Category Archives: Interesting


Inside The Sicilian Mafia’s Drug Empire

Hidden amongst lush tangerine orchards in 1970s Sicily lay the heart of Michele ‘The Pope’ Greco’s drugs empire…


Giuseppe Greco’s death from a tumor last February garnered more press than his movies ever did. The obituaries read like a string of bad reviews, casting the filmmaker’s career in the shadow of the Mafia. The plot points are damning: he served a four-year sentence for laundering illicit money through his productions; he borrowed a deluxe Mercedes 500 from Palermo’s crooked mayor, Salvo Lima, for a film shoot; and, after jail, he wrote and directed a family saga that romanticises the Mafia of old Sicily.

But the piece of publicity that stuck to him most was the kind you can’t buy and wouldn’t want to: Giuseppe was the son of Michele Greco, the infamous “Pope” of the Mafia.

Don Michele Greco, the debonair silver fox whose ever-present Bible and prayer cards lent him a pious air, was the toast of Palermitan society in the 1970s. His estate, “Favarella,” in the eastern suburb of Ciaculli, was a lush expanse of tangerine orchards with plenty of wild game to excite the sportsmen among the local elites. Many of the rooms in Greco’s lodge had giant ovens and barbecue grills enjoyed by the business leaders, politicians and policemen who were frequent guests. Favorites were given a key to the gate.

Yet the virtuous world of Greco the country gentleman was illusory. The best parcels of land were not inherited but wrenched from nobility by intimidation tactics that whittled the selling price to a symbolic fee. The neighbors were also coerced into selling cheap.

The Grecos of Ciaculli and the Grecos of the adjacent Croceverde Giardini—related by marriage—were not gentry but a criminal dynasty. A violent history that included a mid-century feud positioned Don Michele to assume the role of the region’s “emperor,” a word he preferred to “pope” for its hereditary connotation. Favarella was the throne of his empire, supported by roguish relatives like the psychopathic killer, Pino “Little Shoe” Greco.

Michele Greco’s aggressive land acquisition was not an attempt to corner the tangerine market but rather to control the water below the surface. Though the public owned a large portion of it, Greco and his fellow mafiosi sold to Palermo a third of its water supply at a premium. The city coffers were siphoned most heavily during the dry season. Such a scheme would be impossible without the help of able profiteers like Mayor Lima and his public works chief, Vito Ciancimino, both of the Mafia-friendly Christian Democratic Party.

Favarella was much more than a weekend playground for Greco’s well-heeled crowd. Deep among the citrus trees was a building used for refining heroin by the syndicate from Corleone, run by godfather Luciano Leggio and his lieutenant Totò Riina. A network of tunnels was dug below the orchards to allow escape during a raid.

Ascendant in power around Palermo, the Corleonesi pushed a member off the ruling Mafia Commission to make room for Greco, whose legitimizing presence and papal diplomacy would sway decisions in their favor. He also became a spy for Riina at numerous Mafia summits held on the estate.

Riina’s constant impulse was to eliminate perceived threats in the most final of terms. Dozens of enemies came to an end on Favarella following Greco’s secret debriefings, including his drug-trade competitor Rosario Riccobono, despised for killing an old friend. As the successful boss slept off a sumptuous Christmas dinner hosted by Riina and Greco, “Little Shoe” crept up and strangled him. Several of Riccobono’s men were likewise slaughtered on that evening in 1982, reduced in acid and buried on the grounds.

The bloodbath only increased as the power-mad Riina declared war on a new generation of government prosecutors intent on ending Mafia corruption. Carried out by Greco and his clan, the streets of Palermo became strewn with the “excellent cadavers” of anti-Mafia officials: General Dalla Chiesa, Judge Chinnici, Judge Falcone and many more.

After police caught up with the fugitive “Pope” Greco, Bible in hand, he assumed the role of a victimised small farmer: “I’ve been ruined by this mistaken identity with the Grecos of Ciaculli; I belong to the Grecos of Croceverde Giardini. Violence is beneath my dignity. I mind my own business, tending the trees and the land…. The Mafia I know is the Mafia everybody knows. Even to talk about drugs disgusts me. All that I possess is the fruit of my labor and the heritage of my parents.”

When asked by a reporter how a self-proclaimed peasant could run with such an affluent crowd, he said, “At sixteen I began to go trapshooting. Now I’m sixty-two—do the math. There [at Favarella], I met the best class of Palermitan society. I made friendships that have lasted all my life.”

