ROME—Organized crime traditionally has been a man’s world. Women generally are relegated to the margins of this most secretive of societies. There have been famous cases in Italy’s mafia strongholds where daughters have delivered secret messages for their incarcerated fathers, or when widows collected protection money on behalf of their dead husbands. Mothers have even hidden knives used in killings among fresh linens.
Increasingly, though, women who are married to the mob are playing an even more pivotal role, not to help their criminal consorts, cooperating with authorities to try to stop their own children from getting sucked into a life of crime.
That appears to have been the case with a major mafia arrest in Rome this week. On Tuesday, more than 250 special ops police carried out a series of operations in the Italian capital to devastating effects on the Casamonica clan, which is tied to Italy's newest named crime syndicate, the “Mafia Capitale” or Capital Mafia that successfully infiltrated the Roman city government over the last decade. The Casamonica clan alone runs a business worth €90 million ($1.475 million) a year in illicit activity, according to Italy’s state police.
In 2014, Rome was shaken by revelations about this organized crime syndicated dubbed Italy’s “fifth Mafia” by the Italian anti-mafia officials. Operating under the police and journalistic radars for many years, it exploited Rome’s weakest residents and eviscerated basic services like street cleaning and garbage collection, making the Eternal City increasingly unlivable—and dangerous. “The investigation into Rome as the mafia capital exposes a disgusting, horrifying situation that goes well beyond even the darkest hypothesis,” consumer-rights group Federconsumatori said at the time. The city of la dolce vita, the sweet life, had grown bitter indeed.
This week, anti-mafia officers issued arrest warrants for 37 people for mafia collusion, drug trafficking, extortion and other related crimes. Six of the suspects remain at large. Police also confiscated more than €50,000 in cash, stacked in tidy rubber-banded blocks of €5,000 each, two dozen cars, 15 Rolex watches and loan sharking accounting books that police say show how famous Romans and politicians had to pay up to 1000 percent interest in order to keep the loans secret.
Police also seized property, including the posh seafood restaurant Snob Fish near Campo dei Fiori and a popular nightclub called Marilyn in the Testaccio district. They closed up a beauty center called Femme Fatale, where mobster molls apparently helped launder money for their husbands, and the Vulcano gym run by a Domenico Spada, a former prize fighter who was also jailed. The gym was apparently a favorite of several senators from Italy’s ruling Five Star Movement.
Authorities also seized specially made ergonomically-correct sticks used to threaten and beat journalists who tried to investigate the clan’s illicit activities.
The arrests and sequesters were only made possible thanks to a group of women that police are keeping under special protection who, they say, were instrumental in untangling an intricate criminal network in the capital. Several names have been released by Italian media, but The Daily Beast could not confirm the authenticity of those press reports with authorities.
Police do say they first identified the women last summer when the crime family patriarch Vittorio Casamonica was given the equivalent of a state funeral in Rome, complete with black stallions pulling a funeral carriage through the eternal city and a low-flying helicopter that dropped rose petals on the mourning crowds. Those in attendance were serenaded by a trumpeter who played the theme song from The Godfather.
Chief investigating magistrate Gaspare Sturzo told reporters that one of the women worked arduously to collect evidence to be used against the Casamonica clan before making a daring escape without any personal possessions or her phone. Forty days before she went to police, Sturzo says a group of family members suspected she might talk and kept her captive in one of the family’s palatial homes in suburban Rome. Sturzo did not say if the woman was related to one of those arrested by blood or marriage, but he implied she and others risked their lives. “If I speak, I'm dead," Sturzo quoted the woman as saying. "Those are the Casamonica and you do not mess around with those people.”
When describing the operation, Sturzo referred to the clan as the “Casamonica archipelago,” which he described as a “complex system made up of several families connected to each other but independent of each other” much the way the infamous ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and Camorra in Naples are set up. The Casamonica clan specialized in usury, extortion, weapons and drug smuggling and falsified documents.
Police say they have also been able to buy shops from people who defaulted on the private loans and keep the owners in hostage situations like a seamstress who had paid more than €50,000 on an €800 loan when her shop burned down. Police say the woman was forced to be a personal seamstress for the mobsters’ wives since she could never fully repay the exorbitant interest charges. Other Roman business owners, including mechanics, doctors and even funeral directors are under similar obligations to the criminal group.
Italy’s chief antimafia prosecutor Giuseppe Governale told The Daily Beast that the arrests are only the tip of the iceberg and that unraveling the Casamonica network could easily lead to more arrests and spark new investigations. “It’s a good start,” he said. “But by no means is the case closed.”
In June, Governale told a group of foreign reporters in Rome that the mafia in Rome is a force to be reckoned with. “They say the mafia doesn’t exist in Rome,” he said. “I’m here to tell you that it does and it’s strong.”