Salvatore "Totò" Riina (born November,16 1930 - died November,17 2017) was a Sicilian crime lord, mafiosi, drug kingpin, businessman, mass murderer, terrorist, and the overlord of the Sicilian Mafia, a member of the Sicilian Mafia who became the most powerful member of the criminal organization in the late 1970s. Fellow mobsters nicknamed him The Beast (La Belva) due to his brutal and sadistic nature, or sometimes The Short One (u' curtu) due to his diminutive stature. During his lifelong career in crime he is believed to have personally killed around 200 people and to have ordered the deaths of as many as 10,000 people. In the early 1980s, Riina became one of the most powerful and feared crime lords in the world, after taking control of the Sicilian Mafia.
During the 1980s and early 1990s Riina and his Mafia faction, the Corleonesi, waged a ruthless campaign of violence against both rival mobsters and the state, which culminated in the assassination of the anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. This caused widespread public revulsion against the Mafia and led to a major crackdown by the authorities, resulting in the capture and imprisonment of Riina and many of his associates. Riina was regarded by the U.S. Government as "the most dangerous man in the world" during his reign, some U.S. government officials even considered him to be just as if not more dangerous than Al Qaeda leader/terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
Rise to power
Riina was born and raised in Corleone and joined the local Mafia clan at the age of nineteen by committing a murder on their behalf. The following year he killed a man during an argument and served six years in prison for manslaughter.
The head of the Mafia Family in Corleone was Michele Navarra until 1958, when he was shot to death on the orders of Luciano Leggio, a ruthless 33-year-old Mafioso, who subsequently became the new boss. Together with Totò Riina and Bernardo Provenzano (who were two of the gunmen in Navarra's slaying), Leggio began to increase the power of the Corleonesi. Because they hailed from a relatively small town, the Corleonesi were not a major factor in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1950s, compared to the major Families based in the capital, Palermo. In a gross underestimation of the mobsters from Corleone, the Palermo bosses often referred to the Corleonesi as i viddani – "the peasants".
In the early 1960s, Leggio, Riina and Provenzano, who had spent the last few years hunting down and killing dozens of Navarra's surviving supporters, were forced to go into hiding due to arrest warrants. Riina and Leggio were arrested and tried in 1969 for murders carried out earlier that decade. They were acquitted due to intimidation of the jurors and witnesses. Riina went into hiding later that year after he was indicted on a further murder charge and was to remain a fugitive for the next twenty-three years.
In 1974 Luciano Leggio was arrested and imprisoned for the murder of Michele Navarra sixteen years earlier. Although Leggio retained some influence from behind bars, Riina was now the effective head of the Corleonesi. He also had close relations with the 'Ndrangheta, the mafia-type association in Calabria. His "compare d’anello" (a kind of best man and trusted friend) at his wedding in 1974 was Domenico Tripodo, a powerful boss and prolific cigarette smuggler.
During the 1970s Sicily became an important location in the international heroin trade, especially with regards to the refining and exporting of the narcotic. The profits to be had from heroin were vast and exceeded those of the traditional activities of extortion and loan-sharking. Totò Riina wanted to take control of the trade and was to do so by planning a war against the rival Mafia Families. During the late 1970s, Riina orchestrated the murders of a number of high-profile public officials, such as judges, prosecutors and members of the Carabinieri. As well as intimidating the state, these assassinations also helped to frame the Corleonesi's rivals. The Godfathers of many Mafia Families were often highly visible in their communities, rubbing shoulders with politicians and mayors, protecting themselves with bribes rather than violence. In contrast, Riina, Provenzano and other Corleonesi were fugitives, always in hiding and rarely seen by other mobsters, let alone the public. Consequently, when a policeman or judge was ill it was the more visible Mafia Families who were the subject of official investigations, especially as these assassinations were deliberately carried out in the territory (or 'turf') of the Corleonesi rivals rather than anywhere near the town of Corleone itself.
