For all Hollywood’s concoctions of fast and dangerous living, it does manage to capture something undeniably real when it does Cosa Nostra. One need only watch Boardwalk Empire’s portrayal of the Chicago Outfit for a sense of how awkwardly close people can come to not only normalizing, but sympathizing with organized crime. In 1929, everyone and their mother knew that Al Capone orchestrated the bloody Valentine’s Day Massacre, but the following year his menacing smile graced the cover of Time Magazine all the same.
Perhaps it was its sheer exposure in those roaring prohibition days that sent organized crime back to cloaks and daggers. “Mafia” likely commands no less influence around the world today than it did then, and yet the American imagination remains stuck in that bygone 1920s dreamscape akin to the Wild West. Al Capone and company joined the likes of Billy the Kid and Bonnie and Clyde, leaving the pop culture dream of Italian organized crime to crystallize in Warholian fashion. But these sorts of organised criminal networks still influence, and indeed govern, socio economic life in many parts of the world.
In the old country, where ‘celebrity’ gangsterism never quite existed like it did in America, powerful “mafiosi” do their best to censor their public image. Photographs are scarce; for some, none exist at all. We know who’s-who mostly just through police photofits and state reports like the Italian Interior Ministry’s most wanted fugitives. There are long lists of 500 and 100, and one short list of only 8 identifying the country’s definitive public enemies. Unlike their American counterparts who liked to play Robin Hood, they operate like phantoms in the underground and leave only vapours of their presence; no menacing smiles — just notoriety and a name.
8. Marco Di Lauro, Camorra
The Camorra is an Italian secret society that originates in Italy’s Campania region and its capital Naples. Operating as early as the 18th century it is one of the oldest and largest Italian criminal organizations, and unlike the Sicilian Cosa Nostra it maintains a horizontal power structure with many equal clans operating rackets and pursuing political patronage. Camorra has a long history of operating from the shadows, puppeteering through social and political influence and managing the very activities shaping communities in broad daylight.
Born in 1980, the above Marco Di Lauro is the son and probable heir of one imprisoned Camorra boss Paolo Di Lauro, nicknamed Ciruzzo the millionaire. The Italian Interior Ministry lists him on the most wanted list as of 2005 for Camorra activity including drug trafficking and murder. As of 2006, there is an international warrant for his extradition.
7. Rocco Morabito, ‘Ndrangheta
From the region of Calabria hails the ‘Ndrangheta, a criminal organization with a fraction of the notoriety of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra that became so well-known in America. But the ‘Ndrangheta’s low international profile betrays its status as, believe it or not, the most powerful criminal organization in the world. Its revenue today measures around 53 billion Euros annually. US officials believe the group’s drug trafficking, extortion and money-laundering alone account for at least 3 percent of Italy’s GDP.
Rocco Morabito, on the run since 1994, is one of the ‘Ndrangheta’s top drug traffickers. He’s said to make around 7.5 million Euros a month. Last photographed in Milan surrounded by body guards with suitcases full of banknotes, he faces a 30 year prison sentence if he’s caught.
6. Giovanni Motisi, Cosa Nostra
Mafia narratives in American cinema have made the phrase “Cosa Nostra” synonymous with any Italian Mafia activity in the West. But for Italy, Cosa Nostra – in English “Our Thing” – is only one group among many. Cosa Nostra operates as a loose cluster of clans or “families” with similar ethics and discrete powers over Sicilian territories – i.e. a number of towns or villages – where they operate rackets and govern by violence and coercion. Its members call themselves men of honour; the public call them mafiosi.
Giovanni Motisi has been wanted since 1998. As a hitman in Cosa Nostra’s heydey, he rose in the ranks to become head of the Motisi clan and one of Sicily’s most powerful mob bosses. Italian law enforcement has been hunting him since he murdered a police officer in 1985. Some say he hides in Sicily’s south while others allege he has long been dead. Though death, of course, is the best disguise.
5. Pasquale Scotti, Camorra
Camorra Boss Pasquale Scotti was once a key mediator in close ties between Naples’ mafia groups and the Italian Christian Democratic political party. He was initially captured in a police shootout during a wave of arrests against the “New Camorra Organization” in the 80s, after which he briefly resigned as a pentito—a “repentant” cooperator—with authorities. But on Christmas Eve, 1984, during a short hospital stay, he escaped never to be seen again.
Scotti has been on the Italian Interior Ministry’s most wanted list since 1985. His crimes include murder, concealment of corpses and various drug crimes. With nearly 30 years on the run some allege he was killed long ago. Nevertheless, in 2005 courts handed him a life sentence for 26 murders he orchestrated during an 80s gang war.
4. Giuseppe Giorgi, ‘Ndrangheta
Drug trafficking, extortion and murder; Giuseppe Giorgi, also known as ‘u capra (the goat) recently made Italy’s most wanted list after years of being on the run. He is the son-in-law of ‘Ndrangheta boss Sebastiano Romeo, trained in the business of illegal toxic and radioactive waste disposal and the smuggling of pricey metals used in nuclear reactors. Law enforcement believes he is hiding out in Germany.
3. Attilio Cubeddu, Anonima sarda
Cubeddu belongs to Anonima sarda, a lesser known criminal organization operating in Italy’s Sardinia province. Authorities once had him under custody serving a 30 year prison sentence for orchestrating several high-profile kidnappings in the early 80s, but through good behaviour he earned leave permits and ultimately used them to flee into hiding. He has since been sentenced twice again — to life and 30 years in prison — for another kidnapping and the murder of a police officer. Cubeddu is both alleged hiding in the Sardinia mountains or murdered by an accomplice for refusing to divide 5 million dollars in ransom money.
2. Ernesto Fazzalari, ‘Ndrangheta
In 2004 Italian police uncovered an underground bunker beneath a Calabrian farmhouse which tunnelled out into the woods. They arrested two clan assistants and confiscated a hoard of exquisite wines, champagnes and cigars in the compound. It was the closest they ever came to arresting Ernesto Fazzalari.
This ‘Ndrangheta faces life in prison as a key instigator of the bloody gang feuds that left 32 dead between 1989-1991. His expertise in murder, trafficking and armed robbery have made him a valuable asset to the ‘Ndrangheta’s reign of terror in Italy’s Calabria province.
1. Matteo Messina Denaro, Cosa Nostra
To some he is known as Diabolik, the namesake of an Italian comic book anti-hero. But few would make the case for Matteo Messina Denaro’s anti-hero status. His role on the front lines of Cosa Nostra activity make him far more notorious than any crime boss of Italy’s mafia scene; Forbes magazine ranks him as one of the ten most wanted criminals in the world.
Matteo learned to use a gun at 14. He committed his first murder at 18. He once bragged to his confidants about filling an entire cemetery by himself, relishing in killing conquests that include a rival boss and his three-month pregnant girlfriend. Police estimate he has single-handedly murdered over 50 people. But perhaps the most telling look into this criminal mind is the way Denaro has been glimpsed flaunting his expensive luxuries—designer clothes, sports cars—despite, or perhaps in spite of, his highly wanted status. Over the years police have seized billions of euros traceable to Denaro, but every arrest attempt fails. He is truly a ghost of organized crime—unphotographed since the early 90s, when his public profile vanished in a wave of terrorist bombings for Cosa Nostra.