Italian Mafia head captured

first_imgPALERMO, Sicily – Italy’s No. 1 fugitive and reputed Mafia “boss of bosses” practically thumbed his nose at authorities for more than 40 years. He counted on Sicilians’ centuries-old mistrust of the state to help him on the run, sleeping in islanders’ homes, having his children born at local hospitals, even sending the public health care system a bill for prostate treatment abroad under a false name. But police finally caught up with Bernardo “The Tractor” Provenzano on Tuesday in a farmhouse outside his power base, Corleone – the town that inspired the family name in “The Godfather.” In the end, Provenzano was done in not by an informer or a rival gangster, but by a delivery of clean laundry. Police tracked the package to his hideout and closed in when they saw his hand peek out of the door to take it. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventProvenzano had escaped capture so often since going into hiding in 1963 that he earned a place in the Italian imagination as “The Phantom of Corleone.” He got his nickname “The Tractor” for the determination he displayed in a mob career that began as a hitman. He is believed to have taken over leadership of the Sicilian Mafia following the 1993 arrest of former boss Salvatore “Toto” Riina. During his years on the run, Provenzano was convicted in absentia and given life sentences for more than a dozen murders of mobsters and investigators. “Bastard! Murderer!” a crowd shouted at the 73-year-old Provenzano as black-hooded policemen took him out of a sedan and rushed him into the courtyard of a police building in Palermo after driving him from the countryside. Wearing tinted glasses and a wind-breaker, the gray-haired Provenzano held up his handcuffed hands as he was hustled away but made no audible comment. Investigators described an extensive operation to track down the mobster. They said cameras that can see up to a mile were trained on suspected accomplices as well as the Corleone home where Provenzano’s wife and children live. A few days ago, police noticed a package leave the wife’s house, then get delivered by car to a series of other homes. On Tuesday morning, the package left Corleone and was driven to the farmhouse where Provenzano was found staying with a shepherd who doubled as a housekeeper. “This morning he reached out with a hand to grab the package and that’s when we decided to move in,” said Nicola Cavaliere, a top police official in Rome. Italy’s national anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso, told reporters in Rome that Provenzano was “impassive” and “didn’t say a word” when arrested, but later acknowledged his identity. The last photos investigators had of the mobster showed him as a young man, but police gave the fugitive a “new face” last year – issuing a composite picture drawn with help from a Mafia turncoat in 2001 that depicted him with white hair and hollow cheeks. That effort also was helped by descriptions from personnel at a clinic in Marseilles, France, where investigators say Provenzano sought treatment for a prostate tumor two years ago. Turncoats had told investigators that Provenzano slept in different farmhouses every few nights across Sicily, an island where organized crime has held sway for decades. He allegedly gave orders with written notes – not trusting cell phone conversations for fear of being monitored by police. Grasso said investigators were studying notes found at the farmhouse, along with a typewriter Provenzano apparently used for writing them. After taking over the top leadership, Provenzano helped the Mafia spread its tentacles into the lucrative world of public works contracts in Sicily, turning the mob into more of a white-collar industry of illegal activity – with less dependance on traditional operations like drug trafficking and extortion, investigators have said. During the years when Riina was the Mafia chieftain, murders bloodied Sicily. Mob rivals, police, prosecutors and their bodyguards, and sometimes bystanders, were cut down by bombings and drive-by shootings. Then the bomb assassinations in Sicily of Italy’s two top anti-Mafia fighters, magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two months apart in 1992 galvanized many Sicilians against the mob, helping chip away at the centuries-old “omerta” – the island’s code of silence and mistrust of authorities. Provenzano was among the Mafia bosses convicted of ordering Falcone’s slaying, but as mob boss he allowed fewer sensational killings and ordered more infiltration of seemingly respectable people into real estate and financial markets, Grasso has said. While on Provenzano’s trail, investigators uncovered a network of “businessmen, technical experts, professionals and even politicians” who helped the mobster, said Grasso, a Sicilian who as former chief Palermo prosecutor led the hunt for the fugitive in the last few years. But in the end, Grasso said, increasing heat from police drove Provenzano to stay “in the safest places, that is, ones closest to Corleone,” a bleak town rising out of a rocky outcrop about 40 miles from Palermo. With Provenzano’s capture, investigators now must figure out who might replace him as boss.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img