It took a loaded pistol pointed at Lazarus Dauria’s head for the Italian landowner to finally say yes to the country’s newest and most violent mafia.
Puglian farmers have resisted their extortion attempts in the past, including intimidation, fire, and damage to crops and property.
However, surprised by an early morning visit by a dozen men, including his boss with a gun, he agreed to their demand of €150,000 a year.
The next day, in lieu of paying, Dauria went to the police and found himself one of the few people to blame Foggia’s little-known mafia, Italy’s long-ignored and today’s most violent organized crime syndicate.
“The prosecution of more civilians could weaken the local mafia,” Dauria, who has been under police custody since 2017, told AFP.
“Citizens speak up!” pleaded a 57-year-old man who sees the recent crackdown by the authorities as a sign that the mafia can be weakened if locals overcome their fears.
Its bloody clan war was once dismissed as a peasant feud, but after the so-called ‘Fourth Mafia’ – Sicily Cosa NostraCalabria Ndrangheta and of Naples camorra — The alarm bells are finally ringing in Italy.
But it came late. Italy’s youngest mafia already controls the vast southeastern provinces, sapping coffers and cementing its grip through drug trafficking, extortion, armed robbery, and theft of vehicles and livestock for ransom.
“It’s a primitive, primitive mafia. Very violent, very aggressive,” said Foggia prosecutor Ludovico Vaccaro.
While other major mafias have moved on to less visible, more profitable activities such as infiltrating the legitimate economy, the Foggia Mafia is still in its early stages.
“Today, the mafia has evolved so that it shoots less and seeks strategies of silence to avoid being noticed,” said Vaccaro.
“This is still the mafia, shoot it down to show its power over the territory.”
according to 2021 report issued by the Anti-Mafia Directorate (DIA) In Italy, the Foggia Mafia has drawn attention for its “unscrupulous use of violence and ready access to large quantities of weapons and explosives.”
“It’s easy to hide things”
“Foggia mafia” is a catchall label for a syndicate made up of various groups involved in various crimes.
Foggia has the third-highest murder rate in Italy, and five of last year’s 16 murders were mafia-related.
Family-based “battalions” in different areas often work together to divide the extortion money they pay to their comrades and prisoners.
Deputy Police Chief Mario Gracia said, “Whenever there is a clash over illegal revenue sharing, there is a brawl, battalions clash and start killing each other.”
Each group has its own specialty, from the armed robbery of military-style cargo trucks in Serignola to the age-old tactics used in the streets of Foggia.
San Severo farmers like D’Auria often have their olive trees cut down, their crops set on fire, and their tractors and livestock stolen.
The mafia is especially violent in Gargano, where the spectacular coast welcomes tourists and Albanian drug shipments.
Four years ago, a human skull was left outside the town hall of the mayor of Monte Sant’Angelo. That same year, the skinned head of a dagger-pierced goat was left for the lawyer of the mother of a missing mafia victim.
Gargano Mafia calling cards are shooting victims in the face or dumping them in a cave, officials said.
“It’s easy to hide things. Sometimes you find something serious, like a stolen car or the body of a missing person,” said prosecutor Vaccaro.
While driving with police through the city of Foggia recently, AFP saw countless sights that reminded us of the bloodshed that has terrorized people for decades.
Where builder Giovanni Panunzio was shot dead in 1992 for first accusing him of mafia accusations, the abandoned farmhouse where police thwarted an ambush of a local businessman last year, and the owner who died after being stabbed in the eye in 2020 There is a cafe. robbery.
“There are no mafia wars right now, but accounts are being taken,” said the detective, who requested anonymity.
In November, 21-year-old Nicola di Rienzo lay for hours in a public park after being shot five times by a 17-year-old killer before turning himself in.
During that time, “Nobody said anything, nobody said anything, nobody said anything,” the detective said.
Gracia said she was particularly concerned that three of the killings last year were by minors.
“People involved in these ‘baby gangs’ are related to those involved in organized crime,” he said.
The latest danger posed by the Mafia is infiltration of public institutions. Foggia’s city council has been disbanded in 2021 due to mafia incursions, and the mayor has been arrested on corruption charges. This is his one of five municipalities in the state that have been dissolved since 2015.
“You are always scared”
In recent years, many top bosses, including Rocco Moretti and Roberto Sinesi, have been imprisoned as authorities attempt to wrest control of the territory from the Mafia.
But the upcoming release of one of their rivals, Raffaele Tolonese, and last month’s Gargano’s Boss, Marco Laduano’s Jailbreakto highlight the task.
Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi visited Foggia in February to reassure local residents and promised increased security, including the addition of surveillance cameras and street lights, much-needed by local authorities.
Beyond these basics, Vaccaro argued, more police, prosecutors, and courts are desperately needed to combat “a climate of fear and intimidation, cultural and social impoverishment.”
Only one court serves the entire state with more than 12,000 outstanding criminal cases awaiting trial.
“In this vast territory, either the state rules or the criminals rule,” said Vaccaro.
Last summer, Dauria’s grain fields were set ablaze. His tractor 3 of his units were burned down. Worse, he said, was a bank that cut his line of credit in half because he considered it “risky.”
Still, farmers see a silver lining in recent arrests and convictions, showing that the state is finally gaining strength.
“I feel a lot safer than I used to, but you always feel scared,” he said.