Showing posts with label Gaetano Badalamenti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gaetano Badalamenti. Show all posts

23 April 2017

Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo

Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, head of  major crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, head of  major
crime family in Palermo
Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.

Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians on Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.

He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking.

Born into a Mafia family, Bontade controlled the Villagrazia area in the south-west of Palermo and became head of the Santa Maria di Gesù crime family at the age of 25 when his father, Francesco Paolo Bontade, a major Cosa Nostra boss known as Don Paolino, stepped down in failing health.

He was banished to the mainland, specifically Qualiano in Campania, following his arrest in 1972 after Pietro Scaglione, the chief prosecutor of Palermo, had been murdered.  A sustained crackdown on Mafia activity following the Ciaculli Massacre of 1963 had achieved significant progress in cutting off the organisation’s income streams but, ironically, the banishment of bosses in Bontade’s generation backfired on the authorities.

Along with others, Bontade made new contacts with Mafiosi on the mainland and their involvement in cigarette smuggling and heroin trafficking enabled them to rebuild their powerbase in Sicily.  Bontade became part of a network involved with the processing and trafficking of heroin from Turkey to the streets of cities in the United States, where it was distributed by the Gambino family.

Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Gambino family boss Carlo Gambino
Bontade’s links with Cosa Nostra figures in the US were seemingly behind his alleged organising of the Mattei killing, supposedly requested by a Sicilian-born Mafioso from Philadelphia because Mattei’s policies threatened the profitability of the United States oil industry, in which the American Mafia had vested interests.

Later, the Gambino family enlisted his help in a scheme proposed by Sindona to recover a Cosa Nostra fortune that had been lost when the Franklin National Bank in Long Island, which Sindona controlled and through which much of the laundered heroin proceeds were laundered, collapsed in 1974.

Sindona was in the US awaiting trail on fraud charges connected with the collapse, while being also wanted in Italy in connection with the murder of a police superintendent and a lawyer who were investigating of his failed Banca Privata Italiana.

In what appeared to be a kidnap, he was smuggled out of the US and back to Sicily, where he attempted to blackmail former political allies, including Andreotti, in return for the re-establishment of his banking empire and the recovery of Mafia money.   The plot failed and Sindona was returned to America, where he died in prison, apparently through poisoning, shortly after he was convicted for the murder of the Sicilian lawyer, Giorgio Ambrosoli.

Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Three times PM Giulio Andreotti
Bontade, a freemason, cultivated a network of connections that included Christian Democrat politicians in Sicily, through whom links could be traced right to the top of Italian politics and to Andreotti, who was prime minister twice in the 1970s and again from 1989-92.

Andreotti is said to have appealed directly to Bontade in a bid to prevent the murder of Christian Democrat politician Piersanti Mattarella, who became a target after promising to smash the Mafia’s public contracts racket on Sicily. According to the evidence of a Mafia pentito, Francesco Marino Mannoia, Bontade threatened Andreotti with wiping out all of his party’s representatives in Sicily unless his demands were met and the Mattarella killing went ahead.

Bontade’s own death in 1981 came after Salvatore Riina, the most powerful figure in the Corleonesi clan from inland Sicily, formed a secret alliance with the Palermo mafioso and Bontade adversary Michele Greco with the aim of seizing control of the heroin trafficking operation.  Riina and Bontade were supposed to be allies as members of the Sicilian Mafia Commission, on which Greco eventually replaced a Bontade ally, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino
Riina and Greco organised the killing of many of Bontade’s friends and associates and tipped off police to arrest others, especially those involved directly with the trafficking network.  Bontade himself was murdered as he drove home from a party to celebrate his 42nd birthday, the execution carried out with a Kalashnikov machine gun by Pino Greco, Michele's nephew and a favoured Riina hitman.

Subsequently, two Bontade allies, Tommaso Buscetta and Salvatore Contorno, became pentiti, and it was largely their evidence that enabled the anti-Mafia magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino to convict 360 Cosa Nostra members in the mid-1980s in the so-called Maxi Trial. Those sent to jail included Greco and Riina, although Riina later exacted revenge by ordering the murders of both Falcone and Borsellino in 1992.

The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
The convent of  San Benedetto il Moro
Travel tip:

Santa Maria de Gesù, which gave its name to the area of Palermo Bontade controlled at the height of his powers, is actually a village at the foot of Monte Grifone, the 832m (2,730ft) peak that forms part of the Monti di Palermo chain and was once home to a colony of griffon vultures. Panoramic views of the city can be obtained from the Convent of San Benedetto il Moro, the patron saint of Palermo, who died at Santa Maria de Gesù in 1589. In the highest part of town is the tree of San Benedetto, a 500-year-old cypress that according to legend was planted by the saint himself.

The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
The golden mosaics of the Cappella Palatina
Travel tip:

By common consensus, if there is one attraction visitors to Palermo should not miss it is the Cappella Palatina, the extraordinary chapel that occupies the middle level of the three-tiered loggia of the Palazzo dei Normanni in Piazza Indipendenza. Almost every inch of the inside of the chapel is decorated with gold mosaics and inlaid precious stones. The chapel was built by Roger II, the King of Sicily, who hired Byzantine Greek artisans to work on the project in about 1140. The marble floor and walls reflect Islamic influences.