The Mafia War of 1981 to 1983
The Corleonesi primary rivals were Stefano Bontade, Salvatore Inzerillo and Gaetano Badalamenti, bosses of various powerful Palermo Mafia Families. Between 1981 and 1983, Bontade and Inzerillo, together with many associates and members of both their Mafia and blood families, were killed. There were up to a thousand killings during this time period as Riina and the Corleonesi, together with their allies, wiped out their rivals.
By 1983, the Corleonesi were effectively ruling the Mafia, and over the next few years Riina increased his influence by eliminating the Corleonesi allies, such as Filippo Marchese, Giuseppe Greco and Rosario Riccobono.
While that helped them become the most powerful clan in Sicily, the Corleonesi tactics backfired to some degree when, in 1983, a convicted double-killer named Tommaso Buscetta became the first Sicilian Mafioso to become an informant (to repent; become a pentito), and cooperate with the authorities. Buscetta was from a losing family in the Mafia war and had lost several relatives and many friends to Riina's hitmen; becoming an informant was the only way both to save himself and get his revenge on Riina. Buscetta provided a great deal of information to Judge Giovanni Falcone and he testified at the Maxi Trial in the mid 1980s that saw hundreds of Mafiosi imprisoned. Riina picked up another life sentence for murder at the Maxi Trial, but it was another in absentia sentence as he was still a fugitive.
In 1989 Riina arranged the murders of a number of his allies, including Ciaculli boss Vincenzo Puccio and Puccio's two brothers. Apparently Vincenzo Puccio had been planning to overthrow Riina as head of the Sicilian Mafia but the Corleonesi boss had found out about the plot.
Allegations of political influence
Riina's tenure as 'boss of bosses' was marked by a changing public attitudes to organised crime. Traditionally Sicilians did not acknowledge the existence of the Mafia as a coherent organised group, assertions to the contrary by other Italians were often seen as 'attacks from the north'. Previous bosses of the Sicilian Mafia were based in Palermo and kept violence to a minimum. Their control of large numbers of votes enabled mutually beneficial relationships with local political figures such as mayors of Palermo, Vito Ciancimino and Salvatore Lima. Ciancimino, who was born in Corleone, corruptly allowed untrammelled property development on a famous valley known as "La Conca d'oro" (the Golden Shell), amassing a vast fortune in the process. Lima granted a valuable monopoly concession on tax collection to mafioso businessman Ignazio Salvo, and was instrumental in Rome based Giulio Andreotti becoming a force in national politics. In his turn Salvo acted as financier to Andreotti. Italy’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, ruled in October 2004 that Andreotti had "friendly and even direct ties" with Stefano Bontade and Gaetano Badalamenti, bosses in the so-called moderate wing of Cosa Nostra that Riina had supplanted in the Second Mafia War. non These connections caused some to suspect that Riina had forged similar links to Giulio Andreotti, however the courts acquitted Androtti of associations with the Mafia after 1980 Baldassare Di Maggio alleged that Riina met with the former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti at Salvo's home and greeted him with a “kiss of honour” Andreotti dismissed the charges against him as “lies and slander … the kiss of Riina, mafia summits … scenes out of a comic horror film.”h
Veteran journalist Indro Montanelli doubted the claim, saying Andreotti "doesn't even kiss his own children." Di Maggio's credibility had been shaken in the closing weeks of the Andreotti trial when he admitted killing a man while under state protection. Appeal court judges rejected Di Maggio’s testimony.
Strategy of violence
Whereas his predecessors had kept a low profile that caused some in law enforcement to question the very existence of the Mafia, Riina ordered the murders of judges, policemen and prosecutors in an attempt to terrify the authorities. A law to create a new offence of Mafia conspiracy, and confiscate Mafia assets was introduced by Pio La Torre but it had been stalled in parliament for two years, La Torre was murdered April 30, 1982. In May 1982, the Italian government sent Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, a general of the Italian Carabinieri, to Sicily with orders to crush the Mafia. However, not long after arriving, on 3 September 1982, the General was gunned down in the city centre with his wife. In response to public disquiet about the failure to effectively combat the organisation Riina headed, Pio La Torre's law was passed 10 days later.
