Italian Women Go After the Mob, Get the Godfather Treatment

In nation's Puglia, power structure of Sacra Corona Unita is being challenged by female judges, journos
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 16, 2024 3:35 PM CDT
Italian Woman Go After the Mob, Get the Godfather Treatment
Carla Durante, head of the Anti-Mafia Investigative Directorate, left, is silhouetted as she talks with her team in Lecce, Italy, on May 21.   (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

It was a scene straight out of The Godfather. On the night of Feb. 1, a bloody goat head with a butcher's knife through it was left on the doorstep of Judge Maria Francesca Mariano's home in southern Italy, with a note beside it reading, "Like this." Mariano had already received threats, including notes written in blood, after she issued arrest warrants for 22 members of a local Mafia that operates in southern Puglia. The region is home to the Sacra Corona Unita, or SCU, Italy's fourth largest organized-crime group. It's far less known than Sicily's Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian 'ndrangheta, or the Camorra around Naples, but it's just as effective in infiltrating everything, from local businesses to government. Yet a remarkable array of women like Mariano are challenging its power structures at great personal risk.

They're arresting and prosecuting clan members, exposing their crimes, and confiscating their businesses, all while working to change local attitudes and cultural norms that have allowed this group to establish roots as deep as Puglia's famed olive trees. "I don't believe anyone who says they're not afraid. That's not true," says Marilu Mastrogiovanni, an investigative journalist and journalism professor at the University of Bari who's written in-depth stories about Mafia infiltration. The SCU is the only organized-crime group in Italy whose origins are known: A local criminal founded it in the Lecce prison in 1981, in part to push back other Mafia groups that were trying to infiltrate the area. For those who challenge the SCU, danger persists.

Two weeks after Mariano sent out her arrest warrants for a mob crackdown, the lead prosecutor on the case, Carmen Ruggiero, nearly had her throat slit by a suspect. Mastrogiovanni moved her family out of her hometown after her reports about SCU's infiltration so angered the local government that at one point the town was plastered with posters attacking her work. And Mariano lives with around-the-clock police escorts, but she believes her job challenging the SCU goes beyond the courtroom. In her spare time, she writes books, poetry, and plays to try to change attitudes. Recently, she staged a play about the mob in Lecce's Apollo Theater. "We have to start with communication, which is fundamental to transmit values of dignity, courage, responsibility," she says. "The ability to say no, the ability to be indignant in the face of things that are wrong." More here.

(More Italy stories.)

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