Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US Mafiosi prefer to recruit among less chatty Sicilians

BAD HABITS US mobsters like the tight-lipped Italians, but law enforcement agencies worry that more bloody Sicilian practices might be imported as well


Ratted on by fellow wise guys and hounded by police, struggling American Mafiosi are recruiting Sicilian mobsters, believing that hardheaded gangsters from the island are more likely to keep their mouths shut, US and Italian organized-crime officials say.

Authorities worry that the Sicilian Mafia -- known in the past for gunning down police and blowing up judges -- might also send this approach to the modern US Mafia.

Top FBI officials discussed these developments with the Italian parliament's anti-Mafia commission at a recent briefing in Washington. Elements of the talks were revealed this week to The Associated Press.

"This type of phenomenon was born when the American authorities' actions became much stronger and more effective, which in recent years reached a crescendo in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. These are the areas where the families move to recruit in Sicily," the anti-Mafia commission chief Senator Roberto Centaro said in an interview.

A top Sicilian Mafia turncoat discussed this recruitment to police, and his claims were confirmed in US and Italian wiretaps, said Centaro, whose Italian delegation met last week with top US law enforcement officials in New York and Washington.

Matthew Heron, assistant special agent in charge of the organized-crime branch in the FBI's New York office, said the combination of convictions and turncoats had led to "a leadership vacuum" in some crime gangs, citing the Bonannos and the New York faction of the DeCavalcante family.

"They have reached out toward Sicily to bring some people over to fill some gaps, with part of that rationale being the thought that the Sicilians are much more inclined to maintain the sacred vow of silence," he said in a phone interview from New York.

Heron noted that La Cosa Nostra in America has always avoided going after US law enforcement. "From what we've been told, that's not necessarily the case with the Sicilians."

In a further US-Sicilian tie, American mobsters are believed to be sending their local recruits to the island for lessons in thuggery. A top Sicilian turncoat recently spoke of this to police.

"They send them here to Sicily to make them become men of honor, to make them do training, because in America there's this attack on the values -- there's no respect anymore," mobster Antonino Giuffre told investigators, according to remarks published last week by the ANSA news agency. "The American Mafia is different and it needs some of our qualities."

"Every now and then, they'll send someone whose origins are in these areas so they can do a bit of Mafia lessons," chief Palermo prosecutor Piero Grasso said.

Sicilian gangsters infiltrated the US among the waves of immigrants who arrived at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

After World War II, some were deported back to Sicily, where they are believed to have helped strengthen the local clans, which had been decimated during Mussolini's Fascist regime.

"The Sicilian and American groups have affected each other reciprocally according to circumstances," said Professor Salvatore Lupo, a Mafia expert at the University of Palermo. "They have a common heritage. But from what we know, they're not the same thing."

By the 1960s if not earlier, they were distinct organizations, but due to family ties and business interests they often linked up.

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