Detectives are poring over social media for details that might help them arrest new generation of mobsters who have turned their back on traditional code of discretion
Just when police thought they had finally loosened the Mafia’s historical stranglehold over Sicily, a new generation of brash mobsters is reclaiming the streets of Palermo – and bragging about it on Facebook.
After years when Cosa Nostra luminaries communicated only by hand written notes in code, their youthful successors are making increasingly unabashed online boasts about their wealth, power and contempt for the magistrates hunting them down.
One Palermo mobster, Domenico Palazzotto, 28, who created a Facebook page under a false name, posted photos of himself cruising on motorboats, sitting down to sumptuous lobster and champagne dinners and riding in a limousine.
The rising boss, who called the shots in the Arenella neighbourhood of Palermo, where he allegedly helped run extortion rackets, listed his liking for Neapolitan music and the US singer Kenny Loggins and name-checked an Italian TV series about the Mafia.
Amid crude insults apparently aimed at the police, Mr Palazzotto also swapped messages with an aspiring mobster who asked to be enrolled in his clan.
The boss then adds, “Join my team.. We are the strongest, ha ha ha.”
In a brief video also posted online, one of Palazzotto’s loyal mobsters yells “I am the Godfather,” to which Palazzotto adds the comment, “Well, I am the original.”
However, while the online postings, which were revealed by Italian magazine L’Espresso, are thought to be partly intended to spread fear among the Mafia’s host communities, such flagrant disregard for mafia’s traditional penchant for discretion could also be the mobsters’ undoing.
An investigative source in Palermo told The Telegraph that officers were spending time checking through Facebook to seek out the bosses lurking behind false names.
Salvatore D’Alessandro, a rising mob henchman loyal to Mr Palazzotto, also posted on Facebook under a pseudonym, uploading photos of dinners and boat rides with his boss and described his ambition to move up the organisation’s ranks.
“For the time being I am one of the small sharks hunting in the deep,” he wrote. “But the moment will come when I rise to the surface and will have no pity for anyone.”
The investigative source, who declined to be named, said the mob was “pushing to make a comeback in Palermo”, following years when the ranks of Mafiosi were decimated by arrests. But the new generation, the source added, could not be more different to its predecessors.
“Going online would have been unthinkable for the old guard,” the source said. “They lived in farm houses and existed on bread, cheese and vegetables grown there, without using phones and relying on ‘pizzini’ (handwritten notes) to get their orders out.
“The new generation are using Facebook, texts and WhatsApp to show that they are going to the best discos, beaches and restaurants, because they believe that is key to earning respect. The problem is that makes you traceable and they are getting arrested.”
“There is a new generation of Mafiosi in Palermo,” said a Sicily-based magistrate who also declined to be named, “but they have yet to prove they have the quality of their predecessors.”
Mr Palazzotto was among 95 mobsters rounded up in June in Palermo in an operation dubbed ‘Operation Apocalypse’ aimed at decapitating the city’s new Mafia leadership. Police said they had put a temporary stop to vote rigging, extortion and drug trafficking operations as well as the laundering of ill gotten cash through betting shops. More importantly, officers said they had halted a bid to pull together scrapping clans across the city into a more compact criminal empire, harking back to the leadership of Toto Riina, the “boss of bosses” jailed in 1993.
Investigators alleged a key figure in the rebirth was Mr Palazzotto’s cousin Gregorio Palazzotto, 37, who was issuing orders despite being in jail.
A keen user of Facebook, Gregorio used the site to insult Mafia turncoats who gave evidence to get out of jail, writing “I have no fear of handcuffs, but I am afraid of those who start singing to get out of them.” In other messages he demanded an amnesty for prisoners to end prison overcrowding.
He also posted loving messages to his wife, pasted onto a background of an image of jail cells, writing in one: “If my heart was a jail, you would be condemned to a life sentence.”
His wife wrote back: “My love, I am here to support you,” and “When this nightmare is over, you will start to live again.”
In another message, in which she superimposed the image of a wedding behind bars, Pallazzotto’s wife wrote, “These bars will not divide us and will make our love stronger.”
As police get wind of Facebook bragging by Mafiosi, a more time honoured means for the mobsters to show off their power, involving Cosa Nostra’s venerable links to the Catholic Church, resurfaced in Palermo last week.
During one of the religious processions that frequently wind their way through the city, volunteers carrying a statue of a Madonna briefly set it down outside a funeral parlour owned by the family of Alessandro D’Ambrogioin, a jailed Mafia boss, what was viewed as a sign of respect.
During the pause outside the shopfront, where D’Ambrogio held mob summits, local children were lifted up to kiss the statue.
The incident recalled a similar, suspicious pause in a procession in Calabria last month near the home of jailed Calabrian boss Peppe Mazzagatti, which prompted outrage in the wake of Pope Francis’ call for mobsters to be excommunicated.