More reading:

How Giulio Andreotti, the great survivor, spent 45 years in government

The anti-Mafia crusade of Giovanni Falcone

A life of corruption and fraud: the failed banker Michele Sindona

Also on this day:

1857: The birth of opera composer Ruggero Leoncavallo

1964: The birth of conductor Gianandrea Noseda

5 January 2017

Giuseppe Impastato - anti-Mafia activist

Son of mafioso was murdered for speaking out

Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato, pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe 'Peppino' Impastato,
pictured in Cinisi in 1977
Giuseppe Impastato, a political activist who was murdered by the Sicilian Mafia in 1978, was born on this day in 1948 in Cinisi, a coastal resort 36km (22 miles) west of Palermo which is now home to the city's Punta Raisi airport.

Also known as Peppino, Impastato was born into a Mafia family.  His father, Luigi, had been considered a significant enough figure in the criminal organisation to be sent into internal exile during the Fascist crackdown of the 1920s and was a close friend of the local Mafia boss, Gaetano Badalamenti.

Impastato had already begun to take an interest in left-wing political ideology when his uncle, Cesare Manzella, was blown up by a car bomb in 1963, the victim of a contract killing.  The murder had a profound effect on Impastato, then only 15, who denounced all his father stood for and left home.

He began to write, founding a left-wing newsletter, L'Idea Socialista, in 1965, and soon joined the Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP).  He became the regular instigator of student and workers' protests during the late 1960s and led a number of anti-Mafia demonstrations.

At that stage, he was considered more a nuisance than a threat by Badalamenti but all that changed after Impastato, pursuing a career in journalism, joined with a group of friends to launch an independent radio station in 1976.

Impastato in 1968, campaigning against a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato in 1968, campaigning against
a third runway at Punta Raisa airport
Impastato hosted a popular show that regularly mocked politicians and mafiosi and sought to expose wrongdoings.  Badalamenti, who was later shown to have bribed officials to win a construction contract for a third runway at Punta Raisa airport, was a particular target.

It was claimed by Impastato that Badalamenti had an arrangement with the local police whereby they turned a blind eye to his activities so long as he guaranteed officers a quiet life by eliminating petty crime in the town.

The police chose to ignore the claim but Badalamenti was sufficiently riled to want Impastato silenced.  He warned Luigi Impastato that if he could not persuade his son to stop making such accusations he would be killed.

Luigi himself died in suspicious circumstances in 1977, knocked down by a car.  When Badalamenti and his associates turned up at the Impastato house to offer condolences, Peppino railed against them, accusing them of being responsible for his father's death, and vowed to step up his campaigning.

He disappeared on the evening of May 8, 1978, as he was preparing to stand in Cinisi's municipal elections as a Proletarian Democracy candidate.  After friends and family began to search for him, they discovered his remains in the early hours of May 9 close to the main Palermo-Trapani railway line.

Gaetano Badalamenti
Gaetano Badalamenti
Impastato had been killed and his body tied to the railway line along with a quantity of explosive, which was then detonated. His death might have made national news but was completely overshadowed by the discovery later in the same morning of the body of the kidnapped politician Aldo Moro in the boot of a car in Rome.

With little attention from outside, the Cinisi police pursued the line that Impastato had been killed in an attempt to blow up the railway line, or had intended to take his own life in doing so.  No evidence that pointed to murder was found and no arrests were made.

It was only through a 23-year campaign pursued by Peppino's brother, Giovanni, and his mother, Felicia, with the help of an anti-Mafia documentation centre in Sicily, that justice was done and Badalamenti was convicted of ordering the killing.  It took 18 years for them to persuade the authorities even to reopen the case.

In the event, Salvatore Palazzalo, who turned state's evidence as a Mafia pentito, provided vital information that led to the arrest and trial of Badalamenti and Vito Palazzalo, his cousin and Badalamenti's right-hand man.  Vito Palazzalo was sentenced to 30 years' jail, Badalamenti to life.  Both died in custody, Badalamenti in the United States, where he was already serving a 45-year term for his part in the so-called Pizza Connection drug-trafficking ring.

At around the time of the convictions, Peppino's life was celebrated in 2000 in a film, I cento passi - 'the hundred steps' - that being the distance between the Impastato house and the home of Gaetano Badalamenti.

The beach at Cinisi
The beach at Cinisi
Travel tip:

The coastal town of Cinisi, on the eastern side of the Gulf of Castellammare, is blessed with a wide, sandy beach, which makes it an attraction for tourists, who can also enjoy visiting the Benedictine Monastery that overlooks the town, as well as a number of interesting churches.  The town is guarded by a watchtowers thought to originate in the 15th century or earlier.  There are also several nature trails in the area, which is renowned for its natural beauty and the quality of local produce.  A ricotta festival takes place in Cinisi each May.

Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the  Assumption of Virgin Mary
Palermo's striking Metropolitan Cathedral of the
Assumption of Virgin Mary
Travel tip:

Palermo is home to some wonderful architecture, including the 9th century Palazzo dei Normanni, with its impressive neoclassical facade, the Cappella Palatina, the royal chapel of the Norman kings and famous for its mosaics, the atmospheric Teatro Massimo opera house and the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, which was originally erected in the 12th century but which has had many additions and alterations.  It combines five distinctive architectural styles - Norman, Moorish, Gothic, Baroque and neoclassical.

More reading:

Libero Grassi - the businessman who refused to pay protection

The life and death of anti-Mafia crusader Giovanni Falcone

The kidnapping of Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

1932: The birth of novelist Umberto Eco

(Picture credits: Cinisi beach by Abrahami; Palermo cathedral by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo; via Wikimedia Commons)