Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Good Mothers: The Story of the Three Women Who Took on the World's Most Powerful Mafia #Ndrangheta

The electrifying, untold story of the women born into the most deadly and obscenely wealthy of the Italian mafias – and how they risked everything to bring it down.

The Calabrian Mafia—known as the ’Ndrangheta—is one of the richest and most ruthless crime syndicates in the world, with branches stretching from America to Australia. It controls seventy percent of the cocaine and heroin supply in Europe, manages billion-dollar extortion rackets, brokers illegal arms deals—supplying weapons to criminals and terrorists—and plunders the treasuries of both Italy and the European Union.

The ’Ndrangheta’s power derives from a macho mix of violence and silence—omertà. Yet it endures because of family ties: you are born into the syndicate, or you marry in. Loyalty is absolute. Bloodshed is revered. You go to prison or your grave and kill your own father, brother, sister, or mother in cold blood before you betray The Family. Accompanying the ’Ndrangheta’s reverence for tradition and history is a violent misogyny among its men. Women are viewed as chattel, bargaining chips for building and maintaining clan alliances and beatings—and worse—are routine.

In 2009, after one abused ’Ndrangheta wife was murdered for turning state’s evidence, prosecutor Alessandra Cerreti considered a tantalizing possibility: that the ’Ndrangheta’s sexism might be its greatest flaw—and her most effective weapon. Approaching two more mafia wives, Alessandra persuaded them to testify in return for a new future for themselves and their children.

A feminist saga of true crime and justice, The Good Mothers: The Story of the Three Women Who Took on the World's Most Powerful Mafia, is the riveting story of a high-stakes battle pitting a brilliant, driven woman fighting to save a nation against ruthless mafiosi fighting for their existence. Caught in the middle are three women fighting for their children and their lives. Not all will survive.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Where the Mob Bodies, Bootleggers and Blackmailers are Buried in the Lurid History of Chicago’s Prohibition Gangsters

In 1981, an FBI team visited Donald Trump to discuss his plans for a casino in Atlantic City. Trump admitted to having ‘read in the press’ and ‘heard from acquaintances’ that the Mob ran Atlantic City. At the time, Trump’s acquaintances included his lawyer Roy Cohn, whose other clients included those charming New York businessmen Antony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Paul ‘Big Paul’ Castellano.

‘I’ve known some tough cookies over the years,’ Trump boasted in 2016. ‘I’ve known the people that make the politicians you and I deal with every day look like little babies.’ No one minded too much. Organised crime is a tapeworm in the gut of American commerce, lodged since Prohibition. The Volstead Act of January 1920 raised the cost of a barrel of beer from $3.50 to $55. By 1927, the profits from organised crime were $500 million in Chicago alone. The production, distribution and retailing of alcohol was worth $200 million. Gambling brought in $167 million. Another $133 million came from labour racketeering, extortion and brothel-keeping.

In 1920, Chicago’s underworld was divided between a South Side gang, led by the Italian immigrant ‘Big Jim’ Colosino, and the Irish and Jewish gangs on the North Side. Like many hands-on managers, Big Jim had trouble delegating, even when it came to minor tasks such as beating up nosy journalists. When the North Side gang moved into bootlegging, Colesino’s nephew John Torrio suggested that the South Side gang compete for a share of the profits. Colesino, fearing a turf war, refused. So Torrio murdered his uncle and started bootlegging.

Torrio was a multi-ethnic employer. Americans consider this a virtue, even among murderers. The Italian ‘Roxy’ Vanilli and the Irishman ‘Chicken Harry’ Cullet rubbed along just fine with ‘Jew Kid’ Grabiner and Mike ‘The Greek’ Potson — until someone said hello to someone’s else’s little friend.

Torrio persuaded the North Side leader Dean O’Banion to agree to a ‘master plan’ for dividing Chicago. The peace held for four years. While Torrio opened an Italian restaurant featuring an operatic trio, ‘refined cabaret’ and ‘1,000,000 yards of spaghetti’, O’Banion bought some Thompson submachine guns. A racketeering cartel could not be run like a railroad cartel. There was no transparency among tax-dodgers, no trust between thieves, and no ‘enforcement device’ other than enforcement.

In May 1924, O’Banion framed Torrio for a murder and set him up for a brewery raid. In November 1924, Torrio’s gunmen killed O’Banion as he was clipping chrysanthemums in his flower shop. Two months later, the North Side gang ambushed Torrio outside his apartment and clipped him five times at close range.

