Turning the tables on the Mafia – from within the family
‘I knew he was an important godfather but we didn’t talk about it much in our family’
A view of Palermo. “Cimarosa officially became the black sheep of the family last month when he publicly denounced Cosa Nostra. He did so, too, on a national stage, speaking in Palermo to the Sicilian ‘Leopolda’, a sort of Democratic Party brains trust”. Photograph: Getty Images
As reporters in Italy, we have all long since learned to understand the term, “Mafia victim”. Usually, we are talking about those brave local politicians, administrators, magistrates and policemen whose opposition to organised crime sometimes costs them their lives.
Thirty-one-year-old Giuseppe Cimarosa, however, is a very different type of “Mafia victim”. His problem is that he was born into a Mafia family. He is a relative of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy’s most wanted Cosa Nostra godfather, on the run since 1993. Furthermore, investigators have long believed that Giuseppe’s father, Lorenzo, occasionally provides “support” for the fugitive godfather.
“I grew up hearing of this shadowy figure, Matteo Messina Denaro. He is my mother’s cousin. I knew he was an important godfather but we didn’t talk about it much in our family . . . I always sensed though that, one day, he would cause problems for me and my family,” says Giuseppe.
Cimarosa officially became the black sheep of the family last month when he publicly denounced Cosa Nostra. He did so, too, on a national stage, speaking in Palermo to the Sicilian “Leopolda”, a sort of Democratic Party brains trust, originally started by prime minister Matteo Renzi in Florence: “I am a relative of a mafioso who has decided to attack the Mafia. My mother is a first cousin of Matteo Messina Denaro and my father was arrested as part of the Eden investigation [involving Messina Denaro]. I live in Castelvetrano [Messina Denaro’s home town in Sicily, near Trapani] and I’m having a hard time . . .”, Cimarosa told the gathering of more than one thousand people, who responded with a standing ovation.
Fearless or foolhardy
To reject Messina Denaro in Sicily is to attack an iconic figure, allegedly still the head of Cosa Nostra. To do so when you yourself are a relative inevitably raises more than eyebrows. Not for nothing, various anti-Mafia associations were wary of Giuseppe when he first came forward and did not want to listen to his story.
Messina Denaro (52), the son of a godfather from Castelvetrano, has always had a well-earned reputation for merciless violence. In 1993, for example, he was one of those responsible for the kidnapping and eventual strangulation of 15-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo, killed because his father had turned state witness.
Young Di Matteo was kidnapped by way of reprisal for the action by his father, Santino Di Matteo, a Cosa Nostra killer. Having held him captive for two years, his captors first strangled the boy and then dissolved his body in nitric acid.
In short, confronting Cosa Nostra, especially on their home patch, is a dangerous business.
Indeed, Giuseppe says that when someone approached his father, Lorenzo, on behalf of Messina Denaro, asking for money, his father reckoned he had no choice. However, the “loan” turned sour late one night in December 2013, when more than 50 police raided the Cimarosa family home in Castelvetrano, arresting his father on charges of aiding a fugitive from justice.
Lorenzo Cimarosa, however, then surprised investigators by starting to “talk”.
First, he admitted that he had raised approximately €80,000 for Messina Denaro. Second, he claimed that the godfather’s “business interests” were looked after by his sister, Patrizia Messina Denaro, a frequent visitor to the Cimarosa household.
When the police came to arrest his father 14 months ago, Giuseppe was furious. There and then he wanted to again leave Sicily and return to Rome where he had lived and worked with horses for eight years in his 20s. He was disgusted that his father had again fallen into the clutches of their powerful relative.
It was only when he went to visit his father in prison, immediately after his arrest, that Giuseppe changed his mind. In tears, his father told him that he was going to collaborate with the investigators, which he subsequently did.
For Giuseppe, this was finally a brave decision from his father – the umbilical cord had been broken. Realising how much his father was now risking, he opted not just to stay in Castelvetrano but also, in a certain sense, to fight back against the Mafia. What is more, he does so, not with a false identity as part of a witness protection programme, but rather by staying in his home town.
Defiantly, he says: “Why should I be forced to leave home and assume a new identity? It should be the mafiosi who leave Sicily, not me . . .”
That is a viewpoint undoubtedly shared by many Sicilians and others, even if one suspects that not all of us would take quite such a brave, outspoken public stance.
Twitter: @PaddyAgnew Una Mullally is on leave