Using the new laws investigating magistrates of the Antimafia Pool including Giovanni Falcone and his colleague Paolo Borsellino were able to secure convictions against Riina and 360 mafiosi at the Maxi Trial. This was a blow to Riina as, although he was already a fugitive, he aspired to someday enjoy his vast wealth living openly as a free man. Riina pinned his hopes on the lengthy appeal process that had frequently set convicted mafioso free, and he suspended the campaign of murders against officials while the cases went to higher courts. The convictions were upheld by the Supreme Court in January 1992. The council of top bosses headed by Riina reacted by ordering the assassination of Salvatore Lima (on the grounds that he was an ally of Giulio Andreotti), and Falcone. Lima was killed on March 12, 1992
Investigating magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and his colleague Paolo Borsellino prosecutions against the Mafia had meant they were under the constant threat of death. Both saw the murder of Lima as an indication they would be killed. On 23 May 1992, Falcone, his wife and three police officers died in the blast of a huge improvised explosive device on a highway outside of Palermo. 57 days later Borsellino was killed along with five police officers in the entrance to his mother's apartment block by a car bomb. Both attacks were ordered by Riina. Ignazio Salvo, who had advised Riina against killing Falcone, was himself murdered on September 17. The public were outraged, both at the Mafia and also the politicians who they felt had failed to adequately protect Falcone and Borsellino. The Italian government arranged for a massive crackdown of the Mafia in response.
Claims of negotiations with the government
Giovanni Brusca later claimed that Riina had told him that after the assassination of Falcone, Riina had been in negotiations with the government. Former interior minister Nicola Mancino said this was not true. In July 2012, Mancino was ordered to stand trial on charges of withholding evidence about alleged 1992 talks between the Italian state and the Mafia. Some prosecutors have theorized that Borsellino murder was connected to the alleged negotiations. In 1992 Carabinieri Colonel Mario Mori met with Vito Ciancimino, who was close to Riina's lieutenant Bernardo Provenzano. Mori was later investigated on suspicion of posing a danger to the state after it was alleged he had a taken a list of Riina's demands that Ciancimino had passed on. Mori maintained his contacts with Ciancimino were aimed at combating the Mafia and catching Riina, and there had been no list. Mori also said Ciancimino had disclosed little beyond implicitly admitting he knew Mafia members, and that key meetings were after Borsellino death.
Riina reprimanded an ambitious Mafioso, Balduccio Di Maggio, for leaving his wife and children for a mistress, telling him he would never be made a boss. Knowing Riina would order the death of subordinates who he considered unreliable, Di Maggio fled Sicily and collaborated with the authorities. At the entrance to a complex of villas where a wealthy businessman who acted as Riina's driver lived, Dimaggio identified Riina's wife. On 15 January 1993, Carabinieri arrested Totò Riina in Palermo, he had been a fugitive for 23 years.
On May 14, 1993 television host Maurizio Costanzo, who had expressed delight at the arrest of Riina, was almost killed by a bomb as he drove down a Rome street, 23 people were injured. The explosion was part of a series, on May 27, 1993 a bomb under the Florence Torre dei Pulci killed five people: Fabrizio Nencini, wife Angelamaria; their daughters; 9-year-old Nadia and two-month-old Caterina, and Dario Capolicchio, aged 20. 33 people were injured. Attacks on art galleries and churches left 10 dead with many injured, and caused outrage among Italians. Some investigators believed most of those who carried out murders for Cosa Nostra answered solely to Leoluca Bagarella, and that consequently Bagarella actually welded more power than Bernardo Provenzano who was Riina's formal successor. Provenzano reportedly protested about the terrorist attacks, but Bagarella responded sarcastically, telling Provenzano to wear a sign saying "I don't have anything to do with the massacres".