But aside from a temporary prison release decreed by a “friendly” judge nicknamed “the sentence killer,” none of his friends could help him. In a cage at the historic Mafia maxi-trial of 1987, charged with seventy-eight murders, Greco delivered a typically cryptic invocation to his prosecutor that was half blessing, half threat:

“I wish you peace, Mr. President…because peace is tranquillity of the spirit, the conscience. And for the duty that awaits you, serenity is the foundation on which to judge. Those aren’t my words, they’re the words of our Lord who commanded Moses: ‘When you must judge, decide with the utmost of serenity.’ And I wish, Mr. President, that this peace accompanies you for the rest of your life.”

Greco died in prison at the age of eighty-three, with a Bible by his side, on February, 13, 2008. His son Giuseppe, the director who never lived down his family’s reputation, died three years later in friendly territory: Croceverde Giardini.

by Bluto Ray


Mexican President Calderon

Christian Caryl: Why organized crime is a growing force in world politics

Mexicans are celebrating a victory over the drug mafia this month. The arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the Zeta drug cartel, is big news. Trevino, alias Z-40, made a name for himself as one of the most brutal gangsters in a country that has become sadly inured to violence. One can only hope that his imprisonment will put an end to at least some of the stomach-turning brutality he was accustomed to inflicting on his enemies. (At one point, it’s been revealed, he even considered shooting down the plane of then-President Felipe Calderon.)

But will Z-40’s arrest put an end to Mexico’s drug wars? There’s reason to doubt it. Demand for drugs from the cartels’ customers in the United States remains strong, and until that underlying structural cause is addressed, this lucrative trade will continue to thrive. Some experts point out that one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trevino’s downfall is likely to be Joaquín Guzman Loera (“El Chapo”), the head of the rival Sinaloa cartel, who can revel in the elimination of one of his most energetic competitors.

Analysts put the value of the global drug trade at some $350 billion a year — and that’s probably a conservative estimate. And yet narcobusiness comprises only one relatively small slice of the much larger world of global criminality. According to the World Economic Forum: “The cross-border flow of global proceeds from criminal activities, corruption and tax evasion is estimated at over $1 trillion, with illegal drugs and counterfeit goods each accounting for 8 percent of world trade.”

Organized crime lurks behind many of the stories in the headlines today, though the connection rarely becomes explicit. Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was just convicted on probably spurious charges of embezzlement, made a name for himself by targeting the corruption that is so deep-seated in today’s Russia that it’s often hard to see where the government leaves off and the mob begins. European Union law enforcement officials warned recently that mobsters are capitalizing on the European financial crisis by taking advantage of black markets in goods and services. Meanwhile, the increasing prominence of the Internet in the global economy is fueling worries about the rising power of organized cybercriminals.

Gangsters are cropping up in all sorts of odd places. Criminal syndicates are implicated in everything from the poaching of rare wildlife to the counterfeiting of drugs and manufactured goods. That growing range of activities attests to the criminals’ skill at exploiting the possibilities offered by deepening global interconnectedness. Consider the opening of this story about a recent global raid by Interpol: “More than 6,000 people around the world were arrested in a two-month anti-counterfeiting sweep that netted tens of millions of dollars worth of fake shampoo in China, phony cigarettes in Turkey and bogus booze in Chile.” The investigators discovered everything from a subterranean factory in Ukraine manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes to a workshop in Peru that puts false labels on motors from China.

Mobsters thrive on instability. In the Syrian civil war, the same criminal groups that once played on their close ties to the government of Bashar al-Assad have now mutated into the shabiha, the feared paramilitaries that do the regime’s dirtiest work on the battlefield. But they’re not the only ones. “The link between insurgent groups and organized crime has long been a feature of intra-state conflict,” notes Asher Berman, an expert at the Institute for the Study of War. “Rebels often turn to criminal activity to obtain the weapons and funding they need to maintain the fight.” The rebels in Syria, desperate for cash, are increasingly resorting to mafia-like tactics of their own, ranging from car thefts to the looting of antiquities. Reports of systematic extortion — the familiar phenomenon of the “revolutionary tax” we’ve heard about so many times before — and economically motivated kidnapping are also on the rise.

