“In conclusion, we can therefore recognize the existence of a criminal association aimed at the commission of an indeterminate series of crimes against property, against personal safety and freedom, against drug laws and the direct and indirect acquisition of control of economic activities, both lawful and illegal. The same appears to have acted making use of the intimidating force emanating from the associative bond and the state of subjugation and silence that ensued for the population of the territory where it exercised its control. Belonging to this organization, operating therefore with mafia-like operating methods and protocols, they were subjects of the so-called group of the Mafia of Piovese or Mala del Brenta”
The Assize Court of Appeal of Venice, December 14, 1996
In part one of a recent article for the National Crime Syndicate called ‘The Fifth Element’ I wrote about the emergence of a new Mafia organisation, the ‘Famiglia Basilischi’. It is said this new organisation was the idea of Saverio ‘Don Saru’ Mammoliti and were officially formed by a serving prisoner, Giovanni Luigi Cosentino (pictured, who had the unlikely nickname Faccia d’Angelo (Angel Face)) in 1994.
“According to evidence given to the courts by pentiti in a number of trials true ‘independence’ for the Basilischi arrived in 1994…” (Sergi, 2005)
Most of Italy’s Mafia organisations have their homes in the southern regions of the country. However, in the north-east of Italy during the 1980s in the region of Veneto, a criminal organisation grew to international prominence. The Mala del Brenta, who were responsible for Verona becoming known as the ‘Bangkok of Italy’ due to its drug-trafficking operations, was recognised by the Italian government as a Mafia-type criminal organisation and their formation was remarkably similar to that of the ‘Famiglia Basilischi’. Coincidentally, its most infamous boss was also nicknamed ‘Angel Face’.
Felice Maniero, who was born on the 2nd of September, 1954 in the Venetian town of Campolongo Maggiore would not only become the head of this new criminal organisation who controlled the northeast of Italy during the 80s and early 90s with over 500 members at its full strength but in February 1995 Maniero helped the Italian authorities bring about the demise of Mala del Brenta by providing them with information in what became known as the ‘Rialto’ investigation set up by Italian prosecutors Antonio Fojadelli and Michele della Costa. In August 2004, the investigation subsequently led on to the arrest of 142 alleged members with Venetian deputy prosecutor Paola Mossa listing over 300 indictments which included crimes with some dating back to 1976 such as drug trafficking, robberies, kidnappings, money laundering and murder.
As previously mentioned Mala del Brenta was formed in a similar way to Famiglia Basilischi in that it was created on the back of the Italian authorities’ decision in the 60s and 70s to relocate imprisoned high-ranking Mafiosi, primarily those from the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra), in an attempt to isolate them from other Mafia members. A decision, it could be argued, that was a catalyst for the exponential growth of the many families/clans/’ndrine in the Mafias of Italy as these men, once released, provided organisation to local criminal gangs. Among some of the Sicilian Mafia who stayed in Veneto were Gaetano Badalamenti, Salvatore Contorno, Antonino Duca and Gaetano Fidanzati.
In the early 80s Felice Maniero’s Mala del Brenta were responsible for a number of high-profile robberies. One such robbery, at Venice’s Marco Polo airport, took place only days after the ‘crime of the century’ in the United Kingdom, not only were the robberies days apart but were also remarkably similar. In the UK on November 26 (Saturday) 1983, at Heathrow airport in what became known as the ‘Brink’s Mat robbery’, 6 armed men gained access to a warehouse containing cash, diamonds and a large number of gold bars. The men got away with a haul which at today’s estimate is close to £100 million. On December 1 (Thursday) 1983 6 armed men gained access to a warehouse at Marco Polo airport in Venice:
“The six robbers forced three of the employees to open a vault in the state-owned warehouse at gunpoint and remove 25 packages containing a total of 353 pounds of gold and jewels. Police earlier said 10 gunmen were involved in the heist, but later revised their estimate after talking to witnesses, although they said accomplices may have been involved.
Agents said the raiders then loaded the loot on three automobiles commandeered from airport authorities and drove off at high speed.
Police said the heist at the Venice airport resembled closely a raid at a high-security warehouse at London’s Heathrow airport Saturday when hooded gunmen stole gold bullion worth an estimated $37.5 million in the biggest holdup in British history.”
Also in December 1983, in what may just be a coincidence, in Austria on the 22nd of the month local police arrested 5 men, an Austrian and four Italians who were caught with gold bars that carried the same numbers and makers name as the approx. 6,000 bars stolen from Heathrow. However, tests later showed that the bars were made of tungsten coated with gold which made it impossible for the bars to have come from the Heathrow robbery.
In another, but less coincidental, link in 2010 whilst filming the UK version of the popular X Factor franchise Dannii Minogue, who was a coach on the show at the time had to inform her bosses that one of her singers could become a target of the boss of the Mala del Brenta, Felice Maniero, who at the time was soon to be released from prison. Nicolo Festa, who back then was 22, is the son of former Veneto police chief Michele Festa. Michele had hunted down and caught Maniero on December 7, 1994, as well as Maniero’s underboss Antonio Pandolfo, in a hideout in Turin after the pair had successfully escaped from a high-security prison ‘Due-Palazzi’ in Padua six months earlier on June 14, 1994. This time, however, following his arrest Maniero turned pentito (informer). Originally sentenced to 33 years, his betrayal was rewarded by the judiciary when they reduced his sentence to 20 years.
The escape in June 94 wasn’t the first time Maniero had escaped from prison. His first time was in February 1987 when he escaped from Fossombrone prison located in the province of Pesaro and Urbino. Then on October 10, 1991 three of Maniero’s men stole a relic from the Basilica of Sant’Antonio, this was done in order to blackmail the authorities to release Maniero’s cousin Giulio and also for a revocation of a surveillance order placed on Maniero.
Records state that his first arrest was in 1980 for his involvement in a local gang war. However, his crimes would soon involve trafficking cocaine and heroin as well as gun running from Yugoslavia for the Sicilian Mafia. It is suggested that during his time Maniero and the Mala del Brenta were responsible for 17 murders.
Following his decision to become a pentito Maniero was provided with a new identity and served the majority of his sentence in a secret location with his family being placed into the protection program. Little was heard about Maniero until an incident in February 2006 put the family back in the public eye once again.
On the morning of the 22nd February 2006 Maniero’s daughter, Eva (pictured below) was found dead after committing suicide by jumping from her apartment building in Pescara. It was reported that Eva had taken her own life following a heated argument with her estranged husband.
In March 2018 Maniero was interviewed for the Italian newspaper Il SecoloXIX, you can read the full interview here.
Felice Maniero’s story: “I was the boss of the Brenta, but I would not do the crime again”
1 Sergi, Anna. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/633694/Fifth_Column_Italys_Fifth_Mafia_the_Basilischi. Accessed 27/03/2020.
3 https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/x-factor-hopeful-nicolo-festa-253130. Accessed 28/03/2020.
4 https://www.repubblica.it/2006/b/sezioni/cronaca/maniero/maniero/maniero.htm. Accessed 27/03/2020.
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