What the Hell Is the Sacra Corona Unita?

As reported, the Sacra Corona Unita is believed to be behind the triple killings this week of a mobster on parole, along with his girlfriend and her 2-year-old son.

The Local reported that 2-year-old Domenico was shot dead along with his mother and her partner when gunmen ran them off the road and shot them to death in Taranto, Italy, in March 2014.

Where the "4th Mafia" was established.

Two more children in the car lived through the ordeal by playing dead.

"Investigators said the woman - the widow of a murdered mafioso - had provided information which led to the arrest of several criminals while her partner, himself a convicted murderer, had been taking advantage of day releases from prison to try to regain control of the local drug market."

Giacomo di Gennaro, a sociologist specializing in organised crime and criminal law in Naples, told AFP the violence has grown worse since the arrest of the big mafia bosses over the past 15 years.

"These 'men of honour' used to forbid the killing of priests, women and children. Their control over the territory was so strong that it was not necessary. Today, the boundaries of territories change so quickly... all lines are crossed," he said.

The Sacra Corona Unita in the Puglia region, where Monday's attack took place, positions itself as less violent than the other groups. It is a "protector" of the people, so it claims.

The group apparently has a website, believe it or not...

The Sacra Corona Unita (SCU) is a coalition of criminal groups formed in the early 1980s. Like Italy's three Mafias, it also has a code of conduct and an elaborated hierarchical structure, and the ability to manipulate and infiltrate various institutions.

Located in the region Puglia, in the "heel" of the Italian peninsula, it is the most recent Mafia group established. It was founded by Camorrista Raffaele Cutolo, who decided to expand his operations into Puglia, thereby gaining access to the Adriatic seaport cities. He was also willing to work with independent street gangs. He formed this group as a breakaway splinter group of the Camorra.

Cutolo (born December 20, 1941) was said to be a charismatic leader who built his new group to "renew" the Camorra. Various nicknames of his include "o Vangelo" (the gospel), "'o Principe" (the prince),"'o Professore" (the professor) and "'o Monaco" (the monk).

Apart from 18 months on the run, Cutolo has lived inside maximum-security jails or psychiatric prisons since 1963 and is now serving multiple life sentences for murder.

As for the recent triple killing, Italy's best-selling daily, the Corriere della Sera, described the toddler as one of a string of "defenceless victims of the men of dishonour", such as three-year-old Coco, who was shot dead in the arms of his grandfather two months ago. Other killings:

  • Giuseppe, 13, who involuntarily witnessed the assassination of a trade unionist in 1948 was murdered by an air injection while in hospital.
  • Or 12-year-old Giuseppe di Matteo, the son of a mafia turncoat, who was kidnapped in 1996 and kept in atrocious conditions for two years before he was strangled and his body was dissolved in acid.

Today, "the crisis which has pushed the old bosses to reinvent themselves, the disorderly rise of new killers, the use of drugs which burn souls and hearts, mean killers no longer have the time or possibility to hide their real faces", writes Goffredo Buccini in the Corriere.

On Friday, Pope Francis will meet in Rome with around 700 families of mafia victims, while on Saturday the names of 900 "innocent victims" of the mafia will be read aloud at a ceremony to mark a day of memory held by the anti-Mafia Libera association.

The SCU was formed in the late 1970s, known at the time as the Nuova Grande Camorra Pugliese. Cutolo was arrested only a few years later, however, and the group reformed itself and established a working relationship with the Calabrese ‘Ndrangheta, whose leaders did not require a cut of the proceeds.

"The criminal group quickly evolved into an autonomous organization under the control of its first true capo, Giuseppe Rogoli," according to The Fourth Mafia: La Sacra Corona Unita By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus.

"Rogoli founded the SCU in 1984 while incarcerated in the Bari prison. He sought to fuse together a mob that reflected Pugliese interests and opportunities, while introducing into the mix an adaptation of certain traditional mafia practices and rituals. The criminality began by invading the wine and olive oil interests (which Puglia produces in abundance), committing a series of frauds, swindles and extortions, and engaging in arms and drug trafficking. As SCU grew in scope and boldness, international alliances were contemplated and developed with its counterparts in Albania, Rumania, Russia and among the Slavs."

He added, "The vendettas of the Pugliese gangs have been very violent and meant to send a dire message to other potential transgressors. The assassins have been known to follow a precise ritual. As reported, 'Often the victim’s body is brutally tortured in a procedure of death and revenge. Gouged eyes, severed tongues or genitals, each method of killing corresponds to a sort of Dantesque passage that reveals the sin that irreparably stained the sinner.'"

In the past few years, some members formed a splinter group, called the Sacra Corona Libera, an offshoot of the SCU, which disgruntled former SCU members have joined, reportedly.