What we’re seeing, though, is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Criminals, by definition, prefer to avoid the light of day, so the dimensions of the real mafia problem remain obscure. Was that Vatican official who was arrested in June on money-laundering charges merely trying to make himself and some well-connected friends a bit richer, or is he part of a much broader pattern of institutionalized corruption within the bank of the Holy See? Was that recent police raid in New Delhi that netted a huge haul of black-market weapons a victory over mobsters or terrorists? Did that witness who met an untimely end just before he was to testify in the Whitey Bulger case here in the United States really die of natural causes? Why did the Chinese harbor one of Taiwan’s most prominent triad leaders for 17 years before handing him over to Taipei earlier this month? In most cases, we’ll probably never know the whole story.

But there are a few things that we can say with certainty. First, organized crime in cyberspace is becoming a core problem, one that’s particularly hard to combat precisely because of its amorphousness. Indeed, there’s considerable anecdotal evidence that hackers-for-hire are increasingly lending their services to both governments and gangs. But the opacity of the culprits shouldn’t delude us about the scale of what’s at stake. A report issued earlier this week by a global financial organization noted that half of the world’s securities exchanges came under attack by hackers last year. That means that web-based criminals are potentially in a position to destabilize the global financial system — entirely aside from the untold losses to individuals and companies from mushrooming cybercrime.

Second, illicit financial flows are a big part of the problem. The biggest problem for large-scale criminals is banking their ill-gotten gains, and right now there are plenty of entirely legal lawyers, accountants, and offshore tax havens that are happy to help. Let’s put aside for the moment the theoretical arguments over the virtues and drawbacks of secrecy jurisdictions, and note simply that preserving the present system, which allows criminals to shift their profits almost effortlessly across the globe without scrutiny, will lead to disaster if allowed to continue unchecked. One recent report co-published by Global Financial Integrity and the African Development Bank claims that Africa alone lost up to $1.4 trillion to illicit financial flows. Surely the continuing existence of a system that allows for the existence of a “shadow financial system” on this scale is not good for anyone — countries developed and developing alike.

Third, powerful global crime syndicates are the enemy of good government. Democracy can hardly flourish when politicians meld with the shadowy forces of the mafia. It’s precisely this understanding that has spurred the recent wave of protests in Bulgaria, where demonstrators took to the streets after a thuggish young tycoon was appointed as the government’s top security official. Such concerns are by no means restricted to Eastern Europe, though. The wave of recent protests in places from Turkey to Brazil shows that citizens are increasingly worried about official malfeasance and the lack of transparency that allows it. From what I can see, they’re right to worry.

Christian Caryl, the editor of Democracy Lab, is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy. He is also the author of “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century.”



Author Visit: Organized Crime in Chicago, Beyond the Mafia


Dr. Robert M. Lombardo discusses his latest crime book about Chicago in the large meeting room at the Niles Public Library on Wed., May 8, at 7pm.

Recently published by the University of Illinois Press, Dr. Lombardo’s Organized Crime in Chicago questions the prevailing view that organized crime can be traced directly to the Sicilian Mafia and explains its development as linked to political machines.

A thirty-five year police veteran and sociologist, Dr. Lombardo is a professor of criminology and criminal justice and a member of the Graduate Faculty at Loyola University in Chicago. He served thirty years with the Chicago Police Department and five years as the Deputy Chief of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department.

Registration for this Chicago Authors program is recommended by calling the Niles Public Library at 847-663-1234 or online at



Mafia boss may be buried in Corleone mayor’s tomb

Palermo, – Sicilian prosecutors are exploring the possibility that remains found in the tomb of a former Corleone mayor could in fact belong to a local mafia boss, it emerged on Tuesday.

Investigations began after the town council reported that a skull found in the tomb of ex-mayor Bernardino Verro may be that of Calogero Bagarella, a close associate of former Cosa Nostra chiefs Toto’ Riina and Bernardo Provenzano, who is believed to have been shot dead during the so-called Viale Lazio attack on Palermo Mafia boss Michele Cavataio in December 1969.

Tests are now being carried out on the remains to establish if they can be dated to around the same period as the massacre. Verro, the first socialist mayor of Corleone and a symbol of the peasant struggle against the Mafia, died and was buried in Corleone in 1915 but his remains were moved to the family tomb in Palermo many years ago. It was the late mafioso-turned-informant Antonino Calderone who first suggested that Bagarella might be buried in his original tomb.

