Sicilian Mafia Fades but Legend Continues

November 9, 2007
By Mike Nizza –

This week, prosecutors in Italy celebrated a key moment in their struggle against the Sicilian mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra: By arresting Salvatore Lo Piccolo, who was set to be the next “boss of bosses,” they effectively decapitated the group. Alas, there is another mafia left to fight in the country, and it can’t be defeated that way, according to an Italian prosecutor interviewed last year by Britain’s Guardian:

“Cosa Nostra is a pyramid,” says [Enzo] Macri. “Cut off the top of the pyramid by arresting its leader and it has big problems. In Calabria, on the other hand, what you have is a federation. There are moments when some of the elements in the federation will come together, but it is more than anything for purposes of coordination. The ‘Ndrangheta cannot be beheaded.”

Prosecutors have also found it much harder to find turncoats among them. While the Sicilians were torn apart by arrests and prosecutions, the ‘Ndrangheta have “virtually impervious family ties,” The Christian Science-Monitor wrote today:

Only 42 turncoats have come from the ‘Ndrangheta, compared with 700 to 1,000 from the Cosa Nostra and 2,000 from the Camorra, [according to Nicola Gratteri, Calabria’s senior magistrate].

Yet, it was the Sicilian mafia that captured our imaginations, starting with Mario Puzo’s “Godfather.” The real-life mafia inspired the book, and now the book has fueled a legend that is likely to continue, as it has in the United States, where “The Sopranos” flourished as the Italian mafia was decapitated and eviscerated.

Making that point this morning was a headline this morning in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “The Godfather’s Ten Commandments.” After Mr. Lo Piccolo was arrested, a list of rules that reinforced everything that fascinates us about his criminal enterprise was discovered among his notes:

1. No-one can present himself directly to another of our friends. There must be a third person to do it.

2. Never look at the wives of friends.

3. Never be seen with cops.

4. Don’t go to pubs and clubs.

5. Always being available for Cosa Nostra is a duty – even if your wife’s about to give birth.

6. Appointments must absolutely be respected.

7. Wives must be treated with respect.

8. When asked for any information, the answer must be the truth.

9. Money cannot be appropriated if it belongs to others or to other families.

10. People who can’t be part of Cosa Nostra: anyone who has a close relative in the police, anyone with a two-timing relative in the family, anyone who behaves badly and doesn’t hold to moral values.

As BBC News naturally compared the list with its Biblical antecedent, and a blogger saw a modern equivalent, the Sicilian mafia was capturing imaginations yet again at the very moment that it was suffering its death blow.