In what became known as the Maxi-Trials in the mid-1980s, Sicilian prosecutors tried hundreds of Mafia suspects en masse for crimes ranging from murder to criminal association. The sweeping strategy hit Cosa Nostra in the trenches, marking a critical victory for such crusading magistrates as Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. It was also great theater. Crammed together into a custom-made, bunker-like courtroom, the accused seemed straight from a Hollywood casting call for Mob thugs: often unshaven, sweaty and in short-sleeved leisure shirts, the Mafia men pointed fingers and hollered threats from inside steel cages that ringed the back of the vast, underground trial chamber. Though prosecutors won more than 300 convictions by 1987, both Falcone and Borsellino eventually paid the ultimate price for their Maxi-Trial assault.
Now, as Italy marks 10 years since the Mafia's brazen murders of Falcone (blown up on May 23, 1992 in his car along with his wife and three bodyguards) and Borsellino (killed in a similar attack two months later), organized crime experts say the Mob is quietly developing a very different look from the one on stage at Palermo's rowdy trials. If a similar mass roundup were mounted today unlikely since evidence and turncoat witnesses have dried up the usual ensemble of toughs with colorful nicknames and brass knuckles would certainly be on hand. But the modern Mob is transforming itself, and two new character types are emerging: the college graduate in a tailored suit who wields nothing sharper than his felt-tip pen, and the "Signora Boss" who has stepped from the proverbial kitchen to the front lines of Italy's organized crime network.
This face of the Mob may appear less violent but it's no less sinister, says Giuseppe Cipriani, who became mayor of the fabled Mafia stronghold, Corleone, in the wake of the assassination of the two magistrates. "The Mafia changed strategy, that's all," says Cipriani, whose second and final mayoral term recently expired. "They just sat down and decided it at the table. It doesn't mean they might not start bringing back the bombs too."
Italy got a disturbing reminder last week that violence is still a key Mafia tool and the female factor doesn't necessarily add up to a kinder, gentler organization. In a small town near Naples, a 30-year feud between rival families of the Camorra crime syndicate led to an explosion of female violence that was unprecedented for the Italian Mob. After exchanging slaps and threats at the local Lauro di Nola beauty parlor last Sunday, several female relatives from the Graziano family cornered a carload of women from the Cava clan and opened fire with automatic weapons. Three of the Cava women were killed and two were seriously wounded. After toasting their success with male relatives, the Graziano women were taken into custody by local police whose wiretaps had captured many details of the episode.
Beyond such senseless bloodletting, more women are moving into positions of real power, often filling in for their husbands and brothers who are in jail or on the run. Ninetta Bagarella, wife of captured top Corleone boss Salvatore "TotÚ" Riina who directed Cosa Nostra for a decade, is thought to be the brains allied to her husband's pure brutality. "Their role goes well beyond raising the family," said Cipriani. "Women in the Mafia not only have acquired authorization, they are now the ones who do the authorizing." Still, most of Italy's organized crime network has been ordering up fewer hits, the number of which had peaked in 1982 when there were more than 700 murders in Palermo and the surrounding towns. These days the Mob's prime focus is on butter not guns. And to make the profits multiply, top bosses have turned to that prototype man in the tailored suit. He is the true motor for the New Mafia, toting a business or economics degree, having a family connection and ready (knowingly or otherwise) to help expand a criminal, money-making enterprise