Torrio survived, but he took the hint and retreated to Italy. His protégé Alphonse ‘Scarface’ Capone took over the Chicago Outfit. The euphemists of Silicon Valley would call Al Capone a serial disrupter who liked breaking things. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, there had been more than 700 Mob killings in Chicago alone.

On St Valentine’s Day 1929, Capone’s men machine-gunned seven North Siders in a parking garage. This negotiation established the Chicago Outfit’s supremacy in Chicago, and cleared the way for another Torrio scheme. In May 1929, Torrio invited the top Italian, Jewish and Irish gangsters to a hotel in Atlantic City and suggested they form a national ‘Syndicate’. The rest is violence.

Is crime just another American business, a career move for entrepreneurial immigrants in a hurry? John J. Binder teaches business at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and has a sideline in the Mob history racket. He knows where the bodies are buried, and by whom. We need no longer err by confusing North Side lieutenant Earl ‘Hymie’ Weiss, who shot his own brother in the chest, with the North Side ‘mad hatter’ Louis ‘Diamond Jack’ Allerie, who was shot in the back by his own brother; or with the bootlegger George Druggan who, shot in the back, told the police that it was a self-inflicted wound. Anyone who still mixes them up deserves a punishment beating from the American Historical Association.

Binder does his own spadework, too. Digging into Chicago’s police archives, folklore, and concrete foundations, he establishes that Chicago’s mobsters pioneered the drive-by shooting. As the unfortunate Willie Dickman discovered on 3 September 1925, they were also the first to use a Thompson submachine gun for a ‘gangland hit’. Yet the Scarface image of the Thompson-touting mobster was a fiction. Bootleggers preferred the shotgun and assassins the pistol. Thompsons were used ‘sparingly’, like a niblick in golf.

Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a well-researched source book. Readers who never learnt to read nothing because they was schooled on the mean streets will appreciate Binder’s data graphs and mugshots. Not too shabby for a wise guy.

Thanks to Dominic Green.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

7 Members #Crips Street Gang Indicted for Drug Trafficking

A seventh defendant, Tysheim Warren, was arrested in connection with a nine-count indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn, also charging Javier Blackett, John Paul Balcazar, David Maldonado, Hassan McClean, Kevin Raphael and Andrew Rose with crimes stemming from their participation in a drug-trafficking organization that distributed more than 400 grams of crack cocaine in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens/Flatbush neighborhoods of Brooklyn.  The indictment was returned by a grand jury on May 10, 2018.  Blackett, Maldonado, Raphael and Rose were arrested on May 15, 2018.  Balcazar was arrested on May 18, 2018, and   McClean was arrested on May 22, 2018.  They were arraigned and ordered detained pending trial.  Warren was arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Steven M. Gold and ordered detained.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the charges.

According to the indictment and court filings, the defendants’ drug-selling operations centered around several residential buildings approximately three blocks southeast of the Prospect Park ice skating rink.  Since March 2017, members of law enforcement made numerous controlled purchases totaling more than 400 grams of crack cocaine from the defendants’ organization and intercepted, pursuant to court order, communications discussing their distribution of significantly more narcotics.  Blackett, a member of the Eight Trey set of the Crips street gang, was the leader of the organization; Raphael was one of his principal suppliers; and Balcazar, Maldonado, McClean, Rose and Warren were workers.

“The residents of Brooklyn are entitled to streets that are free of the dangerous drugs the defendants were allegedly selling,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “This Office, together with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work tirelessly to put drug dealers out of business and hold them accountable for their crimes.”

“These dealers are alleged to have operated very close to a place where families go, where children play and where people find sanctuary in the city,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  “When doing business with gang members and drug dealers, violence inevitably follows and innocent people could have been caught up in it.  The FBI Metro Safe Streets Task Force works every day to protect the community from these dangerous gang members and preventing them from proliferating their deadly drugs.”

 “The NYPD’s efforts to eradicate drug trafficking are greatly strengthened by our close partnerships with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District,” stated NYPD Commissioner O’Neill.  “I commend everyone involved in this case, particularly the investigators who put themselves directly in harm’s way.  Those who illegally deal in narcotics should be prepared for the full weight of our nation’s best law enforcement professionals to bear down upon them.”

If convicted of the conspiracy charge, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment and up to life in prison.  The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.

