Italy: No 1 wanted Mafia boss held after 30 years on the run
By Frances D’emilio in Rome
ROME (AP) — Italy’s No. 1 fugitive, Matteo Messina Denaro, a convicted Mafia boss who ordered some of the nation’s most heinous killings, was arrested Monday at a private clinic in Sicily after three decades on the run, Italian paramilitary police said.
Messina Denaro was captured at the Palermo clinic where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed medical condition, according to Carabinieri Gen. Pasquale Angelosanto, who heads the police force’s special operations squad.
A pair of Carabinieri officers, each holding an arm, walked him down the front steps of the upscale clinic and led him to a waiting black van in pouring rain. Messina Denaro was wearing a brown leather jacket trimmed in shearling, a matching white-and-brown skull cap and his trademark tinted glasses. His face looked wan and he stared straight ahead.
A young man when he went into hiding, he is now 60. Messina Denaro, who had a power base near in the western Sicilian port city of Trapani, was considered Sicily’s Cosa Nostra top boss even while a fugitive.
He was the last of three longtime fugitive top-level Mafia bosses who had for decades eluded capture, and hundreds of police officers over the years had been tasked with tracking him down.
Italian news reports said that when Carabinieri came up to him in the clinic and asked if he were Messina Denaro, the fugitive admitted that he was.
Palermo Chief Prosecutor Maurizio De Lucia told Rai state TV that the fugitive had been using the pseudonym Andrea Bonafede. The last name roughly means “good faith” in Italian.
Shortly after his arrest, Messina Denaro appeared before a court in Palermo, where a judge sought to confirm his identity and ask basic questions to fill out documents.
Reminded by the judge that he must answer truthfully, Messina Denaro replied: “Aware.” When asked his occupation, he replied “farmer” and added that his brother was a banker and his four sisters homemakers.
For his residence, he cited Castelvetrano, a farm town near Trapani which was his crime clan’s power base and where he was assured of logistics support during his time as a fugitive, according to investigators.
He also told the court he was one of six children, including a brother in banking.
The brief hearing ended with Messina Denaro telling the judge, who wasn’t identified by state TV, “Thank you, good day.”
Messina Denaro, who was tried in absentia and convicted of dozens of murders, faces multiple life sentences.
He is set to be imprisoned for two bombings in Sicily in 1992 that killed top anti-Mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s wife and several of their bodyguards. Other grisly crimes he was convicted of is the murder of a Mafia turncoat’s young son, who was abducted and strangled before his body was dissolved in a vat of acid.
Monday’s arrest came 30 years and a day after the Jan. 15, 1993, capture of convicted Mafia “boss of bosses” Salvatore “Toto” Riina, in a Palermo apartment after 23 years on the run. Messina Denaro went into hiding in the summer of that same year, as the Italian state stiffened its crackdown on the Sicilian crime syndicate following the murders of Falcone and Borsellino.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni tweeted that Messina Denaro’s capture is a “great victory of the state, which shows that it doesn’t surrender in the face of the Mafia.”
Italy’s Mafia boss who set the record for the longest time on the lam was Bernardo Provenzano, captured in a farmhouse near Corleone, Sicily, in 2006 after 38 years as a fugitive. Once Provenzano was in police hands, the hunt focused on Messina Denaro, but despite numerous reported sightings he managed to elude arrest, until Monday.
That all three top bosses were ultimately arrested in the heart of Sicily while they conducted decades of a clandestine life won’t surprise Italy’s police and prosecutors. Law enforcement have long said that such bosses rely on contacts and the confidentiality of fellow mobsters and complicit family members to move them from hideout to hideout, supply food, clean clothing and communication, and a code of silence known as “omerta.”
But Messina Denaro, besides staying in hideouts in Sicily, also traveled abroad while a fugitive, including to Marseille, the French port city, where he underwent surgery some years ago, according to investigators.