Controversy about Riina's arrest
The public's delight at Riina's arrest (one newspaper had the sensationalistic headline "The Devil" pasted over Riina's mugshot) was dampened somewhat when it was revealed that, during his thirty years as a fugitive, Riina had actually been living at home in Palermo all along. He had obtained medical attention for his diabetes and registered all four of his children under their real names at the local hospital. He even went to Venice on honeymoon and was still unspotted. Many cynically declared that the authorities only arrested Riina because they were under public pressure to do so after the Falcone/Borsellino murders, and saw the ease with which Riina had evaded justice for so long as an example of what many regarded as the apathetic – if not actually complicit – attitudes of the Sicilian authorities to the Mafia.
Giovanni Brusca – one of Riina's hitmen who personally detonated the bomb that killed Falcone, and later became an informant after his 1996 arrest – has offered a controversial version of the capture of Totò Riina: a secret deal between Carabinieri officers, secret agents and Cosa Nostra bosses tired of the dictatorship of the Corleonesi. According to Brusca, Bernardo Provenzano "sold" Riina in exchange for the valuable archive of compromising material that Riina held in his apartment in Via Bernini 52 in Palermo.
The Carabinieri ROS (Reparto Operativo Speciale) persuaded the Palermo Public Prosecutor's Office not to immediately search the Riina’s apartment, and then abandoned surveillance of the apartment after six hours leaving it unprotected. The apartment was only raided 18 days later but it had been completely emptied. According to the Carabinieri commanders the house was abandoned because they didn't consider it to be important and they actually never told the prosecutor to be willing to maintain the surveillance during the following days.
This version of Riina’s arrest has been denied by Carabinieri commander, general Mario Mori (at the time deputy head of the ROS). Mori, however, confirmed that channels of communication were opened with Cosa Nostra through Vito Ciancimino – a former mayor of Palermo convicted for Mafia association – who was close to the Corleonesi. To sound out the willingness of Mafiosi to talk, Ciancimino contacted Riina’s private doctor, Antonino Cinà. When Ciancimino was informed that the goal was to arrest Riina, he seemed unwilling to continue. At this point, the arrest and cooperation of Balduccio Di Maggio led to the arrest of Riina. In 2006, the Palermo Court absolved Mario Mori and Captain "Ultimo" (Sergio Dicaprio) – the man who arrested Riina – of the charge of consciously aiding and abetting the Mafia.
However, in November 2009, Massimo Ciancimino – the son of Vito Ciancimino – said that Provenzano betrayed the whereabouts of Riina. Police sent Vito Ciancimino maps of Palermo. One of the maps was delivered to Provenzano, then a mafia fugitive. Ciancimino said the map was returned by Provenzano who indicated the precise location of Riina's hiding place.
Although he already had two life-sentences, Riina was nonetheless tried and convicted of over a hundred counts of murder, including sanctioning the slayings of Falcone and Borsellino. In October 1993, nine months after his capture, Riina was convicted of ordering the murders of Vincenzo Puccio and his brother Pietro.
In 1998, Riina picked up yet another life sentence for the high-profile murder of Salvo Lima, a politician who had long since been suspected of being in league with the Mafia and who had been shot dead in 1992 after he had failed to prevent the convictions of Mafiosi in the Maxi Trial of the mid 1980s.
Riina is currently held in a maximum-security prison with limited contact with the outside world in order to prevent him from running his organization from behind bars, as many others have done. Over $125,000,000 in assets were confiscated from Riina – probably just a fraction of his illicit fortune – and his vast mansion was also acquired by the crusading anti-Mafia mayor of Corleone in 1997. In a move that was both practical and symbolic, this mansion was turned into a school for the local children.
In 2004 it was reported that Riina had suffered two heart attacks in May and December the previous year. In April 2006, a full thirteen years after his arrest, he was on trial for the murder of a journalist, Mauro De Mauro, who vanished without trace in September 1970. One of Riina's close friends in the Corleonesi Clan, Bernardo Provenzano, was believed to have taken over as head of the organization. Provenzano was arrested on April 11, 2006, in the countryside near Corleone after forty-three years in hiding.
