Italy arrests 'the Mistress', suspected mastermind of mafia reshuffle

Police say Mariangela Di Trapani led efforts to relaunch Cosa Nostra

A female mobster suspected of being the mastermind behind a reshuffle of the Sicilian mafia after a series of high profile arrests has been taken into custody, Italian police have said.

Mariangela Di Trapani, 49, was arrested on charges of having managed the business of the Resuttana family, one of the most important Cosa Nostra clans in Sicily. The other bosses called her La Padrona, or the Mistress.

“They were trying to reorganise,” said Col Antonio Di Stasio of the carabinieri, Italy’s military police, who oversaw the operation that also led to the arrest of 24 other suspects.

Police said Di Trapani was the link between the bosses in prison and those still at large and she had been appointed to liaise with other clans on the relaunch of Cosa Nostra. The Sicilian mafia is in a weakened state as prosecutors have jailed its key bosses and the death last month of the “boss of bosses” Totò Riina.

The rise of women to command positions in mafia clans is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Italy. Known as “bosses in skirts”, they sit on the thrones of the drug areas of Naples, Reggio Calabria and Palermo, where they have replaced husbands or sons who ended up behind bars.

“She behaves like a man,’’ a mobster wiretapped by the carabinieri said of Di Trapani.

Di Trapani’s mugshot.
Di Trapani’s mugshot. Photograph: Carabinieri

According to the investigators, Di Trapani played a crucial role in the extortion of Sicilian entrepreneurs and shopkeepers. Her husband, Salvino Madonia, is serving a life sentence for the 1991 murder of a businessman, Libero Grassi, who had defied an extortion demand from the mafia.

More than 60 women accused of mafia association are locked up in Italian prisons, according to the Italian ministry of justice, and almost all of them are believed to have had leadership roles in the clans.

One such woman is Anna Maria Licciardi, 66, head of the Secondigliano clan of the Camorra mafia in Naples, who in 1997 had 14 people killed within a few days to avenge the death of her nephew.

Another is Aurora Spanò, 59, considered by the judges to be the head of the fearsome Bellocco clan of the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta. Her power within the organisation was signalled in 2015 when she was sentenced to 25 years in prison, seven years more than her husband, the boss Luigi Bellocco.

“Just as today’s women have gained more rights in the workplace, so have the clan women gained greater authority within the criminal organisations,” said Teresa Principato, an anti-mafia prosecutor in Palermo and author. “But don’t forget, they are still subject to strong social and cultural limitations.”

In spite of their leading criminal roles, women are subject to the old rules of the mafia: “godmothers” can order a murder, but they cannot divorce.

“Mafia women are proud and ruthless, but don’t call them feminists,” said Principato. “They are simply wives or mothers who abdicate any rights on their own lives, agreeing to obey the strict rules of the organisation.”

According to a study conducted by the University of Naples, 36% of mafia women are the wives of bosses, 9.5% are widows, 9.1% partners and 4.5% ex-wives. The rest are sisters and cousins.

“Women were reliable, unsuspected and could evade police checks easier,” said Alessandra Ziniti, a mafia expert and author. “Above all, many of them were the only ones allowed to visit their relatives in prison, playing a vital role in enabling detainee bosses to communicate with the outside world.”


Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

The GuardianTramp

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