, part of a long, straight thoroughfare that stretches across the city from the harbour area in the direction of Monte Cuccio to the west. The street, which intersects with the Via della Libertà, has a modern feel with a mix of shops, offices and apartment buildings and a scattering of Liberty-style villas typical of the city. Palermo Notarbartolo station can be found halfway along.  A bust of Notarbartolo, carved by Antonio Ugo, can be seen in Palermo’s Palazzo Pretorio, where the city’s municipal council meets.

Stay in Palermo with

Sciara, which sits on a plain in the shadow of Monte  San Calogero, was founded by Notarbartolo's ancestors
Sciara, which sits on a plain in the shadow of Monte 
San Calogero, was founded by Notarbartolo's ancestors
Travel tip:

Sciara, where Emanuele Notarbartolo lived when away from Palermo, is a village just over 40km (25 miles) southeast of the Sicilian capital within the Monte San Calogero Nature Reserve, with its characteristic lush vegetation. The municipality was founded in 1671 by one of Notarbartolo’s ancestors, Baron Filippo Notarbartolo, by royal decree of Charles II of Spain. It was one of more than 30 fiefdoms owned by the family. Filippo built Sciara’s elevated castle and a couple of churches, including the Chiesa di Sant’Anna. The area is quite poor and many houses were left empty after families emigrated to the north of Italy, to Germany and the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s. Those villages who remain are often involved in the production of tomatoes, olives and artichokes.

Accommodation in Sciara from

More reading:

The Sicilian lawyer who made it his life's work to take on Mafia

The Palermo businessman who refused to pay

The president’s brother killed by the Mafia

Also on this day:

1507: The death of Renaissance painter Gentile Bellini 

1806: The birth of military general Manfredo Fanti

1821: The death in Rome of English poet John Keats

1822: The birth of archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi

1910: The birth of artist Corrado Cagli

(Picture credits: Notarbartolo bust by Sicilarch; Sciara panorama by Azotoliquido; via Wikimedia Commons)