Prequel to #TheSopranos - The Many Saints of Newark - Hires Thor Director Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor of Thor: The Dark World and Terminator Genisys will be taking the helm of a feature film set prior to hit early 2000s TV crime drama series The Sopranos. Broadcast between 1999 and 2007, HBO’s The Sopranos won 21 Emmy Awards and five Golden Globes over the course of its impactful nine-year run.

James Gandolfini, who played conflicted crime family patriarch Tony Soprano, passed away in 2013, but The Sopranos creator David Chase and co-writer Lawrence Konner have found a way to continue the series’ legacy, through a prequel film directed by Thor: The Dark World’s Alan Taylor.

According to The Wrap, The Many Saints of Newark will be set in the 1960s in New Jersey, north-eastern US, during a time of extreme tension between Newark city’s Italian and African-American communities. Other than that, New Line Cinema is keeping tight-lipped about plot details, leaving fans to wonder which characters from the series will be found within the movie treatment.

Taylor’s own background was in TV, working his way through a slew of episodic dramas — Homicide: Life on the Street, The West Wing, Sex and the City, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and more.

In fact, he has previous experience with The Sopranos, having directed nine of its episodes, including one of its final episodes, the Emmy-winning season six Kennedy and Heidi.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Organized Crime is Global, and Flourishing: the Mafia Makes Massive Profit from Migrant Crisis

In the spring of 2015, I flew to Sicily to report a story about the European migration crisis. Then, as now, hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East were crowding into small fishing boats and flimsy rubber dinghies in Libya, Egypt and Turkey and setting out across the Mediterranean for Europe. In 15 years, 22,000 had drowned en route. But if the humanitarian crisis was well known and comprehensively reported, I had been tipped off that a central explanation for this catastrophe had received less attention. Anti-mafia prosecutors in Palermo were claiming to have evidence suggesting that one answer to why so many refugees and migrants were heading to Sicily was because the Italian Mafia wanted them to.

In Sicily, I interviewed the prosecutors and reviewed their evidence, and talked to Carabinieri, anti-mafia activists, refugees and social workers. Where the world had seen an unprecedented emergency, Italy’s gangsters had perceived an unrivaled opportunity. North African and Middle Eastern gangs handled the trafficking across the Mediterranean. But once the migrants arrived, mafiosi were making millions from them, sometimes putting them to work on farms for as little as €3 a day, sometimes taking a cut from Nigerian prostitution rackets, but mainly by infiltrating and corrupting Italy’s immigration system. The mafia’s men inside these authorities ensured that mafia businesses were awarded contracts for the construction and management of refugee reception centers. Each migrant earned the mafia €28 per head per day. A three-year contract to run Europe’s biggest migrant center at Mineo in eastern Sicily was worth €97 million. A Carabinieri surveillance team in Rome recorded one mobster, convicted murderer Salvatore Buzzi, boasting in a phone call to an associate: "Do you have any idea how much I make from immigrants? Even drugs aren’t as profitable!"

The story was a startling correction to the idea of the Italian Mafia as historic. It also repudiated any notions of mafia glamor. Here was a vast present-day criminal conspiracy making tens of millions from the excruciating suffering of hundreds of thousands of people and 3,000 to 4,000 deaths every year. This was not the stylish menace of "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas" or even Elena Ferrante. This was sordid, venal and deadly.

My last two interviews were in Rome. Through friends, I contacted a journalist in the capital who specialized in mafia stories, Laura Aprati, and asked her to set up two interviews, one with a Carabinieri chief, another with a senior anti-mafia magistrate, both of whom she knew. Laura’s price was €250, plus my mandatory attendance at a showing of a play she had co-written with another journalist and two anti-mafia activists at a school in a run-down, mafia-heavy area on the outskirts of Rome. "You will come," commanded Laura.

The play turned out to be a one-woman show, accompanied by the mournful bow of a single cellist, set against a plain, blood-red backdrop. At the time, I spoke no Italian and understood very little of the drama, but one thing I did manage to catch was the name of the play’s protagonist, Maria Concetta Cacciola. That single name turned out to be the key that unlocked another hidden world. Concetta, as I later read in several thousand pages of judicial documents, had been born into a family that worked for one of the ruling clans in the Calabrian Mafia, the ’Ndrangheta, in the toe of Italy. In May, June and July 2011, she had testified against her family in return for entry to Italy’s witness protection program. By doing so, she was following the example of two other ’Ndrangheta women, her friend Giuseppina Pesce, who came from Concetta’s home town of Rosarno on Calabria’s west coast, and Lea Garofalo, who was from Pagliarelle, a mountain village above Calabria’s east coast. Concetta, Giuseppina and Lea all shared the same motivations for giving evidence. They wanted their children to have a different life, away from the blood and killing of the mafia; and they had all been accused of having an affair.

