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Feature Articles


January 2006
La Stidda - The Fifth Mafia

By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus


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

* * *

GELA, SICILY. The carabinieri have arrested in Gela five persons accused of using illicit funds for the purchase of businesses. The accused have laundered dirty money belonging to mafioso families of the Stidda. The authorities have sequestered two fruit firms and a truck company with a value of about two million euros. The investigators are convinced that in fact the businesses are owned by the Gela Stidda. The carabinieri utilized telephonic interceptions and the declarations of state-witness Emanuele Celona. (Università degli studi di Palermo, 2-11-2003)

BERGAMO, ITALY. An arrest has been made in Treviglio [North Italy] by the Mobile Squad of Bergamo, in an antimafia operation to crush a criminal organization formed by persons from Gela, in Sicily. The man arrested in Treviglio is Giuseppe Novembrini, 33, of Gela. He has been under surveillance for a year. The ten arrest warrants issued were for aggravated extortion and mafia association. The men are members of Cosa Nostra and La Stidda. Four of the accused were notified in prison, where they are confined for other crimes. The persons involved had a role as extorters, collecting the pizzo [forced payments] in particular from a Gela agricultural cooperative that distributes flowers and fruit. (L’Eco di Bergamo, 12-20-2005)

     Italian organized crime experts refer to delinquent organizations of the mafioso type in South Italy as Cosa Nostra (Sicily), Camorra (Campagna), ‘Ndrangheta (Calabria), and Nuova Sacra Corona Unita (Puglia). The latest emerging threat, the so-called Fifth Mafia, is competing with Cosa Nostra for supremacy in Sicily.

     Stidda is a mafia-type criminal association that has established itself in southern and eastern Sicily, outside of the western provinces, especially Palermo, which has been traditionally dominated by Cosa Nostra. Little is know of this criminal association, whose basic roots appear quite old, possibly dating to the 1700s, even if some elements are beginning to come to light. Initially, the Stidda, operating in autonomous clans with little unity among them and a loosely structured leadership, were constrained to occupy criminal niches ignored by Cosa Nostra, like gambling and prostitution. Stidda could not engage on a grand scale, such as narcotics trafficking, as does Cosa Nostra, because of its lack of sophistication.

     Both Stidda and Cosa Nostra came into existence in the same pastoral and farming environments. While the latter evolved into a well-defined vertical structure, becoming urbanized and spreading its delinquent tentacles, the Fifth Mafia kept to its rural origins, where the pickings were modest, up to the 1980s.

     Now Stidda is showing an expansionist temperament and moving into the cities. No longer the poor country cousins, it is proposing itself as an alternative criminal lifstyle, upsetting the historic unity of criminal power on the island. The two competing groups have standard mafioso features in common: secrecy, omertà, ferocity, and unbounded arrogance. However, La Stidda is more accessible. "All can be men of honor" appears to be the message. Anyone can join its ranks. And because it is a newcomer on the broader scene, breaking its provincial bounds, there is no sense of limit and a lack of cohesion. We all think we understand Cosa Nostra and its hierarchy. Stidda at this stage of development is more amorphous; one might say a mafia in its early stages, with growing pains, searching out an identity separate from Cosa Nostra.

     In Cosa Nostra terminology the word stidda (star; stella in Italian) indicates a constellation of groups that orbit around an organizing ideology. Stidda can also refer to a tattoo that the stiddari (associates are called stiddari in Caltanissetta, stiddaroli in Agrigento) display as a sign of recognition. The tattoo has five greenish marks arranged in a circle, forming a minuscule star, called i punti della malavita (the points of the criminal life).

     One stiddaro meeting another, while drawing attention to his tattoo, might remark, "You can recognize me for what I am, anywhere"—"Tu m’accanusceri intra e fora stu paisi."

     In truth, not all stiddari exhibit this "mark of membership." Similar symbols are not new to the Italian underworld (or elsewhere) and they tend to be used by few. There is a suggestion that the Stidda name was borrowed from the patron saint of the town of Barrafranca, in the province of Enna, the Madonna della Stella.

     The founders of the Fifth Mafia were Giuseppe Croce Benvento and Salvatore Calafato both of Palma di Montechiaro. Stidda activity flourishes particularly in and around the cities of Agrigento, Catania and Siracusa located on the south and east coasts. The first to speak of its existence was mafioso Marino Mannoia, who became a turncoat witness in the late 1980s. The pentito Leonardo Messina outlined the composition of Sicilian gangs external to Cosa Nostra. The Stidda, Messina explained, consisted of an aggregate of criminal cosche, but in contrast to Cosa Nostra in the principle of not having a commission with a charismatic figure at its head. His statements were a confirmation of worrisome earlier analyses that noted the appearance of emerging and potentially potent non-Cosa Nostra clans.

     Between the end of the seventies and the first half of the eighties Sicily was the battleground of a mafia internecine war that upset the equilibrium and relationships within Cosa Nostra. In those years the Corleonesi gained ascendancy, and there was a re-organization and an internationalization of Cosa Nostra due to the introduction of big-time drug trafficking syndicates. The old norms that had regulated disagreements within the ranks and formed inter-clan cohesion were compromised. In addition, the flood of mafiosi who collaborated with the government in the nineties opened up the "secret society" to public inspection, dissolving substantially the glue that was the main strength of the organization, namely the principles of honor and omertà.

     The rigidity of the traditional structure, in which the relational norms were fixed and personalized, had created obstacles to the ability of the old mafia to govern. During this period of disorganization, in the south of Sicily, especially in the province of Agrigento, La Stidda moved to counter Cosa Nostra’s expansionist ambitions. To the stiddari ranks were added disenchanted Cosa Nostra "men of honor" who had fled from their original families because they could not abide the Corleonese capo Toto Riina, the pretender to the crown of capo di tutti capi on the island. The diabolic Riina did not know limits; he spread terror and death among mafiosi and public officials alike in his quest for a crime dictatorship.

     The Stidda also enlarged its membership and gained credibility by absorbing local thugs who were at the margins of organized crime. These picciotti, disfranchised youth of limited opportunity, who were ready for anything, were employed to eliminate the capimafia. Cold-blooded assassins, they left a trail of blood, during the years 1987 to 1990, racking upwards of 500 slain in Gela, Niscemi, Riesi, and Vittoria (where no clans had previously existed) with bare recognition by the authorities of the Stidda plot.

     The war in Favara ended with a Stidda victory. That town and Gela are considered the capitals of the criminal group. Cosa Nostra’s toehold in Catania has had to contend with fierce stiddari determination to stem forays by Cosa Nostra into traditional Stidda domains. (For an interesting account of Cosa Nostra in Catania, see "Men of Dishonor" by Pino Arlacchi, 1992.)

     Current analyses suggest that the Fifth Mafia has the capacity to evolve into a more smoothly integrated and sophisticated criminal entity with the passage of time and lessons learned. With the exception of Palermo, the uncontested seat of Cosa Nostra, it is said that stiddari are to be found in every Sicilian province, and in North Italy, where they are seeking out useful alliances and territorial rights. The interesting question at the moment is whether Sicily can house two powerful mafias. If not, one must eventually give way, because a mafia mentality, whether in legitimate or illegitimate spheres, constantly seeks monopoly.

 


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