Riina and Provenzano lived out the last years of their life in the strictest of Italian prison conditions reserved for unrepentant organized crime bosses and refused to cooperate with investigators.
Messina Denaro was believed to have enjoyed a more comfortable lifestyle in his decades hiding from police, leaving some to speculate whether he might agree to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for more lenient prison conditions.
During his years on the run, he had a series of lovers and passed time by playing video games, according to Italian media reports.
One of his girlfriends was arrested and convicted of having hidden him for a time while he was a fugitive. But while he had a weakness for women, Messina Denaro could be cruel, strangling a woman while she was pregnant, according to Italian media.
Right after he went into hiding, Messina Denaro sent a letter to his then girlfriend, saying, “You’ll hear talk about me, they will paint me like the devil, but it’s all falsehoods,” ANSA quoted the letter as saying.
Wary of being tracked down by cellphone use, Mafia bosses frequently resort to handwritten notes known as “pizzini.” When Provenzano was nabbed in his rustic, almost primitive, hideaway in the countryside, police found a stash of such notes.
With the crackdown that began in the 1990s against Sicily’s Cosa Nostra, the island’s mafiosi started losing their dominance in Italy compared to other organized crime syndicates.
While the Sicilian Mafia was significantly weakened by a small army of turncoats, on the mainland, the ‘ndrangheta syndicate, based in the “toe” of the Italian peninsula, steadily eclipsed Cosa Nostra in reach and influence. Unlike Sicily’s crime syndicates, the ‘ndrangheta draws its footsoldiers based on family ties, leaving it less vulnerable to turncoats. The ’ndrangheta is now one of the world’s most powerful cocaine traffickers.
But the Sicilian Mafia still runs drug trafficking operations. Other lucrative illicit businesses include infiltration of public works contracts and extortion of small business owners who are threatened if they don’t regularly pay “protection money.”
This story has been corrected to show that Messina Denaro is one of six children, not the father of six children.
Lawyer tells Alberta’s highest court review board biased in de Grood’s case
A family member of five slain students holds a heart sign with their names on it following a court decision in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision on the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Ritika Dubey in Edmonton
Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home after the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party.
The lawyer representing Matthew de Grood argued Wednesday the review board’s decision was biased, citing what she described as political interference from Alberta’s former justice minister.
“The appellant says, ‘I think the conclusion about me is wrong. The board’s conclusion is incorrect and not supported by evidence,”’ Jacqueline Petrie said before the Alberta Court of Appeal. “He says there’s no significant evidence that he’s a risk.”
De Grood, 31, was found not criminally responsible in 2016 for the killings two years earlier of Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong because he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time. Petrie said de Grood has been stable on medication, is at low risk to reoffend and should be allowed to live with his parents while being monitored under a full warrant.
She argued the review board misunderstood medical evidence during the September 2022 review, which deemed de Grood a significant risk despite the assessment showing improvements. She said the board is supposed to recommend the least onerous disposition compatible with public safety and did not do that for de Grood.
The defence lawyer has said the review had been influenced by former justice minister Doug Schweitzer, who weighed in on de Grood’s case in October 2019 after the panel allowed de Grood to transition from institutional care to a supervised group home.
He has been under supervision at a group home. His case is reviewed by the Alberta Review Board yearly to see whether he can transition back into the community while maintaining public safety.
Petrie pointed at de Grood’s “exemplary record,” and that he has been “compliant to the (medical) treatment team.”
“Nobody knew he had schizophrenia (at the time of the stabbings) and needed medication.”
Crown prosecutor Matthew Griener said the board considered a conditional discharge but dismissed it, citing a relapse in schizophrenia symptoms in 2021.
Griener said de Grood’s relapses were brief and happened at the hospital, providing an early window for medical professionals to intervene.
Justice Kevin Feehan said de Grood may be low-risk, but the consequences of even one relapse could be significant.
