|Elmelinda Pagano, wife of alleged Camorra crime syndicate mobster Raffaele Amato, after her arrest. (Salvatore Laporta/ Associated Press)|
Godmothers rise among Italian crime syndicate
Women taking over as bosses
NAPLES, Italy - They go by such nicknames as “Fat Cat’’ and “Tomboy.’’ Their simmering power struggles once drove them into the streets, guns blazing. They rule their crime families with steely determination, and also raise the kids and stir the pasta.
Move over, Don Corleone. Godmothers are rising in the ranks of the Camorra, the crime syndicate in Naples.
Women have long played a strong role in Camorra crime families, muscling, sometimes murdering, their way to the top. Their influence stretches back as far as the 1950s when a pregnant former beauty queen dubbed “pupetta’’ or little doll shot dead the man who had ordered a hit on her husband, and allegedly settled into a life of crime.
Now, as the state steps up its war against the Camorra, rounding up scores of mobsters, the women are increasingly taking over the helm.
“There is a growing number of women who hold executive roles,’’ General Gaetano Maruccia, commander of the Carabinieri paramilitary police in the Naples area, said. “They are either widows [of mob bosses] or wives of husbands who have been put in prison. They hold the reins.’’
Mothers, daughters, sisters, and sisters-in-law are “assuming ever-more leading roles,’’ Stefania Castaldi, a Naples-based prosecutor who investigates organized crime, said in an interview.
Camorra women still perform the more “traditional’’ roles of cutting and repackaging cocaine and heroin in their kitchens or tidying up the hideouts of fugitive bosses, but others are wielding power on the streets. They shake down merchants in extortion rackets and increasingly direct drug trafficking worth millions of dollars, Castaldi said.
In one of the most lurid episodes, in 2002, two carloads of women from rival Camorra clans lurched through the streets of Lauro, a town near Naples, first trading insults and then machine-gun fire and pistol shots until two grandmothers and a 16-year-old girl were dead. The root of the bloodshed: a turf war fueled by the murder of the cousin of a clan boss.
Some of the Camorra godmothers rank up there with the men in commanding clout and obedience, authorities say.
Among them is Maria Licciardi, one of the victors of the long-running blood feud between the Di Lauro and Secondigliano Alliance that left Naples littered nearly daily with bodies.
“She was the sister of a boss, and she sat at the table with other bosses, she made decisions with them, she was right at their level,’’ said Castaldi.
Authorities are investigating whether one of those decisions was an order to execute as many as 30 of her rivals.