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‘Godmothers’ Increasingly Powerful in Italian Mafia Families

There has been a steady increase in the number of women in power positions among the different branches of the Italian Mafia, with some as brutal and calculating as the men they are replacing, according to recent reports.

In the Camorra, for instance, the Naples-based Mafia clan, prosecutors estimate that the number of active women is 10 times higher than it was in the 1980s or ‘90s, and many more women are winding up arrested or killed.

Analysts suggest that the reason behind female Mafiose rising to power has nothing to do with feminist empowerment and everything to do with demographics. Women are taking over when their male family members are sent to jail or killed.

“There is a growing number of women who hold executive roles in the Camorra,” said General Gaetano Maruccia, commander of the Carabinieri paramilitary police in the Naples area. “They are either widows of mob bosses or wives of husbands who have been put in prison. They hold the reins.”

Mothers, daughters, sisters and sisters-in-law are “assuming ever-more leading roles,” according to Stefania Castaldi, a Naples-based prosecutor who investigates organized crime.

But for whatever the motives, the transition has been real and relentless.

“In Naples, we say, ‘The bosses gave their balls to their wives,’” says Cristina Pinto, a reformed Camorra boss who served 23 years of jail time for her crimes.

“Now the power is in the hands of the women mobsters. These women are worse than men. They order murders just like that, not even thinking about the consequences. They are violent and irrational. Money and power make them crazy,” she said.

This phenomenon is not limited to Naples. Women bosses or “godmothers” can now be found in every branch of the Italian Mafia: the Camorra in Naples, the Cosa Nostra in Sicily. the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, and the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia.

According to the Italian Ministry of Justice, more than 150 Mafia women are now locked up in Italian prisons, and nearly all of them had leadership roles in one of the Mafia branches.

In Sicily, for instance, having women in positions of power in Cosa Nostra is now an accepted reality, something that wasn’t the case just a few decades ago. According to one Palermo prosecutor, Francesca Mazzocco, there are around 20 Cosa Nostra families active in the main cities and towns of Sicily, a third of which are either led by women or have women among their most powerful members.

“If the husband was very strong, then the woman gets more respect,” Ms. Mazzocco said.

One of the groundbreakers was Giuseppa (Giusy) Vitale, the first woman considered the real head of a Sicilian crime family, or in local jargon, one of the “bosses in skirts and high heels.”

“Giusy is a woman who sacrificed her femininity to almost become a man, shaped by her brothers in their image and likeness, ruthless and cruel, ready to order a murder with the click of her fingers,” says Alessandra Ziniti, a journalist in Palermo with the Italian daily La Repubblica.

To avoid prison, Vitale later became a pentita, collaborating with law enforcement, and reportedly now lives under a witness protection program in a secret location.

Another Sicilian godmother, Teresa Marino, allegedly took over for her husband, Tommaso Lo Presti, when the latter was sent to prison for his Mafia activities in Palermo.

“The role she assumed as head of the clan shows that times have changed – these days there is equality of the sexes, even within Cosa Nostra,” said Leonardo Agueci, a Palermo prosecutor.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter 

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