Powerful Mafia boss listed as one of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives arrested — at his own home
After five years of being listed as one of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives, a powerful Mafia boss was finally arrested Wednesday — at his own home.
To his apparent dismay, Antonio Pelle, 54, then faced the indignity of being forced to crawl from his hidden bunker, cut into a wall beside his bathroom, into the waiting hands of police while a camera was rolling.
Inside his bunker police found a stack of money, a mattress, water bottles, toilet paper, a cooling fan and bottles for him to pee in.
It was a step down from the last time Pelle was arrested, in 2008, when he was also found in a secret bunker, but one described as high-tech; it was accessed through a trap door that opened by remote control and led to an underground bunker that was more of an apartment than a spider hole, featuring a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. And a small marijuana garden.
Pelle, known by the nickname “Mamma,” was named as the head of a powerful clan of the ’Ndrangheta, the name of the Mafia that formed in Calabria, the toe of the boot-shaped map of southern Italy.
The Pelle-Vottari clan, based in the town of San Luca, is notorious for its “faida” — a blood feud or vendetta — with the rival Nirta-Strangio clan. Te feud culminated in the notrious Duisburg massacre of August 15, 2007, when six people were killed outside a pizzeria in the German town of Duisberg.
Despite boasting about the boss’s arrest in 2008, he managed to escape in 2011 while he was being treated in a hospital in Locri, reportedly for anorexia. Police said he had been sentenced to 20 years in jail for Mafia association and drug trafficking.
Pelle was on the list of Italy’s Top 100 most dangerous fugitives and was about to be upgraded — bumped to the Top 10 list — at the time of his arrest.
The Polizia di Stato, Italy’s national police, said investigators traced Pelle to his own family home in the town of Bovalino, in the province of Reggio Calabria.
Inside his house, between the bathroom and his son’s room and concealed by a large cabinet, was a sealable cavity cut into the wall.
Pelle was coaxed from his hole and arrested.
The Pelle-Vottari clan came to public prominence through its bloody vendetta with the Nirta-Strangio clan.
The roots of the dramatic feud apparently stemmed from a fight at a San Luca carnival in 1991 that led to two men being killed. That led to a tit-for-tat that continued to escalate when a Pelle clan member was paralyzed in a botched hit as he stood with his newborn child.
In a revenge attack on Christmas Day, 2006, on the home of Giovanni Luca Nirta, the Nirta-Strangio clan’s boss, the boss’s wife, Maria Strangio, was killed. Only a spectacular act of retaliation could be expected from such an outrage.
Less than a year later, the Duisberg massacre took place, with two of the six men killed were suspected of being involved in the attack on Maria Strangio. The massacre put the clans, and the ’Ndrangheta itself, on the international map, even though its various vendettas by numerous clans had littered Calabria — and Canada — with bodies for decades.
Many of the important and powerful of the ’Ndrangheta clans have a long history in Canada, primarily in Toronto, where they continue to play a leading role in underworld affairs.
Although the ’Ndrangheta is named by law enforcement as the most powerful and richest of the Mafia organizations in Italy, it has been eclipsed in popular culture by its better known cousin, Cosa Nostra, which formed in Sicily.