Two mafia bosses who had been fugitives from the law for years were captured by Italian police on Friday. They were discovered holed up in an underground bunker in the southern region of Calabria.
According to Reuters, the bunker was dug deep into the ground and camouflaged by vines and shrubbery. Italian police donned flak jackets and chopped their way through the undergrowth to reach the mafia hideout, where they discovered a cache of firearms, explosive detonators, and accoutrements like a working TV and a pasta pot.
The arrested mafia leaders were identified as Giuseppe Crea, 37, and Giuseppe Ferraro, 47. Both are high-ranking members of the ‘Ndrangheta syndicate. Authorities had been pursuing Crea since 2006 and Ferraro since 1998. Both men had already been sentenced before their capture — Crea to 22 years and Ferrara to life.
Some reports hold that the two were sleeping when police arrived and that they shared a bunk bed. According to Newsday, a counter inside the bunker was covered with tomatoes, salad, and a plate of ricotta.
Though they were, in prosecutor Federico Cafiero De Raho’s words, “living like animals” and “cut off from society,” they were still able to exert control over their mafia underlings, according to the BBC.
The ‘Ndrangheta mafia is separate from the famous Sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra, but reportedly holds close ties to it. In the late 90s, ‘Ndrangheta actually surpassed the Sicilian mafia to become Italy’s most powerful criminal syndicate. Their biggest business is cocaine and they have become one of the world’s largest traffickers of the drug.
Crea, whose imprisoned father is described as an “undisputed boss” of ‘Ndrangheta by police, had been charged with mafia association and extortion. He is alleged to have taken over his father’s criminal operations in the town of Rizziconi.
Ferrara was wanted on a variety of charges, including mafia association and murder. Ferrara is alleged to have been part of a feud between rival clans in the 1980s, which resulted in more than 20 people being killed. One of those victims was reportedly a 9-year-old boy caught in the crossfire and a mob boss who was fed to pigs.
Andrea Grassi, head of Italy’s police special forces, heralded the arrests as an important leg in the fight against the mafia, accusing ‘Ndrangheta of “turning Rizziconi into an important criminal hub.” Rizziconi is near the important port city of Gioia Tauro, where officials allege the mafia does a lot of its trafficking of drugs and guns, according to the Irish Independent.
‘Ndrangheta’s stranglehold on Calabria is so strong that in 2011, a Wikileaks cable revealed that U.S. diplomats regarded Calabria as a “failed state.” Between drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering, the ‘Ndrangheta’s activities are reported to be as much as 3 percent of Italy’s total GDP.
Officials are hoping that the arrests will send a message to the citizens of Rizziconi, where the city council was recently ousted by the central Italian government because of mafia infiltration, according to the Irish Independent.
Police remain on the lookout for a network of accomplices who they say must have helped Crea and Ferrara run the mafia organization from their bunker. Searches for other ‘Ndrangheta leaders have uncovered bunkers tunneled under houses which were accessible through trap doors.
Reports of corruption by the mafia in Calabria, the power of the ‘Ndrangheta, the tunnels dug to hide leaders, and the arrest in an obscure, camouflaged bunker mirror the recent escapades of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, head of Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel.
Italian interior minister Angelino Alfano said Crea and Ferrara were “both on Italy’s list of most dangerous fugitives” and declared, “Today is another wonderful day for everyone and for the country because justice has won once again.”
[Photo by Italian Police via AP]