Strong clan loyalty, locals helped mafia boss Messina Denaro go into hiding – Portal

Strong clan loyalty, locals helped mafia boss Messina Denaro go into hiding – Portal

  • The mafia’s last godfather enjoyed unusually strong loyalty
  • The Omerta code of silence also helped the boss hide
  • “Last Godfather” Messina Denaro lived near his mother

PALERMO, Italy, Jan. 25 (Portal) – When Salvatore Catalano found out that mob boss Matteo Messina Denaro had lived a short walk from his home in the western Sicilian town of Campobello di Mazara, he felt sick.

Catalano’s brother Agostino was a police officer who died in a 1992 bombing that killed anti-mob judge Paolo Borsellino – an attack prosecutors say Messina Denaro helped mastermind it.

“There’s anger in my heart and soul now that I know he was here and I didn’t recognize him,” Catalano told Portal.

Messina Denaro, 60, was arrested on January 16 after 30 years on the run. Police believe he has spent much of the past year in hiding in Campobello di Mazara, a town of about 11,000 people a short drive from his mother’s home.

“We celebrated the arrest with my family. He is in prison and will now be subject to strict detention rules,” Catalano said.

The last confirmed sighting of Messina Denaro was in 1993, making it difficult for police to identify Italy’s most wanted man. He led what appeared to be an open life in the city, shopping for himself at the local supermarket, authorities said.

Prosecutors say their hunt was further complicated by the unusually strong loyalty he received from members of his clan in western Sicily.

Portal interviewed dozens of residents on the streets of Campobello and from his nearby hometown of Castelvetrano, as well as prosecutors and police officers who helped him track him down.

They revealed the investigators of the struggle they faced as they tried to breach the wall of “omerta” or mafia code of silence that had been shattered in other parts of Sicily but still stood firm around Messina Denaro, that of the Italian press as “the last godfather”.

“I have arrested at least 200 people related to him. Only one of them chose to cooperate with the judiciary,” said Roberto Piscitello, a prosecutor who tried to arrest Messina Denaro from 1996 to 2008.

“In the nearby provinces of Palermo and Agrigento, five out of 10 of those arrested become defectors,” he told Portal at his home in Marsala on Sicily’s western tip.

In the end, it wasn’t Messina Denaro’s fellow gangsters that betrayed him, but his failing body.


Police say they managed to capture Messina Denaro after learning from listening devices owned by his relatives that he had cancer.

They had long suspected he lived in his native Sicily, and a thorough investigation of cancer patients in the area revealed that a man named Andrea Bonafede had surgery in the western town of Mazara del Vallo while his mobile phone was active in another part of the island .

Investigators took this as the “first significant confirmation” that Messina Denaro could be hiding under this false identity, court documents viewed by Portal showed, as it suggested the man performing the operation was not the real one Andrea Bonafede was believed to be on his phone.

They went to see the patient and learned that he was due to receive routine chemotherapy on January 16 in the island’s capital, Palermo.

Police surrounded the clinic and fell after the patient arrived for his appointment. He immediately acknowledged his true identity, but seemed to dashed any hopes that he would spill the beans of his life of crime.

“I have my code of ethics,” a law enforcement source quoted him as telling judges when they first met him, referring to the Sicilian Mafia’s rule, which has been severely belittled over the past 30 years, with no one to talk outside about the organization.

His silence means investigators must try to figure out as best they can how he managed to evade detection over the years.

The initial focus of their investigation was the real Andrea Bonafede, a trained surveyor who had no criminal record.

Bonafede has confirmed that he has known Messina Denaro since they were young and has admitted buying the mobster an apartment in Campobello di Mazara, prosecutors said. He himself is in custody and has not commented publicly on the case.

Police are also investigating his driver, Giovanni Luppino, an olive farmer who also had no criminal record. He was carrying a jackknife and had turned off both of his cell phones in what judges said was an attempt to prevent pursuit.

He has denied knowing the real identity of his passenger.

Palermo chief prosecutor Maurizio de Lucia told Portal that men like Bonafede constituted the “first link” of the refugee’s matrix – those who took care of his basic needs.

But he believes his support network had deep roots.

“His territory helped him for many years. It is reasonable to assume that it was protected by professionals and entrepreneurs,” he said.

His doctor Alfonso Tumbarello is among those who are already under investigation for allegedly helping the boss. His attorney said he was confident his client could prove his innocence.


Judges said they found evidence Messina Denaro had visited Spain, Greece and Austria over the years. However, the focus of his business activities remained in western Sicily, so he probably spent much of his time on the island.

Dozens of lower-level mafiosi have been arrested in the region over the years — a thinning of Messina Denaro’s inner circle, which judges said repeatedly interrupted promising leads they had hoped would one day lead her to the boss .

“(But) we couldn’t sacrifice justice. We couldn’t leave gangsters on the streets,” prosecutor Paolo Guido, who has led the long hunt for the boss in recent years, told Portal.

Prosecutors said the mob boss had developed a wide range of financial interests that went far beyond traditional mafioso concerns and helped him build a loyal network of employees.

A secret 2013 recording made in prison revealed that former boss of bosses Salvatore “the Beast” Riina had complained that his former protégé was investing in renewable energy projects instead of focusing on hardcore – Focus mafia activities.

“In the Sicilian context, those who are believed to create jobs and have the opportunity to do business are given consensus and protection,” said Colonel Antonello Parasiliti Molica, who heads the anti-crime unit of the Carabinieri Special Forces in Palermo.

writing by Angelo Amante; Edited by Crispian Balmer and Ross Colvin

Our standards: The Thomson Portal Trust Principles.