Beating the Mafia at their own game: After years of paying a ‘protection’ tax, Palermo businesses came together to fight back
On the windows of his Fabio Conticello’s Palermo restaurant, beside the notices of awards and which credit cards are accepted, is an orange circle around an X, bisected by black letters: “Addiopizzo.”
It is the logo of a grassroots anti-Mafia campaign causing a sensation here, igniting a once unimaginable crusade of community activism challenging the omnipotence of the crime cartels that have held some sovereignty over this island since before the founders of the Antica had learned to cook.
Addiopizzo, which means “goodbye pizzo,” represents a bold declaration, a solemn promise and a hope for the future.
Pizzo is an illicit tax imposed by the mob on businesses in a gangster’s territory and has been a constant money-maker for Cosa Nostra, the proper name of the Mafia born on the island of Sicily.
The word pizzo is Sicilian dialect for a bird’s beak. The image of a bird moving from flower to flower sipping nectar from each conjured its use for the protection racket, where shops are intimidated into paying a monthly fee to be left alone.
The name — and the extortion — have spread, throughout Italy and Europe and to North America. In Canada, businesses in Montreal, Toronto, York Region, Hamilton and St. Catharines face demands to pay pizzo to the local Mafia. (Adrian Humphreys for National Post)
The Rizzutos’ Sicilian roots: Tracing the ties that bind Montreal’s Mafia & Quebec’s corruption inquiry to Cattolica Eraclea
In this hilltop village, a slightly otherworldly place that retains an aura of the frontier, a full-sized car barely fits down the cluttered, claustrophobic streets until the road suddenly empties into an airy public square fronted by a marvellous clock and bell tower.
It is a decidedly rustic locale where one finds ground zero for both the Quebec corruption scandal and the unfolding drama of the return to Canada of the country’s biggest name in crime.
Despite making headlines in Canada, at the town hall next door to the clock tower, there is little interest in talking about the town’s most famous export: Vito Rizzuto, the once imperious Mafia boss.
Mr. Rizzuto left this village in 1954, when he was eight, and settled in Montreal with his family, a clan already entrenched in the Mafia of Sicily. His family went on to dominate the underworld in his new home.
Released this month from a prison in the U.S., where he served his sentence for three New York gangland murders, the embattled mobster was immediately deported back to Canada.
As he acclimatizes to freedom, his family’s affairs continue to be revealed at Quebec’s Charbonneau commission probing corruption in the construction industry. With each bombshell — about political financing, crooked business cartels and payments to the mob — the importance of the town of Cattolica Eraclea is never far away (Photos Adrian Humphreys/National Post; Postmedia News)