I’m aware that this article has nothing to do with entertainment. I just found it kind of…interesting.

Though I don’t have a drop of Italian blood, I’ve been friends with quite a few of those women.

You wouldn’t want to piss them off…

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.

Godmothers are rising in the ranks of the CAMORRA, the Naples area crime syndicate.

Women have long played a strong role in CAMORRA crime families, muscling, sometimes murdering, their way to the top. Their influence stretches back as far as the 1950s, when a former beauty queen named ASSUNTA MARESCA – also known as PUPETTA (LITTLE DOLL) – shot dead the man who had ordered a hit on her husband with a Smith & Wesson and allegedly settled into a life of crime thereafter.

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 are a growing number of women who hold executive roles in the Camorra,” remarked GENERAL GAETANO MARUCCIA, commander of the Carabinieri paramilitary police in the Naples area.

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

Mothers, daughters and sisters are “assuming even more leading roles,” commented STEFANIA CASTALDI, a Naples based prosecutor who investigates organized crime.

This family dimension of the CAMORRA finds its echo in mainstream Italian society – a family often will entrust its business to a female 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, Ms. 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 fuelled 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.

“Ms. Licciardi is a true madrina (godmother), absolutely,” said STEFANIA 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, speaking on condition of anonymity because Italian law prohibits officials from discussing ongoing probes.

Ms. Licciardi, a petite woman known by cohorts and enemies alike as A PICCIRELLA (THE LITTLE ONE), was arrested in 2001 after she was stopped while driving her car near Naples. On the run since 1999, MARIA LICCIARDI at the time figured on the list of Italy’s 30 most wanted criminals.

She is one of a handful of female mobsters who are considered so high up that they are held in Italy’s stiffest prison regime, which includes isolation and severely limited contact with the outside world.

“She’s in prison, but she still commands. Prisons don’t represent a barrier” for the CAMORRA, stated ANNA MARIA ZACCARIA, a sociologist at NAPLES FEDERICO II UNIVERSITY who is researching womens’ roles in the syndicate.

MARIA LICCIARDI is widely considered an able manager, particularly valued for her “powers of persuasion,” Ms. Zaccaria said in an interview. Dangling promises of cash, she is believed to have managed to persuade some CAMORRA mobsters who were contemplating becoming turncoats to stay loyal to the clan, the professor said.

For generations, when such mobsters were arrested, mothers and wives would descend screaming into Naples’ chaotic streets, throwing insults and sometimes punches at police arresting their men. But as investigators increasingly regard women as significant CAMORRA figures, handcuffs have been snapping shut around their wrists, too.

“They are as cocky as the men” when arrested, said General Maruccia.

In July, Carabinieri swept up 11 women for drug trafficking in a raid on Naples’ Sarno crime clan. In another blitz, a mother and her two grown daughters were arrested on organized crime charges, including extortion.

The emergence of strong CAMORRA women has deep roots in Naples society.

“The Camorra woman follows the model of the Neapolitan woman” in the matriarchal Neapolitan society, remarked Ms. Zaccaria.

“She is in charge of household spending, the raising of children.”

These skills can translate into setting the interest rates for loan sharking or doling out weekly payments to neighbourhood kids to watch out for police raids.

Raising offspring means steeping children in a life of crime and arranging marriages of sons and daughters to spin a web of new or stronger ties with potentially rival clans.

“They’re very determined, very good at mapping out strategy, even sharper than their men,” explained General Maruccia.

Aspiring male Camorristi must undergo a rite of passage – often carrying out a boss’ order to kill or maim a rival, investigators say. Ms. Zaccaria said no such requirement applies to female bosses.

Still, “they eliminate their enemies – their rivals – in a merciless way.”

Even when the CAMORRA woman doesn’t pack a pistol, they seem to pump their offspring with pride for bloody deeds which further their crime family’s prestige.

Take CONCETTA PRESTIERI, matriarch of a family in the long powerful Di Lauro clan. A son turned informant told investigators how, in 1981, the clan eliminated a rival by “bringing him into a basement, torturing him, killing him and cutting him into pieces,” said Ms. Castaldi.

After the murder, the participants gathered around the table in Ms. Prestieri’s kitchen.

“All the while, as they recounted the deed, she cooked up the spaghetti and served it at the table.”

After bomb blasts in Sicily in 1992 killed two leading anti Mafia prosecutors, GIOVANNI FALCONE and PAOLO BORSELLINO, Italy stiffened its laws against top mobsters. One measure limited prison visits to family members and CAMORRA women have used that to their advantage.

“Most of the bosses choose to see their wives,” said Ms. Castaldi.

“The women are the ones who most transmit the orders of the clan chieftain. She becomes the continuity between inside the prison and the outside world,” which ultimately enhances her prestige.

Imprisoned mob bosses are known to communicate their orders to visiting family with gestures, code words, even facial expressions.

While CAMORRA women seem to have no limits in their ascent to power, the women in Sicily’s COSA NOSTRA apparently don’t enjoy the same possilbilities.

A Milan based historian, OMBRETTA INGRASCI, author of a book about women in the Sicilian Mafia, speaks of a glass ceiling. Possibly because unlike the family based CAMORRA, COSA NOSTRA’S organization is essentially a men’s club which doesn’t seek out its members based on blood ties.

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