Monday, February 11, 2008

The Sicilian Connection to the Gambino Crime Family

Nearly a century ago, NYPD Lt. Joseph Petrosino was shot dead in Sicily, spilling his blood near a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi in Palermo, where he was on assignment investigating the backgrounds of New York City gangsters.

There is a small park named for Petrosino in lower Manhattan. The park is a few hundred yards north of FBI headquarters, where last week agents coordinated a series of raids with help from authorities in Sicily.

The arrests of dozens of mobsters - on charges that include murder, gambling, drug dealing and credit card fraud - produced one of the largest mob crackdowns in recent memory.

Among the 62 suspects arrested in the New York area was reputed Gambino capo Frank Cali, who was trying to help members of the Inzerillo crime family of Sicily return to Palermo. The Sicilian mobsters had been living in exile in Brooklyn for two decades.

Mark Feldman, former chief of the organized crime section for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office, said the Gambinos were not embarking on a humanitarian effort of repatriation. Their actions were rooted in money and family.

"There is an element of family connections, common business interests and mutual respect," said Feldman, now a consultant for BDO Consulting.

Cali not only shares an allegiance to the same outlaw code as the Inzerillos, he's related through marriage to Gambino associate Frank Inzerillo. He's also the brother-in-law of Gambino soldier and restaurateur Pietro (Tall Pete) Inzerillo.

A brief history lesson is in order.

Back in the 1980s, a brutal mob war raged in Sicily between crime families in Palermo and Corleone.

In the chilling words of Corleone chieftain Salvatore (Toto) Riina, who came to be known as "The Beast," the Inzerillos were to be wiped out. "Not even a seed of theirs must remain on the face of the Earth," he said.

At the end of the bloody war, the Inzerillos were granted a reprieve - they could save themselves if they fled Sicily.

"Because of the family link between Cali and the Inzerillos of Palermo, Sicily, the Inzerillos sought refuge in New York and the Gambino family," said Raffaele Grassi, chief of the organized crime section of the Italian National Police, who attended last week's press conference in Brooklyn announcing the massive roundup.

The Inzerillos have been angling to return to Sicily to fill a power vacuum created there by the capture of Corleone crime boss Bernardo Provenzano.

Provenzano, the boss of all bosses of the Sicilian Mafia, was arrested in 2006, ending his 43-year run as a fugitive.

Authorities in Italy said the Inzerillos believe they can return to Sicily despite their banishment two decades ago, in part because of connections they forged with the Gambinos in New York.

According to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, some Inzerillos already have returned to the Passo di Rigano district of Palerrmo.

Usually, American and Sicilian mobsters cannot be made members of both crime families because they don't share all the same rules.

The differences date back more than century and are evidenced by the killing of Petrosino in 1909. It is not uncommon for ruthless Sicilian gangsters to attack cops and judges, but it's rare in New York.

Despite the differences between the families, an exception appears to have been made for Cali. The wealthy owner of food import-export businesses, he is alleged to be a member of the Sicilian Mafia as well.

"The bosses in Palermo speak of him [Cali] obsessively," la Repubblica reported.

Cali runs a lucrative import-export business in keeping with the American Mafia's evolution into sophisticated rackets like securities fraud, Internet gambling and porn and labor racketeering, authorities said. His Sicilian brothers still behave more like bandits and benefited from the Gambinos' business acumen.

"The American Mafia and the Sicilian Mafia are not the same, but there has always been a relationship built around drug trafficking," said Thomas Reppetto, author of "Bringing Down the Mob."

"The Sicilians have supplied the recruits and the drugs."

Their mutual interests explain why the FBI and Italian police are carefully monitoring the budding alliance between the Gambinos and Inzerillos.

Following the path forged by the brave Petrosino, there is a deputy superintendent from the Italian National Police embedded in the organized crime branch of the FBI's New York office and an FBI agent who splits his assignment between Rome and Palermo.

"We want to ascertain whether there are current connections between the Sicilian Mafia and the New York-based La Cosa Nostra and to thwart the establishment of ties that don't yet exist," said FBI spokesman James Margolin.

Thanks to John Marzulli

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