One of Italy’s most-wanted fugitive mob bosses was arrested after five years on the lam Wednesday when police found him hiding in a home bunker built between the bathroom and his son’s bedroom.
The 54-year-old criminal, who was wanted for drugs and arms trafficking as well as mafia association, was found hiding in a small space built between his son’s bedroom and the bathroom in his home in Bovalino in Calabria, southern Italy. Footage from the Italian police shows the mafioso talking to officers from the top of a wardrobe before climbing down and being taken into custody.
“It wasn’t easy,” Francesco Ratta of the Reggio Calabria Mobile Squad told la Repubblica. “Fifty of us sifted through the two-story house where Pelle had always lived, but it took a very attentive eye to discover his hiding place.”
The door to Pelle’s hideout merely resembled a safe on the outside, hidden out-of-view on top of the wardrobe and camouflaged by wallpaper. Due to its well-camouflaged position, it took several hours to find. Inside, police found a fan, a mattress, cash and bottles of water.
“We were looking everywhere and, finally, the circle had narrowed down to his home,” Ratta said.
“This confirms the theory that the boss never strays too far from his home territory.”
Pelle, who is also known as “Mama,” is the head of the Pelle-Vottari clan of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, a mafia-like crime syndicate in southern Italy. He was originally arrested in 2008 and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, but with the help of slimming drugs smuggled into the prison managed to convince doctors he was unwell and was transferred to Locri hospital, from which he escaped.
The Pelle-Vottari clan is involved in a feud with Nirta-Strangio, a rival crime family, which gained international attention when six members of the Pelle-Vottari clan were gunned down in front of a pizzeria on 15 August 2007 in Duisburg, Germany. The massacre was the deadliest act of violence by Italian organized crime outside of Italy and the United States.
The Italian mafia has become known for its use of elaborate hideouts to harbor fugitive bosses. In January, police captured two more ‘Ndrangheta leaders, Giuseppe Crea and Giuseppe Ferraro, in an underground mountain bunker furnished with electricity, air conditioning, satellite TV and a computer, as well as a cache of automatic weapons.
In recent years, the ‘Ndrangheta has surpassed the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Neapolitan Camorra as the most powerful of Italy’s mafias, largely due to its dominance over the European cocaine trade. Italian investigators have claimed that it controls up to 80 percent of all cocaine coming into Europe.
Bertha R. Massie