Police in Sicily have arrested a senior mafia boss who was taken on by Cosa Nostra to introduce cost-cutting and streamlining measures, similar to those launched by outgoing Italian prime minister Mario Monti.
Antonino Sciortino, 51, was arrested on Monday, along with 36 other mobsters, after he spent five months working in a consultancy role to redraw mob boundaries near Palermo.
The so-called mafia “wise man”, who was helping crime families cut down on overheads, took on his role just as Mr Monti’s technocrat government of experts was trying to cut Italy’s unwieldy state bureaucracy to save money, with the country in its longest post-war recession.
Cosa Nostra has also been hit by the economic downturn, as well as frequent arrests, not least the capture of “boss of bosses” Bernardo Provenzano in 2006.
Mob elders gave Sciortino the job of merging the Partinico and San Giuseppe Jato clans after he served a 12-year sentence for mafia crimes, during which he reportedly refused to collaborate with investigators. Rather than firing one mob boss who objected to the promotions and demotions involved in the management shake-up, Sciortino allegedly had him strangled and his body hidden. A police wiretap overheard one of the alleged assassins asking a colleague for “two, three clean lengths of cord”, before the murder.
The police operation opened the lid on large-scale collusion between the Palermo clans and local politicians. The mayor of Montelepre, Giacomo Tinervia, was arrested on suspicion of extortion during the round-up. Wiretaps revealed his bid to collect protection money from a local builder irked the local boss, who scolded the mayor for not letting the mafia shake down the victim first.
In Giardinello, two of three candidates in a mayoral election sought the support of local boss Giuseppe Abbate, who later boasted about it to his mistress, a conversation heard by police who were tapping his phone. Abbate would often leave his phone on during talks with locals so she could listen in and be impressed by his power.
To a councillor who had planned a reshuffle of an electoral list of candidates without mob approval, Abbate said, “You’ll see that you die … politics isn’t done that way.”
The merged mafia zone created by Sciortino – who lists his profession as livestock breeder – was sufficiently influential to start reaching out to mob families in New York to re-establish old transatlantic alliances, investigators said. One mobster was overhead claiming: “There has never been power like this.”
The new administrative area is known as a mandamento, which in turn is made up of smaller areas dominated by individual crime families. Each of the 17 mandamenti in the province of Palermo is run by a single boss who has a seat on the Cosa Nostra committee overseeing the province, senior Sicilian prosecutor Sergio Lari said. The mafia’s decision to organise itself along the same provincial lines as local government has prompted prosecutors to claim they are fighting a shadow state.