Mon, Jan 28, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Smuggling, soccer and the mafia

Italy’s organized crime groups have a combined revenue of 116 billion euros, more than the annual sales of its biggest company, and mafia groups even own soccer teams

By Steve Scherer  /  Reuters, ROSARNO, Italy

As well as being blighted by the Mafia, the town’s image had also been tarnished by violent clashes between African migrant workers and locals in January 2010.

Since then, Tripodi has taken an unprecedented stand against the ‘Ndrangheta, going so far as to sue Francesco “Fat Head” Pesce, 35, in civil court for damages in the case involving the soccer team and other local businesses. The court awarded the city a 50 million euro settlement, which is to be paid from a state fund of confiscated Mafia cash.

In retaliation, the ‘Ndrangheta vandalized city property, and Tripodi received a threatening letter.

“These threats convinced us that we were heading down the right path, because it meant that what we were doing was bothersome,” Tripodi said.

She now lives under 24-hour police protection, and when she is in her office in town hall, she closes a steel door behind her.

“I’ve had bodyguards with me at all times for 14 months. Everything in my life has changed,” she said, adding that her two sons, 12 and 16-years-old, hope that she serves only one term.

Tripodi gets help from anti-Mafia magistrates, such as Alessandra Cerreti, who confiscated the soccer team from the Pesce clan, and from the local finance police, but her bravery and altruism stand out.

“The ‘Ndrangheta is an invasive presence in all segments of Calabria’s social and political life,” said Cerreti, who lives in the regional capital, Reggio Calabria, under 24-hour protection by armed bodyguards. “There is an army of professionals, businessmen, and even sometimes magistrates and members of law enforcement, who put themselves at the service of the ‘Ndrangheta out of personal interest.”

Combating those interests is an uphill battle, though Rosarno keeps trying. The failure to find new sponsors for the local soccer club hurt. The Mafia regularly tries to blunt police victories, and often succeeds.

“It is in the ‘Ndrangheta’s interest to demonstrate that a seized asset wastes away in the hands of the state,” Cerreti said. “We put into place a series of initiatives to keep it from happening, but the difficulty is that the ‘Ndrangheta invests rivers of cash in the asset or company, while the state does not have the same resources.”

Nevertheless, on the outskirts of town, the Pope John Paul II stadium now hosts a new amateur soccer team and is an after-school haven for young boys.

“For these kids in Rosarno, soccer is everything,” said Agostino Orlando, sports director of the new club, as his young son clung to his leg.

As he spoke, players in yellow jerseys and black shorts began arriving for a game against a nearby rival.

“We’re a new team. We’ve been reborn,” Orlando said.

However, the glowing lights of the port in the distance were a reminder that Rosarno, like Italy, still has a long fight ahead.

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