Why Mafia goes on and on? Because Mafia is something rooted in society. The Mafia, it’s infiltrating the economy, business. November, 2021. Italian law enforcement were jubilant— for good reason. Over 100 arrests had been made across the country, targeting the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta, one of the most powerful Mafia groups in the world,
Responsible for untold violence and worth tens of billions of dollars. Amongst the property seizures and dizzyingly large cocaine busts, a few strange details went under the radar. For one, how a batch of coke that had made its way from South America was stamped with a logo featuring an eye and a compass,
The universally known symbol of Freemasonry. It wasn’t a one-off. Further packets revealed the same symbol, alongside the Greek letters Alpha and Omega. For some, it sparked concern about an increasing coziness between mob bosses and Masonic lodges across Southern Italy, with their alleged rogue’s gallery of corrupt senior police officers,
Grasping politicians, and local business elites. Just how deep does it go? Welcome to The Business of Crime. In this episode, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the alleged links between Italian Mafia groups and the country’s Masonic lodges, a connection that has a long, if not always entirely clear-cut history.
[THE BUSINESS OF CRIME] Few organizations have captured public imagination and suspicion over the years quite like the Freemasons. With their secrecy, obscure membership criteria, and long history of suspected corruption, they’re a group, it’s safe to say, that have attracted their fair share of mistrust. Globally, it’s estimated there are around 6 million Freemasons,
With a particularly strong presence in the UK, US, and Italy. Though things aren’t quite as mysterious as they once were about the group’s inner workings, it’s still an organization with significant secrets. We have to keep in mind that the Freemasonry and the Mafia have many things in common about the organization,
For example, shared values of humility. They share the respect for rules, the respect for the hierarchy. Like Freemasonry, the Mafia has initiation rituals and rules of behavior rooted in secrecy. In Italy, the bond between Freemasonry and Mafia groups in the south has a long, complicated history. There are superficially shared values.
Both were heavily repressed between the 1920s until the end of World War II as potential threats to the power of Mussolini’s fascist state. And both have a long, contentious relationship with the pillars of Italian political and commercial society— one where rumors of collusion and corruption are never too far from the surface.
The fact that the ’Ndrangheta is well-connected and deeply rooted in this society, with connections to politicians, businessmen, police officers, magistrates, judges, and that’s the strength of the Mafia. In a wiretapped conversation in 2013, one ’Ndrangheta boss, Pantaleone Mancuso, summed up the relationship. “The ’Ndrangheta is no longer,” he said. “The Freemasons remain.”
In 2017, a series of police raids discovered 193 high-ranking members of the Sicilian Mafia and the Calabrian ’Ndrangheta to be members of lodges across the south. According to the work of dogged prosecutors and the testimony of mob turncoats, the secrecy of Masonic lodges provided the perfect place to conduct shady deals
With figures from the business and political elite. Later, a series of local lodges in Calabria were dissolved after the discovery of mobsters on their books. One case which has become infamous is that of Giovanni Zumbo. A well-respected Calabrian accountant, he had made a name for himself managing properties seized from organized crime
On behalf of the courts. But Zumbo was later convicted of Mafia crimes after law enforcement discovered that he had been tipping off one notorious local boss about a looming arrest. We have this guy, an accountant, that goes to Pelle, one of the biggest godfathers of ’Ndrangheta, while he was on the run.
He goes there and tells to the man— there are the recordings of this— tell him, “Be careful. They are going to arrest you. They are going to make a big operation,” a week before and giving also the exact numbers of people that are going to be arrested,
When he’s going to be arrested himself. How could an accountant get inside information about a sensitive police operation? Turns out one of his fellow Masons was a senior police officer on the same force. This is, critics allege, how the relationship works. Lodges are a connecting bridge between organized crime and the state.
In late 2021, Masons in Rome won a landmark case that they say poured cold water on years of persistent accusations. It started with Stefano Bisi, grandmaster of Italy’s biggest lodge, the Grande Oriente d’Italia, which has over 23,000 members. In 2017, he labeled the sweeping investigation into mob-Mason ties an anti-democratic “witch-hunt.”
After being slapped with a defamation lawsuit by the prosecution, the case was thrown out by a judge. In this case, for example, Bisi, that is the grand maestro of the Grande Oriente d’Italia, he expelled Pittelli immediately. And he said, “You see, I cannot control everyone.
But I did move him out as soon as I got to know the situation.” What really hurt, Bisi said, was the blow to its reputational prestige, in that it prompted the United Grand Lodge of England to formally distance itself from the Grande Oriente. After all, he said,
193 cases from thousands of members hardly spelled a crisis— a spirited “bad apple” defense of the Italian Masonic fraternity. Giancarlo Pittelli was a defendant at last year’s so-called mega trial of 355 ’Ndrangheta suspects, held in a former call center in a dingy Calabrian industrial estate.
I’m sure that this guy, this man, he is dangerous, in my opinion. He’s this lawyer— at the moment he was arrested; it’s still under investigation— that was arrested because he was the lawyer of important godfathers. Cases like Pittelli’s make the complexity clear. Are the ’Ndrangheta and other Mafia groups
Deeply embedded within the contemporary Italian Freemasons? Or is it really the case of a few lone chancers opportunistically picking up whatever crumb they can? This trial gives the opportunity to explain how the ’Ndrangheta has established relations with parts of institutions, with parts of the ruling elites. Freemasonry may help the ’Ndrangheta to succeed,
And sometime they invented a deviated lodge or some connection or they are involved with members associated to some lodges. But that doesn’t mean that the whole lodges are corrupted or infiltrated by the ’Ndrangheta or a Mafia-like organization. It’s just around the money and power. So it’s something, you know, because the people think,
“Why we never defeat Mafia?” We will never defeat because it’s really good and evil, the eternal fight. Either way, the potential significance of Masonic iconography on intercepted drug shipments maybe shouldn’t be overstated. After all, branding is important, even to sinister transnational criminal organizations like the ’Ndrangheta. Symbols come and go,
Whatever the depth of the links between the organizations. The eye and compass might not be an unsubtle clue but simply a way to make the shipment stand out— a piece of self-aware marketing. Things aren’t always a code to be cracked, however tempting it may be to think so.
But if nothing else, there is one link between Masons and Mafia— their own fraternal codes are the reason they’ve lasted so long, and it may be the thing that helps them endure.