119275_58d490a7c7 bones chih

The whole valley smells of death

For the inhabitants of the Ejido Jesus Carranza, the discovery of 20 skeletal remains buried in clandestine graves on private property came as no surprise. Years back, they witnessed suspicious activities, but for them denunciation (reporting to authorities) was never an option because they feared retaliation.

“Here, we would see new cars…we also saw a lot of military and police in that place,” said several neighbors when they were interviewed, asking for their identities not to be revealed and for them not to be photographed.

From the start, the ejidatarios (local communal landowners) dismiss the idea that there are any townspeople among the victims; they affirm that there are no disappeared persons. At least, not there.

“We don’t have anybody missing here. We were born here and we’ve known each other all our lives. Up there (he points towards the ranch) is where people from the outside bought (properties),” said one of the ejidatarios.

All the structures adjacent to the clandestine cemetery are abandoned. It was quiet last week for the residents of the Ejido Jesus Carranza.

“Everything was very peaceful, nothing ever happens here, the truth is that the the village had been peaceful for several months,” they assured us, although they did not dismiss the idea that the relative tranquility was due to the fact that the people who were using at least two properties for safe houses and illegal graveyards had left the town.

“The military also left. We only see them on the highway,” they said.

It was only last weekend that a helicopter flying over and dozens of municipal prosecutor’s vehicles arriving broke the peace and told them something bad was happening.

“Then (the investigators) told us that they were looking for bodies,” they stated.

The official report from state authorities states that “investigation and intelligence (work) developed during the past year” led to the discovery of the skeletal remains, all belonging to males.

Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas specified in a press conference that it was thanks to support of U.S. authorities that the exact location where the cadavers were buried.

Unofficial sources say that the support came from the anti-narcotics section of the U.S. Consulate General in Mexico, the same (unit) that provided information on the exact location of Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, “El Diego”, which allowed them to make a “clean” arrest.

The information from U.S. authorities led the investigators to Ejido Jesus Carranza. On the Juarez-Porvenir highway, at kilometer marker 35, you take a right turn on an unpaved street that goes to the ranch.

Two kilometers (1.2 miles) ahead, one can see several uninhabited structures on the desert terrain. And there, among the sand dunes and the brush, can be seen the open pits dug by personnel from the office of the medical examiner (SEMEFO; Servicio Medico Forense).

A foul odor is everywhere, and also enormous piles of trash left behind by employees from the State Attorney General’s Office during their three-day stay, which is how long the search and the excavations took.

This ranch, located east of Ciudad Juarez and adjacent to the San Agustin Ejido, also part of the municipality, is less than three miles from the metal fence that divides Mexico and the United States.

The excavations were conducted in a 100 yard radius, and there were graves side by side. The closest one was less than 30 yards from the swimming pool built in front of the main house.

As of yesterday, the investigating authorities had not yet fully identified the owner of the ranch.

Arturo Sandoval, spokesman for State Prosecutor’s Office (FGE; Fiscalia General del Estado) , explains that they were working on identifying the owner through the Public Property Register.

The house was still under construction. There’s broken ceiling material and insulation on the floor, and also a bar that takes up a large part of the room.



Mexican Drug Cartel Structures (2006–present)


Mexican Drug Cartel Structures (2006–present)

Beltrán Leyva Cartel(Armed wing: Los Negros)

Arturo Beltrán Leyva • Alfredo Beltrán Leyva • Mario Alberto Beltrán Leyva • Carlos Beltrán Leyva • Héctor Beltrán Leyva • Edgar Valdez Villarreal •
Current leaders:
Héctor Beltrán Leyva • Mario Alberto Beltrán Leyva • Edgar Valdez Villarreal • Sergio Villarreal Barragán •

La Familia Cartel

Nazario Moreno González • Carlos Rosales Mendoza • José de Jesús Méndez Vargas • Julio César Godoy Toscano • Enrique Plancarte • Arnoldo Rueda Medina • Servando Gómez Martínez • Dionicio Loya Plancarte • Rafael Cedeño Hernández • Alberto Espinoza Barron •

Gulf Cartel(Armed wing: Los Zetas)

Juan Nepomuceno Guerra • Juan García Abrego • Arturo Guzmán Decena • Jesús Enrique Rejón Águila • Jaime González Durán • Heriberto Lazcano • Miguel Treviño Morales •
Current leaders:
Osiel Cárdenas Guillén • Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén • Jorge Eduardo Costilla • Heriberto Lazcano • Miguel Treviño Morales •