The three women’s testimony blew the secret world of the ’Ndrangheta wide open. Like Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and the Camorra in Naples, the ’Ndrangheta (pronounced un-drung-get-a and derived from the Greek andrangheteia, meaning "society of men of honor and valor") had been founded in the tumultuous years around the unification of the Italian peninsula in 1861. Like the other two mafias, too, the ’Ndrangheta covered its criminality with a veneer of righteous revolution: their infiltration and corruption of the economy and the state was part, so the mafioso narrative went, of an honorable, southern subversion of the new northern-dominated Italian state. But at the time, little else was known about the organization. For most of its existence, the ’Ndrangheta had been considered a poor cousin to Cosa Nostra and the Camorra, country bumpkins in dusty suits who might extract protection from the local trattoria but never strayed far from their groves of oranges, lemons and olives.

Thanks in part to the three women’s testimony, that caricature was revealed as woefully out of date. In their statements to police and in court, which ran to thousands of pages, the women described a global monster. Eventually, Calabria’s prosecutors would conclude that the ’Ndrangheta had a presence in 120 of the world’s 200 countries and a global income of $50-100 billion at its upper end, around $10 billion more than Microsoft’s annual revenue. They ran heroin, marijuana and 70 percent of the cocaine in Europe. They extorted Calabria’s businesses for billions of euros every year and, further afield, embezzled and rigged contracts from the Italian government and the European Union worth billions more, even cornering the market in the disposal of nuclear waste, which they dumped in the Red Sea off Somalia. Their empire linked a mob war in Toronto to a cocaine-delivering pizzeria in Queens, New York, called Cucino a Modo Mio (I Cook My Own Way) to the reported ownership of an entire Brussels neighborhood to mining in Togo.

Their gun-running business directly affected the destiny of nations: Franco Roberti, head of Italy’s anti-mafia directorate, told me the ’Ndrangheta was selling weapons to several sides in Syria’s civil war. But it was laundering their riches and those of other crime groups from around the world, which the Calabrians did for a fee, that made the ’Ndrangheta a global power. Millions of people worked in their companies, shopped in their stores, ate in their restaurants, lived in their buildings and elected politicians they funded. Giuseppe Lombardo, a Calabrian prosecutor specializing in the ’Ndrangheta’s finances, told me that by buying up the government debt of two Asian countries, Thailand and Indonesia, then threatening to dump it, the ’Ndrangheta had blackmailed entire nations into letting it operate on their territory. Their money, said Lombardo, had elevated the group to a position of invulnerability. They now occupied a "fundamental and indispensable position in the global market," he said, one that was "more or less essential for the smooth functioning of the global economic system."

That almost no one knew any of this until the last decade or so is no coincidence. The secret of the ’Ndrangheta’s success was secrecy or, as they called it, omertà. As I describe in "The Good Mothers," their great flaw turned out to be the claustrophobic family loyalty and murderous misogyny with which they enforced it. The women of the ’Ndrangheta had lives as restricted as women living under conservative Islam. To persuade them to talk, all the prosecutors had to do was offer them and their children an alternative.

The investigations built on Concetta’s, Giuseppina’s and Lea’s evidence brought down several large crime families and shook the ’Ndrangheta to its core. What unnerves me, still, is that such a giant, global enterprise could function for so long without anyone knowing. That revelation sits alongside two other disturbing modern truths: that globalization assists illicit business as much as it does legitimate commerce; and that the era of global, mass connectivity has, paradoxically, decreased how what we know about the world as the conversation narrows to a few common narratives (Trump, terrorism, #Metoo) and the truth is subsumed by noise.

What I discovered about the ’Ndrangheta has made me curious about other, equally unfamiliar organized crime groups. Years of research lie ahead. But I can already say with some confidence that the great hidden truth of our era is that terrorism is a spectacular distraction from the real threat: the rise of global organized crime. From drugs to guns, cyber-attacks to the dark web, political financing to narco-states, people trafficking to child abuse, tax havens to smuggled wine, counterfeit watches to fake news, nail bars to hand car washes and money laundering through property and financial markets from London to New York to Hong Kong to Johannesburg, organized crime is all around us. The most remarkable thing about that? Almost nobody seems to have noticed.

Thanks to Alex Perry.

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