FOGGIA, Italy — They even shook down the dead.
Prosecutors have warned of a new crime family emerging in southern Italy who went so far as to extort $60 from funeral homes for every coffin they sold.
Police in the Italian region of Puglia have attempted to break up the Foggia organization with dawn raids across the region, in which some 40 alleged members of a criminal family were arrested.Italian authorities have described the gang as the country’s “public enemy number one.”
Investigators say the family has emerged as a “fifth mafia” alongside more established criminal organizations like the Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Camorra in Naples and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia.
The suspects, including the clan leaders Federico Trisciuoglio and Pasquale Moretti, were held on suspicion of belonging to a mafia organization, usury and extortion against entrepreneurs and shopkeepers, including funeral homes, the Guardian reported.
According to prosecutors, the Foggia clans required funeral homes to pay $60 for each body.
“The mafia even managed to bribe an employee of the local administration who provided them every day with a list of people who died in the city,” said Ludovico Vaccaro, head prosecutor of Foggia.
Vaccaro said that extortion had become increasingly pronounced in recent months, with the bosses taking “advantage of the difficulty entrepreneurs are finding themselves in during this pandemic.” Mobsters offered them loans with interest rates of over 400%.
“The Foggia mafia has become the number one public enemy of the state,” said the national anti-mafia prosecutor, Federico Cafiero De Raho. “But the state’s response against these bosses is getting stronger.”
A series of car bombings in Foggia in February prompted the interior ministry to send a team of anti-mafia investigators to Puglia.
“The Foggia mafia is relatively young,” Vaccaro said earlier this year. “The clans that make up this organization have been embedded in this territory for at least 30 years. We cannot compare them to the historical Italian mafia groups like Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta, but it is a mafia characterised by a high degree of aggression and violence. It is what I call a primitive mafia – one that feeds cadavers to pigs, so as not to leave a trace.”
The Foggia mafia began its rise in the late 1970s, when the head of the Neapolitan mafia, Raffaele Cutolo, met a delegation of local criminals in Puglia with the goal of expanding his empire into the contraband cigarette trade in the Balkans.
Today, at least three criminal sub-groups operate in the area around the city of Foggia. Besides the Società Foggiana, which profits from extortion and drug-dealing, there is the Cerignola clan, known for its armored car heists and cocaine smuggling, and another group active around Gargano, on the spur of Italy’s “boot,” where 80% of killings go unsolved and whose bosses are believed to have killed 360 people.
“Today’s operation is important because it finally allows us to send a message to the entrepreneurs who are being oppressed by these mobsters,” said Vaccaro. “This operation must give them the courage to rebel and collaborate with the authorities. Only like this can we finally get rid of a mafia that is impoverishing our territory.”