La Sorta wrote: "The Sacra Corona Libera exploits impressionable boys for the dirty street work, and rejects any rituals of initiation as dated and of little consequence. At least partially, as a result, these undisciplined renegades have been easily "turned" by the authorities, supplying information detrimental to their former comrades. The future prospects of the Sacra Corona Libera are presently unclear. What is clear is that organized crime in Puglia has been in a state of flux with apparently independent or quasi-independent criminal units forming, splintering or being substantially weakened through arrests, outstanding warrants, and imprisonment."

From all appearances, the Sacra Corona Unita has the makings of a mafia, true and proper, as seen by its precise set of rules, a shared and valued criminal subculture, and a structure that is developing along strong hierarchical lines..

Further reading, from the above-linked story (or, more than you probably want to know:

The SCU is composed of three società, or groupings: Società Minore, Società Maggiore, and Società Segreta. To each of these ranked orders---Minor, Major, Secret—there are corresponding doti, that is, grades or statuses within the organization, which are interconnected in a hierarchy of command, and each carrying defined functions, obligations, and norms of behavior.

Members, if declared worthy, can graduate from Minor to Major to Secret—one dote to the next—by accomplishment, through the rituals of the riti battesimali, the rites of baptism. (Notice the religious connotations, which strongly influence language and action.)

At the lowest, entrance level, the Società Minore, is found the dote of picciotteria or camorra (a reference to the apprentices called picciotti), who do the street work, and perform on the promise that "to serve today in order to be served tomorrow"—meaning an equal opportunity employer with advancement opportunities for all. On entering the criminal brotherhood, all picciottihave the possibility of reaching positions of dominance and command. Picciotti perform the functions of worker or soldier. They are many, the turnover great. Those who aspire to enter the brotherhood are motivated by a desire for social and economic mobility and, often as not, by the need to seek communion with a close-knit "family" of like-minded persons of similar backgrounds.

Before the bestowal of the dote of camorrista, the person must go through a probationary period of forty days, to demonstrate that he has the necessary prerequisites for a criminal career, and has no connection with the police. On successful completion, the candidate is formally inducted into the organization as a manovalanza, a worker.

In accepting the grade of Società Minore, the candidate must state as follows: "I swear on the point of this fist, to be faithful to this formal societal body, to reject father, mother, brothers and sisters, up to the seventh generation; I swear to divide hundredth per hundredth and thousandth per thousandth until the last droplet of blood, with one foot in the grave and the other chained in order to give a strong embrace to prison." There are no other affiliations before me—the candidate renounces all worldly relationships and turns to complete and utter fidelity in the SUC and its members; he drops out of the conventional life to enter the confines of the underworld subculture that his new comrades represent.

picciotto can, in the course of his criminal career, succeed to the second category, theSocietà Maggiore, which has two statuses, Lo Sgarro and La Santa. The first dote is given only to those who have committed at least three killings as ordered by the SCU. Once a Sgarro, the affiliate can only leave the organization on pain of death. He now can form a filiale, a branch or clan of picciotti, who report to him and occupies a designated territory. Sgarro affiliates can recognize each other by a rose tattoo on the right foot or the position of a Neapolitan playing card in a predefined position.

The Santa grade is conferred at midnight by capos of superior grade. The rite of bestowal of thedote include the consignment of the following objects to the nominee: a cyanide pill, a rifle or a pistol, a lemon, a wad of cotton wool, a needle, three white silk handkerchiefs, and the so-called spartenza (in the sense of division of spoils).

The cyanide is to be used in case of difficulty, in order not to betray the society. Death is preferable to collaboration with the authorities. The firearm is a symbol of fidelity, to be used on oneself in case of failure to live up to the exacting expectations of the SCU. The cotton represents Monte Bianco (Mont-Blanc in the western Alps at 4708 meters), considered sacred. The lemon represents the obligation to attend to the wounds of one’s comrades. The needle is to puncture the index finger of the right hand, mixed with lemon juice, another sign of fidelity. The handkerchiefs represent purity of spirit, and the spartenza consists usually of a gift of cigarettes.

By reaching the third, and ultimate, level, the Società Segreta, the affiliate is now in the core of the criminal organizational structure. There we find the General Council, composed of the all-powerful, decision-making members. Only those individuals who possess those well-honed criminal and administrative instincts essential to leadership and the actualization of criminal ventures attain the top grades.

Those who reach the apex of the organization swear an oath of trustworthiness, to never betray the padrino or the other men of honor. "I would rather rip out my heart and hand it to my padrino, have it sliced and distributed to the General Council than betray my sacred brotherhood. I swear, moreover, solemnly, in both good and bad, in calm and tempest, my padrino is inviolable, my brother of blood, and not even a universal flood can put an end to this union, sealed with our blood."

Among other reasons, the vows of honor taken by SCU members are meant to prevent the infiltration of the police into their ranks as well as to prevent any member from disavowing all honor, and turning state’s evidence. What is known about the SCU at present is largely due to evidence given by turncoats. As foolish as these swearing-in ceremonies may appear to some, there is a good rationale. For if they are not broken, any attempts to gather sufficient evidence for indictments would be seriously hampered.