Camorra Clan Busted for Christmastime Poinsettia Racket

Poinsettias are known in Italy as Christmas stars... 
BBC News reported that Italian police have arrested four alleged gangsters who had been engaged in a Christmas-related racket -- namely, the crew was allegedly forcing shop owners to buy poinsettias - known in Italy as Christmas Stars - at prices of up to 100 times wholesale.

The gangsters, working in Naples, were demanding as much as 100 euros ($140) a plant for the past three holiday seasons, police say.

Owners who refused had their shops vandalised.

"It wasn't someone dressed like Santa Claus tapping on the doors of shop owners and businesses... Instead there were four emissaries of the Mazzarella clan," police said.

The men were trying to raise funds for legal fees of jailed gang members, police said. They should have charged 300 times wholesale; arrests and wars have taken a massive toll on the Mazzarella clan, which is a shadow of its former self.

The Mazzarellas are Camorra. (Charles DeLucca writes occasional articles about his observances and thoughts regarding organized crime, Italian-style, in all its various guises and locals, the Camorra chief among them.)

The Camorra, which originated in Campania and in Naples, is among the oldest and largest criminal organizations in Italy, formulated as far back as the 18th century. Unlike the pyramidal structure of the Sicilian and American Mafia, with a boss on top, then underboss, then consiglieri, etc., the Camorra is horizontal in terms of organization.

Camorra clans, like Mafia families, act independently -- only unlike in America, which has, or had, a Commission, Camorra clans tend to feud among themselves frequently, engaging in bloody wars that make American gangsters like quite docile in comparison.

The Mazzarellas imposed themselves on the crime scene in the 1950s, when they began using fishing boats to smuggle contraband. From the 1970s through the 1990s the clan became involved in numerous wars in which many dozens of affiliates were killed.

In the early 1970s, Raffaele Cutolo began to expand his power in the region -- he considered himself a kind of Lucky Luciano-type figure, dedicated to reinvigorating the Camorra -- while also enlarging his own wealth and power. He formed a group of clans that became known as Nuova Camorra Organizzata; the Mazzarellas decided to join with Cutolo.

This led to major warfare against the so-called Alliance of Secondigliano, an organization that sprung up to counter Cutolo.

As Mr. DeLucca wrote: "Raffaele Cutolo is a camorrista who decide to create the Nuova Camorra Organizzata. Cutolo organized a good number of northern camorra clans into one huge organization. Apparently he rediscovered the old Camorra initiation ritual of the 1800s and wanted to centralize power, creating a structure that resembled the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. He was apparently an educated person and received the nickname of ´Il Professore.'

"Cutolo’s career started with his affiliation with the ’Ndrangheta; he had a relationship with one of the ‘Ndrangheta Bosses, Paolo De Stefano."

Except for a nearly two-year spell on the run, Cutolo has lived inside maximum-security jails or psychiatric prisons since 1963, serving multiple life sentences for murder.

As for the Mazzarellas, more wars and arrests took their toll on the group, ultimately reducing its members to standing on the street and shaking down Christmas tree vendors.