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Shopkeeper Revolt Has Sicilian Mafia on the Run

The cooperation with police is unprecedented, Italian authorities say.

Image via Flickr user Harvey Barrison

In the Italian town of Bagheria, just a few miles outside Palermo, nearly everything was subject to the Mafia “tax.” Local businesses were forced—for their “protection”—to pay monthly rates between 1,000 and 5,000 euros (about $2,000 to $5,500), while those in construction paid 3 percent of their income on commissioned jobs.

Then the shopkeepers revolted. From Reuters:

Police said that after years of silence, businessmen in the Bagheria neighborhood … "had found the courage" to provide details about Mafia activities that had delved into everything from construction to fish sales.

"We have never seen such a large number of victims cooperate," police colonel Salvatore Altavilla was quoted as saying on the website of newspaper la Repubblica.

Italian authorities issued 22 arrest warrants on Monday. Though a number of the warrants name individuals who are already serving time in prison, Time reports, others include important Mafia heads who ran the organization between 2003 and 2013.

La Repubblica reports that three shopkeepers initially went to the authorities; 33 other victims cooperated during the ensuing two-year investigation. All the shopkeepers and businessmen are now under police protection.

As Time reports, however, not all the shopkeepers lived to see the end of the investigation:

Domenico Toia had a lighting business and a restaurant in Bagheria but tired of paying extortion money to the Mafia.

“My father had the courage to rebel,” says Tommaso Toia, 40, the son of Domenico. “Unfortunately, he was unable to relish this victory for long. He suffered a fatal stroke last June. He had been poorly for some time. Since being overwhelmed by debt, harassed by the Mafia who wanted that money each and every month, he fell into depression. He lost 50 kilos in weight. Now even after his death we have continued his battle. All of my father’s companies went bankrupt. Today, however, we want to stand tall and persevere. We hope that others may follow our father’s example, and I’m sure he’s smiling down on us.”

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