Wednesday, January 7, 2015

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Stefano Bontade - He was the boss of the Santa Maria di Gesù Family in Palermo

Stefano Bontade (April 23, 1939 – April 23, 1981) was a powerful member of the Sicilian Mafia. Some sources spell his surname Bontate. He was the boss of the Santa Maria di Gesù Family in Palermo. He was also known as the Prince of Villagrazia − the area of Palermo he controlled − and Il Falco (The Falcon). He had links with several powerful politicians in Sicily with links to former prime minister Giulio Andreotti. In 1981 he was killed by the rival faction within Cosa Nostra, the Corleonesi. His death sparked a brutal Mafia War that left several hundred mafiosi dead.


Early career

Bontade was born in Palermo into a family of Mafiosi. His father and grandfather were both powerful Mafia bosses in the area Villagrazia, Santa Maria di Gesù and Guadagna, which were rural districts before they were absorbed into the city of Palermo in the 1960s. Stefano’s father, Francesco Paolo Bontade, was one of the most powerful mafiosi on the island and a pallbearer at the funeral of Mafia boss Calogero Vizzini – one of the most influential Mafia bosses of Sicily after World War II until his death in 1954.

Stefano Bontade and his brother Giovanni Bontade – who would become a lawyer – studied at a Jesuit college. In 1964, at the age of 25, Stefano Bontade became the boss of the Santa Maria di Gesù Mafia Family when his father, Don Paolino Bontade, stepped down because of ill-health (he suffered from diabetes). The Mafia went through difficult times at that moment. A bloody internal struggle (known as the First Mafia War) culminated in the Ciaculli Massacre in June 1963 that killed seven police and military officers sent to defuse a bomb in an abandoned Alfa Romeo Giulietta after an anonymous phone call.

The Ciaculli Massacre changed the Mafia war into a war against the Mafia. It prompted the first concerted anti-mafia efforts by the state in post-war Italy. Within a period of ten weeks 1,200 mafiosi were arrested, many of whom would be kept out of circulation for five or six years. The Sicilian Mafia Commission was dissolved and those mafiosi who had escaped arrest went into exile abroad or had to hide out in Italy. In 1968, 114 went to trial, though only ten minor figures would be convicted of anything. Bontade nonetheless managed to remain a highly important figure within Cosa Nostra, and he was also one of those responsible for ordering the death of Michele Cavataio by sending two of his soldiers, Gaetano Grado and Emanuele D'Agostino, to kill him in the Viale Lazio massacre.

After the killing of Pietro Scaglione – Chief Prosecutor of Palermo – on May 5, 1971, the police rounded up the known Mafia bosses. Bontade was arrested in 1972 and he was sentenced to three years in the second Trial of the 114 in July 1974, but the sentence was annulled in appeal. Nevertheless, Bontade was sent in banishment to Qualiano (in the province of Naples). The policy of banishing mafiosi to other areas in Italy backfired, because they were able to establish contacts outside the island as well. Bontade, for instance, linked up with Giuseppe Sciorio of the Maisto-clan of the Camorra, who would be initiated in Cosa Nostra.

Cigarette smuggling and heroin trafficking

Bontade and other banished mafiosi managed to get into the market of international cigarette smuggling by imposing first their protection, and later their involvement, upon the smugglers in Naples (who were connected with the Camorra) and Palermo who had been running this activity since the 1950s. For instance, a thriving smuggler such as Nunzio La Mattina, was initiated into the Santa Maria di Gesù Family.

It was only through cigarette smuggling and subsequently heroin trafficking that many mafiosi were able to survive the difficult period after the Ciaculli Massacre. But then they started to accumulate large amounts of money rapidly. According to pentito Antonio Calderone, Bontade used to say that fortunately Tommaso Spadaro did a little bit of cigarette smuggling and gave him part of the profits, "because they were starving to death."[7] (Spadaro was related to Bontade, being a godfather to one of his children.)

Bontade was closely linked to the Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino network. This network and other Sicilian suppliers dominated heroin trafficking since the mid-1970s until the mid-1980s when US and Italian law enforcement were able to significantly reduce the heroin supply of the Sicilian Mafia (the so-called Pizza Connection). The Bontade-Spatola-Inzerillo traffickers supplied the Gambino Family – through John Gambino – in New York with heroin that was refined in laboratories on the island from Turkish morphine base.[9] According to Giovanni Falcone, the investigating magistrate, the group had made about US$600 million. The proceeds were re-invested in real estate. Rosario Spatola, who in his youth peddled watered milk in the streets of Palermo, became Palermo’s largest building contractor and biggest taxpayer of Sicily.

The pentito Francesco Marino Mannoia, who belonged to the Santa Maria di Gesù Family and who was highly sought after by all Mafia families for his skills in chemistry, recalled having refined at least 1000 kilograms of heroin for Bontade. Marino Mannoia, who had been close to Bontade, decided to cooperate with the Italian state in October 1989, after his brother was killed by the Corleonesi (and subsequently saw his mother, his sister and his aunt killed as well). According to Marino Mannoia the Sicilian-born banker Michele Sindona laundered the proceeds of heroin trafficking for the Bontade-Spatola-Inzerillo-Gambino network.

The Mattei affair

In May 1994 Mafia turncoat Buscetta declared that Bontade had been involved in the murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy's state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI. Mattei was killed in 1962 at the request of the American Cosa Nostra because his oil policies had damaged important American interests in the Middle East. The American Mafia in turn was possibly doing a favour to the large oil companies. Buscetta claimed that the killing was organized by Bontade, Salvatore Greco "Ciaschiteddu", and Giuseppe Di Cristina on the request of Angelo Bruno, a Sicilian born Mafia boss from Philadelphia.

Buscetta also claimed that the journalist Mauro De Mauro was killed in September 1970 on the orders of Bontade because of his investigations into the death of Mattei. Buscetta said that Bontade organized the kidnap, because De Mauro’s investigations into the death of Mattei came very close to the Mafia, and Bontade’s own role in the affair. Other pentiti said that De Mauro was kidnapped by Emanuele D'Agostino, a mafioso from Bontade’s Santa Maria di Gesù Family. De Mauro’s body has never been found. Marino Mannoia testified that he had been ordered by Bontade in 1977 or 1978 to dig up several bodies, including De Mauro’s, and dissolve them in acid.

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