Women and the Ndrangheta: Background of Marisa Merico's Story

The story of Britain's Mafia Princess was to have been made into a film. On Jan 30, 2013, the above video was posted, described as "an exclusive preview of the documentary "Mama Mafia, one woman's story of her mafia family."

The film apparently was never made, which may have something to do with an acquisition of one of the companies behind the project. We will revisit this at the end of the story.

Marisa Merico's story is quite convincing considering the history of the 'ndrina she was associated with, as well as extensive press coverage. She's been written about going as far back as 1998.

Merico also wrote a book that was published in January of this year by Harper.
Marisa Merico in Blackpool, England.

According to an Amazon profile written about Merico (for the book,"Mafia Princess"), she was born to an English mother who had run away to Italy and married Emilio Di Giovine, who was the boss of a fierce Ndrangheta clan -- but in appearance only; his mother, Maria Serraino was, in fact, the real boss, acting behind the scenes.

Marisa's mother, after believing she had grown too deeply involved in the family’s operations, ran away from the clan and returned home to Blackpool with her daughter. Marisa’s father was determined to get his daughter back.

Marisa returned to Italy, fell in love with her father’s chief henchman and eloped with him to get married. Soon she was neck-deep in the family’s operations. Then, suddenly, an aunt became an informant for the police.

Marisa, her father and 90 other members of the Di Giovine family were imprisoned while a six-month trial gripped Italy. Marisa is now out of prison and lives in Blackpool with her daughter.

Founded in the 1950s, the Serraino 'ndrina was based in Cardeto, just southeast of historic Ndrangheta stronghold Reggio Calabria. The group was begun under Francesco Serraino (born in 1929), known as the “king of the mountains” for his control over the wood industry in the Aspromonte mountains.

He was later killed on April 23, 1986, during the Second 'Ndrangheta war (1985–1991), along with his son Alessandro. The 'ndrina leader had been marked for death for killing Giorgio De Stefano, the boss of the De Stefano 'ndrina since 1977, the end of the First 'Ndrangheta war.

Francesco's brothers, Paolo Serraino and Domenico Serraino, took over the clan in Cardeto.

Maria Serraino, sister to Paolo and Domenico, married Rosario Di Giovine, and the couple moved to Milan in 1963, where they formed an offshoot of the clan.

The Serraino-Di Giovine clan controlled the territory around Piazza Prealpi, a square located north of Milan.

Under the leadership of Maria Serraino, yes, a woman, the clan began smuggling cigarettes and engaging in other rackets. During the 1970s, the trade shifted from cigarettes to drugs (hashish, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy) as well as weapons, and brought what was left of the other Serraino group together. In fact, the Milan clan gave a boost to their allies in Calabria by shipping them much-needed weaponry with which to fight the Second 'Ndrangheta war.

Maria's son, Emilio Di Giovine, established another base for the clan in Spain, which trafficked hashish from Morocco to England and cocaine from Colombia to Milan.

Maria had various nicknames: Nonna eroina ("Grandma heroin"), Mamma eroina ("Mummy Heroin"), or simply La Signora ("The Lady").

The organisation was dismantled in 1993-1995 by three police operations. Some 180 members of the organisation were arrested. Maria's oldest daughter, Rita Di Giovine was arrested in March 1993 in Verona in possession of 1,000 tablets of ecstasy.

Rita had lived her life for her mother and the clan. Taken out of school at 12, Rita was tasked with helping to unpack cocaine hidden in the panels of imported cars, and to stuff heroin into bottles of shampoo. She transported large sums of cash and quantities of drugs. Part of her job was to bribe local police or, in some cases, recruit them.

A mother of three children by different fathers, she had been in jail several times herself. When finally arrested in 1993, Rita was angry with her brothers, buried in debt -- and addicted to amphetamines. She testified against her family for state protection.

According to Rita Di Giovine's testimony in 1993: "My mother was the boss of the family. She was the one who gave the orders, even if my brother [Emilio] was the boss in name. She decided who was to do what, but she did it all in a way that my brother wouldn't notice she was running the family, not him."
Marisa playing the sexy Mafia operative for her father's clan
of Ndrangheta. There is a history of women exercising power
behind the scenes in the Calabrian Mafia.

In September of 1997, Maria Serraino was sentenced to life imprisonment for Mafia association and murder. (She had ordered the murder of a drug dealer who had worked for the clan but was also moving to form a rival organization.)

Maria Serraino is not an isolated case.

One quite exceptional example: Teresa Concetta Managò. At 16 she married Francesco Condello, also a youth. Neither one was from a crime family. Francesco got his introduction to the Calabrian underworld when he opened a bar without first asking permission of the Gallico family, which controlled the territory. In 1977, his younger brother, a teenager, was murdered by the Gallicos. Rather than tell the police, Francesco sought his own brand of vengeance. He allied with a clan that also opposed the Gallicos, which eventually ignited a war in which 40 were killed.

Concetta watched her husband's transformation from a law-abiding merchant to a brutal assassin. Soon, the law began to take a closer look at him, so he went on the lam and his own men betrayed him, killing him with a car bomb in 1989.

Concetta, now a widow with four minor children, decided to tie herself to the Gallico clan and became the lover of its capo, Domenico Gallico. She gained Domenico's confidence and sympathy and was eventually able to convince him to order the deaths of the men who ambushed her husband.

