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Thursday 18 September 2014

Police catch new generation mafia - using social media

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.

Tom Kington
in

Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30

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After years when Cosa Nostra kingpins communicated only by hand-written nodes in code, their youthful successors are making increasingly unabashed online posts about their wealth, power and contempt for the magistrates hunting them down. (Social media illustration)

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.

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After years when Cosa Nostra kingpins 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 suspected Palermo mobster, Domenico Palazzotto (28) who created a Facebook page under a false name, posted photos of himself cruising on motorboats and sitting down to sumptuous lobster dinners. The rising boss, who was in charge of Mafia activities in the Arenella neighbourhood of Palermo, where he allegedly helped run extortion operations, listed his liking for the US singer Kenny Loggins and namechecked an Italian TV series about the Mafia.

Amid crude insults apparently aimed at the police, Palazzotto also swapped messages with an aspiring mobster who asked to join his clan. "Do I need to send a CV?" asked the applicant. "Yes, brother," replied Palazzotto jokingly. "We need to consider your criminal record. We do not take on people with clean records."

But while the online postings, which were revealed by Italian magazine Salvatore D'Alessandro, a rising mob henchman loyal to Palazzotto, also posted on Facebook under a pseudonym 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 from its predecessors.

"Going online would have been unthinkable for the old guard," the source said. "They lived in farmhouses and existed on bread and cheese, without using phones, 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."

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. More importantly, officers said they had halted a bid to pull together competing  clans across the city into a more compact criminal empire, harking back to the leadership of Toto Riina, the "boss of bosses", who was jailed in 1993.

Investigators alleged a key figure in the rebirth was Palazzotto's cousin, Gregorio Palazzotto (37), who was issuing orders from jail. Gregorio used Facebook 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."


Sunday Independent

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