Reading from an expert’s report, Feehan said: “A low risk to offend doesn’t mean the reoffence would not be severe.”
Some family members of the victims drove from Calgary for the hearing.
Segura’s mother, Patty, said the last nine years have been about de Grood and his rights.
“He should be thankful that he ended up NCR (not criminally responsible) rather than end(ing) with five life sentences for murdering five people,” she said. “He should not be appealing.”
Hunter’s father, Barclay, opposed a potential full release.
“The idea that he wouldn’t be monitored for the rest of his life seems to defy logic, it doesn’t make any sense,” said the father.
Hunter’s mother, Kelly, said the family has had “no healing.”
“We do this every year, at least once. Now, this is the second appeal,” she said. Barclay
Hunter said although there are attempts to reintegrate de Grood into society, he hopes the man is not left on his own with an absolute discharge.
“Regardless of what they say, he killed five people. If that doesn’t stand on its own as a risk factor, then I don’t know what does.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
Canadians want revenge on Bernardo, but that’s not how prison works: ex-official
By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
One of the architects of the law that governs Canada’s prison system says it’s understandable people want revenge on killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo, but that’s not what the prison system is designed for.
Mary Campbell also says it is regrettable the Correctional Service of Canada has not been more transparent in how it handled the matter — which the law allows it to be.
Campbell, a lawyer who retired from her role as director-general of the corrections and criminal justice directorate in the Public Safety Department in 2013, said that without question Bernardo’s crimes were horrific.
Broadly speaking, the corrections system has a mandate to rehabilitate offenders.
Politicians from all parties and levels of government have decried Bernardo’s transfer from a maximum-security penitentiary to a medium-security prison in Quebec.
News of the transfer was confirmed last week by the lawyer for the families of two of his victims, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, who want him sent back.
Both teenage girls were kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by Bernardo in the early 1990s. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka, who died after being drugged and sexually assaulted. Tammy was the 15-year-old sister of Bernardo’s then-wife Karla Homolka.
Karla Homolka was released in 2005 after completing a 12-year sentence for her role in the crimes committed against French and Mahaffy.
Bernardo admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women. He has been declared a dangerous offender and is serving a life sentence.
Bernardo has spent 30 years under maximum security, which Campbell said is a long time for any offender.
And while she understands why people want to see him kept there, she said the criteria for transferring an inmate to another penitentiary “is not based on revenge.”
“We, as a country, gave up torture quite a while ago, ” she said in an interview Tuesday. “And we’re pretty critical of other countries that engage in torture.”
After the news broke, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he thinks Bernardo should be locked up for “23 hours a day,” while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to enact changes that would force those who are convicted of multiple murders to serve their entire sentence in maximum security.
The correctional service is reviewing the decision to transfer Bernardo. Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, inmates are given security classifications based on factors including escape risk, which inform where they serve their sentences.
In the case of Bernardo, who is now in his late 50s, the correctional service says a move to a medium-security prison poses no risk to public safety.
The reason behind his transfer, however, is a mystery, with the federal correctional service saying it is “restricted by law” in what it can divulge.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Canadians are owed an explanation as to why Bernardo was transferred.
Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the French and Mahaffy families, said he was not given the information because of Bernardo’s privacy rights.
Campbell said the law spells out that the commissioner of the country’s prison system has the power to disclose to victims a summary of the reasons for the transfer of a particular offender, in cases where it is determined their interest outweighs any invasion of the offender’s privacy.
She said the commissioner can also choose to release information under the federal privacy law in cases where they determine the public’s right to know overrides an inmate’s privacy.
“When (the Correctional Service of Canada) says they can’t release details because of the law, that’s not entirely accurate,” she said. “There are exceptions.”
“It is unfortunate that CSC maybe hasn’t been a little bit more transparent, explaining things.”
She added that there are more than 20,000 other people serving a sentence in Canadian prisons and jails, and the rules have been designed to apply broadly.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
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