Salvatore Riina married Ninetta (sister of Leoluca Bagarella) in 1974, and they had four children. His two sons, Giovanni and Giuseppe, followed in their father's footsteps and have since joined him behind bars. In November 2001, a court in Palermo sentenced 24-year-old Giovanni to life in prison for four murders. He had been in police custody since 1997. According to Antonio Ingroia, one of the prosecutors of the Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia (DDA) of Palermo, Giovanni is among the possible leading figures in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra after the arrest of Provenzano in 2006 and Salvatore Lo Piccolo in 2007, but still too young to be recognized as leading boss of the organisation. On December 31, 2004, Riina's youngest son, Giuseppe, one of those taken into custody in June 2002, was sentenced to 14 years for various crimes, including Mafia association, extortion and money laundering. He was found to have established Mafia-controlled companies to hide money from protection rackets, drug-trafficking and tenders for public building contracts on the island.
One of Riina's daughters was elected class representative in her high school, where she was able to return, aged 21, after the family came out of hiding. In 2006, the council of Corleone created T-shirts reading I love Corleone in an attempt to dissociate the town from its infamous Mafiosi, but one of his daughters' brothers-in law began an attempt to sue the Corleone mayor by claiming the Riina family owned the copyright to the phrase.
Due to his habits of secrecy and evasiveness, Riina's personality remains enigmatic. An informant, Antonino Calderone, described Riina as being "unbelievably ignorant, but he had an intuition and intelligence and was difficult to fathom ... very hard to predict". He said Riina was soft spoken and a dedicated father and husband. Riina was highly persuasive and often highly sentimental. He followed the simple codes of the brutal, ancient world of the Sicilian countryside, where force is the only law and there is no contradiction between personal kindness and extreme ferocity. "His philosophy was that if someone’s finger hurt, it was better to cut off his whole arm just to make sure", Calderone said.
One of the more bizarre anecdotes Calderone related was that of Riina giving a tearful eulogy at the funeral of Calderone's murdered brother, even though Riina himself had ordered the killing. Calderone also said that, when Riina set his sights on marrying his sweetheart, Ninetta, the young lady's family objected to the union. Calderone quoted Riina as saying "I don't want any woman other than my Ninetta, and if they [her family] don't let me marry her, I'll have to kill some people." Ninette's family soon dropped any opposition to Riina's matrimonial plans.
Giovanni Brusca claimed that, during 1991 and early 1992, Riina contemplated acts of terrorism against the state to get it to back off in its crackdown against the Mafia, including acts such as bombing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In fact, during the months after Riina's arrest, there was a series of bombings by the Corleonesi against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland, resulting in the deaths of ten people, including an entire family. Brusca also quoted Riina as declaring that the children of informants were legitimate targets. Brusca subsequently tortured and killed the 11-year-old son of an informant in a failed attempt to silence the boy's father, who had been giving testimony against Riina.
Although Riina's criminal actions were geared towards the acquisition of wealth and power, his treachery and the sheer number of murders he either committed or sanctioned seem excessive even by the standards of other gangsters. This may suggest that he was a psychopath, but his clandestine nature even after capture, and refusal to say much more than protestations of innocence, mean any profound theories about his psychological state are only second-hand speculation.
In popular culture
He was played by Victor Cavallo in the HBO movie Excellent Cadavers which was based on the events in the book of the same name by Alexander Stille.
In 2007, Italian television broadcast Il Capo dei Capi (The Boss of Bosses), a six-part miniseries based on Riina's life and crimes He was played by Claudio Gioè.
In 2009 it was reported that Riina and several fellow Mafiosi had fan clubs set up on their behalf on the social networking site Facebook, including one that called for Riina's release, claiming he was "a misunderstood man". Rita Borsellino, sister of Paolo Borsellino, was one of a number of high-profile Italians who condemned the idolization of Mafiosi.