Her role in the assassinations was revealed via an intercepted phone conversation with a friend during which Concetta confessed her complicity.

She was arrested and turned state's evidence, denouncing her lover.

According to the book, Women and the Mafia: Female Roles in Organized Crime Structures by Giovanni Fiandaca, women like Maria Serraino and Concetta Manago exemplify the main characteristic of how in the 'Ndrangheta women establish and use their power:
Unlike men, women are less interested in external recognition of their power and more interested in exercising it. Her daughter Rita Di Giovine attributed her mother with the qualities of a boss and made her charismatic leadership abilities a question of blood lines, of belonging to a traditional 'Ndrangheta family. "She’s got it right there in her blood, in her veins," Rita said about her mother. "My mother had all the power, because if she decided some job shouldn’t be done, then the job wasn’t done." 
The rules of the 'Ndrangheta do not consider the possibility of female elements becoming members. Nevertheless, if a woman demonstrates certain abilities she can become associated with the title of sorella d'omertà, ("sister of omertà," the code of silence). However, swearing loyalty to the organization as is required for men, is not mandatory. This honour is limited to wives, daughters, sisters, girlfriends or someone related to male 'Ndrangheta members. 
Nevertheless, despite Maria’s prominent position, she suffered from her husband’s violence, considered unimportant within this milieu: "I saw my father beat my mother," her daughter testified. "Even when she was nine months pregnant, he hit her with a broom and broke two ribs." The 'Ndrangheta is ruled by male prejudice, and women are considered the property of the men. Maria could also not prevent that her daughter Rita was sexually harassed by her brothers and raped by her father from the age of nine until she was nineteen, when she became pregnant. 
Despite the hardships and her ruthless rule over the clan, she remained a mother in her own way. When she learned that one daughter became addicted to heroin, she undertook a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Polsi in Calabria. She pledged to stop dealing heroin and only sell hashish in the hope that her daughter would overcome her addiction.

We will more deeply go into the story of Marisa Merico in a next installment, having established the context for the events related to her.

As for the film that was never made, according to a promotional website:

"This feature length documentary will take viewers inside the hidden and dangerous world of Calabria’s powerful Mafia — the “Ndrangheta — revealing, for the first time, that some of its most dominant and ruthless figures are women. Mama Mafia follows investigative journalist Beatrice Borromeo as she discovers witnesses who are willing to tell their own stories of life inside the Mafia. Their testimony will be vividly shown in the context of larger social issues affected by the power and influence of the Mafia in Italy and the world today. It will also present an intimate portrait of a brave woman journalist and track the emotional impact of her descent into the Mafia underworld. The film will be shot and edited in a visual style to match the intimate and shocking story."

Newsweek and The Daily Beast, which merged and were part of the same company from 2010 to 2013, were involved with the film; both publications published articles on Marisa Merico; The Daily Beast's offering must have been a long, in-depth piece, as it was named a Long Read last year.

This is strange.

It appears the film was never made, and both Newsweek and The Daily Beast pulled their stories.

One explanation: The film could be the victim of the broken merger between Newsweek and The Daily Beast, which occurred about eight months after the preview for the Merico film was posted.

On August 3, 2013, IBT Media announced it had acquired Newsweek from IAC; terms were not disclosed.

The acquisition included the Newsweek brand and its online publication, but did not include The Daily Beast.

Marisa has been telling her story for years, and an even earlier video was found, which will be included in the next installment.


  1. Clinton CeeRay FussellJun 30, 2014, 11:58:00 AM

    So where can I find the full length documentary? Or did they really make one?

  2. hi ed we spoke kast nite rumoe on the street is Geoegie Borgesi is in charge but only the crew and feds know for sure.

  3. I don't think they made it. I can't find it and I looked! Next best thing -- see the link to her book, published this year -- Mafia Princess.....

  4. But is Skinny Joey still calling the shots. I am wondering if UJ was a font boss all along -- a good boss but a front, like Fat Tony in NY....

  5. Reminds me of the Sopranos episode when Tony went to Italy and that 1997 made for TV movie Bella Mafia.

  6. u got two factions uJ crew most of them in jail the rest will be shortly stevie was running things while uj was in jail now that Georgie is out they say he.s running things Joey was getting a envolope but with UJ and Georgie that got alot lighter they dont do things the way u guys do in NY everybodys waiting for the shoe to drop rhen moves will be made

  7. Clinton CeeRay FussellJun 30, 2014, 1:49:00 PM

    You know for the Ndrangheta to be such a notorious crime syndicate there sure seems to be very few documentaries about it. Same thing with the Camorra and Sicily's Cosa Nostra for that matter. There's a documentary on the Ndrangheta's secret bunkers, but not on the Ndrangheta itself. The few that are out there just don't do them justice in my opinion.

  8. They will recover; the Feds aren't exterminators....they won't get all of them, and the five families will move right in anyway

  9. I agree...additionally if you watch the above video, it's ironic that some Italians blame Puzo for the widespread belief that women are not involved in the Mafia because of the Godfather (especially the end scene when the door closes on Kay, Michael's wife.) The truth is that Puzo based Vito Corleone's character on his own mother. Sister Connie Corleone also gives the lie to this notion in that she was whacking people by the third installment too. And The Sopranos played with this concept, and as we know Chase strove for realism, always, as another commentator notes.


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