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The Mafioso in Uxbridge: Don't be surprised. Mafia dons make the best neighbours...

Why godfathers like to make a good impression
  • @ClareLongrigg

Whatever Domenico Rancadore may have done in his career in organised crime, his neighbours in suburban London considered him an exemplary chap. He wore good suits, after all, so he must have a job. And he drove such a variety of high performance cars, they thought he might be a chauffeur. The only person living on his street who reports having a problem with Rancadore objected to his planting an enormous hedge around his property. But that, said the man known to his neighbours as Marc Skinner, was non-negotiable.

Mafia bosses do, in fact, make good neighbours. Any district under Mafia control has a low to non-existent crime rate because they do not wish to attract the attention of law enforcement. People always say you can leave your car unlocked in Corleone, as no one would dare take anything from it. Any crime committed in the boss's territory is done on his orders alone.

When Bernardo Provenzano was a young man in Corleone, he and his buddies were caught rustling cattle from a local farmer. They came under fire from the Mafia boss – he alone had the right to steal livestock.

The Mafia also runs an effective neighbourhood watch scheme. The ruling family has spies everywhere, from the corner shop to the town hall. Women in particular fulfil this role effectively, since they are considered harmless gossips, and nothing escapes their attention. In Calabria, when many of the major bosses were on the run from the police or their Mafia enemies, their wives would keep them informed of everyone else's movements by shortwave radio. An apparently harmless chat outside the bar with a member of a rival family could cost a man his life, if the boss's wife decided he must have changed sides.

Although it may seem unlikely, the Mafia has a keen sense of the importance of public relations. This is another reason a mafioso makes a good neighbour. The Mafia can only function if the local population is compliant. A boss in hiding, for example, needs to be able to rely on his neighbours not to report his presence to the authorities.

When a mafioso collects protection money from a small business in his jurisdiction, it's not the amount of money that is significant, it's the gesture. That gesture means patronage: it means the shopkeeper, or fisherman, or taxi driver, recognises the mafioso as his master. One of the successful strategies of Bernardo Provenzano when he became a senior mafioso was to make sure his capos were not charging extortionate rates.

When a local businessman refuses to pay his monthly Mafia tax, it sends a dangerous message: that the Mafia is no longer in charge. The anti-Mafia movement Addiopizzo ("goodbye protection") was launched with a poster campaign and the message: "If you pay protection you're also handing over your dignity."

A single businessman who refuses to pay risks having his building site vandalised. Shopkeepers have had their metal security shutters disabled with superglue poured into the locks. But a whole group of small businesses banding together sends a powerful message back to the Mafia. They're not going to blow up the whole neighbourhood, so they need to find another way to get people on side.

The Mafia boss sets himself up as community leader. He is the go-to guy for anyone out of a job, or whose son needs a place at college. The Italian civil justice system is so cumbersome that any small businessman with a grievance will waste 10 or 15 years, and most of his income, trying to sort it out through the courts. The Mafia boss can help him find a settlement overnight. In some instances, the boss will dispense advice about marriages, or settle disputes between neighbours.

The mafioso's nickname is indicative of his respected standing: how much better to be u professore (the teacher) than u pazzo (the madman) or even u curtu (shorty). Toto "Shorty" Riina, the boss of Corleone, was feared and obeyed, but never loved. His joint chief of staff, Provenzano, was known as u ragioniere' (the accountant) because he was a decent business strategist. He insisted his capos keep local businesses loyal. "It's no good making people fear you," he wrote in one of his famous letters. "You have to make them respect you."

Rancadore, with his quiet ways and his sharp suits, knew a thing or two about respect.

Clare Longrigg blogs at mafiology.com