Italy arrests reputed Mafia boss Lo Piccolo

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sicilian Mafia boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, considered to be one of the successors of the former "boss of bosses" Bernardo Provenzano (arrested in April 2006), was arrested at 9:30 a.m. CET (UTC+1) in a villa in Giardinello, between Cinisi and Terrasini on Sicily. He had been on the run since 1983. His son Sandro Lo Piccolo and two other top mafiosi, Gaspare Pulizzi and Andrea Adamo, were arrested as well. All four men were among Italy's top 30 most wanted Mafia suspects, according to police officials.

Police fired several warning shots in the air as they moved in against the mafiosi, who were all armed but apparently did not put a fight. Sandro Lo Piccolo, in tears, shouted "I love you dad!" several times as he was being handcuffed. The four were put into a police helicopter and flown towards Palermo's main police station. At the police station there were scenes of jubilant disorder. As the convoy of police vehicles hurtled towards the entrance, officers wearing face masks gave "V for victory" signs to applause from a crowd outside.

The arrests came on the day that Palermo held a day of memory for all victims of the Mafia. Outside the Palermo police-station a crowd of dozens of curious onlookers began to gather as well as anti-Mafia activists.

Pax mafiosa

After the arrest of Corleonesi boss Provenzano, Salvatore Lo Piccolo and Matteo Messina Denaro were thought to be the new leaders of Cosa Nostra. Pizzini (small slips of paper used to communicate with other mafiosi to avoid phone conversations) found at Provenzano's hide-out indicated that Provenzano’s joint deputies in Palermo were Salvatore Lo Piccolo and Antonio Rotolo.

A 'pax mafiosa' initially settled in after Provenzano's arrest because neither Lo Piccolo nor Messina Denaro appeared to have sufficient forces to seek control of Cosa Nostra, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. Subsequent investigation revealed that Lo Piccolo and Messina Denaro had reached an accommodation and that the real threat to Lo Piccolo came from Rotolo who was arrested in June last year.

According to Ansa, "police were concerned by a couple of top-level hits they feared might spark a full-blown war of succession. Police said Lo Piccolo had the upper hand because he had been Provenzano's right-hand man in Palermo and his greater experience won him the respect of the older generation of bosses as they pursued Provenzano's policy of keeping as low as possible while strengthening their power network. These bosses had been reined in by Provenzano when he put an end to the Riina-driven war against the state that claimed the lives of Mafia crusaders Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992."

Strengthened links with the American Mafia

Lo Piccolo is believed to have strengthened the links between the Sicilian and American mafia. Sicilian families, who were forced to flee the island in the 1980s after losing the power struggle with the Corleonesi, were being brought back from the US to fill the void left by the arrests of Provenzano and many of his lieutenants.

In August, police arrested 14 people in an operation which uncovered close ties between local Cosa Nostra families and the US-based Mafia. According to investigators, the trans-Atlantic alliance uncovered in August involved drug trafficking and money laundering.

Lo Piccolo was reportedly betrayed by one of his closest lieutenants, Francesco Franzese, who was arrested in August. He started to collaborate with the authorities and members of Franzese's family were taken to an undisclosed location for their protection.