FOGGIA: It took a loaded gun pointed at Lazzaro D’Auria’s head for the Italian landowner to finally say yes to the country’s newest and most violent mafia.
The Puglia farmer has resisted their extortion attempts in the past – the threats, the fires, the damage to his crops and property.
But surprised by the early morning visit of a dozen men, including a boss with a gun, he agreed to their request for 150,000 euros a year.
Instead of paying up the next day, D’Auria went to the police, becoming one of the few people ever to denounce the little-known Foggia Mafia, Italy’s long-ignored and today its most violent organized crime group.
“If more citizens press charges, the local mafia could be weakened,” D’Auria, who has been living under police protection since 2017, told AFP.
“Citizens, speak up!” asked the 57-year-old, who sees recent crackdowns by the authorities as a sign that the mafia could be weakened if locals overcome their fears.
Its bloody clan wars were once dismissed as feuds between farmers, but the so-called “fourth mafia” – after Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta and Naples’ Camorra – is finally raising the alarm in the Italian state.
But it came late. Italy’s youngest mafia already has a stranglehold on the vast southeastern province, filling its coffers and consolidating its grip through drug trafficking, extortion, armed robbery and the theft of vehicles and livestock for ransom.
“It is a rudimentary, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” said Ludovico Vaccaro, Foggia’s public prosecutor.
While other major mafias have graduated to less visible, more profitable activities, including infiltrating the legitimate economy, the Foggia mafia is still in its infancy.
“Today the mafias have evolved, so they shoot less, looking for a strategy of silence to remain unnoticed,” said Vaccaro.
“While this is still a mafia that, to show its power over the territory, shoots and kills.”
Battalions and Bombardments
The “Foggia Mafia” is the name given to a syndicate made up of various groups involved in a wide range of crimes.
Foggia province has the third-highest homicide rate in Italy, with five of the 16 murders last year linked to the mafia.
Family “battalions” from different areas often cooperate, sharing extortion money paid by associates and inmates.
“When conflicts sometimes arise over the division of illicit income, there are fights and the battalions clash and start killing each other,” said Deputy Police Chief Mario Gracia.
Each group has its own specialty, from armed robberies of cargo trucks in Cerignola to military tactics used in the city of Foggia, where nighttime bombings of storefronts and cars convince reluctant vendors to pay.
Farmers in San Severo, like D’Auria, often find their olive trees burned or crops burned, or tractors or livestock stolen.
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In Gargano, whose spectacular coastline welcomes tourists as well as Albanian drug shipments, the mafia is particularly violent.
Four years ago, a human skull was left in front of the municipal building for the mayor of Monte Sant’Angelo. The skinned head of a goat with a dagger through it was left the same year to the lawyer of the mother of a missing mafia victim.
“It’s easy to hide things. Every now and then we find something serious, stolen cars, bodies of missing people,” said prosecutor Vaccaro.
“No one spoke”
During a recent police drive through the city of Foggia, AFP saw countless reminders of the bloodshed that has terrorized the population for decades.
Here’s where builder Giovanni Pannuzio was shot dead in 1992 for being the first to denounce the mafia, the abandoned farmhouse where police foiled an ambush on a local businessman last year, and the cafe whose owner died after being stabbed in the eye during 2020. theft.
“There is no mob war at the moment, but there is a settling of accounts,” said a detective who requested anonymity.
In November, Nicola Di Rienzo, 21, lay dead for hours in a public park after being shot five times before his 17-year-old killer surrendered.
Meanwhile, “nobody said anything, nobody heard anything, nobody spoke,” the detective said.
Deputy Chief Gracia said he was particularly concerned about three of last year’s homicides by juveniles.
“Those who participate in these ‘baby gangs’ have family ties to entities associated with organized crime,” he said.
The latest danger from the mafia is infiltrating public institutions. Foggia’s city council was dissolved in 2021 due to mafia infiltration and its mayor arrested on corruption charges, one of five local governments in the province dissolved since 2015.
In recent years, a number of top bosses, including Rocco Moretti and Roberto Sinesi, have been jailed as authorities try to wrest control of the territory from the mafia.
But the impending release of one of their rivals, Raffaele Tolonese, and the prison break last month of Gargano boss Marco Raduano underscore the challenges.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to try to reassure locals, promising to boost security, including adding what local officials say are much-needed surveillance cameras and street lights.
Beyond those foundations, Vaccaro argues, more police, prosecutors and courts are desperately needed to counter “the climate of fear and intimidation, cultural and social poverty.”
Only one courthouse serves the entire province, where a backlog of over 12,000 criminal cases await trial.
“In this vast territory, either the state is in control or the criminals will take over,” Vaccaro said.
Last summer, D’Auria’s grain fields went up in flames. Three of his tractor units were burnt. Worse, he said, was the bank, which cut his credit lines in half, deeming him a “high risk.”
Still, the farmer sees signs of hope in recent arrests and convictions that show the state is finally stepping up.
“I feel much safer than before.” But you always feel the fear,” he said.