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Feature Articles


October 2004
The Strange Case of Liliana Campana and the Sacra Corona Unita

By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

“The mafia’s youngest don was in custody last night after a massive police swoop. Liliana Campana, 22, was led from her heavily fortified home wearing a trendy denim jacket and flashing her midriff. She is thought to be behind drugs and extortion rackets and bomb attacks on rivals. More than 100 armed officers raided the house in Mesagne, Italy. They found weapons, ammo and 70 kilos of cocaine and heroin.”
(Daily Record, June 28, 2004)

     Two attractive women. One the head of the commissariat of police, Sabrina Manzone, in the small city of Mesagne, in the southern region of Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot. A tomato-processing center, Mesagne is ten miles inland, on the expressway, from the busy Adriatic port city of Brindisi, a hotbed of trafficking by the Sacra Corona Unita (SCU), or United Holy Crown. The other, Liliana Campana, who at 20 years of age took over the reins of one of the most potent SCU clans. To the townsfolk, Liliana Campana was seen as una brava ragazza—a nice young lady. The commissioner was decidedly at odds with that opinion, calling her a scafata (a dialect word); that is to say, she has seen plenty of that type.

      After five years of duty in the northern city of Trieste and two years in Brindisi, Sabrina Manzone was posted to Mesagne, in 2002. At that time the Mesagne clan was under the control of Pino Regoli, the founder, and his two successors, Massimo Pasimenti, called piccoli denti (small teeth), and Antonio Vitale il marocchino (the Moroccan). The bosses are now incarcerated. After a series of arrests and convictions, the original nucleus was decapitated and their contraband activities drastically curtailed.

      The remaining “little fish” had ambitions of making their mark in the big time. The brothers Francesco, Sandro, and Antonio Campana rose from the ranks to leadership positions. When, after July 17, 2002, Sandro and Francesco were jailed and Antonio became a fugitive from justice, Liliana Campana was named the new boss. Those jailed did not trust the others and saw Liliana as the one who could protect their interests and act as “cashier.” Liliana ran a tight ship, commanding about fifty men, part of the old Regoli clan that had raised havoc in Mesagne, in the 1980s, killing with impunity and forcing the city to declare a curfew in an attempt to keep the peace.

      The SCU has been called the fourth mafia, following the Sicilian mafia, the Neopolitan camorra and the Calabrese ‘Ndrangheta. By current estimates, the SCU has forty-seven clans with about 1500 members. It is the smallest of the four with respect to profits and worldwide criminal impact. The gang has operated in partnership with kinsmen in Montenegro in trafficking drugs and arms across the Adriatic as well as Albanian criminals in the smuggling of stolen vehicles and transport of illegal migrants.

      The origins of the SCU began with the Nuova Camorra Organizzata. The camorra boss gave Pino Iannelli and Alessandro Fusco the task of forming the Nuova Camorra Pugliese, in 1981. The following year the group disengaged from Naples and reorganized into two territorial units, the SCU in Salento, the southern portion of Puglia, and La Rosa, with its epicenter in the port city of Bari. The two groups agreed to consolidate their domains and to maintain ties in the drug trade.

      Giuseppe Rogoli founded the SCU on Christmas 1983 in Lecce prison, where he was serving a life sentence for the murder of a tobacco shop owner. The clans staked out operational centers and were to collaborate through the SCU Cupola of the top bosses, a structure inspired by the Sicilian Commission. The inmate Rogoli, in a letter to his right-hand man, Antonio Dadaro, in April 1986, wrote, “You are the capo crimine, but never forget that you take your orders from me and no one else in the world.”

      The name Sacra Corona Unita has religious-mystical connotations. It evokes the rosary of the Catholic liturgy, in which each clan is affiliated to all others as in a brotherhood. The organization is Sacra because it imitates a religious baptism. It is Corona because the ritual journey emulates the Via Dolorosa, the Stations of the Cross, one after the other. It is Unita because the clans are united as in the links of a chain. This religious symbolism is a clear departure from the mafia-camorra traditions.

     Another characteristic of interest has been the leading roles given to women, affirming the modern gender politics of the Salento clans. As one example, the sister of boss Rizzi engaged in the drug import-export business. The wife of Rogoli, Domenica Biondi, after his imprisonment, was elected to a top position in the SCU hierarchy--one might say equivalent to becoming a “made woman.” Which brings us to the youthful and sheltered Liliana Campana, an unlikely candidate for clan capo.

      Liliana’s involvement became clear to the authorities through a series of investigations, including planting a bug in the white Punto car of Andrea Librato, her fiancé. The two were recorded while talking about the principle activity of the gang, drug trafficking.

      While the two did business, the agents listened. In June 2, 2002, during the evening, the two sat in the Punto. Andrea consigned the drug proceeds, and she counted 1100 euros. Not quite satisfied with the amount, she queried, “This is all of it, right?” Four nights later, the same scene: “How much do you have?” “Well,” he responded somewhat hesitantly, “1500…oh…give or take.” Losing her patience, she barked back, “Get it right. You understand? Get it right. Because I have to put it in Stefania’s account. So let’s go do it.”

      The three brothers trusted only Liliana. Antonio cautioned her to conceal a portion of the funds as well as the Kalashnikov and munitions and to be sure to move the cache regularly from place to place. Once when Andrea asked her the location, she replied sharply, “Antonio told me to tell no one.”

      When Liliana’s boyfriend was jailed, all the responsibility fell to her. She visited the incarcerated, dispersed money to their family members, and communicated with Antonio, who remained at large. Her boyfriend’s father heard rumors that she was feathering her own nest with the mob’s money and using his son’s cut to support the three brothers. “I pray to God,” he remarked, “that she is not shortchanging Andrea. I don’t want to hear that. And that’s what I fear is happening.”

      Sabrina Mazone said of Liliana, before her arrest, “She thinks she can outwit us. She can’t.” Liliana was invited to police headquarters for “routine” questioning. Manzone tried to penetrate her shield of silence without success. “I know nothing of such things.” Lillian did say something about herself, however. “I spent my life getting educated in a convent. I’ve never had a normal life, never a female friend, never a good time.”

      When the police finally came for her, Manzone told her bluntly, “This time you’re not going home. Tonight, you will be sleeping in the Lecce prison.” Her brief criminal career was at an end. She had become entwined in the mob’s affairs probably because the men could not trust one another—each was for himself, and divided they fell. As the two guards escorted her to the police wagon, Liliana burst into tears from frustration and the fear of what lay before her. “They did not even let me pack a suitcase.” Her life would never be normal.


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