Juárez Cartel

Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo • Rafael Aguilar Guajardo • Amado Carrillo Fuentes • Pablo Acosta Villarreal •
Current leaders:
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes • Juan José Esparragoza Moreno •

Sinaloa Cartel

Héctor Luis Palma Salazar • Joaquín Guzmán Loera • Adrián Gómez González •
Current leaders:
Joaquín Guzmán Loera • Ismael Zambada García • Ignacio Coronel Villarreal •

Tijuana Cartel

Ramón Arellano Félix • Benjamín Arellano Félix • Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix • Carlos Arellano Félix • Luis Fernando Arellano Félix • Eduardo Arellano Félix • Francisco Javier Arellano Félix •
Current leaders:
Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano • Edgardo Leyva Escandon •


The family of reputed mafia member Joe Di Maulo, including his wife Huguette Desjardins (centre), release doves following his funeral in Montreal on Wednesday. Di Maulo was shot in his driveway on Nov. 4.

Joseph Di Maulo funeral: Experts see meaning in absence of mafia players including Vito Rizzuto

MONTREAL—The funeral of an influential mafia player murdered earlier this month has experts taking as keen an interest in who didn’t come to pay tribute to Joseph Di Maulo as the nearly 200 people who attended the church service.

“In Montreal, there’s a state of war,” said Pierre de Champlain, a retired RCMP organized crime analyst. “People are very careful. They don’t want to be seen at the church.”

Chief among the absentees at Joseph Di Maulo’s funeral Wednesday was mafia kingpin Vito Rizzuto, the man who once ruled Montreal with an iron fist before watching his empire crumble. The murders of family members, including his father Nicolo and son Nick Jr., as well as close associates have decimated his operations over the eight years he spent in a U.S. prison.

Rizzuto completed his sentence and returned to Canada in early October with word he was carrying a revenge list filled with accounts to settle with former friends as well as his many foes.

Di Maulo was once considered a trusted associate of the Rizzuto Sicilian crime family. He was also close to Rizzuto’s Calabrian predecessor, Frank Cotroni. Di Maulo was not believed to be on Rizzuto’s hit list.

Yet it is tough to ignore the suspicious timing of the Nov. 4 murder that snuffed out a man widely viewed as a peacemaker — a wise man who counselled Montreal’s wise guys — or the signals that were sent as he was ushered out of this world.

One important sign for de Champlain was the location of the visitation earlier this week. The Rizzuto family runs an upscale Montreal funeral home that has seen its share of murdered Mafioso over the years, but Di Maulo’s body was put on display at a different downtown funeral home.

Another signal was the flowery best wishes of Raynald Desjardins, who is currently in jail. The convicted drug smuggler once considered as Rizzuto’s right-hand man is charged in the Dec. 2011 murder of Salvatore Montagna, who was attempting to usurp Rizzuto’s mafia crown.

Di Maulo was married to Desjardins’ sister, adding a family bond to their reputed criminal ties. In that sense, the large wreath of white flowers bearing the name of Raynald and his family on one of the cars in the funeral procession Wednesday was not surprising.

But the floral display takes on a new light with reports that Desjardins was moved into protective custody after Di Maulo was executed in his driveway with two shots to the head. Some suspect the show from Desjardins could indicate that family allegiances have overtaken that which once bound Desjardins to Rizzuto.

Montreal’s La Presse, which had a reporter inside the funeral service, said the priest described Di Maulo as “a man of honour, a man of courage,” but not a soul referred to the roles he held in the city’s mafia underworld.

Rather, he was remembered as a lover of golf, wine and Frank Sinatra. Others paid tribute to a man who gained respect “in the world of business, arts and politics.”

“This is the real Joe Di Maulo that we know,” said a woman that La Presse identified as a cousin.

Outside the church, there was a modest police presence that included several marked police cruisers as well as a handful of plainclothes officers taking photographs and video of those who attended the one-hour service.

According to de Champlain, Di Maulo had ties to the GTA mob and commanded considerable respect in Ontario, but there were no out-of-province licence plates present at the ceremony.

Di Maulo first came onto the police radar in the early 1970s, when he showed up on wiretaps that heard him playing the role of a conciliator rather than a hothead in mob disputes.

He was convicted of a triple murder that occurred at his Montreal nightclub in the 1970s, but the conviction was appealed and he was acquitted of the charges.

“He was a man of mediation,” de Champlain said. “I think he was a pretty calm guy. He was not the guy to promote violence.”