Orphans Of The Mob: When A Southern Italian Town 'Loses' Its Boss, All Bets Are Off

Michele Zagaria's arrest was hailed by Italian law enforcement as a key victory in the war against the Camorra crime syndicate in and around the southern city of Naples. But in the small town where Zagaria had been sheltered, his arrest means les

Michele Zagaria spent 15 years on the lam.
Michele Zagaria spent 15 years on the lam.
Guido Ruotolo

CASAPESENNA - Since last week's capture of Michele Zagaria, a top boss of Italy's Camorra mafia clan of Calesi, his small hometown has been a place of mourning.

In Casapesenna, the arrest of a notorious mobster -- sentenced in absentia to multiple life sentences for murder, extortion, robbery and mafia association with the mafia – brought no celebrations, no joy. On the contrary, the inhabitants of this town outside of Naples looked as if they were attending the funeral of a dear friend or family member. Indeed, they were mourning their benefactor.

Welcome to Gomorrah, as best-selling author Roberto Saviano re-named the area dominated by the Camorra criminal syndicate in the Italian southern region of Campania.

In Casapesenna, a girl was not ashamed to cry aloud all her sorrow in front of the cameras. "And now, who will give us a job? Who will give us bread?" A storekeeper looked distressed too. "And now, the others who will come next, will they force us to pay the extortion racket?"

Gomorrah seems unbeatable, and always ready to rise again. Still, we should't be surprised. The day before the capture of Zagaria, who had been on the run for over 16 years, Italian police had arrested 55 people connected to the mob, including politicians, local administrators, and bank managers. During the investigation that led to these arrests, witnesses admitted to voting for some candidates because they guaranteed work and money.

The capture of Michele Zagaria has a real effect on people's lives. "Now the issue are the orphans and the heirs of the Casalesi," says Guido Longo, police commissioner of the city of Caserta, whose investigations led to the capture of Casalesi boss Francesco Schiavone, nicknamed Sandokan, in 1998. "There is an army of faithful, members, supporters, sympathizers, politicians, and businessmen. It is the Casalesi's social base."

Deputy District Attorney of the Anti Mafia Directorate, Federico Cafiero de Raho, cautions against considering the clan defeated with Zagaria's arrest. "Defeated? Let's slow down. It still is basically intact, despite the arrests and the confiscations. The Casalesi's entrepreneurial structure still exists. They are still in the concrete business, in the public works tenders, in national companies, in bufala mozzerella factories," Cafiero de Raho says.

Follow the money

"Until we manage to dry up their wealth, their assets, and their companies, the Casalesi will always be able to go on as usual. They can survive even to the arrests. Indeed, the enemy is strong," he says.

Still, though the war continues, authorities were able to enjoy, however briefly, an important battle victory. Caserta police spent the entire day after Zagaria's arrest, in the building in via Mascagni, in Casapesenna, under which the boss's bunker was hidden. The owners of the house, Vincenzo Inquieto and his wife, were arrested for allegedly helping the boss hide.

In Zagaria's bunker, police discovered, among many other surprises, two televisions and a 400-meter cable connected to the main square and the closed-circuit camera system of Casapesenna.

Literally, the boss kept his eye over all the village, says Alessandro Tocco, police chief at Casal di Principe, another small town in the crime-ridden zone. "Who is the technician who hooked up this illegal connection?," asks Tocco. "Is he an employee of the company who installed the entire CCTV system in Casapesenna?"

In the town, there are indeed a surprising number of cameras. There is one in each road and street, to protect the villas and houses of Gomorrah. Tocco says that after the arrest of the Casalesi boss Antonio Iovine, in November 2010, police opened an investigation on the illegal buildings and CCTV in the towns dominated by the clan: Casapesenna, Casal di Principe, San Cipriano d'Aversa, and Villa Literno.

"We arrived at one hundred. But surely the illegal villas are in the thousands," Tocco says. "And the cameras which protect the inhabitants are illegal. They should not film the people passing by on the public street."

In Gomorrah, there are illegal bunkers, illegal apartments, even illegal walls. Indeed, an army of excavators should knock down the majority of the houses of these towns. And yet, to do it, first the majority of the local administrators would need to be fired. They day before the capture of Zagaria, the arrests of those 55 people was just a start.

Chief of Italian Police Antonio Manganelli puts it this way: "In the fight against mafia, there are few players and many spectators." But the real issue is the many of these spectators support the wrong team. Manganelli insists that everyone has to play his or her part, and that police must clean up the local administrations.

But here there is a feudal connection between administrators and electors. The former are dominated by Gomorrah, the latter are dominated both by Gomorrah and by the administrators.

Member of Parliament Nicola Cosentino, who until 2010 was undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy in Silvio Berlusconi's government, is accused of being the "national political guarantor for the Casalesi." In 2009, the Italian Parliament rejected a request for Cosentino's arrest from the magistrates of the anti-mafia directorate. Now, the lower house has to decide on a new request for his arrest for alleged connections with the mafia. What will happen next? Maybe nothing. "The mob can do without Cosentino," says Cafiero de Raho. "They will simply pick another politician able to represent them."

Read the original article in Italian

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