‘Godmothers’ on rise on Naples crime turf


They go by such nicknames as “Fat Cat” and “Tomboy.” Their simmering power struggles once drove them into the streets, guns blazing. They rule their crime families with steely determination, and also raise the kids and stir the pasta.

Move over, Don Corleone. “Godmothers” are rising in the ranks of the Camorra, the Naples’ area crime syndicate.

Now, as the state steps up its war against the Camorra, rounding up scores of mobsters, the women are increasingly taking over the helm from their men.

“There is a growing number of women who hold executive roles” in the Camorra, Gen. Gaetano Maruccia, commander of the Carabinieri paramilitary police in the Naples area, told The Associated Press.

“They are either widows (of mob bosses) or wives of husbands who have been put in prison. They hold the reins.”

Mothers, daughters, sisters and sisters-in-law are “assuming ever-more leading roles,” Stefania Castaldi, a Naples-based prosecutor who investigates organized crime, said in an interview.

This family dimension of the Camorra finds its echo in mainstream Italian society — a family often will entrust its business to a woman relative rather than an outsider.

Camorra women still perform the more “traditional” roles of cutting and repackaging cocaine and heroin in their kitchens or tidying up the hideouts of fugitive bosses, but others are wielding power on the streets. They shake down merchants in extortion rackets and increasingly direct drug trafficking worth millions of dollars, Castaldi said.

In one of the most lurid episodes, in 2002, two carloads of women from rival Camorra clans lurched through the streets of Lauro, a town near Naples, first trading insults, and then machine-gun fire and pistol shots until two grandmothers and a 16-year-old girl were dead. The root of the bloodshed: a turf war fueled by the murder of a clan boss’ cousin.

Some of the Camorra “godmothers” rank right up there with the men in commanding clout and obedience, authorities say.

Among them is Maria Licciardi, one of the victors of the long-running blood feud between the Di Lauro and Secondigliano Alliance that left Naples littered nearly daily with bodies a few years back.

“Signora Licciardi is a true ‘madrina’ (godmother), absolutely,” said Castaldi. “She was the sister of a boss, and she sat at the table with other bosses, she made decisions with them, she was right at their level.”

Authorities are now investigating whether one of those decisions was an order to execute as many as 30 of her rivals, say investigators.

“She’s in prison, but she still commands. Prisons don’t represent a barrier” for the Camorra, said Anna Maria Zaccaria, a sociologist at Naples Federico II University who is researching women’s roles in the syndicate.

Luisa Terracciano, wife of arrested clan boss Pasquale Carotenuto, is taken into custody by Carabinieri military police in the outskirts of Naples on May 27.

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